By Sitawa Namwalie
I am well versed in the idiom of tribe,
Having acquired the script long ago, from my family,
From my whole existence as a Kenyan really.
And I speak it with fluent authority.
There maybe times when I look different,
Special even, as if the language of tribe were beyond my
After all, I can cite my marriage, my children, my
But that is a false impression,
I am like everyone else.
This uncomfortable truth led me on a journey.
I wanted to know,
What is this thing called tribe, really?
That has us all by the neck?
What does it look like?
How does it feel?
How do people live with it?
Laughing one moment with their tribal protagonist,
And the next, looking at each other across a wide abyss,
A yawning space, unbridgeable by the smiles of former
Now bereft of all good intentions?
If tribe were a taste,
A thing alive,
How would it be?
My experience of tribe is all sharp acid on the tongue,
Clanging metallic noises,
A rising tide of ill will,
A watchful expectation of ugly tribe rearing its head,
Reaching out to grab a cake, for itself,
To eat, quickly, greedily!
Tribe is grating loudly in my ears,
It must be heard!
It has me believing it is natural, inevitable like the
Tribe makes me act secretly,
I hide myself in full public view.
I read the newspapers,
Watch behind the news,
Scan the streets,
Count the members of the church council,
On and on.
I tally the number of times my tribe emerges.
When the appearance is favourable,
In my mind,
I add up all mounting disadvantage,
To store in my prized bag of tribal grievance,
I am so expert at computation,
I am no longer conscious of what I do.
You see, I am victim,
But for the tribal designs of others.
The truth is revealed in broiling ethnic conclave,
Here, secrets of the heart are safe,
I bring my hush-hush bliss to the fore,
To bemoan with relish my miserly pickings,
Condemn with glee the crumbs I feed on,
While others hog the national cake.
posted 22 January 2008