Tag Archives: identity

The germination experiment

We had imagined that everyone had wanted bright lights and running water, music halls and conveniences. But ultimately, the nature of the pressure generated from being crammed into smaller spaces than humans had ever been in before was different from the ecological and infrastructural pressures we had predicted.

They became pressures of preserving an identity, of keeping privacy and separateness, of keeping apart. They became problems of assimilation, of integration, of a pressing need to say ‘who am I? And who are you?’

Ultimately, it became a distinction by identification of ‘what are you?’

Questions of worth, keeping up, matching what one has to the rest of the pack one desires to be in, deliberately differentiating oneself from the larger group, a proud distinction in the crowd. The pressure of strangers was perceived as pressure to move away from what one was, what one had brought with or saved of oneself when one came to the new place and the crowd. So we pushed back. Strangers not welcome. They intruded on our dreams of what we had thought our future would be.

Trouble was, those dreams had been based on the characteristics of a past that was already changing under our feet. You cannot enlarge and project the past into a realistic future; the past is the known, the smaller and more contained world, and the future is by definition the threshold of the unknown.

Some say we don’t have our backs to the past and our faces to the future. Rather, we have our backs to the future and faces to the past, so that all of time and experience is an unrolling ribbon of inclusive history. We look over our shoulders at the unknown. But that inclusive vision must still use the combat tools of modern historiography in order to secure change in every new moment of the present (or the past).

And even in that, the strange past intrudes like a morphing virus. What we dislike about the intrusion of the strange into our consciousness — the stranger, the new odd neighbor, the strange dresses and customs, the disaster, the irritating actions of others that force us to change our route to heaven or hell — is the way they spoil our dreams.

And the new ones who enter old spaces, the migrants wanted by one group and not another, at one time and not another? Their lives are also attempts at historiography. They also come into new spaces and hope to keep some parts of the old they left behind, and they try to re-create from the seeds in their memories, in a petri-dish as it were, a new entity: the reborn old world that they fled from or that they watched sicken and change or simply abandoned for better prospects.

All these worlds and their thought-bubble Edens, jostling in the same space. And not enough earth to let all be full-grown entities.

There cannot ever be those old worlds again. Nor even nouveau ones. Each group of people has grown far beyond what their past was, what their past had once made possible. But the earth has not grown. We are tree-tops choking each other in the slow fight to air or death. Look to our roots.


Accusations of Belonging I

Because I have been accused of patriotism, I remember and quote Binyavanga Wainaina. He says it so well:
Our national spirit is in a coma
BINYAVANGA WAINAINA: CONTINENTAL DRIFT – May 28 2009 06:00

“Patrick Henry, a prominent figure in the American Revolution, known and remembered for his ‘Give me Liberty, or give me Death’ speech, once said: “‘It is natural for man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts … For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth, to know the worst, and to provide for it.’

“How long shall we continue dreaming of a great and glorious Kenya? Isn’t it time we accept the painful truth and provide for it!!

“The republic is dead, my good people, the republic is dead!”

What kind of Gikuyu are you? This question has been circling around and inside me for many years. Especially now. Kenyan’s fate is uncertain, and people are running around looking to firm up their certainties.

Not a Gikuyu at all, is one possible answer to this question. If we want to get all nativist. I do not speak the language. My mother’s family was not Gikuyu. I did not vote for Kibaki. In Kenya, of course, this means that I voted for Raila — because it turns out that we have become black and white. The truth is that I fled to Lamu and listened to the 2007 election on the radio, feeling too nauseous about the tone of public rhetoric to vote.

In the MeMe Post-Modern world it turns out I have a lot of options. I am a field of identities picking here and there: I can be a whole Gikuyu, be a Kenyan, be an internet conspiracy theorist called Bob from Iowa. I am a Gikuyu because I say I am, a national school Gikuyu, who spent much time in good state schools with the children of professionals from many tribes. I am a Gikuyu because I read Decolonising the Mind when I was 17, and at the time it seemed to have been written as a very special admonishment to me personally.

According to Gikuyu cultural law, I am a Gikuyu, whether or not I want to be one. My father is Gikuyu, and so I am Gikuyu.

To find this ethnic certainty is to seek a kind of insanity. Confused and cosmopolitan elites “discover” their “true selves”, partly on the back of grievance: perceived or real. These elites have come to believe that the larger cosmopolitan state as presently constituted cannot represent their desires and hopes, their dreams and ambitions.

Now we have on the internet a new fever of self-searching. Often sober and thoughtful, these conversations are already being drowned by the primal scream of those who want absolute certainties. If the tens of thousands of Gikuyu refugees in Kenya remain in camps, this is an open wound. If they look like refugees, they are refugees, they are not “internally displaced people”. It means that there are other nations in Kenya who are hidden from the Constitution, and who unite to decide that we are not of them. We heard this said, by members of the opposition, that the elections were a battle of 43 tribes against one. This became the unifying moment in the ODM election campaign in 2007.

So, the ethnic nationalists say, if this is the case, this pretence by you, Binyavanga, yes you, that you can be all fluid and undecided, it is a betrayal. You have to choose. Your true nation.

There is more, our lost brother, Binyavanga, some of them say. There are those of us who seek our secret history. For we are Jews, yes, Jews. We came from Israel, we are Kabbalah, we ruled Axum. Our origins are Cushitic. We are biblical people. We need our Canaan. We are in pain, in villages across Gikuyuland, Binyavanga; Gikuyu are butchering Gikuyu as our directionlessness sinks us even further and faster.

There is no time to think about it, Binyavanga Wainaina, they say, come across and join this certainty, for it is certain and you shall sleep well.
There is such a thing as a spirit of a nation, the intangible thing that animates all action and policy. Our national spirit is in a coma. We cannot pretend anymore that our crisis is about “governance” and “corruption”. Or an election.

I know that I have no tolerance for a Kenya made up of Luos or Gikuyus or Somalis or Gujaratis who cannot examine their own role in our crisis. What I am sick of, what I hate even more than I hate our corrupt politicians, is these defensive intelligentsia — from all our communities — who seek to save “their people” by only pointing fingers at the others. This attempt to make an unnatural nobility of the self turns the rest of Kenya into beasts, and has only one possible conclusion. It will not lead to noble self-determination, no Gikuyu Canaan or Majimbo Nation. It will lead to the kind of bloodshed that does not stop, that cannot think, that will only end when the fever is exhausted.

We are not done with the violent tests to our common nationhood. I keep telling myself that on the side of this seemingly irresistible surge towards a grim end, there must be some immovable good, a force for us all, that we cannot yet see, that grows with every dark act, something from the hearts of citizens, and not the games of leaders, or the secret desires of the vengeful.

Source: Mail & Guardian Online Web Address: http://www.mg.co.za/article/2009-05-28-our-national-spirit-is-in-a-coma
2 of 4    6/7/09 3:56 PM


Love

makes no sense to the thirsting mind.

 

She has my heart. My love. What is this, this love of a place? A place of birth, an arbitrary nation, a land torn and tumultuous, troubled in prediction, anomalous in progress? Is it distance? What is this tearing anger and grief of a place not yet real? So hard to meet childhood’s end? Will I mourn the child I will give birth to in the same way, remembering what I parted from in the moment of birth? This body and soil, bound in the same way, body and soul, leave the reasoning mind ungentled, free, and it escapes its prison for a freedom enticing to itself. Is peace the marriage of disparate yearnings, then? Is it marriage, union? Harmony? Meeting? Peace will be acceptance of this willing halter, and the abdication of doubt. Where shall I put this love, this welling? How shall I hide it from the mocking, grown-up world? A child must have playthings, and adults their respite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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