African Ethics: Gĩkũyũ Traditional Morality by Hannah Kinoti was prompted by the author’s concern about the decline of moral standards among the Gĩkũyũ in modern Kenya. Western education and increased interaction with other cultures had made the society more complex and sophisticated. At the same time, social evils like corruption, robbery, prostitution, broken homes and sexual promiscuity were on the increase. “While this is happening,” says the author, “African culture is often referred to in the past tense as if it is no longer relevant.” She wished to discover what were the virtues that, prior to the introduction of western civilization, held society together and formed the basis of its morality. She decided to examine some of the key virtues (honesty, generosity, justice, courage and temperance) that were highly valued in traditional Gĩkũyũ culture. She then compared the understanding and practice of these virtues by three groups: old people (who had had first-hand experience of traditional life), middle-aged people and young people.
The results of this study should appeal to researchers and teachers of African traditions, culture, religion and ethics. Equally, students of comparative ethics should find this a valuable source of information on traditional ways of maintaining behaviour that made for harmony in society. Young Africans wishing to get a deeper understanding of their roots should also find this work of great interest.
Hannah Wangeci Kinoti was born in the middle of the Second World War, the last of the six children of Ruben and Ruth Gathii. Her parents were among the first converts to Christianity in central Kenya. She imbibed from them Gĩkũyũ cultural and moral values; at the same time she learned the Christian faith from them and from their Scottish Presbyterian Church. At Kahuhia Primary School and Alliance Girls High School she learned western culture from her teachers, most of whom were European missionaries. At Makerere University College (then a constituent college of the University of East Africa) she read English and Religious Studies, learning African religion under the distinguished scholar, Professor John Mbiti. For her doctoral thesis she decided to do research into Gĩkũyũ traditional morality, which is the subject of this book. Hannah Kinoti’s research and teaching interests took her to many foreign institutions, such as Regent College, Vancouver, Canada and the Department of Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA. She wrote and spoke widely on ethics and religion, always concerned about the spiritual, moral and social well being of the African people. She herself was, as a friend once observed, an authentic African Christian woman. She was an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, University of Nairobi when she died suddenly in 2001. Hannah and her husband, Professor George Kinoti, had five children.
Table of contents
Introduction Rationale for the study
Description of the literature
The various groups interviewed
Chapter 1: The Cultural Setting Gĩkũyũ society in the pre-colonial period
Changes that have occurred in Gĩkũyũ society since the 1880s
Chapter 2: Honesty (Wĩhokeku) Views of early writers
What is honesty?
Honesty in modern times
Chapter 3: Generosity (Ũtaana) Views of early writers
What is generosity? (
The ideal practice of generosity
Why generosity is valued
Traditional ways of enforcing generosity
Generosity in modern times
Chapter 4: Justice (Kĩhooto) Views of early writers
What is justice?
Reward and punishment
Forgiveness, atonement and restoration
Younger generations’ understanding of justice
Justice in modern times
Chapter 5: Courage (Ũcamba) Views of early writers
Who is a courageous person?
Incentives to courage
Chapter 6: Temperance (Wĩkindĩria) Views of early writers
Temperance as abstention (
Temperance as self-control (
Temperance as caution (
Temperance as steadfastness (
Temperance in modern times
Factors influencing ideas about temperance
Notes and references
About the author