My grandmother passed away one week ago. I dedicate this post to her. She was in my inner circle and a fellow traveler in life, and I am privileged to have known her as well as I did. Keriama, Grandma.
The post is actually a re-post from a blog I kept when I was in Kenya in 2011. During the trip, I interviewed and lived with the Pokot (a nomadic people of western Kenya) for my master’s thesis, as well as visited and deepened my relationship with Daylight Center and School. I also believe this post is appropriate to share at the beginning of this journey of writing for The Salt Collective as we authors observe our surroundings and take on the beautiful challenge of translating those thoughts and experiences into gracious discussion.
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Wow. So much has happened in the past week in Alale. I have learned so much. About the Pokot, about myself, and about my friends. And I have only begun to process my experiences there, I’m sure. It is impossible to cover everything in one blog post, but here are some of the highlights…
Upon arriving in Alale, we went to Michael’s mother’s homestead to rest for the remainder of the evening after a long day of traveling. My fellow travelers were Michael (Daylight’s Kenya Founder, and my trip translator), Peter (a.k.a. Losenguria; Michael’s assistant at Daylight), and Lomaler (Daylight security guard). As the evening unfolded, I was astounded to discover some things I had not known about the very people with whom I have been spending a good portion of 2 months.
I have neglected to ask probing personal questions of people like Nelly, Peter, and Lomaler because I did not want them to feel as if they were being inspected and studied like the people they observe me interview (even though I am, in fact, studying them). Unlike the various people I have interviewed to learn about their beliefs and customs, I had to see these 3 every day.
So, I was shocked to learn that Lomaler is Michael’s younger brother. About a decade or more separates them. Michael never introduced him to me as family, and because Lomaler runs a number of errands for Michael’s family and sleeps in Michael’s Toyota pickup, I assumed Michael had simply extended a helping hand to a fellow Pokot in need. I knew Michael and Lomaler come from the same Snake clan, but that was as close to family as I thought they got.
This goes back to my observation about how people in Pokot (if not all of Kenya) refer to each other. Each person usually has an English-sounding name, a tribal name, and a nickname. The English-sounding name is mostly used in more urban places of business, and by people who do not know one as well. The tribal name is used daily in one’s community and in rural tribal areas. The nickname is used in the home and by members of one’s family and extended clan.
I think what I’ve realized is because each person has so many names, and because a person may not know which name you know for another person, then they refer to that person as “that guy” instead of using a name. In the case of clans, a person can be referred to as a brother or sister if they are literally a blood relative, or if they belong to the same clan. Lucy (in the Shackled post), for instance, is not Michael’s blood sister after all, but is in the same clan as Michael.
I met Michael’s blood sister’s son, Kolemoi, while in Alale. Because clans are patrilineal (anthropological term meaning descent or kinship is determined by the father), Kolemoi belongs to a different clan than Michael and his sister. Michael introduced Kolemoi to me as his sister’s son. And I said, “ok, so he’s your nephew!” Michael’s nonchalant response was, “yeah, but he’s from a different clan, though.” I don’t want to paint the picture that Michael is uncaring towards his nephew. Michael has a HUGE heart…for everyone inside and outside his clan, for everyone inside and outside Pokot. But this exchange so beautifully clarified for me what are considered the inner circles of family for Pokot.
One of the Snake clan elders approached me and told me that I am of his clan now. He explained that I know more about the Pokot now than many of the Pokot men my age, and that I should become an elder one day (even though Pokot elders have always been men). I think he was impressed by this and wanted his clan to have bragging rights in the future.
Somehow I expected absorption by a clan to require a ceremony of some kind, but I have found that since I am a woman, it is taboo to have those types of ceremonies performed. However, no one seems to have an issue with a woman filling these roles. In anthropology, we call this being an “honorary male,” where female anthropologists have an unspoken pass from the community to observe and experience certain events. But there are still many rituals that remain off limits; in most cases, this is due to purity beliefs.
At this point, I am very sad to think I will be leaving Kenya in exactly 1 week from today. I have made so many friends (and family!) here that it will be hard to say goodbye. I will be coming back to Pokot. It is only a matter of when.
Keriama. Let’s meet again.