Do our multiple identities enrich our lives, change status?

Elephants, Far beyond, Mt Kilimanjaro. [iStockphoto]

Kenya is a fascinating country. Visitors are awed by the natural beauty - from the beaches to the snow-peaked mountains, the Rift Valley, the deserts, and their dunes. 

A few photos taken from the air reveal the beauty of our country. Too used to it, we even forget to market it.

After a trip around Lake Victoria, taking a ferry to Mbita, and a ride around Rusinga Island, I can confidently say we never market our country and counties.

Kenya is fascinating in another way, its people. Beyond tribalism, we are very sociable. It’s not unusual to meet total strangers and share a drink. Visitors usually think it’s not real till they discover it’s our way of life.

It’s another question why tribalism is rife. It’s probably because we lack alternative identities. Noted tribalism is muted as we become more affluent?

We see each other as less of a threat and get other identities to dilute tribalism, for example, clubs, boards, chamas etc. 

There is another fascination less talked about, our multiple identities. Visitors may not notice, and we may also not notice because it’s part of us. A typical Kenyan can be different things in a day or so.

A CEO will be in a board meeting one morning, the next day a church elders’ meeting, and over the weekend a dowry negotiator or taking drinks with his kinsmen. In one minute, he can talk in three languages depending on his mood.

Happy? Talk in English. Annoyed, talk in Swahili. Relaxed, talk mother tongue.  It’s not very different among the ordinary citizens, the hustlers.

A few sophisticated Kenyans don’t have that multiple identity. They do not know what they miss. Few Earthlings talk more than one language.

Even our names reveal our multiple identities. Kenyans have at least three names. The first is the Christian name, which is not always Christian. Are Liam, Brian, Ethan or Jayden Christian names? We are adding more foreign names, ostensibly to hide our tribal identity.

We have the second name given at birth as per the traditions. Then surname. In some regions, it’s the mother’s name. Our surnames are not very entrenched and are confusing.

Take Mrs Jane Kamau for example, her husband will be Mr Kamau Ndongomothi. Her children will be Kamaus. But Mr Kamau will be Ndongomothi. Some families have got it, Kenyattas, Odingas? Your family?

Politicians are masters of multiple identities; it wins them votes. Ever wondered why they all learn dancing around election time and become community elders?

Some think multiple identities enrich and spice up our lives. Professionally, they probably disperse our energy too thin. Do you have multiple identities? How do you juggle them? Please talk to us.