i have no tribe dot com slash lineage

iHaveNoTribe.com is a stateside effort for ex-pat Kenyans to renounce their tribal ties, or give it the old college try, to set an example for their friends and family (and tribe!) back home. The new refrain being: I am a Kenyan. Valiant, but what does it mean? At NMT we know something about tribe.

It sounds good, doesn’t it? To cast off old-fashioned family ties, vestiges of biology, the roots certainly of bigotry and xenophobia. But blood ties are the only bonds we can know without being taught them. Familial bonds are part of our inherent biological imperative, to procreate, to protect the prospects of our progeny, their interests being synonymous with ours. It goes without saying, doesn’t it? We look after our own.

As our bloodlines spread over greater numbers, we have to be reminded who to consider our own. Higher ideals, often religion, would have us see all of mankind as our own. Subsets of race feed our need to recognize ourselves in others. Further subsets collect nationalities. National feelings of fraternity become patriotism. But is that natural at all?

Where we are led to believe to think about others as ourselves, usually requiring sacrifice of the individual, is for the collective good. A collection of someone’s.

In the case of Kenya, the subjugation of tribes would benefit the larger group, the collected population of the state. It’s become civilized tradition, precursor to globalization, to put country before traditional division. But what is a country? In Africa in particular it’s a colonial apportionment of land based on what territories the western explorers were able to conquer and hold together. Or it can be the subsequent holdings of whoever was the last ambitious chieftain. In either case, they are combinations of majority peoples interwoven with minorities, tribes on the rise landlording over those on the wane.

The directive to ignore tribal differences would seem to serve mainly dominant bloodlines. Having reached beyond its own dominions, an expanding tribe needs to fold the minority neighbors into its ranks to populate and work the extended lands. The common good being as a matter of fact the leadership’s prosperity.

Tribes were the original sustainable paradigm for land stewardship before societies needed a system of ownership to support non-productive hierarchies. Tribal claim to land was determined by who could hold it, usually directly related to how much of its resources you needed. Native Americans tribes protected their territories based on their number. Civilizations brought the fat cats who drew more than their share. These included the priests, and thus the need to explain that the administrators of peoples were your extended tribe.

Scotland used to be divided into clans, large extended families which inhabited the moors and highlands. Land wasn’t owned, clans grew or shrank based on the aptitudes of their chiefs, and borders adjusted accordingly. When the English invaded, they divided the lands and introduced ownership. Clans were rendered obsolete when the English landlords discovered they didn’t need farming labor. They discovered that raising sheep netted a bigger profit than farming, with fewer workers to feed, prompting the exodus to the industrialized cities.

Tribes that might have stood up for their indigenous rights to land and heritage folded for the greater good of Scotland, owned by people who were not by any measure of their tribe.

How far should man relinquish his nature? I have no tribe is a repudiation of lineage and ancestry. Will I have no mother be next?

Why not divide Kenya into states based on tribal boundaries? Redraw Africa into tribal regions instead of the remnants of colonies. The difficulty comes from convincing the tribes at present accustomed to living off the fat, with few remaining ties to real land. Elsewhere these are like the Sunni of Iraq, and the Tutsi of Rwanda.

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Eric Verlo

About Eric Verlo

On sabbatical
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