By OYUNGA PALA
A Sports Illustrated online columnist described David Rudisha as the Maasai warrior. I found the term offending.
British and America correspondents during the London Olympics would use the tag more than once in articles about Rudisha’s exploits on the track.
Prezzo, the entertainer was also described by one South African news outlet during his stint at the Big Brother Stargame as a Maasai warrior and that pissed me off royally.
Some smart Alec probably thought it was a complimentary thing to say. In this Google, Wikipedia age, that level of ignorance smacks of racial bigotry.
Some words are subjects of self pride and ownership. They are packed with layered meaning and are best not tossed about carelessly.
For example, black people can refer to other black people as nigga but a white person cannot say that to his black friend without raising racial connotations.
Kenyans can refer to each other as nyeuthi but coming from foreign national it meets a frown. The people of Kilgoris may hold as many warriors banners as they wish to welcome back their brilliant son, however, the moment a Western sport correspondent uses the term Maasai warrior in reference to Rudisha, it gets personal. Who are you calling warrior?
Mention Maasai warrior and my mental programming is tuned to see images of a man coated in ochre, wrapped in a shuka and holding a spear and stealthily approaching a lion that mauled his goats.
That is the image of Kenya marketed to rest of the world alongside the entrancing poverty shrine known as Kibera Slums. That face of Kenya does exist but it is not something I want rubbed in my face especially not on a stage as big as the Olympics.
A warrior in the Kenyan context is a nagging colonial stereotype that comes across as the coded word for a noble savage. What follows is another annoying romanticised description of old world Africa, where wild animals roam the plains and probably a commentator whispering, “Watch the bravery of these Maasai hunters approaching a dangerous black rhino without it knowing to place a stone on its back to demonstrate their skill”.
The culture of the African warrior is objectified and loaded with racist stereotypes of warlike savages with painted faces and bad tempers.