January 22nd 2018

Media / Arts & Culture

Needed in Kenya: a cultural re-education

For Kenyans to embrace the nomadic, ‘uncivilised’ largely uneducated pastoralists as a representation of their country serves to prove that in the fast changing fortunes of time, originality and genuineness are traits that remain greatly admired.

By Malik Mureumalikmureu@gmail.comWednesday, 08 Feb 2017 12:20 EAT

Kenyans at a political rally. The people look to political leaders for solutions to problems rooted in cultural decay.

The image of a Maasai Moran holding a spear while standing on one leg is a Kenyan icon that is recognized the world over. It is testament of a people who have no reservation with where they have come from. The Maa are a proud deep cultured community who have resisted the advances of modernism with fervor, all odds stacked against them. For Kenyans to embrace the nomadic, ‘uncivilised’ largely uneducated pastoralists as a representation of their country serves to prove that in the fast changing fortunes of time, originality and genuineness are traits that remain greatly admired.

Kenya is said to comprise of 42 tribes. What then happened to the other 41? How comes only the Maa proudly display their identity while the rest seek deep holes to bury theirs? How comes a Maa will proudly dorn his shukas and beads while the rest of Kenyans fight to wear cheap imitations of the latest trends from the West? Why did the Gikuyu women abandon ciondos and now go to the market with paper bags? Why do we see Kalenjins drink the Mursik only at the airport when receiving our triumphant athletes and not at any other moments? Do you notice the worrying trend of disappearing culture?

Recent argumentation in our media spaces lends credence to the popular slogan: One tribe, One Kenya. Whereas the underlying philosophy is quite attractive, it is time Kenyans embraced their tribal identity. The depth of socialization that happens in the family set-up cannot be replicated in the education or religious systems. All Kenyan tribes taught unity of purpose, self-dignity, respect of elders, industry and leadership skills which were imparted to the young through song, folklore, language and practically.

Every community had traits and attributes that made it unique e.g. the Kambas were known for their hunting and medicine skills, the Maasai for their cattle and bravery, Luos for their organized ‘political’ systems and courage etc. Beyond this, the interaction with other communities enabled deep relations that were cultivated through war, peace, trade, inter-marriages and finally the coming together to fight a common enemy- the British Colonialists.

The post-colonial era heralded a renewed commitment to the unity of the new state. Regrettably, the shunning of our traditional identities - a by-product of colonialisation - meant that the centuries-old progression of culture grounded to a halt. The mzungu told us that our ethnic identities were evil. To be incorporated into ‘modern’ society, we were forced to shed our beautiful hides and skins for the white man’s shirt and tie. Our eloquence in our ethnic languages was rubbished in favor of the ‘Queens’ tongue. Lastly, our most revered worship places - the shrines - were ordered burnt down in favor of tin-roofed structures teaching the white man’s religion.

Tribe is a good thing. Tribalism is the evil that gives tribe a bad name. When I partake of my culture, pray in our shrines, offer sacrifice for rain, pour libation for my children’s protection, face the mountain and prostrate in reverence to God; isn’t that what makes me African? On the reverse, when I go against natural laws of fairness, impoverishing other communities to favor my own, denying other children their birthright just because of their last names now that is tribalism! Which is evil.

Politicians are the new colonial masters. They have continually utilized ethnic identities as opportunities for division and war. They have perfected the art of remembering their identities when the general election approaches. They are the modern day Hitlers. Of course not all of them are bad but the few who are, make you regret being born Kenyan. Surprisingly they are reserved front seats in the white man’s ‘shrines’ where they were made to believe that tribal identities were bad.

What would happen if a Luo wore a t-shirt with the words, ‘I am Luo and proud’ and strutted the streets of Muranga on a market day? What would happen if say a Kikuyu wore a t-shirt emblazoned ‘Ndii Mugikuyu: I am A Proud Kikuyu’ and walked the streets of Kisumu at mid-day? Your guess is as good as mine. The action towards the anger raised may be different but the soreness in the peoples’ hearts would be equal. This is what politics has gifted the Republic called Kenya.

So who will save us from this quagmire? Is it the religious fraternity? The academic fraternity? The answer is No! The onus is upon us to ignite a cultural revolution that holds respect for others as sacred. We should invest more not in institutions but the hearts and minds of each and every Kenyan proclaiming the honor of each other’s ethnic identity, religion and place in life. Only then shall we realize the dream of Nationhood.

The writer is an MA Communication student at the University of Nairobi

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