By: JOSAYA WASONGA
Five hundred, and counting. That’s the guesstimate of people in our family tree, right under my paternal grandfather’s handle: Nicodemo Ogoye Aruwa. And I’ve not even factored in relatives on my mother’s side.
Several hundred, plus. That’s the rough estimate of relatives that I don’t know. And the family tree keeps growing. Whirringly fast. Pretty soon it will dwarf Jack’s beanstalk.
Careers. Geographical differences. Hermit tendencies. Class differences. Just because. Hatchets, (historical and new). These are just six reasons my cousins and I don’t keep in touch as much as we ought to.
What’s worse, we do not have a culture of big phat reunions. Ours are happenstances. They happen during burials, funeral arrangements, weddings, in supermarket aisles, or on social media.
Our daughter is tight with, um, (counting on my fingers) a number of her cousins. Others she hangs out with occasionally, and then there are others she has never met.
My paternal grandfather, who died in the early sixties, had five wives. My grandmother was his last wife. Growing up, my father constantly remarked, “Dala doho ok en dala maber”. Meaning? A polygamous home is bad news.
INVISIBLE, REAL LINES
As a child, when we went to the village during Christmas holidays, I perceived the lines scratched on the humongous homestead’s red earth. There were warnings, with (unspoken) dire repercussions
“Don’t ever eat or drink anything from that house.”
“Don’t ever give even a cent to anyone from that family.”
I did not know these admonitions were provoked by fear of (supposed) witchcraft, which, who knows, could be nothing more than witch-hunt. Now I know better. That, according to Paul’s epistle to Timothy; “God did not give me a spirit of fear, but of power”.
In polygamous families, there is bound to be jealousy, envy, distrust, bad blood and rivalry between co-wives’ homes. If left unresolved, the generational baggage can become a malignant tumour, which is then forced down the genetic code of successive generations.
Seven years ago, I met a cousin at a relative’s funeral. “Let’s not be pulled asunder by beefs our fathers had, and which we know nothing about,” he reasoned.
Recently, an uncle asked me about an upcoming wedding in the city. It’s common practice for a few selected upcountry folk to be invited to Nairobi nuptials.
“Nope. Didn’t get the invitation,” I replied, to which he began walking on eggshells.
Deep inside, we both knew such blackballs are due to one of two things. Class difference, or whether one’s in good graces with the wedding couple. More often than not, it’s the latter. It’s that invisible, yet very real line, which demarcates royal families and ordinary people. This means that depending on where one stands, or stays, they will only hear about certain events, happy or sad, through the grapevine.
Relatives are relatives. Ditto cousins. My wife and I have resolved that we will never deny our daughter the opportunity to relate with her cousins regardless of our or our parents’ misgivings, history and baggage.
DON’T BE STRANGERS
Hell, yeah. Like our parents before us, we will also give warnings, but to help her navigate through the relationships, not hate her relatives.
My father, his siblings, step-siblings and cousins were among the first gang from Gem who came to Nairobi before and immediately after independence. They were born and brought up in the village where social interactions and meetings were daily occurrences.
In the city, to keep the kith kiln burning, they visited each other, plus, they had a welfare association. By: the Seventies, due to rural-urban migration, the membership had swelled in leaps and bounds, so much in fact, that they had their monthly meetings in a social hall.
Us? We are a different kettle of fish. Though the roots and stem still hold us to the soil – and soul – of quaint old Got Regea, our branches have spread and scattered, here and abroad. We prefer the solitude of picket fences to the rambunctiousness of welfare associations.
In 2000, a concerned uncle gave me words of wisdom, months before he died: “You children should visit each other and stay close,” he advised, adding that we were living like strangers.
I don’t know about yours, but sorry is the state of my extended family. As old branches die with their institutional memory, so do their xylem; which carry water and mineral salts.
SOURCE: DAILY NATION