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In This issue... Can your story inspire peace among nations?


African ethnic communities (or nations) that must work together, despite having conflicting cultural values, have traditionally avoided perpetual wars and conflicts by creating common stories around controversial issues. ... (continued below)

Can your story inspire peace among nations?, by Muli Wa Kyendo (Nairobi)

Can your story inspire peace among nations?
By Muli wa Kyendo

African ethnic communities (or nations) that must work together, despite having conflicting cultural values, have traditionally avoided perpetual wars and conflicts by creating common stories around controversial issues. These stories became folktales that were taught to children in the communities. Those stories created shared values around the issues or issues with potential conflict which, in turn, helped to lessen tensions and kept wars at bay.

In Kenya, for example, the Maasai, the Akamba and the Kikuyu live near each other. A common element in their lives is cattle. A common myth about “heavenly” distribution of community occupations – ways of earning a living - gave cattle to the Maasai, farming to the Kikuyu and hunting to the Akamba.

The Kikuyu live in a hilly fertile land, while the Maasai live in the expansive Kapiti Plains which surround the hills. The Akamba live in well-watered hills that dot the Eastern side of the plains with their land stretching to near Mombasa – an ancient port city and international trade center which is today part of Kenya. Because, in hunting, the Akamba traversed all types of land terrains, they were also farmers, cattle keepers and long-distance traders, connecting the coast with the communities in the interior.

The Akamba version of this myth is rendered in a folktale of a boy who, disappointed by his father’s habit of slaughtering the bulls he loved, decided to go to Maasailand – the source of cattle, to get his own bull. The emphasis here was that the source of cattle was Maasailand. When the children grew up and had the need to mount cattle raids to replenish their own stock, they would remember that cattle belonged to the Maasai. Because of this, heroes of cattle raids were those who brought home cattle without shedding blood. Machakos town – some 60 kilometers southeast of Nairobi – is the capital city of the Akamba community. One of its main streets commemorates Mwatu wa Ngoma, a hero who led cattle raids without fatalities, either among the Maasai or the Akamba.

My version of this story, Kioko and the Legend of the Plains, can be found at www.africanbookscollective.com/books/kioko-and-the-legend-of-the-plains. The folktale inspired my concept of ethnic peace, discussed in an article in the book, Fundamental Theories of Ethnic Conflict which can be found at www.africanbookscollective.com/books/fundamental-theories-of-ethnic-conflict.

One lesson I have drawn from the transmutation of the folktale is that stories for peace must sound real – they must have a soul. Stories with a soul implant themselves deeply in our hearts, and remain there, in good part because, as Dr Rida Blaik Hourani puts it, they are redolent with archetypes – images that bridge the personal and the universal.

“Archetypes are like keys, unlocking an ancient, deep, magical wisdom which we may never have known we had. But in the vehicle of a story, archetypes become more than mere images: they become energies, embedded with instructions which guide us through the complexities of life and show us what we may become – or how we may participate in the becoming of the world.”

This is what mythologist Joseph Campbell describes as the power of stories “to carry the human spirit forward.”

You can learn more by studying folktales themselves. And who knows – your story may end up bringing peace among nations!

Muli Wa Kyendo (ed.), Fundamental Theories of Ethnic Conflict: Explaining the Root Causes of Racial and Ethnic Hate (Nairobi: Syokimau Cultural Centre, 2019)

Hourani, R. B. (2015). Folktales, children’s literature and national identity in the United Arab Emirates. The Looking Glass: New Perspectives on Children's Literature, 18(1).

Morong, C. (1994). Mythology, Joseph Campbell, and the socioeconomic conflict. The Journal of Socio-Economics, 23(4), 363-382.

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Publishing New Writers,

April, 2023 (vol. 24, no. 4)


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