With the half-Kenyan-Luo American President Barack Obama scheduled to arrive in Kenya on July 24, I thought it would be an opportune time to re-submit this piece that first appeared in Mwakilishi then Jambonewspot.com. My piece was a counterpoint to the article "10 Amusing Misconceptions Foreigners Have About Kenyans" that seemed to peddle the romantic (and bigoted) notion that all Kenyans, indeed Africans, are alike.
While I realize that the article by travelstart.co.ke was a marketing/sales pitch much like Sir Richard Branson's "Why I Love Kenya" infomercial for his uber-expensive and exclusive Mahali Mzuri safari camp, it was directed at the nebulous "foreigners" who medoubts can tell the difference between a Kenyan and a Nigerian let alone locating either on a map!
My response is directed at the so-called "WanaKenya Halisi" or "genuine Kenyans" who have repeatedly displayed the same ignorance about fellow Kenyans from different tribes as the "foreigners" have towards Kenyans/Africans in general!
Much like the tongue-in-cheek and satirical "Stuff White People Like" by Christian Lander, this article is intended to expose the silliness and puerility of the mindset that espouses ethnic, tribal, racial misconceptions and xenophobia. It is also far from complete or all-encompassing.
1. Kenyans Are Homogenous.
They are not. Kenyans are as diverse and as varied as the human race! Where do those who bloviate about the monolithic and cookie cutter Kenyan think the term "Kenya 42+" originated from?
2. Ujaluo Itaniuwa. I have never quite understood this one but it is Kiswahili (or Swahili) for the expression "Being Luo will kill me." It was explained to me as "affirmation of the 'swag' or confidence Luos have regardless of their circumstances" to which I responded "Sure, if you say so."
3. All Luos Eat Fish. This misconception speaks to the fact that Luoland is home to the 2nd largest fresh water lake in the world - Lake Victoria. Said lake is a source of fish - tilapia, Nile Perch, Omena and an assortment of other piscis or as Patrick "PLO" Lumumba would say, icthyes, Latin and Greek for fish respectively.
The recent advent of fish farming in parts of Kenya beyond Luoland has thrown this misconception into a tizzy as industrious and ever-entrepreneurial Kenyans of all persuasions discover that rech ngege or mbuta are excellent source of proteins not to mention yet another way to earn a living.
4. All Luos Throw Stones. I will blame this misconception of Luos on fan(atic)s of Gor Mahia Football Club, especially after a loss to the their shemijis AFC Leopard!
I have to confess that this is a misconception belied by a childhood memory and incident involving throwing stones. Since I plan to run for political office, I won't get into the details of the story but suffice to say, I, my brother and two non-Luo friends of ours did a fairly decent imitation of those stone-throwing sore losers!
Come to think of it, wasn't the recently-elected MP for Kabete, one Ferdinand Waititu and his then-Embakasi constituents, caught on camera hurling stones at some people who had offended their sensibilities?
5. Luos Are Lazy. This misconception speaks to the dilapidated and decrepit conditions of Kisumu, the main city of Nyanza and of Kibera, arguably Africa's largest shantytown. Both locales are predominated by Luos and arguably unkempt and unkept supposedly because the inhabitants, Luos, are too lazy to take care of their communities!
On the other hand, were one to delve into the details surrounding the misconception regarding the "lethality" of Nyeri women they would discover that part of the reason the Women of Nyeri are prone to slice and dice their menfolk - pun unintended - is because of their alleged laziness and inability to take care of business - in more ways than one.
I could get into the political reasons why Kisumu and Nyanza have been late to develop their economies but that would be obfuscation and outside the scope of this list!
6. Luos Believe in "Tunaomba Serikali." This is an interesting misconception that adds to the narrative that "Luos are lazy" and given the recent budget and other efforts (by Kenya's government) to help ALL Kenyans, reminds me of the Red State/Blue State debate on welfare here in the US.
