Our collective amnesia about Kenyan (and African) histories (Eve)

On her nacent blog, Quill-Squeak, Eve writes about African history.

…As i think about the stories i have heard from my father and grandfather, it surprises me that someone would think that Africans have no history. Although these “savages” roamed around naked with no seeming sense of rational organisation as some have said, it is the observer that looked but did not see. In these stories i have found a goldmine of history. My family history. Now anyone who hears me speak (read butchering) my venacular, would be surprised that i have a sense of history at all. After all, i am a “mkosa mila” (one without culture) having had a lot of western influence. I have found that this history tells me where my family has been and how i got here.It gives me an identity. However, it does not make me want to go back to the past. Rather, i learn from it and move forward to embrace the future…

…My appreciation for family history has opened my eyes to the loss of history. While the west had the quill and ink bottle, we had story, proverbs, songs and other mnemonic aids. The introduction of literacy has slowly but surely choked these though culture change. I do not think that the past was ideal but i mourn the loss of history. I listen to my father’s tales of growing up in colonial kenya and i think how many are dying with their memories; history. The US project Storycorps captures my desire for this country. Oral history from the older generation (indian,african and european) is being lost and i would like to salvage it. How? I dont know. All i know is that the old men in the village can only tell stories and i want to give them a quill…[read more]

and on our collective amnesia about that history.

..The reference to the brutality of the colonialist on their labour force is consistent with the stories that my father has told me…Although others like Ngugi wa Thion’go have written about this period, the bitterness of colonial rule that paints all settlers black is evident. That I cannot stand. The political twist in the narratives, though part of the period, do not interest me. I want to hear personal experiences of Africans and the settlers in that period of time, good or bad in relation to each other…

Why the interest? The phenomenon I call collective amnesia…Apparently, when Kenyatta took power, he said two things. To the settlers; stay and shut up or get out. To the rest of us; let us forget the past and move on together. And forget we did. The history I learnt was stripped of humanity. All we ever learnt about is dry boring political manoeuvring and posturing that is no different from what we read in the papers today.

While at the time re-examining the things that had happened may have been painful and even counter productive, it is interesting that we have buried history and are determined to forget it. Instead of historical knowledge on the colonial times, I have been fed caricatures that may hang on some evidence but I have had no freedom to decide what I think. For example, were all settlers bad by virtue of the fact that they were colonizers/missionaries and the black good by virtue of being the oppressed?

…I think its time we stopped ignoring the elephant in the room. So what if there are skeletons? And there are. Ignoring them will not make them disappear.

I think its time we talked.

more of this post

I know you are buried in books right now, Eve, but keep writing! The world awaits.

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3 thoughts on “Our collective amnesia about Kenyan (and African) histories (Eve)

  1. eve says:

    Thanks for the vote of confidence. I am very surprised someone is interested in my ramblings.

  2. Ben says:

    You raise a really important point. Apart from my own pure interest, enjoyment, and appreciation of the stories and the cultures they come from, I think they can make important contributions to how we understand the Gospel. My own fear is that as those stories get forgotten, we miss a great opportunity enrich theological reflection broadly and critique Western thinking more specifically.

    Please keep “rambling.”

  3. ARJWright says:

    A person who loses their ability to tell their story has in effect given up their history. Do keep writing, learning, and embracing your historfy. For how can one live to the future, if they don’t know the stones of the past on which they stand?

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