kenya

Learning from the traditional Maasai

In the 1930s, researcher and dentist Dr. Weston A. Price traveled around the world to find the healthiest people with the best teeth. He had seen images of such people in “National Geographic” magazine but he wondered if they actually existed. So he took a voyage, determined to find out for himself. Everywhere he went, Dr. Price noticed that those who ate their traditional diets (cheese and milk in Switzerland, seal oil in Alaska, and so on) were healthy, fertile and vibrant. And, yes, they resembled those traditional people groups featured in “National Geographic!” They had beautiful straight teeth, with very little incidence of decay. But he also found that those who had access to so-called “modern” western foods (including refined flours and sugars) suffered tooth decay and health issues. There was a clear pattern that tied wellness to diet. When Dr. Price came to Kenya, he noted that it was no exception. He met tribal people who were extremely healthy and who had broad faces with straight teeth with little evidence of cavities or infections. But among those whose diets had changed, he saw compromised health and teeth that were cavity-filled.

Dickson in Oiti

When I traveled to Kenya last year (and just last month), I wondered myself what I would find. I’m not a dentist or a researcher, but I had the next best thing going for me. I connected with Maasai community leader Dickson Ole Gisa and got to speak with him first-hand. I wondered what changes he had noted over the years and if Dr. Price's findings were playing out in his community. Indeed, Dickson had witnessed some of the very things Dr. Price recorded so many years ago. I take it back. He had not only witnessed the dietary changes and the corresponding health repercussions for his people, he had actually lived through them!

Dickson lives in Oiti, a Maasai village in Kenya, near the border of Tanzania. It is rather remote and yet he admits “The diet is changing tremendously.” When he first heard of the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) and its Wise Traditions principles based on Dr. Price’s findings, it made perfect sense to him. He immediately contacted WAPF, saying, “Please send someone over. We are all getting sick. I have diabetes. My wife has asthma….” So this is how I came to connect with him, as an envoy of WAPF, as a friend, and as the Wise Traditions podcast host. In this capacity, I am now able to share with you one conversation with Dickson from my visit this past month. You will certainly be fascinated by Dickson’s stories, as I was.

In “A Maasai story,” you will learn:

  • what Dickson ate as a child (including the game his father hunted to feed his family)
  • the Maasai traditional diet
  • the allure of “foreign foods” like soda, juice, oils
  • how the changing diet is impacting the Maasai’s health
  • how pregnant women are “selective” in terms of the food they eat
  • traditions related to childbirth
  • about a special book written by the first Maasai scholar which records all of the cultural traditions of the people
  • how “civilization” and “education” are shaping Maasai dietary choices
  • the very changes Dickson's own family have made to return to traditional foods
  • how Dickson is spreading the news of Wise Traditions
  • the community’s response to WAPF principles and ideas

I have learned from Dickson, among other things, that one person can make a difference in their community. It starts in our own backyards. I want to continue to take steps to "practically apply" (as Dickson says) what I believe---in terms of food, faith, and life. If I do this, or rather, if we do this, we will certainly impact our villages, communities, and the whole world for the better! Don't you agree?

P.S. If you enjoy this episode, please share it with others. And if you want to support Dickson’s outreach and efforts to help his people regain their health through a return to nourishing traditional foods, go to westonaprice.org and click on “Get involved.” Then click on the “donate” button and give the amount of your choice to the “overseas outreach” initiative.

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Hilda Labrada Gore is a health coach and the host of the Wise Traditions podcast (found on iTunes, Stitcher and at westonaprice.org). She is also the DC chapter leader for the Weston A. Price Foundation.

A Maasai promise: a u-turn toward traditional foods

"I know and I promise that there will be a very huge U-turn for my community. We will be turning to where we came from."  Dickson Gisa, a leader in his Maasai village, spoke these words to me in a conversation in his home just a few days ago. Dickson is the one who took the initiative to contact the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) a year or two ago. He had come across the WAPF wise traditions principles and they resonated with him to such a degree that he asked WAPF to send someone to his community because "we are all getting sick."  So WAPF honored his request and sent me and Mary Gerke, a nurse and WAPF leader from the midwest, to his remote village in Matapato, Kenya, not far from the Tanzania border. This May, I returned to Dickson's community to follow up. What a joy it was to reconnect! I had the privilege of speaking once again about the importance traditional diets, while immersed in the gracious, welcoming Maasai culture. Along the way, I even got to enjoy some of the very traditional foods they have always embraced! But, best of all, I was able to see the changes the community had already implemented, as a result of last year's visit.

