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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 Age Groupings, Uniformity within Them

In addition to the contrasts in dress and public behavior, many of the explicit views and beliefs heard from members of the different generations suggest substantial cultural differences. This can be seen in the sort of people the young men admire. They can fairly often be heard praising the behavior of the American blacks they see in movies, and although the ability, size, and strength of American black athletes are mentioned with great admiration, it is the "superfly" sort of character (a "sharp"-dressing, smooth-talking person who attends little to conventional constraints) or irreverent rock musician seen in American films (and occasionally on Voice of Kenya TV) that is most prominently and admiringly mentioned.

Most or all of the fathers do not share this approval. They view movies in general as suspect and only acceptable when, on an individual basis, they are found not to be possible sources of corruption and avenues for under-


mining proper behavior and the Muslim faith. Television is more broadly accepted, but it too causes unease. Many of the particular traits some of the youth admire in actors, musicians, and athletes—"wise-guy" talk, "sharp" clothes and grooming, swaggering, attendance at discos, contempt for authority—are ones the older men understand as most objectionable and dangerous.

The older men give their admiration to those displaying unusual peity and, especially, religious learning. The young men believe in and practice Islam, and there is no question that they are quite serious about it, but it does not completely dominate their view of the world and of what is admirable as it does for their fathers.

The young admire pious and learned men but not to the extent their fathers do. The term "sheikh," a title of respect used for older men which especially refers to their religious learning and piety, is a mildly derisive sobriquet used by the youths for any of their peers who are particularly zealous in their religious commitment.

More directly concerned with the obvious differences in behavior, each group is quite explicit in its disapproval of the activities and style of the other group and, sometimes only implicitly, in its approval of its own. The older men condemn the behavior of many or most of the young and characterize them, as we have seen, as irresponsible, disrespectful, wastrels. The elders suggest that the sorry state of the contemporary youth is mainly a result of outside influences such as secular schools and association with non-Muslims.

The young men and boys, for their part, say that although their activities are different from those of their parents when they were of the same age, there is nothing wrong with going to discos, behaving informally, and expressing themselves (in clothes and speech) more freely than their parents did. Parental condemnation of their behavior is less due, according to the young people, to reasonably based objections to that behavior than it is to their parents' failure to understand modern ways.

There are, then, substantial differences between the understandings held by the members of the two generations as these understandings apply to guiding and judging the behavior of the young. Both groups have understandings about the same general thing (i.e., the desirability/acceptability of the behavior of own and other groups), but the understandings held by each are at odds with those held by the other.

In addition to holding what amounts to opposed understandings of this sort, members of one generation have understandings that are simply absent among members of the other. In 1978, for example, boys and young men had elaborate understandings about platform shoes: how to walk in them, how to judge them as regards price and beauty, and what sorts of people did and did not have them. Older men simply did not possess such understandings. All platform shoes were understood identically by them as both expensive and as a sign of the decadence and intrusion of Western culture they deplored.


There is, then, substantial evidence indicating material differences between young and old in the understandings held regarding general deportment, acceptance of parental restriction versus personal freedom, and, for boys and men, such things as clothing, the sort of man to be admired, and personal demeanor. There is also evidence showing that despite the differences between the age groups, there is substantial sharing within each of them.

Attempting to Measure Generation Gap Differences

Having found differences between the generations in behavior and in those aspects of culture that seemed quite closely connected to that behavior, I decided to try to determine how broad in scope and general the differences between the bodies of understandings shared by the generations were.

The members of both generations almost always mentioned family relations in their discussions of differences between the younger and older people. As has been shown, the nuclear family is uniquely important for the vast majority of community members and plays an undeniably central role in the social life of the group. Although extended family kin are fairly important, children are primarily responsible to their parents and parents are far more concerned about the actions of their own sons and daughters than about others' actions.[2]

When discussing generational differences, statements always focused on parent-child relations rather than those between younger and older people generally. Remembering the Swahili emphasis on privacy, it is not surprising to find that parents did not all refer specifically to their own children, but some did, and all focused their attention on relations within the family more than on general community relations. Similarly, younger people phrased their comments about generational differences almost entirely in terms of parent-child relations, with rather more discussion of personal relations within their own families than was heard from the more restrained, older informants. Older men quite often made statements such as, "There is no controlling children these days; they will not listen to their parents." Young men said things such as, "No matter how much I explain, my father pays no attention."

