The Munyoyaya are a small, closely knit people group, living in Tana River district of Kenya, north of Coast province. They claim to have come from Ethiopia, migrating southward and settling at their present home. About 20% live in Garissa town.
The Munyoyaya peoples, who number about 1,600, are part of the Oromo group of peoples, whose heritage goes back to the 1500's in the southern Ethiopian highlands. According to community elders, the tribe was born when their founding father married a woman from the Tharaka tribal group living in the Eastern part of Kenya. The couple later moved from this Eastern part towards the coast and finally settled along Tana River, which has an area of 180,901 with a population of about 240,075.
The Munyoyaya are mostly beekeepers and fishers and are spread out within the four locations of Madogo divison; Sala, Saka,Mororo and Madogo. They are traditionally organized with “five major clans which include; Meta, Kalala, Maidoyo, Nyurtu and Ilani. The leaders naturally come from two clans; the Maidoyo and Ilani and represent the community as spokesmen.
The Munyoyaya are part of the Oromo group of peoples, whose heritage goes back to the 1500's in the southern Ethiopian highlands. This migration took place gradually, with the Munyoyaya settling in their current area by about 1900. The Oromo were cattle or camel-herders, but the Munyoyaya have become farmers and fishers in their life on the Tana River. The Oromo peoples pushed south, putting pressure on earlier Cushite of Bantu inhabitants of what are now Ethiopia and Kenya.
They are a Cushite people speaking the same language as the Orma. The Munyoyaya believe that they are well known to all people groups even though very few Kenyans have ever heard of them. Some people call them Korokoro. They are referred to as Munyo in the 2005 edition of The Ethnologue.
The Munyoyaya are part of the Orma people but consider themselves a separate tribe. Following this self-identity, Munyoyaya are normally considered a distinct ethnicity. Like Cushitic people in Ethiopia, they practice subsistence farming on the flood plains of the Tana River growing mainly corn and bananas and occasionally fishing.
They also keep stock, though very minimally. They are reputed as a hospitable people, kind to strangers. They have very strong traditional beliefs and customs.
The Munyoyaya tell a story of Boru Rooba, their leader by divine appointment, who predicted the coming of a flying canoe (aeroplane) and a canoe moving very fast on the ground (motor vehicle). He also predicted droughts and floods with exceptional insight.
The Munyoyaya speak the Orma language. This language is a member of the Oromo group, in the Eastern Cushite family of Afro-Asiatic languages.
Today all Munyoyaya people claim to be Muslims. Their employment by Arabs, along with their interaction with their Somali neighbors, brought the change to Islam. The fact that many do not understand Islam makes them turn to their previous animistic practices to find solutions to life's problems.
The Munyoyaya depend on beehives and other products of the forests for subsistence as well as for the maintenance of their social, ethical and spiritual order. Bride price is counted in beehives, not cattle, and there are trees in the forests that "listen to their souls," mediate disputes and bring peace and prosperity. When riverine trees are cut down, the community’s economic and spiritual security is uprooted as the waters that supply it with fish and plants for weaving boats and baskets begin to recede. The Munyoyaya also use the forests to shelter when enemies attack. Non-violence is the fundamental ethic of these humble people and the tortoise is the tribal totem, for the animal best expresses the community ethic and lifestyle. For protection from evil spirits, drums are beaten at night and charms and amulets worn all over the body.
The Munyoyaya peoples are essentially patriarchal and are organized in patrilineal related households, clans and sections. Authority and decision making within the community is vested in the elder men, who play a crucial role based on their extensive experience and knowledge. Women are regarded as social minors and viewed as subordinate to men. They enjoy fewer rights as compared to men who are the heads of their families and the sole custodians of property, both individual and communal. They do not participate in community gatherings and during prayer sessions, they sit at the back and only follow the activities passively. Men of elder status largely appropriate their reproductive roles.
The Munyoyaya women are involved in a number of activities. A research conducted by Judy Wangombe on the Phenomenon of Spirit Possession among the Munyoyaya women found out that these women have their “activities centered on house keeping, family requirements, management of affairs at home and looking after the children.” Girl child education is non-existent and when compared to boys, the Munyoyaya girls have many chores that are physically demanding. This results in very few girls making it to schools and even for those who manage, completion of primary level education remains a great challenge. In 2009, there were only two publicly funded mobile schools with a total of 80 girls and 120 boys.
With all its discriminatory practices against women, the Munyoyaya community still believes that the role of women is “to give birth to children, especially boys, for the propagation of the family name. As a result girls are married off at tender age of thirteen, or as soon as they begin menstruation.” New mothers are considered unclean and secluded for a period of forty days during which they are supposed to have no contact with any man. After the forty days, “the mother is taken to the river where she is washed by her fellow women. She undoes her hair and washes it clean as a symbol that she is now ritually clean to interact with the community.” This sets the tone for communal celebration. The new mother then joins her fellow women in a welcoming ceremony by sharing a cup of tea.
The Munyoyaya women often have many children and are solely responsible for obtaining food for all household members, especially in cases where men have abdicated their duties. “Men are polygamous and cannot meet the needs of their families, so most women are increasingly engaging in income generating activities to supplement on what their husbands bring home. They work hard to ensure that there is enough food for their husbands and children. They also try to keep their families intact by safeguarding their husbands from being snatched by other young and beautiful women. To meet these highly demanding tasks, they run small businesses like selling vegetables and fruits along the roads and walk to the neighboring Garissa town to wash clothes for the rich Arabs and Somalis. Others engage in income generating activities such as irrigation farming along the Tana River where they harvest produce and sell it in the neighboring towns. In order to assert themselves financially, a small number of these women have initiated small merry go round groups (Ayuta) through which they save and share their contributions on a rotational basis.
The Munyoyaya women also play a very important role during cultural celebrations. For instance, whenever there is childbirth, wedding or circumcision ceremony, it’s the women who take up the important duties of preparing and serving meals. On events such as weddings, women take up a center stage by ensuring that the bride to be is well prepared. It’s even more involving in case the bride to be is a virgin; women are dressed in new dresses and veils. “The ceremony culminates in songs and dances, especially at night where women adorn themselves with perfumes and nice head veils, as they escort the new bride to her new house.”
Because of the traditional patriarchal system, the Munyoyaya women are at a disadvantage when it comes to land ownership and inheritance. Because the land is not registered in women’s name men are free to dispose of family land and properties without consulting women. Women “are perceived to be incapable of taking care of property.” Male domination and suppression of women’s voice among the Munyoyaya is perpetuated and strongly supported by the community.
Just like other indigenous women whose rights are continuously violated, especially under male chauvinistic communities, the Munyoyaya women are often victims of domestic violence. The situation of girl children and women in the Munyoyaya community is marred by a number of human rights violations among them denial of education, information and early marriages, lack of legal rights and domestic violence. Their participation in politics both at the local and national level is non-existent. They are not supposed to speak in public because they are “mashetani” (demons) who easily cause men to be attracted to them when they listen to their voices.
Fertility is a core determinant on how women are treated in the Munyoyaya community. Those who are barren and unable to give birth especially to boys often end up in painful divorces and separations. “Giving birth to girls is more traumatizing for the mothers. She is under pressure from her husband and his family to produce male children.” Marriages are highly insecure and in almost every family, women are perceived as inferior and treated like sexual objects.