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Twins' saga a comedy of errors and painful search for identity

By Barrack Muluka | April 21st 2019

You are almost tempted to call the saga of the Kakamega girls suspected to be twins a comedy of errors, after Shakespeare’s famous play. Yet, what is at play is far too agonising to be reduced to a lagoon of dramatic blunders. It is a painful searchfor identity; a matter that has troubled humankind through millennia.

We have read, this week, of the unfolding drama of Sharon Mathias and Melon Luteyo, both aged 19. The two girls are said to have been born in the same week in the same hospital, in Kakamega. It begins emerging today that there may have been a mix-up somewhere, that led to them being separated at the cradle.

One of the girls – Melon – has lived in the same family with a third girl called Melvis, as a twin sister. This means Melon has always had a twin since birth. Yet she has probably been living with the “wrong twin”. Soon enough, DNA tests should put the matter to rest – it is hoped.

The pulsating sense of urgency in this matter settles the searchlight on the troublesome question of familial identity – the question of who am I, and who are my people? We read of the orphaned Mugo and his aunt Waitherero in Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s A Grain of Wheat, “Suddenly, Waitherero died of age and overdrinking. For the first time since their marriage, her daughters came to the hut, pretended they did not see Mugo, and buried her without questions or tears. They returned to their homes. And then, strangely, Mugo missed his aunt. Whom could he now call a relation? He wanted somebody, anybody, who would use claims of kinship to do him ill or good. Either one or the other, as long as he was not left alone, an outsider.”

You can feel alone in the world, even in a very crowded cosmos, when you do not know who you are. That is why Ngugi’s Mugo does not mind that the claims of kinship could in fact be oppressively used against him. Abraham Maslow has placed identity among the most basic of human needs. Identitycomes soon after such primary concerns as warmth, food and shelter.

As Dusman Gonzaga reflects about a neighbour who lives in a toilet in The Cockroach Dance, he occupies himself with the agonising thoughts, “Who is this man? Where did he come from? Who are his relatives? Why do they allow their flesh and blood to rot in a toilet?”

The story of Sharon and Melon teases us with thoughts of “a comedy of errors” on account of what mistaken identity could lead to – both good and bad. In Shakespeare’s play, two sets of twins are born about the same time in the same place. A wealthy man, who is the father to one of the sets of twins, buys the other pair of twins from their poor mother as future slaves to his twins.

Unfortunately, there is a tempestuous sea storm that separates him from his wife. Either spouse goes away with a child each from the two sets of twins. They lose contact for long. Many years later, however, all the four “twins” chance to be in the same town at the same time. The outcome is a true comedy of errors. Mistaken identity among four different persons in the same small town can be chaotic. There are shocking false accusations and counter accusations. There are charges of adultery, beatings, suspicions of intended felony, and all manner of errors and mistakes that false identity could lead to.

The Sharon and Melon story has some of these characteristics. For, the people who have eventually brought them together report some experiences not far from those of Shakespeare’s characters. There are reports of chancy meetings; where people bumped into one of the girls unexpectedly. She did not seem to recognise them at all, although everything else about her suggested that she was the person they believed her to be. Only slowly did it unfold to them that she was a different person.

You could actually get arrested and be thrown into jail for something you know nothing about, were you to be in such a situation. You could get lynched. Yet, you could also just get very lucky, because of such mistaken identity!

As the girls grope for their identity, we are reminded that these searches do not just end at family levels. Sometimes whole communities and nations are grappling with identity crises. “Who are we, and what are we – we black men who are called Frenchmen?” Toundi asks in Ferdinand Oyono’s novel Houseboy.

When you don’t know who you are, even extreme identities will be imposed upon you. Africa of early European literature of the continent is a case in point. It often comes across as disfigured love. Such love is like the love a man has for an animal. It is a dangerous literature of distorted identities. In the multiple layers of our individual and collective identities, the quest for who we truly are must never stop, if we are to enjoy our human dignity to the fullest. It is a familial and genetic matter in the broadest sense possible.

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