Not willing to give up on tribe

I am not yet willing to give up on the concept of tribe. I am unwilling to grant that colonizers were right in their claims that tribe was a limited concept that had no place in the modern world. I am unwilling to accept their definitions that my history and heritage are small and uninteresting, lacking in depth and complexity, beauty and joy.

I am not yet willing to give up on the concept of tribe.

Tribe lets my friend say, “my name means one born at night,” and my other friend to say, “I belong to the people who shape metal,” and yet another friend to say, “I bring rain in the dry seasons.” Tribe marks the changing of generations, Maina to Irungu, Kamau to Peter.

Tribe celebrates how we have lived, how we have loved, how we have suffered, how we have mourned. We are the descendants of Gatego, the generation riddled with syphilis and Ngige, the generation decimated by locusts. To say these names is to claim that our stories are not yet done. We are not yet done. We are here.

I am unwilling to relinquish tribe.

To say tribe is to recognize the diversity of who we are. To say that women from that ridge discipline their men. Men from that hill are bowlegged. Children from that place run like the wind. To say that people from that place make the best ũcũrũ (porridge), from that other place the best mũratina (an alcoholic drink), from that other place the best mũtura (a dish made from stuffed animal intestines).

To say tribe is to say people from that place talk fast, they sing their language. And people from that other place are tall. And people from that other place are dark. And people from that place like the dark taste of burnt beans. And people from that place like the iron-rich veins of green weeds.

I am unwilling to relinquish tribe.

There’s too much left to discover, too much left to explore, too much potential to be realized. The past remains an untapped ore, myth, a rich vein, the present a fertile, fallow field. Songs remain to be sung, stories written, dramas acted.

We have much creating to do.

Tribe is not simply an inheritance, but untapped potential. It is the material we can work on, work with, transform and translate.

For me, tribe is Wamũyũ, Gikuyu’s tenth daughter, mother of an illegitimate child, founder of a hospitable clan. Wamũyũ, who embodies the mystery, wonder and potential of intimate hospitality. Wamũyũ, whose unnamed and unnameable lover fractures any sense of insularity, Wamũyũ, whose intimate welcome illustrates the best of tribal hospitality, tribal love, tribal openness.

For me, tribe is Wangũ wa Makeri, the leader who dared to dance nude in the moonlight. Wangũ, who let the moon’s rays caress her, her people’s eyes embrace her. Wangũ, who understood that leadership meant being vulnerable and taking risks that might compromise her leadership.

Against all logic, against all sense, I am in love with the concept of tribe.

It is, like all love, fraught with complications and ambivalence. At times I want to scream at what seem to be the limitations of tribal identification, the ways I am called upon to perform tribe: to sing, dance, or act in a certain way. I chafe at the constrictions that ask me to speak my language to gain certain favours. I worry that my positions are taken for granted, that my identity may be said to dictate my politics.

I am often seduced by the invitation to identify myself as national, international, or cosmopolitan. I am tempted by the idea that I can and should transcend tribe. I am compelled by the idea that I would be a better person if my allegiances were less local, less idiosyncratic, less wedded to nine clans that face Mount Kenya. But I believe in this love.

I believe in its potential. I want to see where it leads.


13 thoughts on “Not willing to give up on tribe

  1. The writer

    As an African in the diaspora I wish to thank you for your message.
    I hope there are enough like you who will help us to to understand and appreciate the rich history and culture of the African people.

    I, like yourself, believe that embracing our heritage, is the key to our future. I would encourage all the peoples of Africa to explore and share this most valuable treasure while the possibility still exists.

  2. This is why when you mention that you are a Kenyan in some parts of the world today the first thing they ask you is “what tribe are you?” it happened to me a lot especially after the post election chaos and for this reason alone I’m not proud to be part of a Kenyan tribe, I’m sorry mate but yes the colonizers were in fact right tribe has no place in this world but you are wrong in going on to claim that they define history as “small and uninteresting, lacking in depth and complexity, beauty and joy” they don’t!
    For in fact this has nothing to do with tribes.

    My argument is… yes each tribe in Kenya forms a unique description of its people their practices and in fact their unique beauty.
    I however believe we can still keep this uniqueness and depth as Kenyans not as kikuyu or kalenjins or whatever if we do in fact hope to compete on the world stage we have to look past tribes and word together,

    now before you say this has nothing to do with what you have written I ask you to look at the mess that took place in the last few months and I put this to you … what was the cause of the displacements and deaths? Among the many answers that you may come up with you cannot ignore “tribalism as a cause” yes tribalism
    You say tribe celebrates how we have lived, loved and suffered? Well yes to some extent I agree with you on this but you make no sense in claiming we are not done? What…? Look here, in the lead up to independence the whole country suffered yes? Now are we not here still? Are we done? Please clarify

    I agree when you say tribe helps to recognize diversity. But wouldn’t you rather just have a country made up different regions “men from that hill are bowlegged. Children from that place run like the wind……….” rather that a country split by tribes “the kikuyu love their money, the louse are proud, the kalengins run like the wind….” I pray that when the next generation produces its offspring; our beloved country will have forgotten who is from what tribe and just live like we should as Kenyans.