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Nowhere was this more evident than in Dickson's own home. His wife, Joseline, gave up her job as a preschool teacher last year to develop a garden on their land. She grows traditional greens, kale, peppers, tomatoes, carrots, bananas, cassava, and more! Her harvest is so abundant that she has enough for her own family and then some. Members of her community come buy food to sell at market. Dickson told me that Joseline made this choice very deliberately so that their family could avoid purchasing food from the shops/grocery stores.

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At every turn, their were positive signs. The youth group, comprised of 18-30 year olds, affirmed that they wanted to continue the traditional foods "campaign." And after my presentation to the community members, the pastor stood up and suggested that all women present begin cooking traditional foods again "starting now." (Dickson told me later that when they learn of something that is good, they try to apply it to their lives right away.) On Sunday morning, the pastor spoke of incorporating wise tradition principles into their church programs, and a church elder testified, "Just like we need to change our attitude toward God, we need to change our attitude toward feeding and health."

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Apparently, Dickson is not the only one who is convinced that the wise traditions that have been handed down for generations are a God-given gift that offer life and health and promise for the future.

I can't wait for you to hear my conversation with Dickson, which I recorded with my podcast gear. I hope to publish it sometime this summer on the Wise Traditions podcast. You can listen to all episodes by simply going to the westonaprice.org website and clicking on the podcast link on the right-hand side bar. Or, better, yet,  subscribe to the Wise Traditions podcast via iTunes, Stitcher (if you have an android phone) or the RSS feed (also on the westonaprice.org site's podcast page). You will certainly be encouraged, as I have been, and you will learn a thing or two about health and wise traditions around the world!

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Hilda Labrada Gore is the DC chapter leader for the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF). She is also the host of the WAPF-sponsored Wise Traditions podcast. She is traveling in Zimbabwe and Kenya as part of the WAPF international project initiative.

 

 

"People are getting sick because they are ignoring their God-given traditional ways..."

These were the words of an 86 year-old Maasai woman I met this summer. When I went on my Weston A. Price-funded trip to Kenya this past August, my objective was to teach the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) principles everywhere I went. But before I even landed in Nairobi, my Maasai friend, Dickson told me by phone,"You teach...and you learn." And so it came to be. Meyanik and I bonded so that she even gave me the necklace I am wearing here.

One of the people I learned from was Meyanik Ene Ringaq, the 86 year-old above. On a Sunday morning, she dropped by the home of our Maasai host, Dickson. Dickson served as our interpreter as we conversed. I've highlighted key bits of the conversation. Here are Meyanik's unvarnished thoughts:

  • on what she ate as a child

When we were young, we just fed on the milk from the cow.

  • on pneumonia

Right now, if it rains, every woman just gets to put on her children, heavy clothes, rain clothes, and sweater to try to prevent pneumonia. They say if they are exposed to the cold, they will get pneumonia, but before there was no pneumonia. There was nothing like pneumonia. If it rained the kids would just go outside and play with the rain water and not get sick. And if they have rain on them, they just get the milk from the cow, when it is warm, they just take it and they don’t get sick.

  • on pregnancy and infants

Expectant mothers, pregnant women, they didn’t go to the hospital. When they delivered, the first thing they were given is the blood, because they figured the blood they lost during delivery can be replaced from the blood from the cow.

So the child, small baby, is raised by milk and the cream. That is the only food; that and breastfeeding.

  • a personal story: her daughter's pregnancy and labor

I have a daughter who is married and just had a baby about a month ago. I went there to stay with [them] before she delivered. But when my daughter and her husband went to the hospital for a check up, they were told that she needed to deliver in the hospital because her hemoglobin was low, so there was danger if she delivered at home. But when they came home, I advised my daughter that there is no need to go to the hospital, that she should deliver at home. There are traditional medicines (herbs and roots) that are used for pregnant women. So I just went to the forest and gave her herbs and bark from the tree, and every time I gave the herbs boiled and mixed with blood...to my pregnant daughter. When the delivery time had come, she just delivered at home. There was no problem.

It’s better to stay with the traditional ways, than just getting all the shots, all the medicine because it’s just like we are taking poison in our bodies.

  • on the differences between the old and new generation

When we were children, when we were youth, we just used simple traditional diets, we wouldn’t have to go to shop and buy things. Compare C. (Dickson's youngest child, a 7 year-old) with the children from before. She’s a bit fat and having a big body. But the older child, the traditional, who used to eat traditional food, they are more stronger than these children. Because they got the fat from the milk.

People are getting sick because they are ignoring their God-given traditional ways which are very, very, very important.

  • on why traditional diets are losing ground

The culture of traditional diets is changing because of education. Before, we did not have any thoughts from the outside. But now...there is a lot of interaction.

