Pin It
Sunday, January 3rd, 2010

Four Generations of Multicultural


I am fourth generation multicultural. On my father’s side of the family there is a long history of people marrying outside of their tribe. Africa is so often referred to as “Africa” that the rich diversity of tribes and cultures within it can be overlooked. Tribes can be as different in their language, culture and customs as an English person can be from a Hungarian.


Although there was a lot of inter-marriage, tribe is inherited through one’s father so I consider myself Luo despite having a Samia-Luhya mother and Kisii great-grandmother. To give you some idea of the differences: the Luo are an egalitarian people. Historically both men and women could become chiefs. There was a democratic political structure and even the initiation into adulthood was the same for both men and women (this involved removal of six bottom front teeth). This initiation rite evolved because as a nomadic people tetanus (lockjaw) was rife and although Luos had a cure for tetanus they did not have a preventative. In adulthood this meant certain death unless the cure could be passed through the gap in the teeth.


Samia-Luyha’s have a strictly hierarchical social structure complete with royal families. This is also reflected in the initiation into adulthood which is different for men and women. For men this involves circumcision. One can see how inter-marriage could raise a lot of issues for discussion. Not all issues are historical as circumcision remains common even today. However, many city dwelling Samia-Luhyas prefer to have their sons circumcised in a hospital and then return to their village for the celebrations.


Even though they are both Kenyan, my parents actually met and married where they had completed their higher education: London, England. It was no surprise that my daughter’s father turned out to be English (I too studied in the U.K.). It wasn’t until I wrote this piece that I realized it makes my daughter fifth generation multi-cultural. She is growing up trilingual with English, Kiswahili and Maragoli (her nanny’s language). She also speaks a smattering of French.


We enjoy taking the best of all of the different cultural heritages that we have as part of our unique history. However, it was important to me that she spent her early years in Kenya surrounded by her extended family. There is a regularly quoted African expression, “It takes a village to raise a child.” What is less often quoted is the second half of that expression, which I think in the early years is just as pertinent, “and a community to keep the parents sane.”

© 2010 – 2013, JC Niala. All rights reserved.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:

Many Languages, One America: 25 Proud Bilingual Children

These kids make clear what language the U.S. speaks.

Family History

Who knew that becoming a mother merged our histories of loss and grief

6 Favorite Children’s Books about Ramadan

Our top picks for Muslim and non-Muslim kids alike

Why African Toddlers Don't Have Tantrums

The secret of why African babies don't meltdown like Western ones.


JC Niala is a mother, writer and creative who enjoys exploring the differences that thankfully still exist between various cultures around the world. She was born in Kenya and grew up in Kenya, Cote d'Ivoire and the UK. She has worked and lived on three continents and has visited at least one new country every year since she was 12 years old. Her favorite travel companions are her mother and daughter whose stories and interest in others bring her to engage with the world in ways she would have never imagined. She is the author of Beyond Motherhood: A guide to being a great working mother while living your dream.

Leave us a comment!

  1. CommentsLeila   |  Thursday, 01 December 2011 at 1:16 pm

    Hello! Thank you for your great posts, I realized we are very African in the way we raise our children. It is hard in our society to raise children this way, they just don’t understand. Just today i was told by a fellow artist why i would not attend a Gala that is at night and he replied ” well i need to tell the media a VALID excuse why you will not be there!” It’s not VALID enough to be doing the most important thing in the world raising children! Weird society sometimes… but i am sure it will get better the more we parents show them this wonderful way of being! I had a question for you if possible… I was wondering what African cultures do when co-sleeping when i child typically falls asleep around 7-8pm and we tend to fall asleep around 10pm. My children keep waking up because we are no longer beside them co-sleeping, we join them once we are done our routine parent catching up and cuddling together ;). Also, my eldest who is 2.5 years old doesn’t like sharing the bedroom, he wants to sleep with us on the same bed, is there any gentle way of easing him to his little bed on the floor beside our bed? Thank you so much! :)

  2. CommentsInCultureParent | Why Being a Working Mother is Better   |  Friday, 15 February 2013 at 1:13 pm

    […] jobs (that of being a mother as well as paid employment).  I find it hard to fathom because I am a fourth generation working […]

  3. CommentsInCultureParent | Speak Up for the Animals, Mama! A Vegetarian in Africa   |  Thursday, 02 May 2013 at 10:46 am

    […] I tell people that I am a vegetarian they assume it must be for medical reasons. Why else would an African woman who can afford to eat meat blankly refuse what so many of her compatriots don’t have the luxury […]

Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail.
Or leave your email address and click here to receive email notifications of new comments without leaving a comment yourself.

Get weekly updates right in your inbox so you don't miss out!

Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get

Travelling with children, while definitely more of a mission, contradicts the old saying that “life is about the journey, not the destination.”

A Diverse Book for Preschoolers in Celebration of Multicultural Children's Book Day

A book that honestly and simply celebrates the every day diversity that children experience.

Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father's Tribe

She gave me an identity so different from her own.

2 Children’s Books about Jamaica

Explore Jamaica with your child.

Costa Rica with Kids: Two Weeks of Family Travel

Two weeks of Pura Vida in a country with so much to offer families.

Should I Worry about My Child's Accent in Her Foreign Language?

See why Dr. Gupta takes offense to this question and where children learn accents from

How to raise trilingual kids when exposure to Dad's language is limited

My kids only get 1-2 hours of the minority language per day-help!

What Cultural Norms Around Bare Feet Taught This Mother in Guatemala

Her baby's bare feet ended up being a lesson on poverty and privilege.
[…] the breastfeeding culture in Mongolia compared to America. Did you have any idea that something as simple as breastfeeding attitudes can […...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
My mother born in the 1930's is originally from the northern part of Germany. I am in my mid fifties and have a terrible relationship with my mother. She is domineering and hurts those where it hurt...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
[…] JC Niala, InCultureParent […...
From Why African Babies Don’t Cry
[…] […...
From Breastfeeding Around the World
Although humanity is one Man (in a generic sense, including woman)has identified himself endless groups, religious, nationalistic, ethnic, cultural, linguistic, etc. Once you separate ME from YOU on...
From What’s an Asian? Race and Identity for a New Generation
[…] […...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
Some great tips here but not many working mothers could feed baby every hour especially if you work in a major multi-nationa...
From Why African Babies Don’t Cry
So true!!! Thanks for being so honest and self reflective. It's a proof of true characte...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
As a first-time mom I've spent the last two months of my four-month-old's life stressed out about her sleep and I recognize how crazy this is. It's clearly not working for me! I'm wondering how non-...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep

More from Our Bloggers