Looking alike can cause trouble

It is common to find members of a family who look alike. There are children who look like their parents, siblings who look alike resemble their parents, siblings who look like and even cousins who look like twins.

Among the unstated reasons some Kenyans visit a newborn baby is to assess the baby’s resemblance to its family members. That is why you hear comments such as: “That baby is definitely Baba Boi’s. Its face looks exactly like the father’s”.

Where no resemblance is observed, Kenyans will be downright cruel in their assessment.

“Heh! Hako katoto hakawezi kuwa ka hio familia. Kako na tumikono tofauti sana, na hiyo mapua sio ya Baba Boi!”

But have you noticed that spouses tend to look alike after years of living together? Well, a study by US psychologist Robert Zajonc suggests that couples may indeed end up looking like each other, which explains why some elderly couples look so alike that people mistake them for siblings.

My paternal grandparents are a case in point, and Mama Jimmy and I are also following suit. Last week, we took a joint selfie which she posted on her Facebook wall and among the comments was one which suggested that we are almost similar.

“Aki si Mama Jimmy unafanana na mzee wako! Mtu akiwaangalia atafikiria ni bro yako. Lol!”  read the comment.

Zajonc’s study does not tell us whether the pattern applies to polygamous setups. It would be interesting to know, for instance, whether a man who is married to four wives ends up looking like all of them, or whether a man can end up looking like his mpango wa kando.

Resemblance is, in some cases, a matter of pure chance and has nothing to do with kinship.

That is why you might encounter a person who looks like someone you know, only to discover that the two have absolutely no ties.

One day several months ago, my friend Odhiambo and I were having drinks at our favourite pub when a man who looked every bit like footballer Didier Drogba walked in and sat at a table next to ours.

Odhiambo could scarcely hide his joy at finally coming face-to-face with his star.

“That has to be Drogba,” he told me. “I have seen him so many times on TV that I cannot mistake his face.”

It did not strike him as unlikely that a star of Drogba’s ilk would fly all the way from Europe and end up in a dingy pub in downtown Nairobi. Fueled by the three beers he had downed, Odhiambo feverishly proffered his salutations to “Drogba” in a mixture of English, French and Swahili.

“Bonjour, Monsieur Didier Drogba! Kumbe you have come to visit Kenya?” he asked. Odhiambo’s bubble burst when the newcomer explained that he was not Didier Drogba, but Kimani from Kimende, and that he had just arrived in the city to his brother.

Generally, there is always great joy when family members look alike, but there are times when looks can cause trouble.

Early this year, Jimmy announced that a new boy had joined his school, and everybody claimed that he was his brother.

The two boys had struck a special friendship, in which they jokingly referred to each other as “my brother from another mother.”

Jimmy was visibly excited, but to his mother, this news was cause for alarm. A day later, Mama Jimmy demanded to know if I had any ties to Jimmy’s new friend.

“Baba Jim, do you know anything about the boy Jimmy was talking about?” she asked. I replied that I had no idea who this boy might be, and that any semblance to Jimmy is purely coincidental.

Though she let the matter rest, she made me swear that I do not have any other children outside our marriage.

I have a feeling, however, that she might launch independent investigations to establish the truth behind Jimmy’s so-called brother from another mother.