In 2013 after a lifelong success of writing novels about his native East Africa, H.R. Ole Kulet was awarded the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for literature. His short novels are now an essential part of the history of East Africa.
Ole Kulet described life that was changing so fast that today young Kenyans can’t fanthom his characters or his plots, including such things as rich old chiefs sexually assaulting young teen girls.
Get where I’m going?
Time to check your clocks. No, I’m not reminding you about the end of daylight savings time. I want to be sure that your ticks still clock, sinets mounting into meconds and inuits into mours, because it isn’t just government that’s falling apart, science is, too.
Our world of disinformation and strangled reasoning has sucked in science. Walrus-looking agricultural science advisors with no science credentials, EPA forbidding use of the world ‘climate’ and what has really driven me crazy, paleontologists speaking like political idiots.
In this incredibly dangerous and mendacious time when little seems to get better but the bank accounts of the rich why is society reacting so quickly to improve its mores regarding sexual relations?
While democracy, poverty, disease and war get worse? Is it because doing, confessing and chastising sexual harassment is easier than stopping a man from killing eight people with a truck in God’s name? Is it because the hypocrisy of the rich and religious has just gotten so grotesque that it’s finally bubbling over?
I surveyed a number of African countries to find out. Here’s what I learned:
With the testimony this week by social media giants in the prism of fake news, I followed with special interest the discovery announced recently that old human teeth were “rewriting” human history.
A year ago German scientists made a remarkable find of 9.7 million-year old human-like teeth. For some reason, they took a year to officially report it. In a clearly rhetorical postulation the scientists suggested the teeth were hominin, and this would require a radical rethinking of current human evolution.
The mayor in the town where the discovery happened was pretty definitive: “I don’t want to over-dramatise it, but I would hypothesise that we shall have to start rewriting the history of mankind after today.”
His statement was immediately published by such normally careful media as USAToday and London’s Independent.
Democracy is alive and well in Kenya! Violence has already begun. Tear gas wafts through the city centers of Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa, the three largest cities. The main opposition party has told supporters to clear off the streets because continued police brutality has so far killed 33 protestors.
All this portends serious death and destruction starting about a week from tomorrow and continuing as it did almost exactly a decade ago for several months before slowly and painfully settling into another chapter of nervous peace, the country then more scarred than ever. Why can’t this remarkably educated, progressively developed country get it right? Tribalism.
Western mores regarding sexuality unmask deep hypocrisy in conservatism. Facebook – buttressed by these mores and reflected by some state laws – this week told many South Africans that their ancient traditions were wrong and had to be suppressed.
Autonomy is the buzzword, now. The Navajo Nation, Catalonia, Maasai Ngorongoro, Yukon First Nations or Zanzibar, and they are all wrong. This is becoming clearer and clearer to me as I tour America’s southwest and listen to the same story lines and their dismal outcomes that I have heard in Tanzania for years.
Kathleen and I spent a half-day with T.J. in his pretty beat up jeep in Canyon de Chelly, a part of the greater Navajo nation. He showed us some amazing scenery and intrigued us with closeups of Anasazi, Hopi and other Pueblo indian pictograph and petroglyph. But I was belabored with his stilted view of history and saddened not just by his own personal story, but the story of his people.
We woke to a brilliant white sunrise over an absolutely still landscape of New Mexico’s first snow. By 10 a.m. it was gone from all but the highest mountain tops.
Two days in Santa Fe is not enough. The museums are brilliant, the ubiquitous art enthralling if a mite homogenous, and the history grand and often hilarious. From Judge Tobin who spent most of his time in a bar to Kit Carson who spent most of his time in dime novels, the wild west slowed down a bit here. The native Tiwa-speaking Pueblo Indians tradition of keeping secret their past seems to have prevailed: An extremely nice Santa Fean gentleman who struck up a warm conversation with me on the plane from Dallas told me to “enjoy yourself as you never have, just don’t stay.”
Nearby Taos is a different world. My personal impression is that this is the last of hippie-dom. More crafts than arts. Sotheby’s, on the other hand, has an awful lot of multi-multi-million dollar private desert retreats for sale up the countless little desert roads around here. There’s a lot less talk and a lot more sitar than in Santa Fe. Everybody goes by their first name, but nobody seems to know exactly where they’re going.
Tonight we go to Catholic vespers at the start of Geronimo celebrations at Taos Pueblo. The Spaniards catholicized the Pueblo Indians and made St. Jerome their patron saint. The annual saint-day tomorrow is the most important day of the year for the Taos Pueblo, and for god’s sakes don’t use TripAdvisor’s conservative admonitions about not bringing children! This is a perfect demonstration of what happens when you try to synthesize modern religion with ancient beliefs. Thank goodness Geronimo won over St. Jerome!
Tomorrow we head west of the Raton Pass that the old wagons had so much trouble navigating, over the high forests across today’s modern ski country into the heart of the Navajo Reservation.
Certain Africa tribes are marginalized by their modern African societies, and this often in spite of noble efforts to reduce allegiances individuals feel towards their tribes. The Maasai are one good example.
This push-pull within a growing, modernizing society is not dissimilar to the history of native Americans. The oppressor is noticeably different: with native Americans it was the colonial conquerors; with the Maasai it’s other African tribes holding power. But many of the dynamics are the same, and I believe both native Americans and many African societies can learn much from one another.
Jokes and derision poked at Americans limited understandings of far-away places like Africa seemed to diminish over the last few years. I guess not.
I couldn’t have told you who Louise Linton was until yesterday, when her juvenile, unethical behavior while accompanying our treasury secretary on an official event set off a firestorm.
If you can’t believe the Dalai Lama, who can you believe?
This past weekend the “chosen leader” of Tibet canceled a very important visit to Botswana, a country that is increasingly trying to become relevant on the world stage relative to its increasing wealth from diamonds and rare earths. He lied about why he canceled.
When Kathleen and I first went to Africa in the early 1970s we were warned about mosquito-born diseases like malaria, but there were few other dreaded diseases. AIDS wasn’t yet known. Cholera seemed to be confined to the slums of Asia and South America.
Cholera has broken out in Nairobi. The first 30 or so cases were not found where you would expect to find a hard-to-transmit but deadly disease: in the slums. More than 400 cases have been confirmed and many in two of the most upscale areas of the city, Karen and Westlands. What’s going on?
I’m in Kenya and you can’t walk out your door without feeling the buzz! Keep your eyes squarely here: It all happens on August 8. A national election that increasingly looks like it will be a major upset.
Kenyans have always been incredibly open people, and they are brimming over with optimism about this election! It’s not about their candidate. It’s what they think is about to happen:
The explorers of Africa provide us with an understanding of our turbulent and uncertain societies today in a way none other can.
Tomorrow at 3p at Dubuque’s Free School I’m giving a lecture about Stanley finding Livingstone. If you’re coming to the lecture you’re under a solemn oath to keep this blog to yourself until I finish. Because this is the punch line:
Attitudes towards hunting are changing in the same way that they’ve already changed with regards to the LGBT communities. In remarkably short order hunting of all kinds may be curtailed.
This is a very widespread and expansive cultural change. It applies almost equally to sports hunting as to native society subsistence hunting and even to scientific culling. It is, in fact, the scientific community evincing the most dramatic change. The driver is climate change.