Ancestral Land & The Chains of the Past


The most painful thing in life is to have your destiny decided by another. The most destructive thing in life is to beg for a different destiny.

It has taken me a long time to be honest about some of the customs and traditions of my people. I have spent a lifetime struggling to find my voice in the noise, in the process wondering what the western world has done to me, where I find myself questioning my beliefs.

I had a conversation with a friend recently and revealed that it is possible to live in a “free country” and still carry the burden of your country, your culture, your traditions. That it is possible for your destiny to be decided before you are born. It is a concept that is foreign to most Americans. But, even in America some of our most vulnerable have already had their destinies decided for them. If we’re being honest, some of our youth have been given the “go straight to jail” card at birth.

Even as critical as I am about some of the elements of the Luo culture, I am even more critical about what it is that I reveal about my culture to others. Of how I can explain arranged marriages, young brides, and polygamy in the same breath as tightknit families, the joy of knowing one’s tribal language, and the food that takes you back to the land you left so long ago.

A friend of mine sent me a test a few months ago that reveals where I would be if I was living in Kenya. As amusing as I found the test to be it revealed a part of my past that I often try to let go of, a part of my past that I have only been able to share with a few people. It reminded of the painful journey of so many women in my family. It reminded me that I am in a better place because of the sacrifices of so many of these women. That I owe them so much of my life. That no one should beg for a different destiny, but instead create their own.

This week I asked my younger brother to offer me something that still holds me to this past. I asked him if he was willing to give me some of our ancestral land. Knowing that culturally I had no right to the land. That according to tradition, my sisters and I are supposed to get married and no longer be tied to this land let alone be buried on it.

I realize that many may think I shouldn’t even be considering the future of this land. A land that lays at the top of a hill where I can walk down and sit under the tree where my mother gave birth to me and laugh at the irony of how much pain this land represents, and the fact that I still want a part of it. A land that my younger brother has never set foot on, and yet he has more rights to it than me.

This was not the first time I had asked him informally if I could be buried on the ancestral land if I don’t get married. Perhaps I was wondering about his commitment. Maybe I was wondering just how much he was willing to fight others to give me that land. I was wondering if he would grant me this one wish, to be buried where it all started.

I’ve never felt so conflicted about such an issue, knowing that others may think I’m defying tradition. That I had stepped out of line and suddenly gone rogue with this request. But, I wasn’t asking for too much, just a place to be buried.

The funny thing about this request is that I don’t even consider myself a feminist. I don’t think it’s a feminist concept to want a share of your history, to have a place to take my family (if I get married). I don’t think it’s a feminist concept to share that with my children whether or not they happen to be boys or girls.

After asking my brother to be buried on our ancestral land, I thought of the type of man he had become and how this was probably the closest thing I have to a will. Knowing that although we grew up in a traditional household he had abandoned a lot of those concepts. In fact, at times my younger brothers seem to carry the feminist torch more than the women in our family. I remembered recently visiting my youngest brother and he told me before rushing off to work that he didn’t expect me to cook or clean for him. I spent the entire day thinking about that comment, and how cooking and cleaning was something that we had been raised to do for the men in our family.

I thought of this journey of revelation for all five of us siblings. Of picking and choosing what we defined as appropriate for us. Most importantly, I thought of how much my brothers had learned about how to treat women. Of how vocal they had become about treating women with respect. I thought of how they made it a point to sometimes ask us about our motives. Of asking, “Is that what you want to do or what society tells you to do?”

I am intrigued by their view of the world and just how different we all are as brothers and sisters. Of a household that is now a mixture of beliefs, from Christian, agnostic, atheist, conservative, liberal, and independent. I thought of our philosophical discussions, of the no topic is off limit approach. How we keep challenging each other to reevaluate ourselves and what we want in life. How we have gotten to the point where we now control our own destinies and having to remind ourselves of that type of power.

Isn’t that what we’re all looking for? For the chains to come off and hope they don’t come back on the next time we open our eyes. It’s the fear that looms, like a shadow, constantly approaching but almost always out of sight.

I am grateful to share this type of love with my brothers, one that defies yet celebrates tradition, focusing always on what is right. To be honest, I’m still learning. Growing up, I constantly played The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill because I realized the process of reflecting and analyzing was a sort of re-education that had to be personal.

The funny thing is my brother will probably read this blog and say, “Why did you feel the need to ask me for the land in Karateng? Of course you can have it!”

I will laugh, hang up the phone as I lay back on my bed, close my eyes and hope I don’t see the chains under my blanket.


4 thoughts on “Ancestral Land & The Chains of the Past”

  1. How beautiful to share this, Philister. And I remember so clearly the little girls in the picture!

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