Courtesy: Modicks Ayiro

Tribalism is something that has plagued most tribes. Strangely, most if not all places you find tribes, tribe is usually a dividing fault line of sorts among the various tribes. I personally do not believe tribes are a problem; it boils down to people taking advantage and abusing these differences. Tribe is just one of many things that classify us under different people groups. It is an identifier among those where tribes thrive. Some of the places where you shall find theses scenario are in Africa, where the largest number of tribes are settled.

What is a tribe, what identifies it?

It is very difficult to give a definitive description of what a tribe is. Put loosely, a tribe is a society of people largely organized on the basis of kinship. They are principally formed of blood relations; predominantly shared groups of descent and birth. Tribes are at times appreciated along genealogical lines; it is in a sense a form of family. All tribes have their myths as to where they are descendant from and this is past on through posterity. With smaller tribes, blood relations are easily defined unlike large tribes.

The best we can use to appreciate the genesis of a tribe is Israel.  They have 12 tribes’ descendants of the 12 brothers, the sons of Jacob. Each tribe is distinct from the other and can easily be identifiable if you know what to look out for. The tribes have since grown to a point that the former blood relations are no longer delineable other than the original descendants having been blood brothers. That is an example of tribes and how they can and do metamorphose.

Genesis of tribes

How did tribes come about?

Well, that is an intriguing question. It however has lots of disputable answers. The Bible presents the most logical response. The people at the time were building a tower to reach the heavens. God seeing the people were determined to build the tower caused them to speak different languages and that was the end of the building process (Gen 11:5-7). They then scattered all over in lingual assemblages.

The people later fell into clusters of people with whom they spoke the same vernaculars with each group finding its own settlement; this was the first time the people were compelled to part ways, along tribal (language) lines!

It all came down to communication.

They had now found an identity. Those that spoke the same language formed a community of their own; call it a tribe or community. In this community, the people were able to communicate with one another. Tribes do not only bring people together, they are a means for them to interact as a larger family group. This lack of communication brought the building plans of the Tower of Babel to a halt. It instead congregated various corporate tribal groups together as one people.

The latter is not always true as there are tribes that share the same language. The Israelites’ for example, are all descended from the same family and sharing the same language. The People of Rwanda for example share the same language but are divided along smaller family lines of clans. Some tribes though have languages so similar it is more the deflections in language that differentiate the tribes. The Luhya, Bukusu and Maragoli of Kenya are an example.

Interestingly, these tribes’ with differences as small as a deflection or even dialect still see themselves as distinct from each other. Therefore, this adds language into the fold of identifiers that single out tribes.

In general, a tribe is a community of people who ascribe to the same culture, beliefs, and share language. They are descendant of a common bloodline usually defined by language.

Why the divide among tribes; can’t tribes’ commune…?

Division amongst tribes has a lot to doing with their leaders; tribal or otherwise. Wherever you find dividers, it has largely to doing with the desire to remain distinct, albeit erroneously; notwithstanding the methods applied to achieve this.

Previously, this distinction used to be so strong it was taboo to marry outside of your tribe. You would be considered as desecrating your people group. At best it would earn you isolation or you end up ostracised. At worst, you would actually be killed to protect the sanctity of the tribe.

The scope and reasons that cause chafing among communities are vast in range. We can’t even begin to pretend to deal with them however hard we try. At best, there are a few minute principles we need to appreciate to deal with and manage tribalism. For purposes of this paper, a few of them are delineated below.

Distinction among tribes still holds very strong and as long as it is ignored, it shall always stick out like a sore thumb through tribal contentions. It is a human preservation instinct. Intermarriages would bring about its dissolution or reduce its steam but this takes eons to achieve. At least that is the underlying logic.

Challenge here is at some point, the people shall lose their identity (it happened with the African Americans) leaving a vacuum that can be abused, they would otherwise need to redefine themselves. There are no guarantees they will turn out ok.

Leaders are another reason and probably the most prevalent as to why tribes do not commune with other tribes, at least here in Kenya. On the one hand, they are tasked with keeping tribes together and cohesive.

They are the custodians of the people’s belief’s and cultural values. They carry direct and usually personal responsibility for the promulgation or not of their tribes. In their zeal to perform their known and perceived roles, some go overboard.

Every group has leaders of sorts. Whether the leadership is chosen or inherited is another matter. Some leaders use their roles and selfishly promote themselves at the expense of their people. This is more common amongst the political cadre.

Selfish leaders place emphasis on petty issues to portray them as strong leaders and gain voice among their own. They then use this as their power bases to enable them make political negotiations; unfortunately not for their people, but for them.

Differences shall abound among every group of people; wherever two or more people are gathered, there shall always be something they do not agree about. Two or more children grow together under the same roof, with the same parents, loved and cared for equally and you still have differences among them.

The important thing is how to manage and deal with these differences as they arise.

Belligerence has been a source of a lot of friction even among tribes. This is worsened by selfish and intransigent leaders seeking to expand their principles over and above other groups.

Tolerance or is it Intolerance is another major one. For in as long as we attach more importance and value to our tribes over others, we are bound to reap trouble. Once we are unable to appreciate other people’s worth, but see them as lesser beings not worthy of us or our time, well you know what.

Inability to respect others cultures, even when they do things we consider disgusting we shall not bond. In as long as we look down on others whatever good reasons we may have we just won’t mesh.

It is feelings or emotions like these, for some so strong they give off the impression others have no right to share the same space as them. Sadly, this mind-set makes it simpler for people to blindly do away with others without batting an eyelid. Deep in them they believe they are ridding their space of what they consider vermin, or a contaminant.

Even though they may argue they do not think like that, it forms the basis of their philosophy and outlay. Cases in point are the Rwanda genocide and the South African apartheid regime.

Are Tribes that bad?

The answer is an outright NO. Tribes are not the problem. The challenge lies with how tribes are perceived. Therein lies the issue.

Tribes are a larger form of family that keep a cohesive society. They offer a form of identity and give us a sense of belonging.

Even with the world evolving and fast transforming into a global village creating a need to appreciate life with more intrusions apparently, tribes still have a role.

We are a first a tribe by birth, then a nation as a collective whole.

Tribes need to learn to appreciate one another realising they are just but a piece in one giant puzzle. It cannot be complete while missing any of the pieces. Yeah, especially those pieces we have despised most of our lives.

Only when they all connect to us shall we be complete. The beauty that the puzzle is will then truly come out.

When we learn to live with each other then we shall have made headway.


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