7. All Nyeri Women Are "Lethal." Any statement that begins with "all" and "every" immediately lose credibility. Having said that, this misconception has its roots in the sensational (and recent) media reports of women from Nyeri "abusing" or committing violence against their husbands or boyfriends. None other than Maendeleo Ya Wanaume (the male version of a women's rights movement) chair Nderitu Njoka has condemned the rising cases of gender-based violence against men in Nyeri County!
Silly me for thinking that ALL women are "lethal". Okay that's a joke!
Actually what does that even mean; "lethal", that is?
8. All Kisii Men Are Hot-tempered. Wasn't this "quality" once the sole purview and domain of the allegedly "hot" Latin (and Italian) lovers? The "sizzling" men of Nyaribari and Mosocho must have missed the memo that assigned them that enviable characterization, instead giving it to the likes of Enrique Iglesias and Fabio!
Maybe I am confusing being "hot-tempered" with being "hot-blooded" and/or being "hot." I am so confused!
9. All Luos Are Dark-skinned.
This characterization has its roots in the genealogy of the Luo people. Most Luos originated from the Nilotes of Southern Sudan who have dark skin, a function of the hot sun of the Sahel region. Beyond the anthropological and biological explanations regarding this misconception, the following thoughts come to mind:
- Is there something wrong with being "dark-skinned?" - Why, pray-tell, are women across Africa, heck across the world (save one Lupita Nyongo) so obsessed with skin-lightening creams if the Luos "ose kao" as in "already own" the attribute of being "dark-skinned?" - The most prominent AND famous Luo Barack Hussein Obama is as fair as the chemically-lightened Vera Sidika and Kenya's other "socialites." However, Mr. Obama's fair skin is natural courtesy of his bi-racial parents.
10. All Nairobi Watchmen Come From Western Kenya.
I would file this misconception under the heading "Birds of a Feather Flock Together." It is the same phenomenon that results in some ethnic groups dominating certain sectors of the job market. Stateside, I would compare this to the food/service industry. One member of the family/group finds a job in a sector of the economy and s/he tells a relative or friend about the opportunity. The relative or friend tells a friend or relative....and soon the particular industry is dominated by people who are connected; are identical.
11. Some Kenyan Tribes Have "More" Thieves Amongst Them Than Other Tribes.
I would love to see the statistics that support this contention! And even after seeing the data, I will temper my conclusion with the adage "if you torture the data long enough, it will tell you what you want to hear!" Think how the neo-cons and George W. Bush manipulated the "evidence" to "prove" that Iraq had WMDs!
12. All Kikuyus Are Thieves (Okuyu Jakuo/Wasapere/Kinyambi). In parenthesis are Luo, Luhya and Kamba interpretations of this misconception. This misconception is a variant of the misconception that "some tribes have 'more' thieves than others" and is more pointed in its intended target - Kikuyus. While the misconception is a function of demographics and the evolution of the Kenyan society - since independence, it is also belied by President Uhuru Kenyatta's recent "List of Shame"; a list that was as diverse as Kenya 42+.
Put another way, there are thieves dotting the entire landscape of Kenya's 42+ tribes.
13. There Are no Birds in The Air in all of Ukambani; Kaaos Ate Them All.
Now this is a funny one.
I am not a Kaao as in I am not Kamba but this Jaluo loves him some pheasant, Cornish hen, and an assortment of other aves I will not mention publically least I incur the wrath of ornithologists AND members of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) alike.
14. Maasai Hawavalii Suruali And That's Why They Are Big Where it "Matters."
That the Maasai do not wear pants/trousers i.e. hawavalii suruali because their "shyt is big" reminds me of the myth that "black men have big %#&s.
It is also one myth that my Maasai friends; make that ALL black men would love to "prove" and hold on to because "size matters."
Makes one wonder what purveyors of said myth are compensating for or trying to overcome!
15. All People Who Tuma Salaams Over The Radio Are Luhyas (Shikhokho wa Shitswetswe Akiwa Butere Angependa Kumsalimiako Roselina Amashetse Shivelele etc.). Come again?
