How I became or nearly became a tribalist
By D O
My first interaction with any Kikuyu was in lower primary at a school in Homabay town in the late 80s with a boy called Kariuki. We also called him ‘Chotara’ and I thought it was just another nickname. In fact I didn’t give it much thought at the time. Kariuki spoke Dholuo and the fact that he was Kikuyu hardly crossed my mind. It is possible I wasn’t even aware that he was one.
There was also a Kisii boy called Matoke. He was my best friend. It is he I knew was not the same as me because unlike Kariuki, he also spoke ekegusii. Moreover, I had also interacted with many Kisiis. They lived in Gwasi where my good old dad taught in primary school. I was also taught in primary school by a Mr. Motari, a Kisii. In my world then, there were only Kisiis, Luos and wazungu. They preached in the local catholic parishes.
It took me many years later, until 2001 when I came to Nairobi for the first time, to interact with any Kikuyu. I was already over 20 years old.This time, they were very many. There is a gal I was attracted to in class but in a good way, not the kind of attraction you imagine. I have always been a good boy you know.
One day as we sunbathed and chatted at the frustration square,during a lesson break, a friend whose name I won’t mention called me out by my name ‘K’onyango’. All that time the gal I was attracted to in a good way only knew me by my first name Dennis. If I were any other folk, my accent could have betrayed me, but you know, I speak English with the queens accent, so she couldn’t have known I was Luo by the way I speak alone.
The girl I was attracted to in a good way was so startled to hear that I am K’onyango. She gasped!. ‘You are a jang’ ! she exclaimed. I didn’t know what ‘jang’ meant because I didn’t understand a single word of sheng’ then. So I also exclaimed ‘what is a jang’?
Someone later explained to me what ‘jang” or ‘jang’o’ meant and I was heartbroken. I stopped being close friends or attracted to her in a good way. I stopped sitting next to her. We begun just looking at each other, no pleasantries, just the inconsequential hi. That is the moment I starkly became aware that I was a jang’ and that it could be a bad thing to be one. In my twenties!
The girl I was attracted to in a good way consulted widely, or so I presumed and apologized. I don’t think she needed to because she had not done anything wrong. She was just so surprised that I was a jang’ and may be someone had warned her that jang’s are not very good people. Probably she was also interacting with one, who was attracted to her in a good way for the first time in her life. I think it was I who had been naive, for lack of a better word.
Of course I would later on appreciate how deep the divide is during those political discourses.
Folks who know me very closely know that I grow up very fast . After that encounter, I grew fast and became very conscious of my tribe and the prejudices that come along with the tribe .
In the year 2002, I outgrew the prejudices very fast and voted Mwai Kibaki though Orengo was on the ballot. That election remains important to me because it was also the first time that I exercised the right to vote.
I have had many other experiences of prejudice but I have grown to know how to deal with them as I should. My advise to folks is that they should grow up to be like me.”