I just saw that the Lake Turkana cultural festival is coming up and it made me remember my times in the Turkana land in northern Kenya. This is a dry and hot area – I am talking about 40 degrees and above. The Turkana community who live here are nomadic pastoralists who have traditionally moved from one place to the other in search of pasture..a sophisticated scientific process.
So we travel up north from Nairobi to Turkana land, a two day journey. Our main mission is to develop a film about the heritage around Namoratung’a archaeological site. The temperature is unbearable and we decide to do most of the shooting in the early mornings or evenings, when it is a little cooler. We always attracted a big audience within minutes because; first we are not from the area and second, all the equipment we carried with us.
Once you get talking to people in this area you quickly get roped into discussions about the Pokot otherwise known as the “enemy”. The Turkana and the Pokot communities are both nomadic pastoralists and have been tied in wars that are based on raiding and taking possession of the others livestock. Each person you talk to has a story about how they have lost a family member to the Pokot. I am sure if you work with the Pokot they will also tell you how many people and livestock they have lost to the Turkana. Everybody here knows how to use an AK47. I do not pretend to have an understanding of this conflict as yet so I need to continue educating myself. What I desist from is thinking of these communities as primitive, blood thirsty, barbaric and so on. I do not find that a plausible or even respectable explanation. There is obviously a long term issue of marginalization which dates back to the colonial period, the effects of climate change, fragmentation of land and so on but I think it is much much more complicated than that.
All the people we worked with are extremely hospitable and generous. One of the times we were resting under the tree and a woman brought us tea….. and she did not know us! That is the true spirit of AFRICA. It was always great to see the dynamics of herding livestock (more about this in the film). If a family owns such a huge herd of livestock why are they considered poor? Just because you are not integrated into national or global capitalism? Isn’t the owner of this herd better off that a person living in an informal settlement in any part of the world?
Anyway, we worked ourselves insane because we only had three days in which to finish the shoot and head back to Nairobi. This meant working till 2am on some days. We needed to have all the footage translated into English. The translation was all done on top of a mountain which had a Safaricom (mobile phone Company) mast and the only power outlet. The interesting thing is that, this was also the point where people could come and charge their mobile phones. ( Safaricom being clever and providing the signal and power in an area that is off the grid….how else will they make calls and send text messages if they cannot charge their phones?) People came and left their mobile phones there and went to carry on with other business and no one stole anybody’s phone! Those of us from “civilization” were puzzled by this. I guess this was a community with high social capital and some sense of decorum that the those of us in the ”civilized world” have since lost.
After that very long detour here is the trailer of the film.
And the final product/full film (14.27 minutes)
First of all – this is an incredible book in so many ways. The author is a scholar from Botswana and she writes about the indigenisation of research from an African perspective. She critiques the Euro-western method of conducting research which has contributed to the systematic subjugation of other knowledge systems or other ways of knowing. These methods give the false impression that only certain people are capable of producing knowledge. She argues that these approaches exclude the knowledge systems and ways of knowing of the historically marginalized and oppressed groups from contributing to the research process. In fact, research contributes to the process of “othering”, further colonization and marginalization of these groups, she argues. She discusses two approaches to bringing other ways of knowing into an equal footing in the scholarly examinations of our world; decolonization of dominant research approaches and postcolonial-indigenous research paradigms informed by the recognition that research participants are spiritual beings with multiple relationships – with the land, with each other, with animals, plants and so on.
In case you have not read my profile yet, I am currently a PhD student at the University of British Columbia in Canada. I took a course about indigenous research methods in 2014. A quick note about these kinds of research methods- they challenge what we know as the normal method of doing research, they recommend relationship building between researchers and participants/the researched, they recognize the use of sources of data from say oral tradition, cultural objects and finally, they seek to use research to respond to improvement of community livelihoods. I must tell you, I am fascinated by these kinds of approaches and needless to say, hugely attracted to them and I try to apply them in my own research.