    Your last two paragraphs say it all brother. The limitations of which you speak are only here because our parents and grand parents insisted like you in keeping tribe as part of their kids growing up when we move to the cities we look for our tribes for favors we blame other tribes because of a,b, or c, for this reason I propose an elimination of these tribal shackles that tie us down and limit our abilities, don’t destroy the rich history, don’t forget the folklore but when you do teach the new generation this remember 2008 and think twice about the kind of Kenyans you want you kids to grow up as.

    as much as i disagree with most of what you have written that was a good read and i hope it gets the required airtime it deserves for i feel this is a worthy topic of debate for our country.

  3. No tribe you need to move beyond the context of what has happened in Kenya . Someone gave a very simple comparison to what we are faced with in Kenya.

    when a man and a woman get married they have to come to the marriage as separate different and distinct entities in order to make the marriage work

    can you imagine a marriage between a man and woman yet the man does not know he is a order for the marriage to work you have to know who you are and bring those qualities to the table. The other party does the same . Infact ou will find that this distinct qualities and differences are what complement each other and make the union work.

    Those who call for a tribe less Kenya are a lost bunch with a serious identity crisis.we are not equal we are different we all bring different qualities to the table in this union.Let us not pretend to be so modern that we can not see if we dont accept this ,the marriage wont last long peace deals or not

  4. Mirror, mirror
    what do you see when you see a world without tribes?.

    I see a person who opens his mouth to talk but no voice can be heard.
    I see a person like a ghost, separated form it’s physical form wondering in the wilderness in
    Such for resting place.
    I see a person like an island being engulfed by the sea and has no beach to hold back the waters.
    I see a person who conceived but was not born.
    I see a person with a beginning without a beginning.
    I see a person a person who does not exists.
    Why even bother ?
    You are not even there are you?
    Did some one say something ?
    Hallo? Hallooooooooooooo ?
    I thought so no tribe is a nobody .

  5. Thanx a million, this is very enlightening. I need to find that part of me that has been stolen by what I call civilisation. Civilisation, what exactly is civilisation? I was happy before.

  6. Right Thinking,

    Visualize Africa as the Human Body and different Tribes as different parts of that Body.

    Each part of the body has a role to play and I believe we can all agree, that no part is so small as to be insignificant.

    Like the parts of the body the different Tribes evolved over time to serve an organic purpose. Large parts like arms and legs are obvious but would be useless if the nervous system is not working. What if something like the thyroid or pituitary gland is not functioning. Take away a hand or a foot and the body loses mobility, take the eyes or the ears and what will be the consequences.

    I believe I have made my point. Each Tribe is important and must be recognized and nurtured as we would each part of our own body.
    If this happens in the right way not only Africa but the whole world will benefit because Europeans have set the world on a path of destruction and it’s going to take the basic wisdom and ancient knowledge of the Tribes of the remaining indigenous peoples of the world to put it right.

  7. In the spirit of decency and fair use. I am not sure if this writer has been contacted and given permission for you to use his work but even if he has, the rules of attribution still hold.


    “Potash maybe you can do as a favor and publish the unedited version of Keguros work.On the issue of sources Kikuyu Nationalism in the spirit of decency and fair use reserves the right to use any work by any writer that touches on the Kikuyu nation that is published on the internet or that is in public domain.Only a complaint by the owner of the article(intellectual rights-KM-suspended identity) can petition otherwise. other bodies and entities doing so on behalf of the owner would require written authorization communicated to us by the recognized owner” -Kikuyu Nationalism Editorial

  8. Dear blog owner,

    I have not given my permission for this piece to be published in this forum. Please take it down.

    I do not support any form of Kikuyu nationalism in any manner and I consider this use of my writing to be antithetical to its intent.

    If you have any questions about my identity as the author of this article, you can contact me ****** at



    Dear KM

    Ref: Public ownership ,verification & Fair use

    1.Pending verification of your identity and noting your concerns about being associated with the concept of Kikuyu Nationalism. We have suspended the use of your name on this blog while we make an effort to resolve the situation. The article in question will however still remain on this blog since our editors have not altered the article in any way from its original form . Kikuyu Nationalism shall treat the article as public domain until we can determine the validity of any objections to its appearing here.

