It's time Kenya had a distinct cultural identity

The search for a cultural identity shouldn’t be that elusive. [Courtesy]

Does Kenya have a cultural identity? After 58 years of self-rule, the answer is still not apparent.

As the country marks the first Utamaduni Day, Kenya, with a remarkable ethnic diversity of 44 tribes, is again faced with this question.

The public holiday replaced Moi Day, which was also marked on October 10 every year. 

The essence of Utamaduni Day is for Kenyans to celebrate their rich cultural diversity “in a manner that promotes unity, national cohesion and economic progression.”

Culture, as defined by anthropologists, is the way of life of a society comprising the beliefs and values.

Kenyan cultural heritage has been one of the most neglected and eroded over the years. Fewer of the 40-odd ethnic tribes retain traditions as modernity sweeps across the nation.

Symbols of our culture like the kiondo or Maasai shuka have since been claimed and even patented by westerners, perhaps revealing how we have low regard for our heritage.

Institutions that can tell us more about ourselves such as museums and archives are hardly visited by locals.

It is easy to place some individuals to a particular country owing to their cultural traits such as the manner of dressing. You are likely to pick out someone from West Africa, especially Nigeria and Ghana, easily from a crowd due to their unique dressing.

Not so for Kenyans. Even agreeing on a distinct National Dress proved so difficult that the project was shelved.

What about music? Is there a Kenyan beat? Or a national dish such as the north Africans have couscous or the West Africans have jollof?

The failed Building Bridges Initiative – touted as the panacea to Kenya’s governance woes – had sought to strengthen the role of culture in the creation of an inclusive Kenya.

The document had proposed programmes like cultural exchanges and integration to help address ethnic strife, which is a source of political violence and instability in the country.

The search for a cultural identity shouldn’t be that elusive. As Kenyans mark Utamaduni Day, some concrete solution to this cultural problem should start being found.

We can talk about an abstract cultural policy fronted by the State, however, this identity should begin with each and every Kenyan by embracing and sampling the various diverse cultures.

Surely, with our diversity in art, food and history, it shouldn’t be that hard.

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