Wednesday, September 12, 2007

What Makes The Tanzanian Culture?

I love Tanzania. Not only because that is where I can trace my roots. Tanzania is my heart. So if you read me whipping my people, it is because I love them. I truly desire for that country to change for the better.

I pay attention to my readers’ comments and sometimes, I really wonder if I should change my focus. That is because I don’t want to dwell on the negatives. I don’t want to sound like I don’t appreciate little changes that are happening. Some of these changes are truly good and could potentially act as a springboard for the next generation.

As I muse on a possibility of tweaking my focus, another fundamental question always pops up at the back of my mind – change to what? I mean, wouldn’t that be flip-flopping, if I can borrow these famous election campaign term from Mr. George Bush? Wouldn’t that be silencing my own voice that I feel the need to air?

As much as I want to be balanced, it is a tough thing to do. So I think I will do what I truly feel is necessary. I will continue to write with a voice that fulfills my calling.

My objective wasn’t even to write about my focus. But since I am not bound by any editorial limitations, I allow myself to float freely like that. Hey, focus with me. Would you?

I really wanted to pose a question on what constitutes our (Tanzanians) culture. And when I talk about culture, please put it in the right context here. I am referring to languages, traditions, food, etc. What prompted to pose this question are many negatives comments that arose following the crowning of Richa Adhia as Miss Tanzania. Obviously, at the core of it all is the issue of color.

Certainly, the sense that one gets is that the same folks, who are crying for equality, are similarly expressing discrimination in the opposite direction. That is being messed up upstairs. Shouldn’t it be fair for the one crying for equality to afford the same?

But that is just a detour.

The main thrust of this reflection comes from the following comment, which I picked from Issa Michuzi’s blog:

Hivi akiambiwa aeleze culture za kibongo hataeleza nini?”

Translation: “If (Richa) is asked to articulate various Tanzanian cultures, what would she say?”

I could be wrong, but I am tempted to conclude that the above sentiments represent the view that the majority of Negroid Tanzania has when it comes to their assessment of the Asian-Tanzanians’ understanding and interaction with other indigenous groups on a daily basis. Honestly, I can understand why such an assessment could be laid out, given the feeling that Negroid Tanzanians are not respected enough or given equal economic opportunities in their own country.

Would I blame the Negroid majority? Absolutely not! That is because even the few educated folks like Mr. Nimrod Mkono holds or has perpetuated the same negative attitude towards an indigenous Tanzania’s position in her own country. If influential people like Mr. Mkono are playing the race card, the worse should be expected from the rest who are not as fortunate as Mr. Mkono to be enlightened or educated.

Apart from the obvious bigotry that surfaced during this Richa versus Walalahoi debate, I believe the biggest question is what constitutes the Tanzanian culture. From my perspective, cultures in Tanzania are so diverse that no average Tanzanian, regardless of their “authenticity” as indigenous Tanzanians, can claim to fully understand. I mean, do you know how many ethnic languages, traditional dances, etc that are in Mara Region alone?

While hateful Tanzanians have queried whether Richa has an understanding of other Tanzanian cultures just to justify their bigotry, the truth is that Tanzanian culture includes the Arabic, Indian, and other influences. The bottom line is this: Richa does not have to know anything about the Makua culture, for instance, to win the Miss Tanzania’s crown. For one, there were criteria set (equally for all contestants) to win the crown. Secondly, not knowing other cultures in Tanzania does not make you less of a Tanzania. Despite my birth in Tanzania and my blackness, I know virtually nothing about the Barbaig culture. Does mean that I am not a Tanzania enough, let’s say, to be the country’s ambassador to Spain?

Even more, have we established how much the former Miss Tanzania, Hoyce Temu, knows about Luo or Suba culture from Tarime? Have we revisited the origin of Swahili of late to appreciate what a cultural cocktail the language is? Bottom line is this: The Tanzanian born Patel is a member of the Tanzanian culture just as Mwabuponde from Mbeya, Otieno from Shirati, Semvua from Tanga, Nyanda from Bariadi and Rweyemamu from Kagera are.

I believe that bigotry is a result of ignorance. But what can we attribute ignorance to?
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Photo Credit: Michuzi

13 comments:

wayne said...

As a precursor to my comments to follow, I would like to provide the following statistics from the US Census Bureau:
Percentage of American population by ethnic groups;
White – 74%
African American (black) – 12%
Asian – 4.5%
American Indian – 0.8%
(native Americans)
all others – 7.7%
(includes mixed)
The point of providing these numbers is to point out that many people who are famous, athletic stars, important political persons, beauty contest winners (similar to Miss Tanzania) are from groups that do not represent the majority population.
While it is true that there is still discrimination and prejudice in the US (to our shame), there are many examples of people who have been selected or elected to represent the US in important matters based not on their skin color, or ethnic heritage, but rather on their abilities and./or their attributes.
Some examples:
Colin Powell (black) was the highest ranking military officer (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) in the United States. He went on from there to be Secretary of State of the US – the 4th highest ranking public official in the US after the President.
Condoleezza Rice (black) is the current Secretary of State (see above for importance)
Barak Obama (African father, white mother) is a candidate for President of the United States. Whether he wins his parties nomination, or would win the election to become President does not change the fact that this man, who has direct ties to Africa (his bibi is still alive and lives in her home village in Kenya) has the opportunity to attain to the highest political office in the US.
While blacks constitute only 12% of the US population, they are far & away the majority and most highly paid athletes in American football and basketball. They constitute a very large portion of American baseball players. These people all make many, many more times money than does the President of the nation.
The list of women who have won contests similar to the Miss Tanzania competition who are black, Asian and Hispanic is too long to list here, but the point is; just because a black woman wins the Miss USA title and she is from Georgia, does that mean she cannot represent the cultures of Los Angeles, or New York, or Miami ? Absolutely not – because she is American, just as Miss Richa Adhia is Tanzanian, regardless of the shade of her skin. Skin color has much less to do with national heritage, than does, say for example, place of birth, mother tongue (native language), educational background, self-identification and many more.
I am not writing here to expound the virtues of the USA, but rather just to point out that eventually WE ALL have to get past our prejudices and bigotries and move on to taking pride in who we are, regardless of our skin color. We must also learn to take pride in our fellow citizens – also regardless of their skin color.
My son was in the US Marine Corps and believe me when I say that to him it did not matter at all that the man to his left (Jose, an Hispanic) and the man to his right (Walter, an African American) did not share the same skin tone – all that mattered was that they were Marines fighting for each other and their country. It is time to lay our prejudices aside and embrace each other as wananchi – wote pamoja.