If we get people...to help us direct our community back to the old traditional ways, like having seminars for them, we can help them talk and try to get our children back to the old ways. So at least, so that they can have education, but education doesn’t change their cultural or their traditional diets. Let the education change their mind, like knowledge, but not change their diets, their traditional diets, which I believe is like an everlasting life for the community.

I’m very grateful that you have this idea of coming to tell people to go back to their old ways, their original culture, because that is where we come from.

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What do kale and Coca-cola have in common?

Kale certainly has gotten its share of attention in the past few years. It has grown in popularity in the U.S. and around the world because it is nutritious and affordable. In Kenya, it seems to be everywhere. It even grows by the roadside in some areas, free for the taking. The Kenyans call it “sukuma wiki” (“pushing the week”) because it fills in the gaps for many when the cupboard is bare. IMG_8709

I heard someone ask recently "When did kale get an agent?" Clearly, kale doesn’t need one. Kale's popularity is organic, driven by consumer interest in a high-quality, nutrient-dense, delicious food. It blankets the Kenyan landscape and farms stateside, as well.

Coca-cola ads and products can also be seen dotting the landscape at home and abroad. In Kenya, we spotted billboard after billboard, and shop after shop, sporting its familiar red and white logo. Consumers love its sweetness, but, In contrast to kale, Coca-cola has no nutritional value, and actually has been linked to chronic diseases and 184,000 deaths worldwide each year, according to a recent study conducted at Tufts University.

Its popularity is clearly not organic, but by design. The Coca-cola company is strategically targeting Africa to boost its soda sales. Sales in the U.S. have declined for five consecutive years. To counterbalance the situation, there is an aggressive marketing campaign focused on Africa.

Their goal is evidently to get in every mom and pop shop they can possibly find (or build). But they are not content with staying inside. The company offers to paint the exterior of the "dukas" (small shops) in exchange for displaying their logo prominently.

"Enjoy Coke cold."

They've even extended their "Share a coke with a friend" campaign to Kenya.

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I spotted the only good use for a coke bottle in my Maasai host's home. They had filled the bottle with wild honey.

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Kale and Coke. Both popular. Both omnipresent. That's where the similarities end.

"Kenyans will want to hear about this. They will say, 'Tell me more.'"

These words were spoken by Pauline, a young Kenyan professional, following our presentation to her organization. She spoke these words over lunch. How appropriate, since our presentation focused on nutrition, right? Pauline and me

Yes, my Kenyan speaking tour has begun. On behalf of the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF), I have been sent here, along with a fellow speaker, Mary, a nurse, and our trip coordinator, Deb. What I love about this tour is that we are not telling Kenyans that they should follow a certain diet (or our U.S. diet, God forbid). We are recommending that they return to the foods of their ancestors, foods that have nourished their people for millennia.

It’s a beautiful thing to see the WAPF principles resonate with people, as they think about what foods they currently enjoy that were staples of their traditional diet. (“Uji,” for example, is a fermented porridge that many still eat for breakfast.) They also have been given food for thought as we examine food trends, and take a close look at food-like substances that mimic what is best but are poor substitutes. (Margarines and oils, for example, look like the real deal---butter and animal fats---but are so manipulated, our bodies can’t process them well.)

It’s exciting to be in Kenya, for one, because I’ve never been here before. And there are novel experiences at every turn. Earlier today, I put my arm around a giraffe. (Pictures to corroborate the story to come…) Secondly, it’s thrilling because Dr. Weston Price himself came to Kenya, almost a century ago, on his research expedition. In Kenya and its surrounding environs, he met with 14 different tribes, with over 100 members each. In those groups where the traditional diet was still being eaten, not a single tribe member showed any signs of cavities, chronic disease, or ill health. They were vibrant, strong, fertile people. In contrast, those who had begun to eat a westernized diet (a diet with refined flour, sugar, vegetable oils, and other processed foods) showed signs of tooth decay, crowding, and poor health.

New friends/attendees

The teeth are telling, Dr. Price said. And people group after people group, picture after picture, and exam after exam confirmed his theory. What was true in the 1930s is true now. What we eat has a profound effect on our health and the teeth are simple indicators of what’s happening on the inside of our bodies. To preserve our health, all of us---Kenyans, Americans, and peoples around the world---need to choose food that fuels and strengthens us rather than food that zaps and depletes us. Our bodies benefit from nourishing food that has been revered and enjoyed for generations. Such good food can have a powerful impact on our general health, and even our outlook on life. It makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? No wonder our talks are resonating. May they continue to do so!