    2.The article in questions and any other material we may have in our possession (concerning this issue) will therefore continue to be regarded as “public property”. Since the laws of various countries define the scope of the public domain differently, the article as already stated herein shall remain posted and will not be withdrawn/removed or temporally brought down. Once we have established that you are indeed the author we will consider the next course of action.

    3.If indeed you do end up being the writer, We need to remind you that The “fair use” exemption in (U.S.) copyright law.§ 107. Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use (& the “fair dealing” exemption in Canada) which were created to allow republishing of commentary,articles, parody, news reporting, research and educational material (copyrighted works) without the permission of the author covers us.Hence we will have to reinstate your name to the article and keep it as originally posted .In the meantime continue supporting and enjoying our blog while we try to accommodate any concerns that you may have


    Kikuyu Nationalism(muigwithania2.0).

    PS. An article on your objection to Kikuyu Nationalism or a commentary to set the record straight on any misconceptions your article may have raised is welcome for publishing.

  9. I don’t understand why potash is up in arms about permission.Even going to the lengths of contacting the writer to tell him his article is on this blog . It just smacks of immaturity i am glad you guys have handled it the way you have .what was he planning to accomplish by doing so

  10. Pingback: Queering the Agikuyu « Gukira

  11. Date: Sun, 6 Apr 2008 17:47:00 -0500
    From: KM
    To: joe-For Kikuyu nationalism
    Subject: Re: Kikuyu nationalism
    CC: wambui.mwangi, daudi.were, potashke

    Dear Joe,

    I would prefer that you take down my writing without putting up legal roadblocks. However, I am much too busy right now to engage in anything prolonged.

    I will note, however, that this writing was produced at the behest of members of the Coalition of Kenyan Concerned Writers, and was submitted to the group’s database with the understanding that it would be used in appropriate forums.

    It appeared on at the request of one of the editors. At the very least, I would have asked that you ask for my permission before reprinting it. My email address is readily available at my blog and online.

    I cannot stop you from using my language for whatever purposes you choose-indeed, it is the very nature of language that it travels regardless of the writer’s intent. But I do want to register very strongly my disappointment that you did not seek my permission to use the article and that once you had posted it, I was not made aware and had to discover for myself that it had been used in such a manner.

    I am not granting my permission. If you continue to use it, please indicate that you do so without my permission, approval, or sanction. Removing my name might suffice.




    RE: Kikuyu nationalism
    From: joe for Kikuyu Nationalism
    Sent:Tue 4/08/08 9:28 AM
    To: KM

    Dear KM,

    We have noted the concern you have over the publishing of the ‘I am not willing to give up on my tribe’ article on our blog. It is unfortunate that you feel that our blog is not a suitable or appropriate forum for your article. Just like it(your article), Kikuyu nationalism (the blog) is often misunderstood in its intent and purpose . We have carried both pro and against Kikuyu nationalism articles on our blog as well as neutral articles concerning the Gikuyu people .Yours was not any different. And it is unfortunate that you felt that our forum was not appropriate.

    We would not like to go into the specifics about how we acquired your article and other related material that you may have submitted to the Coalition of Kenyan writers or other forums but like you we are not interested in any form of prolonged legal disagreement.

    Having consulted further we have decided that out of courtesy(to remove your name) -(pending verification of ownership of said article) that the article will remain . We hereby regret any misunderstanding that might have resulted from our publication,but we continue to note it was within our legal rights and solemn duty to our readers to publish the article in question.

    We would also like to note that did in fact contact us over this issue and seems to have played a part in reporting to you and instigating this issue. We at Muigwithania would like to reassure you that our use of the article was not in anyway aimed at creating the impression that you were promoting kikuyu nationalism. In fact despite the temptation to offer added commentary to the said article we left it as it was(present to us by a third party), in order to provoke the minds of our young readers as well as help generate discussion.

    Once again thank you for contacting us. we will be adding a note to the article indicating that the authors name remains suspended as they might not approve or sanction Kikuyu Nationalism. As for permission to use the article I think our legal explanation in our previous letter covers this


    Kikuyu Nationalism(muigwithania2.0)

  12. Before the word racism, you had the concept that meant the same as racism!
    Before nations evolved you had tribalism! The different tribes that were isolated from other tribes were fearful and suspicious of everything and everyone that were different from what they looked like and that acted differently from the way they acted.
    This isolation also brought into play the concept that their particular tribe was superior to all other tribes and that meant that they could make slaves and kill indiscriminately all those inferior tribal people! This chauvinism gave rise to the idea that their inherent superiority gave them the right to rule the world!
    The right wing tendency is to go back into our tribal past and to not trust those inferior foreigners, and to preach “American exceptionalism!

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