Tamms is Luo. So is Kim. But they are also Kikuyu. Which means they don’t belong to any tribe. Tamms aptly calls it, Half Tribe. When you ask her what tribe she belongs to, she says, “I’m half Kikuyu and half Luo. I’m Half Tribe.” I have no problem with that at all, but I wish she could mention the Luo part first – half Luo and half Kikuyu – not the other way round. But I won’t squabble, there are bigger fish to fry. (See that unintended ‘tribal’ pun?)
If you were waiting for an elevator, at say, Rahimtullah Towers, and waiting with you were Tamms and Kim, you wouldn’t be able to tell that they were from a particular tribe. Not even if they opened their mouths and said, “We are looking for our mom.” Even I wouldn’t be able to tell.
But because I’m their dad, sometimes I see flashes of their tribes in them. Brief momentary flashes that anyone can miss. For instance, there is a way Tamms sometimes yawns that can only be Luo. If you watch a Luo yawn, you will see a big yawn coming from someone who takes yawning very seriously, and at the end of it you will hear them mumble something. You can listen for twenty years to try and decipher what they say, but you won’t. Tamms yawns like that sometimes. She has a Luo yawn. Then she has Kikuyu feet. Don’t ask me what Kikuyu feet look like.
There is a way Kim loves warus that could only have come from the Kikuyu side. People always think I make up shit here, but I will illustrate how this boys’ Kikuyu-ness comes out by what happened last Friday. Thank God there was a witness to corroborate this.
I don’t really do much work on Fridays, so I called home at 11am and told the nanny, “Teresa, valisha mtoto nguo warm, nakuja kumchukua.” I picked him up and took him to Westgate Mall to hang out because he likes escalators (A Luo thing, no doubt. All the Luos I know would rather use the escalator than the lift. They love it! And if you happen to be standing near them when the escalator is going up you will hear them hum very silently, “vrooom.”)
We went for lunch at Urban Burger, where they brought him the kiddie burger and fries. Two small burgers, with open buns. Si we started chowing? Who do I see passing by our table? Some boy of mine called Carl Okello who works for Stanchart. So I say, “Hey Carl, bwana!” (Luos will always say “bwana” after words: nango bwana, koro bwana, kech kaya bwana, miya 3K more kanyo bwana…etc etc).
So Carl whirls around and comes back and I stand up and we hug and he touches Kim’s head and says what everybody says, “Hi little man, what’s your name…” etc, and Kim just smiles bashfully thinking, “Your shadow is on my lunch, boss!” We stand there and chew some fat.
Now I think Kim sees us standing and thinks lunch is over and we are ready to go. So what does he do? I want someone to take a guess. He climbs off his seat and picks that little silver meshed container that contains his fries and he stands next to us holding it protectively against his chest as if to say, “Sawa, I’m ready, let’s go!” This boy left two juicy burgers on his plate and decided that if we were going to cut lunch short then he’d rather leave with his warus. Si that’s just kuyu behaviour?
What is heartbreaking about Half-Tribes, and something that most of us have failed to change, is our kids’ inability to speak their mother-tongue. Contrary to what the middle class who live in Lavington and go for fashion high tea will tell you, knowing and speaking your mother-tongue is actually a cool thing. You aren’t less cool, or less learned a person because you can speak your mother-tongue. There are friends I know who will say very proudly, “By the way, I can’t speak my mother-tongue, well, I can understand Kisii but I can’t speak it.” These people annoy the hell out of me. They imagine that this admission is supposed to be a cool thing. I think it’s like saying you can’t count from one to 100.
At the same time, just because you can speak your mother-tongue doesn’t mean you get to impose it on people from other tribes. Kikuyus are notorious at doing this. I can’t count the number of times I have been spoken to in Kikuyu by taxi drivers, hawkers, even in Mpesa shops and in mats. Kuyus have this thing of just assuming that we all know kyuk. Like it’s something we should have learnt in 8-4-4. Actually the only people who should be speaking to us in their mother tongue here in Nai are Maasais given that this city was theirs. But then again there are only 12 Maasais in Nai and they all spend all their time at Kiza Lounge speaking English. So yeah.
You will go to downtown Grogon to look for a spare part and the first thing a guy will tell you is, “Uhoro waku Gitonga! Ndakuona ndamaka tondu umuthe wina mbeca uhana ta woka kugura meeri, na no tairi cia Ruraya ndinacio.”
And you are like, ‘But why is this guy calling me Gitonga? I’m Biko! And certainly not Biko Gitonga.’ You will hear hawkers calling customers Gitonga and you wonder if they see all of us as Gitonga. Even chics! Felix Kasaine Gitonga. Jimmy Moguche Gitonga. Hellen Wasike Gitonga. Only much later did I realise later that “Gitonga” means like a loaded guy, like you have mullah. It’s a form of sales flattery. Okuyu yawa!
But what about guys who are called Gitonga? Does it mean that they were named after rich men? Or they are destined for wealth? Sammy, hii swali nyeti ni yako, baba.
I’m embarrassed to say that Tamms only can say “koro” and “ber.” Completely embarrassed. But she knows more Kyuk words because of the reason I mentioned up there; Kyuks will speak Kyuk to you even if you don’t understand it! So of course her mom will always tell them, “Nuu uyu?”. But to be fair my grandmother speaks Luo to everyone, all the time.
