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BACK STORY: HOW I DISCOVERED THE MYTH VALUES THEORY By Muli wa Kyendo

ActivismActivismBACK STORY: HOW I DISCOVERED THE MYTH VALUES THEORY By Muli wa Kyendo

Introduction: Myth Values Theory has been cited by many researchers around the world from disciplines I had never imagined. It has been cited in political science, psychology, gender, education, development economics, security and peace studies, business, music, anthropology, management, public administration and tourism and many more. For those who have asked me to explain how I discovered the theory, here is the backstory. I discuss what influenced me as I grew up, the inciting incident, the aha-ha moment, subsequent developments, the key concepts of theory and “what next”.

Setting: Looking back today, I realize that the discovery of the Myth Values Theory, now being cited in many academic disciplines – political science, psychology, gender, education, development economics, security and peace studies, business, music, anthropology, management, public administration, tourism and many others – was a process. My interest in theory, has been in me for as long as I can remember. As small boy, the things that puzzled me were different from those that puzzled other children of my age. But it was when I joined secondary school – in Form One to be exact – that I began to understand what I was searching for. I vividly remember the lesson, even the circumstances, the surrounding and the smell that surrounded us, as our Indian teacher conducted the lesson on the creation of the universe. The youthful teacher was introducing us to the theories of the creation of the universe. It was the Big Bang Theory that caught my attention. The theory states that all the matter of the universe was present at a single place in the form of hot and dense fire ball, having a very high temperature. After the passage of nearly 20 billion years, an enormous explosion took place. All the matter which was concentrated at one place scattered into space with rapid speed. This scattering was along all directions. Then this scattered matter took the shapes of galaxies and stars. And that is how the universe –including our earth– came into being. This looked to me like a very strange explanation of a complex venom. Just where did the objects that blasted out come from? And how are these “pieces” – the earth, the moon, the sun and the stars included – held in space? What method was used to estimate the period of existence of the “hot and dense fire ball” before the exposition? I wasn’t aware of the Theory of First Cause, but even then, I was aware that for anything to exist, there must be the thing that caused it – the First Cause.  Of course, it was pointless to raise the discussion with my teacher. He was just reproducing what was in the books, and hoped that I would, in turn, reproduce it when I was required to do so at the examination time. Truly, that is education! But I remember I said to myself, “You should study so that you can produce a more credible theory!”. And that became the overriding purpose for my studies. So obsessed was I in this pursuit that in secondary school, I founded a cultural group to collect and preserve traditional knowledge and art. I argued over the issues regarding knowledge and creation with anyone – my teachers, my brothers, my sisters and even religious leaders.

At the university, I focused on literature, hoping that it would give me a platform to say and do what I wanted to “teach” the world – a new way of looking at the universe. My first book, a novel, Whispers, was published by the Longman, and I knew I was on my way to my destination. It was at that time that I became closer to my sardonic – at least to me then – English teacher. He had a good reason to hold his nose up – he was English, white and the head of Literature Department at the University of Nairobi. And he was a specialist in Shakespeare, the greatest of British writers.  I brought my argumentative character to the class. And my professor wasn’t impressed – or so I thought – until the day he called me to his office. On this particular day, Prof. Andrew Gurr, for that was his name, was in good spirits. He invited me to a chair and even served me a cup of tea. It was while we sipped the tea that Prof. Gurr told be about what he referred to as his “greatest regret”. And that regret was studying literature and specialising on Shakespeare. “What can I say I know?” he asked rhetorically. I remained silent. “I see you are determined to study literature, but don’t. Don’t make the mistake I made. Study something else that will improve your knowledge. That way, you will have something to write about.” That is how I ended up studying Sociology. Little did I know that it would introduce me to the study of theory, race-relations and anthropology. I tell this story by way of paying my debt of gratitude to my professor, who, by bending my academic direction, set me on the right path to the goal I was seeking.

Later, I pursued further studies in Sociology at the Free University in Berlin, published a few more creative books such as the Surface Beneath, also published by Longman and regarded as big contribution to “protest novels”, a genre of novels that deal with race relations. Kioko and the Legend of the Plains is a transmutation of Akamba folktale told to me by my mother when I was a small boy. It is a story of two warring communities and how they came to learn that they were just one people. I became a journalist and taught in a few colleges and universities.