Let me date myself for a worthwhile cause: Back in the days of George Opiyo, Sam Madoka, Abdul Haq and "Mahamjam Mike", those tumiaring salaamus spanned the width and breadth of Kenya's 42+.
16. The Favorite Meals of Luhyas is Ukali na Ndeke.
I will go out on a limb and guess that ndeke is Luhya for kuku as in chicken. If that is indeed true, see my comments on Luos and their affinity for "fis".
17. All Kikuyus Love Money.
Puleeeze!! ALL Kenyans love money.
18. Luhyas Love Food And Steal All The Under-garments Hanging on Clothes' Line.
I am sorry but given the progression of the girth of most Kenyans, I vehemently beg to differ with the first half of this misconception about members of my sister's husband's tribe! Tumbo kubwa or "public opinions" aka pot-bellies are visible across Kenya's 42+ - men AND women; not just in Kakamega, Busia, or Bungoma!
Now the second half of the misconception re: under-garments is just sick and twisted. It also says more about the person or people holding it to be true than it does about the tribe that gave us Joe Kadenge, Victor Wanyama, my good friend "Phandom" Mudavadi and my brother-in-law!
19. Kambas Always Wear Yellow-, Red-, Purple- And Orange-Colored Clothing Items.
Absolutely and without a doubt NOT TRUE!
The single most stylish and fashion-forward Kenyan I have ever known - to this day - male or female - is my ex- who was Kamba. Simply put, Kamene was the embodiment of avant garde et haute couture fashion that seamlessly and elegantly blended ALL colors of the Pantone Chart including the aforementioned yellow, red, purple and orange!
There is also the blogger Sharon Mundia who I am going to guess, based on the last name "Mundia", is Kamba. Cutting to the chase: Ms. Mundia elicits a sense of style and co-ordination that belies this misconception about her Kamba tribe! And if she is not Kamba, her ability to mix-n-match colors way beyond the alleged "primary Kamba colors" more than makes up for the misconception!
20. All Luo Men Have Foreskin.
See the second paragraph of the comments re: the misconception "Luhyas love food and steal all the under-garments hanged on clothes' line".
Come to think of it, how would a stranger know anything about the anatomical configuration of one's "manhood" unless they have been intimate with them? This is one question I have been dying to ask Moses Kuria - Kenya's SME on all matters foreskin-related!
21. All Kenyans Love Beer And Nyama Choma. Last I checked, I was and still am Kenyan and I don't "love" roast meat nor have I ever drank beer or any alcohol for matter.
22. All Kikuyus And Kalenjins Are Corrupt.
Six words: President Uhuru Kenyatta's "List of Shame." Google and study the list. It is Kenya 42+.
23. Witchcraft Only Happens in Kisii, Coast And Ukambani.
I am originally from Nyanza and can thus attest that this misconception is indeed just that - a misconception. I have relatives who are so steeped in sorcery, wizardry and enough hocus-pocus that they would scare the pants off Voldemort.
24. Nyanza Women Are "Burly." Beyond seeing my comments on Luhya's love for food, I will offer the following disclaimer:
"Burliness" is in the eye of the beholder and from my perch here in the diaspora, my take on what constitutes a "burly" woman is definitely skewed and tainted by life in the epicenter of the on-going battle over the body image of women - California!
For additional evidence regarding this misconception, let me recommend a trip to the annual Las Vegas Seven-a-side Rugby tournament in "Sin City" aka Las Vegas. If you cannot make it to Vegas, then perch yourself near an entrance or exit of any event/occasion that brings Kenyans together.
At the risk of drawing the wrath of Kenyan women, my take is that Kenyan women are fast catching up with and in some cases surpassing their male counterpart on matters of midriff girth!
So, as evidenced by this partial listing of misconceptions Kenyans have of one another, the country is a diverse and rich collection of people who know they are as different as foreigners think they are homogenous!