Tuesday, February 12

I AM NOT MY TRIBE

I salute what David Kobia is trying to do with I HAVE NO TRIBE. He has catalysed a useful discussion, especially in the wake of what I hear the Mashada forums had deteriorated to.

To be Kenyan at this time and in this place is to go over your raison d’etre with a fine-tooth comb: to search your soul, deeply. We have been forced to revisit our presumptive identities, to unpack who we always thought we were, to grope for definition(s).

I for one have been unearthing childhood memories and dusting them off in an attempt to isolate the spaces that shaped me into this person that I have become.

And there have been interesting (sometimes heated) discussions about the place of socialization, values and ideas in the current crisis and about the nuanced standoff between individualistic and collective cultures as witnessed between certain ethnic communities in Kenya today. I have given as much as I have taken in these debates. There’s still much to give and as much to take.

Today, I acknowledge that I belong to a specific ethnic community and that that belonging speaks to where I come from in vital ways that I will not disregard.

But.

I AM NOT MY TRIBE.

At the top of my voice, defiantly, and somewhat breathlessly, to the tune of India Arie’s I Am Not My Hair, I am singing:

I Am Not My Tribe,
I Am Not This Name,
I Am Not Your Expectations, No.

This has become my mantra.

My ethnicity speaks to me and to you about where I have come from, not to who I am nor where I am going.

And I will not allow it to dictate my choices and my affiliations nor to set my limits for me of who I am and what I hold to be true.

I have said before, if we are to forge a Kenyan nationhood, we have to find a new way of being. We cannot pass on this fractured nation to the next generation. We’ve battered and grievously assaulted what we’re meant to be holding in trust for our children and it is unconscionable to pass it on until we have restored it and set it on a path to where it ought to be going.

And one of the most painful things that we must face up to, to a large extent, is that this is a journey that the generation before us will be neither able nor willing to take with us.

In many ways, we will have to let go of our ‘parents’ in order to take hold of the future for our ‘children’.

We were raised to hold our elders in the highest esteem, to listen to them when they spoke, to consider their words carefully, to trust their judgment. But, we cannot do so when they insist on speaking the divisions of the past as we strive to forge the bonds of tomorrow.

We must find the strength, the courage and the vision to say: “Mum, Dad, _____, _______, you know I love you to the edge of madness, but, enough.”

Enough.

We are the ones who must find common stories of nationhood to coalesce around. This is our moment, and we must seize it or be swallowed up in it.

***********

For a Christian leader's take, see Pastor M's post on the subject.

10 comments:

KK said...

Amen!

mama shady said...

hmmm, I'm not sure what to say.I was talking to a friend of mine the other day and she was really saddened by the fact that as kenyans,we may not , for a long time if ever, be able to celebrate our differences , our cultures. And it bothered me; Tribe has become a very bad thing yet at the end of the day we are different.As pastor M said in his blog, I also believe these differences were fashioned by God as a blessing, as a part of his amazing work of grace in making the world that much more interesting! So as you say I am not my tribe, but I am.The way I phrase certain things, or dress, or act, certain things about me seem to stem from ethnicity.
But i know and have determined, as you said, that tribe, just like race or wealth will not determine where i am going or who I love. To use a cliche, we're all part of his rich tapestry and I guess that's the message we'll be passing on.Goodness, thats a long comment, i hope it makes sense.

Acolyte said...

Hear, hear! Now instead of us just talking about being one nation, it is about time we began to think and act like one!

Medusa said...

Hate to use this word frivolously, but I just LOVE LOVE LOVE this entry.
Ditto!!

AfroM said...

Hear Hear!

I got weepy and emotional just reading this. Thanks R.

muthuri said...

The wind blows where it blows it cant be stopped once it has been unleashed .It has to reach its destiny

Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg said...

You are completely right on!!!

Mwangi said...

First of all thank you for adding a new word to my vocabulary - raison d’etre, it is now a fixture in my language library.

It is kind of heart breaking but oh so true that we really cannot follow the examples of our elders unless we want the same problems our elders have.

You hit the nail smack down on the head, " Enough is enough. We must face forward and create OUR KENYA."

Thanks, it was a succinct and powerful post.

Kizzie said...

I started a group on facebook with a similar name, this initiative inspired me actually. Sudanese people need to do the same thing, forget about our tribes n form a national identity

R said...

Kizzie,

I'm not entirely sure about forgetting my tribe. I feel a belonging to my people and a sense that they have bequeathed me a legacy that I value. I do not want to cast away the stories that were told me as a child about who I am and where I came from.

I just bristle at being expected to respond in certain stereotypical ways by my fellow tribesmates, as well as being seen through extremely narrow lenses by others.

I'm absolutely not my tribe in the sense that everyone seems bent on reducing my ethnicity to a set of characteristics, etc which drive me or define me. I'm not merely an object that the environment is free to act upon how and when it will.

What's happening in Kenya today feels like a prison for the identity. People know your name and they think they know what you think and how you will align yourself. That gets to me. It really gets to me.

I do think that it's time that we realised that, for the sake of nationhood, we must surbordinate our ethnic identities to our national identity so that where tribe clashes with nation, nation must win. Else the state of our nation is at risk.