Marking Father’s Day amid decolonisation push

The day is an American concept that is barely 100 years old

In Summary

• We are stuck with an alien concept and aborted past attempts to decolonise

A man holds his son's hand while looking at the horizon
A man holds his son's hand while looking at the horizon

I am told this Sunday is Father’s Day. I have absolutely no problem with people taking the time to thank and honour their fathers, biological or otherwise. But I must say, the whole notion of Father’s Day is one that me and many of my generation of Kenyans find fairly alien.

Let’s face it, the day is an American concept that is barely 100 years old, and like Valentine’s Day (which I previously apologised for, Easter and Christmas, it has to a large extent become so commercialised that the point of the day is pretty much lost.

That aside, I guess the reason most of my generation of Kenyans and those before us didn’t mark the day, or Mother’s Day, for that matter, was simple.

In many African cultures, traditionally, fathers and mothers joined forces with diverse other individuals (siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, other male and female adults) in attempts to meet the varying needs of children. 

To put it another way, it takes a village, or in the case of those of us who grew up in urban areas away from ancestral villages, a community, to bring up a child.

So for us, our biological fathers, uncles, elder male relatives, neighbours, and so on, were all fatherly or father figures. So we didn’t take one day to acknowledge them as it was expected to be automatic that we honoured and cared for them all  the time, every day, 24/7.

I find it interesting that some of the same people who have been supporting issues of decolonisation have not made the connection between copying these Western habits and the casual dropping of traditional, pre-colonial ways. 

Or maybe they have and feel they can cherry-pick those aspects that suit them.

Speaking of decolonisation, I read that recently, there's been a campaign in Uganda to remove colonial names from their streets. 

I’m almost ashamed to say I have yet to visit that country, even though I have visited other nations in the neighbourhood (Tanzania, Sudan before the break-up, Rwanda and, very briefly, Somalia). 

However, the tales of my friends from there and others who have visited or lived there, never mentioned that colonial names were a problem there. I guess if I had ever thought about it, they did what we did in Kenya and renamed many place and street names.

Of course because in Kenya we have a thing where we never quite finish one project before jumping onto the next, we never completed the mission. So Nairobi, for instance, still has suburbs like Karen (where they all demand to see the manager for everything), Hurlingham, Lavington and Eastleigh.

By the way, Hurlingham is a spot in London near the Westminster pier, and also a residential area in Johannesburg. The original Eastleigh is a town in Hampshire, England, between Southampton and Winchester in South Hampshire, and Lavington is a village in Wiltshire, England.

Place names like Broderick Falls, now Webuye, and Lake Rudolf, now Turkana, changed while I was still in school. One year, the geography books spoke of Lake Natron and the following year, it had been replaced by Lake Magadi. If you hadn’t been paying attention, it could be very confusing.

For instance, one year my mum’s hairdressing salon was on Government Road and a couple of years later, the building that had housed it was now on Moi Avenue.

I wish the Ugandans well in their decolonising mission. I hope at some point Kenyans revive their Africanisation of street and place names. For instance, wouldn’t Kwa Mandela suit Lavington, or even Karen, for that matter?