Because of this focus on family relationships and because of the importance of the nuclear family in Swahili social life, I designed a survey interview form concerned with the nature and quality of family life and family relationships. I asked about ideal and actual qualities associated with the statuses father, mother, son, and daughter. The questions produced a wealth of material that was quite parallel to but, as will be seen, remarkably different from what I gathered in being present during general discussions of generational differences and in my informal conversations with both older and younger men.


The Survey Study of Generational Differences in Sharing Understandings Concerning the Generation Gap

Given the uniformity of findings from observation and informal discussion, my hypothesis was that more formal techniques would produce similar results. A main objective of the use of formal techniques was to discover the extent to which sharing within generations was similar to or different from the sharing among members of the other social groupings reported in chapter 5.

My expectation (which, as will become clear, has been proved incorrect) was that the members of each generation would share far more with one another than they would with members of the other generation, so that intragenerational sharing indexes would be significantly higher than cross-generational indexes. It seemed so obvious that this would be so that the survey-based study of generational sharing was undertaken more to provide a measure of the extent and nature of the differences between the generations than a test of whether or not such differences were present. The latter would be tested, of course, but I viewed it as pro forma more than anything else.

There was another aim in doing this study. The findings regarding the sharing of family culture were based on results obtained with a multiple choice answer format, and it seemed possible that this distorted the results. In the study of sharing in generational groupings, the interview form (see Appendix) used in the survey did not ask informants to answer questions by choosing a single, prepared response from among a few alternate responses. It proposed fairly broad questions and the informants answered them in their own words and as they chose. The first question on the form can serve as one example of the sorts of questions asked: "In your experience and for the families in your immediate neighborhood, how do the family members get on these days? Would you say they get along as well as they did in the past, less well, or better?"

Two further examples may help give the flavor of the interviews. The examples are chosen to give some idea of the scope of the questionnaire.

Thinking about your own family and others you know well, how is it with the father? What are the contributions he makes in your family and in others?

Tell me about relations between mothers and daughters. In what ways are those relations similar to those between mothers and sons and between fathers and daughters?

The interview forms were administered by four Swahili assistants, two males and two females, all in their late teens and early twenties. The questions were translated into Swahili by me and then checked by both the assistants


and by my friend and colleague, Yahya Ali Omar, who is credited in the community as being the leading scholar of the language. It is quite possible, of course, that the fact that the formal interviews were all carried out by young Swahili influenced the results, but since it is impossible to get older Swahili to serve as interviewers and since any outsider administering the interview, including me, would be unable to get many individuals to participate, there was no choice but to proceed as I did. In the analysis of results given below, the effect of the questions being asked only by younger community members known to be working for me (as they were) is considered at length.

The difficulties in getting Swahili to participate in these interviews were predictably substantial, and it was quite impossible to get anything approximating a random sample. The interviewers got their informants where they could find them, which doubtless led to an overrepresentation of their kin and friends. Since the four were from three different neighborhoods and unrelated, however, this was not too serious. The interviewers drew their informants from all of Old Town's neighborhoods and from the different educational and socioeconomic strata, so there is a fair representation of the whole community in the study.

The results of the interviews were coded by a research assistant whose code-recode reliability was above 0.80.[3] Informants were taken to agree in their answers to a question when the coding for their answers was the same, and this agreement (what is called "sharing" here) was used as the basis for computing sharing scores.

These were calculated in exactly the same way the scores discussed in chapter 5 were. That is, overall scores were obtained by comparing the scoring of responses of each individual in the sample with every other (i.e., the members of all possible pairs were compared to each other) and using the results of the comparison in the same formula used for calculating the sharing coefficient in chapter 5. Using this formula, if two informants agreed on every one of the twenty questions they were asked, they would have a sharing coefficient of 1.00 (i.e., 20/40 - 20 = 1.00).

By averaging the resulting scores for pairs, it was possible to get scores for the groups of which the pairs were members. Thus, averaging the scores for pair agreement when all the pairs were members of the same families gave "same family" scores, and averaging the scores for pairs whose members belong to different generations gave "different generation" scores.

The sample was made up of forty-eight individuals chosen so that every person has either a same sex parent or a same sex child from his or her own family in the sample, with none of the "children" being married. Thus, everyone in the sample is unambiguously in one or the other of the two generations studied and has a parent or child of the same sex in the sample. That is, the sample is made up of twenty-four parents and twenty-four children with no cross-sex parent-child pairs from the same family.


