Would Chop Off My Tongue For Being Different?


Language of Tribe delves into the racial conflict within us that we always want to suppress.

So, our good old journos, the so called Fourth Estate, went to drink tea at State House? Well, there nothing wrong with finding out how the State House mahamri taste.
After all, if there is one good habit those sneaky islanders from Europe left us after many years of oppression, suppression and denial of good things, it was tea. In many cultures in Kenya today, tea is an obligatory sign of kinship, intimacy and conviviality.
But that chai business has led to copious amounts of commentary on whether the tea-drinking was the right or wrong thing to do, at this time in the history of Kenya, by our supposed “watchdogs.”

Tell the truth.

But what’s driving the debate? Well, there are those who say that dining with the state may clip the tongues of there men and women who are expected to “speak the truth to power.” This reminded of a small book that is hard to pick on shelves of bookshelves that every Kenyan who really minds about the rude question of tribe, a question that now insinuates itself in nearly every public conversation, should read.
The book itself is a little bit of self indulgent but it really makes the point, which I seek to paraphrase here: would you cut off my tongue for being different. The book is called Cut Of My Tongue [2009] by Sitawa Namwalie and others.

Before you get the chance to read the book, let me whet your appetite with excerpts from one Poem that I found so apt: Language of tribe; I am well versed in the language of tribe/Having acquired the script long ago/From family, friends and school/From my existence as a Kenyan, really/And I speak it fluent authourity/There may be times when I look different/Special beyond my understanding/After all I can cite my Luhya – Kikuyu marriage/My children speak only English/my friends are Luo, Kamba, Luhya, Kisii/KCs, even a Somali or two/ But am like everyone else.”
How many Kenyans won’t find themselves and their little, sneaky and dangerous prejudices in there lines? How many Kenyans don’t do the mathematics of tribe as outlined in the lines below?

Our tribes

“Tribe makes of act secretly/I hide myself in full public they/I read the newspapers/Watch behind the news, scan the streets/Count the members of the church council/On and on/I tally the numbers to times my tribe emerges/When the appearance is favorable, I smile.” 🙂
This is a pretty familiar territory, isn’t it? It is the nagging jigger in everyoner toe! It is what makes Kenya make two steps forward and three long backward strides.
Yet we refuse to speak about it concretely and publicly; we refuse to speak it in staffrooms, at the market, in Parliament, wherever and whenever. We pretend that it does not exist. We seem so intent on “cutting off the tongue” that shall pronunce tribalism and instead speak of it in the passive tense, as if it is a crisis in a neighbor’s home, as if it is a bad dream.
Ofcourse, as many of the poems and other ruminations in the But Off The Tongue many Kenyan’s wake up every morning to a mortifying day but can’t speak of their desperation, a desperation born of ethnic, racial, economic, spiritual, regional or political difference. Who shall speak of them? Will they also have tea with the editors?

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