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6 Close One of Your Eyes Concealing Differences Between the Generations and the Uses of "Tokens"
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Differences Between Younger and Older Men and Women

In Old Town, men in their thirties or older dress in neat slacks and carefully buttoned sport shirts during working hours. During weekends and after


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hours, they wear the ankle-length white gown, kanzu, and embroidered cap, kofia, that are the traditional outer garments. Although few of these mature men follow the practice, common until the 1950s, of shaving the head completely, most still keep their hair very short.[1] In bearing and gait, many mature men remain much as men were said to have been in the last century and, quite possibly, earlier. They walk with measured stride and carry themselves erectly. Sometimes their hands are clasped behind their backs as they go, or, occasionally and more commonly for elderly men, they carry a bakora , the traditional walking stick.

Younger men and boys present quite a different picture. They are rarely to be seen in kanzu, and, if they are not wearing T-shirts bearing the usual assortment of advertisements, slogans, or university names, their shirts are open to the middle of their chests. Many have long hair worn in Afros. Instead of the deliberate step of their fathers and older brothers, some glide along with loose-shouldered lubricity. Instead of the invariably quiet conversations of their elders, the younger men often raise their voices and occasionally make the buildings ring with their shouts and laughter.

Nor are these obvious and immediately striking differences between the young and the old found only among males. The younger women, although still rarely to be seen save when in school or on their way there or back, are very different from their mothers and, even, elder sisters in ways that go beyond manner and dress.

As recently as the middle 1970s, mothers worried that a daughter might have mato ya nde ("eyes of the outside"), meaning that she often looked out the windows of her home with the intention of catching a glimpse of passing young men. There was no question but that she would remain confined inside the house according to the strict segregation of the sexes and the seclusion of women, but the worry was that she might be so willful as to try to see passing males and somehow arrange meetings.

In fact, this is still a source of concern, but now there is much in addition to worry about with some adolescent and slightly older women going to discos and out-of-the-way "cold houses" (small cafés that serve cold drinks, snacks, and tea) disporting themselves until long after dark. The horrified mothers and fathers forbid such practices, but a minority of young women, usually by subterfuge, do it anyway.

One rarely sees young Swahili women abroad on the streets after dark, but some probably do actually go out in the early evenings, as young men and a few young women say they do. The belief that they do is very common. The older people deplore such behavior, often passionately, but, they say, there is little that can be done to stop it because that is "the way the young people are these days."

Still, daughters and their mothers and fathers usually get along quite well despite the language mothers use on their daughters (see chap. 8 and Swartz 1990a ). However, informants say that it was never really rare for there to be


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families where the fathers and sons were at odds, and the fairly recent change has been for conflict to be more serious and to focus on such things as mode of dress, spending too much money, associating with young men of bad reputation, and acting like a mahuni (a gadabout, a disrespectful and willful person). There have always been some young men in the community who were considered mahuni, but now, many older men and women say, all of the young men are.

All of this suggests the existence of a "generation gap" between parents and children and between younger and older people more generally. The actions and statements of those involved show quite clearly that there are real differences in some of the understandings shared among those in the two age groupings. These differences concern such things as dress style, deportment, and restrictions on seeking the sort of entertainment available in contemporary Mombasa, and they extend to differences concerning the assessment of the younger people's behavior and the older people's authority.

Many long conversations with members of the two generational groups and years of associating with them strongly indicates that the members of each cohort guide important parts of their behavior with understandings that are shared among age-mates much more than across generational lines. Puzzlingly, however, interviewing does not seem to confirm this cross-generational cultural difference. Interviews using a standard set of questions (see below) produced data suggesting that as regards some aspects of culture, including some of those concerned with the very areas of life where differences between the generations are most obvious, there is as much sharing across generational lines as within generations.


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6 Close One of Your Eyes Concealing Differences Between the Generations and the Uses of "Tokens"
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