My dad always says, “This is terrible. To have children who are Luo and not teach them Luo!” Well, what opportunity do you have to teach your kids your mother tongue when you don’t speak your mother tongue around them?
The person who raises them is a Kisii woman. (Fantastic nanny that lady). The thing with having your children raised by a Kisii nanny is that they get to know all of those dreadful shrilly Kisii songs. Oh and the word, “Obe!”. Kim spills his food, “obe!”. Kim pees on the floor, “obe!” Obe obe obe! And the nanny often speaks to herself when she is jobo-ing. I don’t know if this is a Kisii thing or if it’s her thing. Desmond Momanyi, please shed some light here.
Our biggest failure to our Half Tribe kids is that they will not be able to speak their language. I would like to hear from those who have succeeded, is this something I can change?
But this might eventually be a good thing; having kids who aren’t aligned to a particular tribe. Because tribalism has now become cancerous, especially as we head towards the next election. And nobody truly needs this shit to be honest. I came from South Sudan and saw what tribalism can do and truly, nobody needs this shit because eventually everybody loses.
I saw some social media update by Fred Obachi Machoka, the blackest man in black Africa (You have to say that in that gallant Machoka way) and he was letting rip on how us guys – the young guys – have become so sickeningly tribal. How we have become like the politicians, how we roast each other on social media and how tragic it is. And you feel shameful reading his update because he’s right. You take a perfectly decent person, well learned, well travelled, well spoken and when they write such narrow tribal epithet on social media it hits you right in your gut. Of course most people will block or delete this person as friends. But I don’t. I need the numbers damn it, hahaha. No seriously, I don’t because people will always show you who they are, and when they do, what you do with that information is up to you. When I see someone I follow write such shit, I normally just drop my expectations of them to ground zero. Then I move on.
The truth is that we, the X generation, will not stop tribalism, going by the level of buffoonery going on across social media. We are a bunch of disgusting two-faced hyenas who act sane in public but behind the veil of social media become what we have allowed our politicians to turn us into.
But the truth is, it doesn’t matter. It truly doesn’t matter at the end of the day where you are from. I have a friend, he’s Kyuk. He comes from Uhunye’s village. In fact, he tells me if he threw a stone, it would hit one of Kamwana’s cows in the eye. This guy has a day job but he’s struggling to also run a pub in his hood. One of those makuti places. He almost got auctioned late last year, but I think he offered to sell his youngest son to pay the debts. Haha. Business is shit. He once asked me, “Biko, do you think I have an advantage because Uhuru and I share the same road in shags?”
I said, “Hell yeah, man! At least you have a road! You should come to Kendu Bay!”
“What good is that road for me, as Jamo, here in Nairobi? How often do I use that road? Do my kids benefit from that road?”
I mumbled a no and stared at my shoes.
“Do you imagine that every first Monday of the month I get an envelope delivered to my doorstep from Statehouse to cushion my bar from folding up?”
I sighed and said no.
“Do you think Uhuru knows me? He might know my grandmother, maybe, I don’t know, but do you think he knows me? Do you think if I showed up at Statehouse and told the guards that I’m the guy who comes from the boma near the president’s, the one with the red roof, Uhunye will andalia a ka-whisky like this and say, “Jamo, how can we make your business prosper as mundu wa nyumba?.”
“No,” I sniffed about to cry.
“It doesn’t matter boss. This shit only matters to politicians in the end. If the interest rates are shit, we all suffer. You and I. If the government doesn’t have mullah, my brother who does tenders suffers. We are all alone. You have tois, I have tois, imagine we all have the same fears. We all want to get ahead and it’s not any easier on me because I am from the big man’s village. Boss, my tribe is money.”
So I ordered another double. And changed the topic.
Tribalism won’t stop because you read this article. Of those reading this, most will have forgotten about it in ten minutes. We won’t change it. I don’t even know if the Y-generation or the millennials will kill it. But we have failed. What’s left for us now is to condition our kids. That’s all that is left for us to do. And to avoid the mistakes our parents made by telling us that Kyuks will kill you in your sleep and take off with your wealth, which includes a bicycle if you are Lunje. That Luos have a weird culture of sleeping with the dead and shaving the bereaved by force. That Kisiis dig up the dead and steal their clothes. That Luhyas eat and eat and eat. Maybe if we raised our kids outside this madness of tribalism it might eventually turn out ok.
Oh, that and intermarriages. Maybe that might help. I’m not asking guys to get second wives from other tribes out of civic duty, but maybe if we all married from other tribes our tribal affiliations might wane. That maybe one day when our children who can’t speak their mother-tongue finally grow up and they don’t care where they are from or what their language is, when all their knowledge of who they are is based on what schools they attended, what malls they visited, what pop song they love and what shoes they wore, maybe we will all get along.
Maybe these kids – the 44th Tribe of Kenya – will save us from this grand buffoonery and unending tribal circus. Because, we have failed spectacularly with our tiresome unending pretense of ethnic tolerance.
Having said that, lakini kuyu guys love checked shirts, sindio?