On cultural identity, coconuts and other precepts…

Africa is and has always been a diverse continent boasting various  groups exhibiting different mannerisms, arts, music and languages.  Before colonialists came and divided the continent into territories  representative of their “parent nations”, definition of individuals came  from your family, clan or tribe. For example, I could be defined as  Patrick Kuteesa Kayongo, from the Kkobe clan of the Buganda tribe (this  clan wasn’t one of the original clans of the Buganda kingdom, but came  as one of the tribes when Kabaka Kintu Kato invaded the Buganda Kingdom,  and can be likened to Shaka Zulu, who unified a group of different  clans into a nation). Different families, clans, tribes and kingdoms  within the continent constantly adopted each others’ practices and  skills allowing the advancement of each group through interaction

When European settlers came, it added to the diversity of the continent introducing different mannerisms and skills. As they had done before,  Africans learnt what they needed to from the increased diversity. The  problem is that the many of the European colonialists at the time  “indoctrinated” the Africans into believing their skills, history and  practices were inferior to those that the Europeans brought. These oppressions of the mind were highlighted by Steve Biko and others in the Black Consciousness Movement and are still visible today. Centuries of oppression unified the oppressed into one group commonly referred to as “Black” and grouped the oppressor into one group commonly referred to as “White”.

At the advent of liberation, many African  leaders such as Leopold Sedar Senghor, former president of Senegal  attempted to rewrite the erased history of the oppressed and try and to  build up African pride. Steve Biko said that “the greatest weapon in the  hand of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed” and seeked to liberate the oppressed by first liberating their minds and instilling  self worth in them.

Looking at the world today, the  expectations of people’s interests, mannerisms, arts and music can’t  constantly be defined by terms such as “black” and “white”, or Luo and Kikuyu (from Kenya), Zulu and Xhosa (from South Africa), Bunyoro,  Ankole, Buganda (from Uganda). I am not minimizing the roles of these at all as they play an important part of our history and our current cultural identity, but they are not the overall defining characteristic  in our identity. Our African forefathers constantly learnt and adopted  practices from different groups and today, we do the same.

My  story is as follows: I was born in Kampala, Uganda into the ethnic  setting set out above. My family moved down to Mthatha, Eastern Cape  when I was just under 2 years old. At a young age, most of my parents friends were Ugandans living in Mthatha, so I became friends with their  kids. As I grew older and went into primary school, most of my friends  were “white” until about Grade 5. From that point on, I had a diverse  array of friends, but in High School, most of them were Xhosa. I came to  the University of Cape Town, and my friendship group became even more diverse. Through all this, the only language I speak fluently is  English, and I have basic understanding of Luganda (the language of the Buganda tribe) and Xhosa. Each person in my life has imparted an  important part of who they are in me, helping me become a better person.

My  question through all of this is can my entire cultural identity still  be defined as Patrick Kuteesa Kayongo from the Kkobe clan of the Buganda  tribe? Or since I grew up in Mthatha, am I Xhosa? Or since the only  fluent language I speak is English, am I English (i.e. someone from  England)?

Culture can be defined as:

  • The tastes in art and manners that are favoured by a social group
  • All the knowledge and values shared by a society
  • The attitudes and behaviour that are characteristic of a particular social group or organization

I  personally cannot define my cultural affiliation and I don’t think I need to. That will just serve to box me and force me to live according  to some definition.

I have a great love for the  continent of Africa, and I have been influenced by all Africans who live in it (pale face and dark face). Those who know me well know that I have a great interest in the history of Africa before colonisation. I am also a great believer in African solutions for African problems and the Africa renaissance (ideologies supported by the former president of  South Africa, Thabo Mbeki). My identity in who I am though cannot be  formed from Africa, because despite its great history, it has also had a  lot of stuff ups (and so has every other continent).

So  whether others define me as an Africa, Ugandan, a Muganda (singular  person from the Buganda tribe), South African, cosmopolitan, Capetonian, or just a plain old coconut, if that makes you understand the world  better, so be it….

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