Before going into the generation gap results, it is worth noting that the open interviewing with scores derived from an evaluation of the informants' own answers are not radically different from the results of the multiple choice questionnaire study of family and community sharing of nuclear family understandings as reported in chapter 4. Sharing on the "open response questions" is higher, as would be expected from the lessened need to take a clear position on the open interviews (what might be called the "waffle factor"), but in both cases, the sharing within the family (and family membership was not known to the scorer in the generational study) is substantially higher than in the community at large. The level of sharing in both is substantially higher for the members of the same nuclear family than for those from different families (see table 11).

Interpreting this roughly in percentages, the open questions show a sharing of about 70 percent within the family, while the multiple choice questions yield an estimate of sharing at around 65 percent, and, for those from different families, open questions indicate 62 percent sharing, while multiple choice gives 48 percent. Since the questions, not just the kind of reply informants are asked to give, are different in the two assessments of sharing, the differences between the two sets of findings are less striking than their similarities.

As table 12 shows, contrary to my hypothesis, there is substantial cross-generational uniformity with respect to the questions in general (table 12A) and with respect to the questions divided into groups according to their subject matter (table 12B). This is true both within families and across family lines.

It appears that there may be differences between gender categories such that males agree with males more than males with females and females with females more than females with males, but this holds across generational lines as well as in the same generation. Similarly, members of the same family share more with one another than nonrelatives. However, it is important to note that the internal family sharing reported here is between members of different generations since every family interviewed is represented, but only by a parent and a child, never by siblings or both parents.

In short, despite the evidence for a generation gap that can hardly be avoided in observing public behavior as well as with respect to the understandings concerned with public behavior expressed in informal settings, the survey data suggest that there is no such gap concerning such things as the nature of family life, the nature of family relationships, and the sources of responsibility for the tension in family life.

Since parents deplore their children's public behavior in conversations with one another and in casual discussions with me and since, in the same sorts of contexts, children make it clear that they believe that their parents' views of proper public behavior are outmoded and inappropriate, the absence of differences between the two groups in the results of the survey interviews is striking. It is true that the topics of the two sorts of data—those resulting from


Table 11. Sharing on All "Open Questions" versus Multiple Choice Questions on Different Samples

Means sharing

On multiple choice

On open questions

Within nuclear family



Within total sample



the scheduled interview and those resulting from conversations among informants and between them and me—are slightly different, but they are unquestionably closely related. The scheduled interviews focused on the nature of family relationships and the sources of the quality of these relationships, while the informally obtained data focused on overall behavior with an emphasis on public behavior. Still, the two foci are closely associated in informants' views as well as according to connections outsiders can readily appreciate.

An examination of the contents of the survey interviews summarized numerically in table 12 illuminates the "sharing" between generations and makes the issue of the culture gap—or its absence—sharper. These interviews show that without regard to generation, informants agree that family relationships are characterized by tension and conflict and that this is particularly, but not uniquely, true of the father-son relationship.

Without respect to the generation they belong to, informants agree that there are two main causes for the tension found in family relationships. One of these is the undesirable, undisciplined, and unconventional behavior of children, especially, but not uniquely, of sons. Another cause for family discord agreed to by both parents and children is the weakness of parents and their refusal or failure to exercise the authority that is theirs as a consequence of their occupancy of the parental statuses. Fathers, members of both generations agree, are more culpable than mothers, but mothers are also said to be at fault. It is agreed that in the rather rare families where children behave more nearly as they should and (not or) where parents are forceful, family life is "better" (again the characterization is that of the informants) and its constituent relationships more nearly free of conflict and tension.

What the survey interviews indicate, then, is that parents agree with their children that their, the parents', weakness plays a key part—many in both generations say it is the most important one—in producing the troubled state of family life and the tension characteristic of most or all family relationships. Children, in turn, agree with parents that the children's behavior is deplorable and that although parents are at fault for not controlling it, the children must accept responsibility for their own actions. This acceptance is particularly striking in that members of both generations characterize these actions in the survey interviews with such terms as "undesirable," "bad," "wild," and "hopeless."


Table 12. Sharing of Responses Concerning Family Statuses and Relationships between Members of Same Family and Members of Different Families (n = 48)

A. Sharing Coefficients for All Questions Calculated Together as Found between Statuses as Indicated


Same family

Different families























B. Sharing Coefficients for Questions Concerning the Family as a Group, Family Statuses, and Family Relationships






































































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