Wednesday, February 8th, 2023


Photo : Courtesy
Photo : Courtesy

Culture is defined as a set of ideas, customs or social behavior of a particular group of people in society. This includes language, religion, music and arts, cuisine or social norms. But more significantly, culture is the basis of human nature.

For decades, our forefathers went to great pains to ensure that our culture was preserved. However, due to modernization and globalization, our traditional practices are waning. Must we abandon our native language to be part of the global village?

If our way and mode of communication with each other is abandoned, we will have relinquished one of the aspects that uniquely unites us a nation.

Broadly speaking, African languages are on the brink of extinction. As individuals, we have been swayed by westernization and most African governments, in pursing national unity, have given preference to foreign languages such as English which has resulted in local dialects being sidelined.

When Ngugi Wa Thiong’o made his Catalonia International Prize acceptance speech in Kikuyu, maybe this was the message he communicating to fellow Kenyans. It’s quite absurd that majority of children aged under 16 years in Kenya cannot fluently construct a sentence in their mother-tongue.

We have been conditioned to believe that what is foreign is superior to the local. That it unites us, and what’s our own, divides us. Many have bought into the false notion that a command of the English language is a measure of intelligence and anyone who’s not fluent in it is considered as primitive.

Kenya, is a multi-ethnic country, which produces 42 of Africa’s 1,800 languages. Ethnic languages form the backbone of our cultural heritage, which means losing our ethnic languages would be losing our identity as Kenyans. (who are we if cannot express ourselves in our own native toungues?

Take for instance the Yaaku people of Rift Valley. In a population of about 4000, only less than 10 people remaining can fluently speak their native language of Yakunte. In 2004, Yakunte speakers wrote a Yakunte Dictionary in efforts of saving the language. This could happen to any tribe in Kenya judging by the way westernization is being widely adopted.

For us to preserve our culture, we need to start teaching our children their native languages. This can best be achieved by spending time in our traditional communities more often and speaking these languages in our homes. Our cultural practices, language being one of them, provides contextual grounding for one’s identity. Without it, we risk raising half-baked individuals who will be easily swayed by any passing wind. It is time we make the practicing cultural traditions ‘cool again’.

We may not be able to see into the future, but we have it in our power to protect and preserve of culture for posterity.  The future of our families, communities and nation lies with our children. This is where we need to invest. Instead of paying absurd amounts for our young ones to study foreign languages, how about first teaching them our own for free.

Our cultural values provide the contextual grounding of our identity- we lose our cultural values, we lose ourselves.



Kihara Lewin

Kihara Lewin is a Freelance Writer passionate about African Heritage & Culture.