Friday, April 3, 2009

African Safari Part 1: Naming Names

Finally, I am writing down my experiences. I do apologize for the delay, but I have not let you down. This will be the first in a two part series related to my month long journey to five African countries (Swaziland was added to my itinerary for a fun adventure). This was a lovely trip for which I must be thankful, for my good fortune was consistent throughout my trip with no lost luggage and no delays on any of my 11 flights. Just to follow-up on my mosquito repellent purchase--just stick with DEET.
My first stop was my beloved Kenya well known for the Maasai—a semi-nomadic tribe found in various parts of Africa--and the Masai Mara—the vast park reserve in the Great Rift Valley where lions, elephants, hippos, giraffe, zebra, impala, and many others can be found (I will show big game in African Safari Part 2). The Masai people have become the well known and easily recognizable face of Kenya for they are a tribe that has shunned the garments of Westernization and worked diligently to preserve its culture. It is said that a Maasai that does venture into the more western sector of society will remain quintessentially a Maasai—with the same customs, minds, and behaviors of their ancestors. The Masai are a remarkable people with many stories circulating about their abilities in the bush including one traveler’s account of the Masai passing near lions with no fear and the lions giving them the respect of not eating him alive.


One practice of the Maasai called polyandry I found quite interesting: A woman not only marries her husband but all the men in her husband’s generation or age group. If a Maasai man is away from his home, another Maasai of the same generation can place his spear in the ground, enter the house, and have sexual relations with the man’s wife. If the man returns and finds the spear in the ground he will find another bed to lay his head for the evening. In this modern age of HIV/AIDS, one can imagine how this practice has increased transmission of the virus among the tribe leading to many deaths.

Many tribes have suffered on this account where their customs involve a man having many wives or where there is a sharing of partners. We may think that polygamy is a black and white issue with no gray, but there is more to it then the sexual fantasy of a male mind. One of the driving forces behind polygamy is economic—a man is producing his own work force and since several tribes are agricultural in nature having more people to work the land meant more food and more wealth. I am not promoting nor do I agree with polygamy but the arguments and the origins and motivations behind the practice can be surprising.

I did not go to the Maasai Mara but did find some hippos at Lake Naivasha which is about 90km outside of Nairobi. It is located in the Rift Valley and is one of the few freshwater lakes and one of the largest. This will be a place well-known to you if you have ever seen the movie “Born Free” about the rearing of Elsa, the lioness, by George and Joy Adamson in the 1950s.
It has come to my attention that the cute and adorable hippos are considered the most dangerous of African animals (if you don’t count the mosquito who I would not term an animal). It seems more people die from the hippo than from other animals like the crocodile or rhino or elephant. The hippo doesn’t even eat you since it is an herbivore but its massive jaws and body for that manner just can do you in one quick motion.
Speaking of trauma, I did get a chance to visit my surgeon friend who specializes in trauma at the Kijabe Mission. The mission sits within the rift valley and provides health care to people that would not have access to healthcare otherwise. When you take the drive from the main road to get there, you really can appreciate the blessing the health facility must be for the people in the area. They would literally have to travel over and under and through the “woods” to get to any type of health provider.
In addition to serving the locals, people come across the country and borders to be treated by visiting physicians and obtain surgical intervention for some quite traumatic injuries (bike and auto accidents, hippo run-ins, farming accidents, etc). Check out my friend’s blog for the graphic details.
The reason for the title “naming names” relates to mini investigation I conducted in Kenya and Uganda related to how persons are named. In Kenya, there were names that I would see repeatedly and I first I wondered if persons were related. This was not the case. A common name is structured such that you have the first name, the middle name, and the surname/last name. The first name is usually a Christian name like John, Susan, Joseph, Amos, etc. The middle name can relate to the time one was born (morning, after lunch, evening, night), season of the year, or based on grandparents names. The surname comes from the father’s middle name and can be the full middle name or a part of the middle name. In the Luo culture (the tribe Obama descends from), the following names are used for girls and just add an “O” instead of an “A” for boys based on time or weather conditions at birth—what would your name be:

§ Atieno—night
§ Akoth—raining
§ Adhiambo—evening
§ Anyango—daytime
§ Akinyi—morning
§ Achieng—sunny
In Uganda, naming was done a little differently. The surname is written first and the surname is not the surname of your father or even your mother. The surname is based on region that the person is from whether northern, southern, central, western, or eastern part of Uganda. The first name as in Kenya is usually the Christian name. The grandparents play a large part in naming a child. I found it quite impossible to determine relationships by just peoples’ names.

Learning the nuances of another culture can be a wonderful endeavor. Opening your mind to another’s world and way of thinking give you multiple sides of vision like a fly’s perspective. Learning and embracing different outlooks on the world we live in enables more efficient and extensive ability to process and respond to various conditions and circumstances.
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man”
George Bernard Shaw