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10 reasons writers are key to our cultural identity

 Renowned historian and author Mutu Gethoi.

Kenyan writer Mutu wa Gethoi has decried the loss of Kenya's cultural identity and the universal adoption of 'unAfrican' lifestyles. The writer wants Kenyan authors to be at the centre of the drive to reverse the trend that he says has enslaved the minds of the African people.

Gethoi (pictured right) has published six biographies, including Njenga Karume's biography, Beyond Expectations: From Charcoal to Gold; Philip Gichuru Gitonga's, Kitchen Toto to Ambassador and Jeremiah Kiereini's, A Daunting Journey.

He is also the author of the book, Elders of the Mace, and the poetic composition, A Chequered Serenade to Mother Africa.

Here are ten ways he feels can help local writers revive Africa's waning cultural identity.

reclaim writer's role

It is difficult for writers to help the masses reclaim their cultural identity if they themselves are unsure of what constitutes such identity. Many have either abdicated this role or do not know that it is their call. In any case, it is better to start and fail trying.

Go back to the roots

Each community had designed means of transmitting cultural values using songs, proverbs and dances. Again, these will only help if current authors are conversant with the oral transmission of such values. But 'deAfricanization' has made them rely on foreign narratives, often citing the 'global village' concept.

Erase colonial and missionary mentality

Missionaries were the first to arrive on African soil, paving the way for colonialists. The two groups looked at our culture as backward, uncivilized. Unfortunately, local chiefs accepted the visitors' terms and conditions.

The adoption of so-called Christian names was meant to make the African believe that entry to heaven was only possible for those who had been converted and accepted to be renamed, yet the same change of names was not practiced in other continents. Have our writers accepted this mental colonization?

Be students of history

Who are we writing for? As mentioned earlier, our inability to study our history has contributed to cultural erosion. This in turn contributes to less authoring on our culture, poor promotion or marketing of any books written. Contrary to the often repeated notion that Kenyans do not read, they will when given relevant content.

Cultural knowledge boosts confidence

The erosion of our culture through assimilation of foreign ideologies did a lot to lower our self-esteem as a people. A new culture was promoted as the only way to develop. We then grew up shirking at our won culture, even discarding our vernaculars.

Interestingly, the Maasai are still viewed as a confident people because they are perhaps the only people in the country who have tried hard to retain their cultural principles.

Make schools centres of cultural knowledge

Many writers are out for quick financial gains in the form of publishing school books. Few will publish books on our culture as these may not gain traction in a system that puts secular education ahead of retracing our roots.

On the other hand, schools can do more in enhancing these cultural values by making sure that there is a book on local culture in the library. Our children spend more hours in school than they do at home. Imagine what good will come to our society if each child has a copy of a book on local culture?

Be proud of authors

Countries all over the world celebrate their authors. In Kenya though, writers are not as recognised as they should be. Most are feted in their sunset years. If we take not of them the way we do musicians, perhaps they would pay back in kind by being diligent in showcasing our cultural values.

Be a rebel

A writer worth his salt should not give in to external pressure to conform. As mentioned earlier, the first thing foreigners did to control the African was by change of name. My father resisted such overtures when they tried to name him 'Leonard'. Was there anything wrong with his African name? I followed suit and refused to take up an English name or to give any of my children such names.

Keep the good...

Not all that "white" is wrong. We are all beneficiaries of modern technology in terms of farming, education or medicine. Yet, regardless of such progress, we can still keep our cultural identity.

Trash the bad:

Let us not close our minds to the fact that not all our cultural values are beneficial. Some are utterly retrogressive and must be discarded. For example, there is no merit in female genital mutilation.

This was one of the key points of conflicts especially between the white man and the Kikuyu. In fact, the establishment of what were called 'independent' schools was meant to counter the white missionaries' drive to kick out the habit in central Kenya. Trash any backward tradition in the name of culture.

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