Jaduong Metty said...

@Wayne,
You couldn't have been more right. What baffles me is how people who are crying for equality can easily forget how it feels to be discriminated against.

Hiza said...

Good insight Wayne and Metty. May be the folks who are against of Ridha- they should gossip something else to make their point, but not culture OR because she does not have black texture. The color of your skin, the texture of your hair and the language from your lips capture your rich history. Unfortunately, sometimes keep others from understanding your background. What is culture-? Webster’s Dictionary as “the totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought typical of a population or community at a given time.”

For some of us who are living in the United States, we are a part of the American culture. But there are many other small cultures living here as well. A small culture is a culture that is different from the predominant culture. An example would be: the American culture is the predominant culture in the United States and the Tanzania or Africa culture is a co-culture. Cultures are sometimes defined by the kinds of food we eat, types of clothes we wear, where we live, where we work, the tools we use, the language we speak, and what we do for fun.

Anonymous said...

Metty and all other contributors,
While I condemn any kind of racism including the ones directed to Richa Adhia,I think Metty you need to dig a little bit deeper in terms of what constitutes "culture".To me you have sounded like you have narrowed it too much to the extent that you have almost indicated that Tanzania does not have culture!Or?I feel like you have restricted your definition or have just left out a lot of stuff.

In regards to the recent event of Miss Tanzania coming from Tanzanian of Asian origin,I think both sides have to learn something out of it.We got homeworks to do.

Jaduong Metty said...

@Anonymous 4:33PM
I didn't define what culture is, but touched on some cultural elements. I did that deliberately to fit what the arguments againts Ms. Richa's crowning was all about.

As I didn't define or conclude on culture in its completeness, could you help all of us with an answer to what you think constitutes the Tanzanian culture?

I think that was my main question - given that folks accused Richa of not knowing the Tanzanian culture.

Anonymous said...

Tanzanians are not negroid, but most of them are Bantu, with few Hemites and Cushites.

Jaduong Metty said...

@Anonymous 11:27AM
I'm just curious. What's the difference between Negroid and the mentioned groups - Bantu, Hemites and Cushites?

Aren't Bantu Negroid?

wayne said...

If anyone cares, I found the following definitions on Wikipedia (the online encyclopedia:

Negroid is a general term referring to the darker skinned people of Africa. It is derived from the term Negro and refers to a presumed Negro race.[1] Negro in turn is derived from the latin word Nigrum which means black. According to the Oxford Dictionary of English: "Negroid is an adjective relating to the division of humankind represented by the indigenous peoples of central and southern Africa." With regards to its usage the dictionary states that it is associated with outdated notions of racial types and thus is potentially offensive and best avoided.

Bantu is a general term for over 400 different ethnic groups in Africa, from Cameroon to South Africa, united by a common language family (the Bantu languages) and in many cases common customs.


Kush was a civilization centered in the region of Nubia, located in what is today northern Sudan. One of the earliest civilizations to develop in the Nile River Valley, Kushite states rose to power before a period of Egyptian incursion into the area. People in Kush were called Kushites.

Gökçedam (Hemite) is a village located in Kadirli district, Osmaniye Province, Turkey. It is the birthplace of Yaşar Kemal.

draw your own conclusions, I guess

wayne said...

One other reference to hemites - for whatever it is worth:
"1) There's no scientific racial classification of Semites and Hemites, or whatever. This is biblical racial classification."
Not sure what that means or what it has to do with the discussion, but that's what I could find

Maricha said...

Metty, if I were you I wouldn't have quoted Michuzi's contributor “Hivi akiambiwa aeleze culture za kibongo hataeleza nini?” if he/she couldn't write the right way in his/her own language what would be wrong if the poor gal does not have a lot to tell about Tanzanian culture?

Jaduong Metty said...

@Wayne
Thanks for the research. Nonetheless, I think you asked a good question - what does the difference between the Cushites and Negroid and all that has to do with the discussion?

That's why I do emphasize reading in the right context.

@Maricha
To your point - when someone wants to be a bigot, they don't take their time to look at their own shortcomings. As I said, Richa is just as Tanzanian as Mpogolo next door.

wayne said...

Metty you asked in the last line of your original post:
"I believe that bigotry is a result of ignorance. But what can we attribute ignorance to?"
There are probably many more complicated answers than the one I am about to propose, but I think, quite simply it results in an unwillingness to open ones eyes and ones mind to the reality of fellow human beings all around. We fear, and thus refuse to accept or embrace that which we are unwilling to look at with open eyes, open minds and open hearts. Pity greater to the one of blind mind and heart than to the blind of physical eyesight. "There is none so blind as he who refuses to see"

Aman said...

Hongo first then beauty second
That is the BONGO that I know