Tuesday, 01 November 2011 11:46

WE ARE ALL CULTURAL HALF-CASTES

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By Chris L Wanjala

When I look at Barrack Obama of the U.S. and the debates about his eligibility for the U.S. presidency on the one hand and listen to talks about ethnic clashes and ethnic cleansing in Europe and Africa, on the other hand, I remind myself of the cultural and biological facts that we are all cultural half-castes in the sense that there is nothing pure about us. The future of Africa is a chotara future, or if you will, a future of half-castes of one shade or another. Our real identity is the human identity. Every culture in Africa is a hybrid; there is no pure culture and there is no pure race, and this should not be forgotten.

 

I must assert that this is one of the reasons why many South Africans do not want to be referred to as either "Bantu," or "Coloureds." I also think of the fiction of John Updike and I wonder whether or not his is not the best approach to the question of the 'Family in the 21st Century', that is in generational and existentialist terms rather than in racial terms. Updike is very much a pupil of Sorren Kierkegaard, the Danish Existentialist. One has to read his short story, "My Father's Tears," in The New Yorker of February 27, 2006, to understand what I am talking about. He discusses father-son relationships. The young move into the comfort of adulthood. They espouse new values. They age, become more conservative, and they are ravaged by divorce and loveless lives and they die.

In this article I therefore want to worry about Raymond Ntalindwa's approach to the Rwandan situation in his new volume of poetry, Muzizi in Flames published by Blackworld Links Ltd. in London. Ntalindwa's approach is that the Hutu hurt the Tutsis so much during the Rwandan genocide that rather than forgetting it, the hurt should always be remembered.

The term chotara has carried many meanings in the political and cultural history of this continent. In the early interaction between Africans and Arabs, some half-castes were born, and sometimes we give them a tribal or racial tag. A coastal politician whose origins were in the intermarriage between the Somali and the Swahili was so hurt that he wept in public when a colleague of his called him a mzaliwa, a word that has more serious connotations than chotara. The word mzaliwa has connotations of bastard which means a person born of parents who did not marry each other. In the colonial days there was overt and surreptitious sex between white farmers in the White Highlands.

In his book, Kamusi ya Maana Na Matumizi (Vocabulary and Language Use), Salim K. Bakhressa, writes, "Chotara: mtu mwenye wazazi wa rangi mbali; suriama; hafukasti." He refers to a chotara as a half-caste, a term which originated in India, where there is a caste system, and which refers to a person of parents of different races, especially offspring of a European and an Indian. A halfcaste is a person who is born of parents of different colours. Bakhressa creates a sentence to illustrate his point: "Mtoto yule ni Chotara kwa sababu mamake ni Mzungu na babake ni Msudani." (That child is a half-caste because its mother is a European and its father is a Sudanese). Biologically, a chotara is a half-breed. In most African cases the person is half-white and halfblack. The parents are of different nationalities. The case in point is Hon. Barrack Obama, the IllinoisSenator, the son of a man from Kenya, and a woman from Kansas, U. S. A. He is the author of two books: Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope.

In South Africa, the Dutch who settled in the Cape from South East Asia arrived in the 1650s with some Malaysians. The Cape Malay folk, as we call them t o d a y , intermarried w i t h A f r i k a a n s - s p e a k i n g Whites and brought forth a Coloured race which was sequestered from the white race and forced into the insulated and sterile atmosphere of South African apartheid. These have been the subject of Alex La Guma, Richard Rive and James Matthews in the poetry and fiction based on District Six.

Hitler's Europe is another story altogether. The advocacy was of the pure Aryan race. Anybody who was not pure was eliminated, very much like Rwanda and Kenya, where tribal discrimination leads to ethnic cleansing. I spent ten years which marked the twilight years of Moi's rule in Njoro, the agricultural town in the Rift Valley. I could hear people whispering, "Hatutaki mbuzi ya madoadoa. Fieka." (We do not want a dappled goat. Eliminate). This was talk of tribalism.

R a y m o n d Ntalindwa's volume of poetry, Muzizi in Flames: A Poetic Narrative (2006) is concerned with the Rwandan suffering during the genocide. But the country is crying out for healing. Its poets, leaders and politicians, have to bring out Rwanda's healing. Raymond Ntalindwa, the Tutsi, does not leave us to guess the torture of his people in the hands of the Belgians and the Hutus. He is burning with the rage of revenge. This will not take us far.

Since World War I and World War II, chotara and other half-breeds, have been seen in negative terms, in Africa. Dark-hued Africans think of the negative aspects of the chotara. They blame the child and refer to it as a child without a nation. In Kitale in Trans Nzoia District, in the Rift Valley, we saw a lot of intermarriage between the white settlers and the Kalenjin. Some ex-soldiers who were in Kenya for some time and left after trying a hand at farming, sowed many wild oats around. They left behind children whom we called chotara.

The term chotara entered political and cultural discourse, to the extent that one of the politicians in the Rift Valley who fervently supported President Daniel arap Moi's political views in the Rift Valley was famously referred to simply as Chotara. When Moi's political system agonized over the presence of political ideologies based on the Marxist philosophy, the politician advised that the best thing the system could do to rout foreign ideologies in Kenya was to arrest Karl Marx and put him behind bars! Chotara is a subject of hybridity. In biological sciences one is talking about animals or plants resulting from a cross between genetically unlike elements, usually sterile. Hybrid refers to anything of mixed ancestry, even at the level of language where a word, part of which is derived from one language and part from another. New and diverse elements come together and form a new integrated whole. They form a new union, a new synthesis, if you like, leading to new social identities. In the case of plural South Africa and plural Kenya, indigenous elements absorb alien elements with all their influences and manners and adapt them to their indigenous traditions. This is the subject of nation-building and national integration which must be taken seriously by all. Leopold Sedar Senghor, in dealing with this subject said, "We are all cultural half-castes."

By Chris L Wanjala Literature Department,

University of Nairobi

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