September is Heritage Month here in South Africa. This means special attention is paid to the nation’s heritage throughout the month, and it all comes to a head with an annual public holiday on September 24, Heritage Day.
During the month, the government, the media and the public make an effort to highlight tangible and intangible aspects of the nation’s culture. This includes creative expression, such as music, food and language [the country has 11 national languages].
Throughout the month-long celebrations, South Africans are encouraged to celebrate their cultural traditions in the wider context of the diversity of cultures, beliefs and traditions that make up their nation.
For the seven years I have lived in SA, every time this month comes up, I think back to Kenya and visits to the Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi. During the years I attended school in Nairobi, we made two or three class trips to Bomas, visiting all the mock traditional villages at the site and then watching the show in the auditorium. This day trip was always great fun, particularly for those who had an interest in Kenyan cultures other than their own.
As a family, we also went to Bomas a few times, especially when we had visitors from out of Kenya.
Thinking about Bomas today in an era where tribal divisions and ethnic chauvinism are a big problem in Kenya, I wonder if it wouldn’t be an idea to establish a Bomas of Kenya-type cultural centre in each and every one of the 47 counties.
From where I sit, this “devolved” Bomas of Kenya would be a great way to tackle a lot of the ethnic antagonism while celebrating diversity, and set about healing the fractured and dysfunctional country that we have become.
I believe that more than any amount of political rallies, demonstrations and campaigns, such a move would begin to entrench the spirit of unity in diversity that the nation’s founders, such as Tom Mboya, fought for during much of their political lives. At the same time, this would ensure the promotion and safeguarding or curating if you like, of our many traditional cultures.
In fact, and I may be channeling Koigi wa Wamwere as I write this, if nationalism and positive ethnicity were to be taught in schools as a substitute for negative ethnicity and the worship of tribal leadership, our country would have gone a long way in healing and fixing some of the problems we inherited at Independence and omitted to fix for various foolish reasons.
I know not everybody in Kenya is onboard with the whole “Building Bridges Initiative” (BBI) (let’s be frank, we’ve seen too many cynical moves by our politicians to cheer everything they do before we have seen tangible results). However, perhaps this is a suggestion that those involved with the BBI should take on and vigorously pursue.
It shouldn’t be a very tough idea to sell to the counties, as this would be an avenue for employment and even revenue from all the school and other domestic and maybe even international tourist visits.