Sunday, January 3rd, 2010
Four Generations of Multicultural
By JC Niala
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.
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