by Faith Linyonyi
“ humanity was cursed anyway. The mind was a curse: its ability to go back in time to regret and to hop into the future to hope and worry was not a blessing”
– Jennifer Makumbi, Kintu
Kintu by Jeniffer Makumbi is an epic novel that follows a Buganda leader, Kintu Kidda, and the curse that befalls him when he kills his adopted son. This curse doesn’t just affect him and his two wives who happened to be twin sisters, but it bothers his descendants down to three centuries. Coming from a pretty large family myself, with around one hundred first cousins on either side, I identified not just as a descendant of Kintu, but of two Kintus. I also read it at a time when my cousins and I are becoming more aware of our identities and how we inherited traits from the older generations which form a big part of who we are today. So at the end of the book when alienated relatives find themselves in o Lwera with all these questions about their family history, I was like “yep! That could be us one day.”
It’s amazing to think of the power that blood has. How is it that history writes itself so perfectly and replicates itself in different times and bodies? Sometimes I feel that maybe there is nothing unique about us. We are just the same person being repeated over and over. Kintu’s descendants lived worlds and generations apart but the stories of their lives were too similar for it to be a coincidence that they were from the same family, all stemming from one individual. If it wasn’t Suubi being haunted by her dead twin sister, it was Miisi and his visions of bees. They were all characterized by either presence of twins, premature death or visions and dreams. It’s pretty much the same thing for my family and I. Our actions and thoughts at any given time are almost identical to something an uncle or aunt did when they were our age.
One thing that’s probably written in our blood is our African-nes both in a cultural and spiritual way. Jennifer Makumbi writes a beautiful novel that shows a system that worked for Africa before we were colonized leaving me wondering again about how many of our ‘African problems’ can only be solved by ‘African solutions.’ No matter how educated or religious Kintu’s kin was, or how much they convinced themselves that they did not believe in finding the root of their origin, they eventually found themselves where it all began centuries before they were born. Today, we have really mingled with the outside world but it’s clear that our continent is hurting and instead of putting our efforts on trying to catch up with the rest of the world, we should probably abandon their ways altogether and do the natural thing which is to be true to our African-ness, our leadership, our families, our spirituality.This sounds good to me only in theory. There are parts of the old Africa I don’t want to go back to (mostly the patriarchy part). But maybe if we tried to understand more of what was happening back then we could find answers to our ailings not just an a personal level but also as a country and as a continent. I read an article by Wangui and I was really impressed by her bravery to search for a more authentic spiritual identity. I say this with no pride at all, but I think it’s easier for me to have natural hair, wear kitenge head wraps or boycott speaking Western languages than it is to practice a purely traditional religion.
“But in the end, what is all this sex for?”
This is the question Miisi Kintu, together with his wife ask when they lost ten of their twelve children at around the same time. They were in a lot of grief, not knowing how exactly they should mourn and questioned the meaning of their children’s lives altogether. In the end, his wife laughs back and sighs wondering ‘What was all that sex for?’ What was the point of breaking your back to have children who will eventually die? She should have just slept, she says. Currently, that’s where I am with a lot of these things. Maybe going back to our traditions while tweaking a few things will make our lives easier. But maybe it won’t.
Maybe life doesn’t work like that. We could be ones and zeroes after all, experiencing reactions to our actions and any similarities could only be explained as coincidences. Miisi and Suubi shared this thought. They attended the reunion but they also believed that tragedies made them special. Anyone could have dark days without it being anything to do with an event that happened eons ago. There is a chance that as long as we are living in this world, we will most probably question our identity in every aspect and that will have nothing to do with our origins. Maybe bringing back our traditions will only waste our time and that as we keep evolving, we need not seek our past for solutions. I once listened to a panel when Neo Musangi and other artists exhibited their work. Someone asked Neo one of those deep questions like, “Do you pray to yourself?’ And they answered that they don’t really think about such things anymore. That they do whatever they want and them sinning or abiding by some spiritual laws is the problem of whoever created them, not theirs. And I kept saying to myself how that must be a good place to be. Where you ask yourself, ‘what is all this sex for?’ and instead of wondering which god you should worship or how you should greet our neighbours in the morning, you just roll back and sleep.
Faith Linyonyi is a writer who lives in Kajiado County.