Author:Julie Taylor (SIL International)
Paper short abstract:
A proposal for historical frictions between indigenous leadership and colonial/post-colonial governments progressing from perceived incompatibility to becoming a mutual and conscious agency for restoring identity, optimism and vision for material development among a deeply divided community in Kenya.
Paper long abstract:
For the Sabaot people of Kenya's western highlands, traditional beliefs as well as historical assumptions of identity and geographic entitlement are rooted in a patrilineal clan structure, within which traditional prophets have a powerful role as guardians of mythical knowledge and prophecy. In the late 1800s, a sequence of economic, social, developmental and territorial pressures began to impact the Sabaot, and in 2006, an unprecedented wave of blood-letting emerged, spear-headed by a home-grown rebel militia known as the Sabaot Land Defence Force. By early 2008 the essence of collective identity had fractured, with clan members turning on each other, sub-groups claiming alternative ethnic membership, and the traditional prophets either dispersed or forcefully suppressed. Any progress in looking as a community at fresh directions or seeking sustainable solutions had been subsumed by violence and fear, and the notion that identity strengthens in the face of political struggle and forced compromise was markedly absent. This paper proposes that those construed as a contributing source of divisiveness, namely the prophets, should be considered an essential key in helping the Sabaot unite as "one stomach". The Sabaot have demonstrated that responding to respected leadership from within their clans takes priority over national policies implemented by leaders they do not trust. As a new generation of Sabaot look for peace in their homeland, the challenge is whether their prophets will become advocates for renewed social cohesion, able to help the unique traditions of the Sabaot exist in mutual partnership with national development aims.
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