My grandmother, Mrs Maroncha, once told me a story about a neighbor who had been caught up in a scuffle with the clan. See, in my grandmother’s generation, the clan was very active. The Meru had an administrative structure that ran from the household to the Grand Council, the Njuri Ncheke. The father headed the homestead. And every man belonged to a clan (My clan is called Rukinga). Several clans made up a subtribe (mine is Mwimbi), and all the seven sub-tribes sent a senior elder, a Mugwe, so sit in the Njuri Ncheke (there is an eighth one, Igoji, but I am not sure if it is a real subtribe or they are just Mwimbi people who are heavily influenced by the Imenti. I will ask Mrs Maroncha next time I go home). Now, as expected, the Njuri Ncheke was so high up the hierarchy and could not deal with petty day to day issues. It only dealt with matters affecting the Ameru Nation as a whole. So the clan was the organ that was visible in the day to the lives of the people.
One of the functions was of course, to ensure adherence to customs and rituals of the tribe. So the elders regularly sat together to discuss clan issues as they ate roasted goat. This neighbor was asked to give a goat for the elder’s meeting. But it so happened that he had become a Christian, so he refused.
“Niu ndi wa mwiriga wa Juda (I belong to the tribe of Judah)” he told the elders.
Naturally, they were no impressed. So they forcibly took two goats: one for the meeting, another for his punishment for disrespecting the clan.
One of the issues that our generation grapples with is identity. And the primary culprit is colonialism. See, the Europeans came with their mighty guns and subdued us, and ruled over us for almost a century. Now, Europe has undergone the industrial revolution around that time, hence their technical and military superiority and enabled them to conquer. This superior technical know-how made them feel superior to us, and they did not shy from showing it. Unfortunately, even Christian missionaries came with that feeling of racial superiority. For one to be properly Christian, they had to denounce the African culture and adopt the European one. Not even Jewish. European.
That has had two effects on us. Some people have bought into the lie that European culture is superior. That Europeans are more civilized than we are, and therefore we should ape everything they do. This group quickly forget their mother tongue once they learn English (Or French, German etc). They try to speak English with an American accent, and laugh at you if you speak English with a heavy Kimeru accent. They bleach their skins because the closer it is to white, the more beautiful it is. And they eat ugali with a knife and fork (rolls eyes).
Then there is the opposite group. Those people who realized that we were lied to. They take pride in the African culture. They insist on going back to the African culture as it was, pre-colonialism. They claim their religion is the African traditional religion, even though they have no idea what traditional worship entailed. Or what procedure was followed and why. They look down on their more westernized friends, calling them neo-colonialised. The only problem is that they do that in the English language, wearing English suits, in their western-type offices while pursuing careers of Western origin, on western-originated social media, and using western technology.
Okay, so there is a third group, one in which I belong. We are Africans to the core, but we are pragmatic enough to realize that colonialism disrupted our culture permanently. So technically we are Afro-European. Africans, but with elements of European culture. That is to say, we do not buy into the lie that European culture is superior to African culture, but we also understand that some of the cultural changes brought about by colonialism are irreversible.
Which is why, for example, I frown at attempts by the African church to perpetuate Europeanisation of Christianity. For instance, I have said it before on this platform that I do not think customary marriages are sinful. Neither do those who conduct customary marriages have to make it right by doing church weddings. The Bible does not prescribe any particular way of wedding. Indeed, all weddings mentioned in Scripture were cultural, under Jewish culture, with no priests involved. But at the same time, I pragmatic enough not to insist that every African do a cultural wedding only. The church wedding is now part of our culture, and as a matter of practice, I think it is excellent. In fact, I intend to do it myself.
I take pride in my ability to speak Kimeru fluently. A friend once marveled when I told him that in the village I do deliver church sermons in Kimeru. Yet, even my fluent is not what my great-grandmother spoke. Because I have to drop an English word here and there. I cannot speak pure Kimeru as was spoken by my ancestors.
Cutting the long story short, the thing is that we are a people born in two cultures. One was imposed on us, but we cannot pretend it did not happen. The best we can do is to pick the best of both cultures, and help ourselves become better citizens of the world.