Anyway, back to this course. One of my motivations to take the course was simply the fact the professor had listed a book by an African scholar (Bagele Chilisa) in the reading list. Let me explain. I have always been bothered by the way education seemed to be alienating me from anything remotely African..the way that education seemed to tell me that Africans had not achieved anything in the history of this universe…the way that education seemed to tell me that Africa needs to be rescued from itself by a benevolent preferably white person. This troubled me greatly especially when I was an undergraduate student (2000-2004) and I could not find books written by African scholars….at least in my area of study. So, I wrote my essays and assignments and quoted other scholars (I believe they were 100% western sources) and with every citation I felt a huge sense of disempowerment and hopelessness. Granted, there were African scholars who had published works but most of those were in literature and I was studying environmental resource use. I was thinking to myself– Don’t Africans write anything? Is it only white people who know things? What is wrong with us? I was familiar with the Kenyan scholar, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s work on ‘decolonizing the mind’ and kept wondering if we had not been irredeemably colonized- both physically and emotionally (Ngugi’s work will be subject of another whole blog post- absolutely fascinating work!)
In this book Chilisa is unequivocal. She addresses all the issues that have bothered me for decades and it fills me with immense pride to see an African writing such a book and articulating the issues so eloquently. For me, Chilisa answers the question “What is wrong with us?”
The answer is – there is nothing wrong with us. Absolutely nothing. That makes me feel at peace. She writes about the continent in respectful manner (not the same as sycophancy), she is reminds us that our history is one of struggle against oppression and that there are new forms of oppression for which we now need to mount new forms of resistance. One of the ways to do this, methinks, is an examination of the history of our people and a serious investigation into indigenous knowledge/thought. Once we know who we are or why we do things in a certain manner then it is easier to create a way forward. As Wangari Maathai tells us “Africans have been obscured from themselves”. We have been taught to hate ourselves and we have become professionals at it. We need to learn and work towards becoming nicely obsessed with ourselves. To be continued…..
In 2012 I joined a group of South African colleagues for an exchange programme/ study tour to Australia’s northern territory. I did not know what to expect but I was sure excited about seeing the country and interacting with different people. We had extensive tours in the area around world famous Kakadu National Park and some fantastic rock art sites in Aboriginal territory. I met and interacted with many Aboriginal Australians and felt a sense of kinship with them. The Aboriginal tribes here refer to white people as balanda. One of the white people in our group asked the Aboriginal people what they would call us the Black Africans who were in the group. The Aboriginal man smiled and said “these are countrymen!” And for the rest of the trip we referred to ourselves as countrymen or country man! It did not bother me in the least that I was not a man. The point is: the connection made on sacred territory.
I am generally interested in conservation of both cultural heritage and natural heritage. In my view there is no point separating these in the African context. I like to look at all conservation areas as cultural landscapes. The model of creating pristine landscapes that lock out communities from accessing their ancestral territories have failed. Conservationists and governments are looking at other ways. The answer, in my view lies with honest and constructive engagement with communities.
The Aboriginal tribes in Australia demonstrated to me an unparalleled understanding of their landscapes. They actively apply indigenous knowledge systems in forging sustainable resource management agendas in the most admirable fashion. I was in awe the whole time and I kept thinking about how we as Africans could honour our own ways of knowing and apply it in resource use as well as well as in all other facets of our lives. This encounter with the Aboriginal Australians sparked my interest in indigenous issues – I realized we share a similar cultural heritage(s).
One of the elders said to us “we do not own the land. The land owns us.” This is something that greatly struck me and is something that I continue to reflect on since land is at the centre of every conflict in Africa. What if we looked at land differently? The way we looked at it before the encounter with colonialism? I think we would open ourselves to a world of possibilities!
This is your very first post. Click the Edit link to modify or delete it, or start a new post. If you like, use this post to tell readers why you started this blog and what you plan to do with it.