Saturday, June 8, 2013

Kenya's “Mutumia”

- Wambui Mwangi

Wambui Mwangi writes a compelling piece at The New Inquiry (of course) entitled "Silence Is a Woman." It's a studied assault on the continuities of imperial systems of control in Kenya, namely indigenous and colonial forms of patriarchy and ethno-supremacy. By recounting the long and storied history of Kenyan women's resistance against these forms of domination, Mwangi carves out new spaces of imagining, justice and moral responsibility, or "structures of feeling" as coined by cultural critic Raymond Williams.

I highly recommend taking the time to read the whole thing. It is both a formidable assault on patriarchy - its unique perversions of power - and a lyrical description of the postcolonial condition. I love how she moves effortlessly between poetic and institutionalized language, making both serviceable to higher social ends like political empowerment and freedom. 

This metonymic association between “Kenya” and “Kenyatta” is no accident. The first president gave himself that name. He was also the author of Facing Mount Kenya, which he wrote as his doctoral dissertation in anthropology and in which he examined at scholarly length the working of Gikuyu society and cultural practices. This work is so iconic in post-colonial Gikuyu culture that now it does not so much describe as generate Gikuyu identity. In the Gikuyu language of Jomo and Uhuru Kenyatta’s core supporters, “mutumia” is one of the generic words for a woman. The literal translation of “mutumia” is “the silent one” or “one who does not speak.”

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