Looking back now, I realise that these activities shaped my perceptions of society and the way it operates. While I was teaching at the Daystar University in Nairobi, I came face to face with the struggles, bitterness and hopelessness of refugees in the form of my students from Rwanda who had fled ethnic violence in their country in which more than 500,000 people were murdered in 100 days! I learned first-hand how it feels to experience an ethnic war – to watch relatives being mercilessly tortured or murdered for no reason other than that they belong to a certain ethnic group, to watch hitherto friendly neighbours turn into murderous enemies, to flee through treacherous bushes, hungry and with nothing to protect yourself. And finally, to become a refugee in a foreign country, depending on the good will of others. Ironically Rwanda was the country I had studied in my undergraduate studies at the University of Nairobi as an example of racism based not on colour but on physical features!

Inciting incident: In 2008, Kenya, my country, was embroiled in one of worst ethnic conflicts in Africa following a disputed election in which more than 1,400 Kenyans were brutally murdered, thousands more maimed and many more left homeless. Hitherto, since 1963 when the country freed itself from British claws of colonialism, Kenya – together with its southern neighbor, Tanzania – had been one of few countries that could boast of peaceful coexistence of its multi-ethnic, multiracial communities. There was, for sure, an undercurrent of dissatisfaction which sometimes flared up into pockets of ethnic violence. But soon these would peter out and peace would again prevail. Indeed, Kenya was a host to thousands of refugees from warring countries in Africa, ranging from South Africa at the tip of continent in the south, and all across to the Sudan and Ethiopia in the north east. Now it was itself engulfed in flames of ethnic war. The dreaded blight of “developing” countries– ethnic violence and genocide – had come knocking on our door! Kenyans were gripped by morbid fear. Imagination ran wild as pictures of screaming human “torches” filled our TV screens. To me, this was a clear demonstration of the failure of the efforts which the government had hitherto put in place to bring about ethnic peace. Among these were laws against hate speech, complete with a government funded organization, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, whose job was to monitor and prosecute those found guilty of the “crime”. And there were myriads of NGOs monitoring ethnic peace and supposedly educating Kenyans on how-to live-in peace and harmony. It was evident that at best, all that these efforts brought about only an uneasy truce among the 42 indigenous ethnic groups in Kenya but not true peace.

My reaction was to go back to the questions I asked myself as young boy: What makes human beings do the things they do? In this case the fundamental question was: What makes people suddenly turn hostile to people they have known and lived with as neighbors, workmates and friends for years?

 The “Ah-ha!” Moment:  I was flipping through the newspapers as the crisis continued, when I came upon a story with the intriguing headline: “How can Kenya avoid ethnic war?” in an American newspaper, the Christian Science Monitor. The story described how Kenyans of all ethnic groups were living in peace a small town named Athi River while the rest of country was burning in the ethnic conflict. Athi River is a small town adjacent to Nairobi – in deed it forms the beginning of the eastern side Greater Nairobi Metropolitan. The difference, according to the story, was that Athi River lies in Ukambani (also referred to as Ukamba) – the home of the Akamba community. The story brought to me the idea of the role that stories play in ethnic peace and conflicts.­

About the Akamba: The Akamba, who are the fourth largest ethnic group in Kenya, according to official government statistics, have played a central role in the country now called Kenya since long before colonisation and even today. Their land occupies a vast region starting from Nairobi in the west to within a short distance away from Mombasa, the ancient coastal city of Kenya to the east; stretches from a short distance to the snow-capped Mt. Kilimanjaro to the south to a short distance from another snow-capped mountain, Mt. Kenya, in the north. Traveller’s journals in the mid-1800s spoke of Ukamba as fertile land with vast herds of livestock and wildlife, and prosperous settlements of healthy people (Krapf, 1860). Krapf also described the Akamba as proud, peace-loving people, a description that was repeated by many other European visitors to Ukamba. Although the Akamba were farmers and cattle keepers, they were great and famous traders, controlling trade between the coast and the interior of eastern Africa. For this reason, they came into contact with many ethnic groups and races – in deed it was a Mukamba (a member of the Akamba) who, after striking a friendship with the German missionary Dr. Krapft in Mombasa, brought the Whiteman to the interior of eastern Africa in 1848, a visit that played a key role in opening up the interior of eastern Africa to the Whiteman. Such expansive trade needed the ability to establish good relations with communities both at the coast and in the interior. And indeed, Akamba mythology emphasises peace. According to Timothy Ndambuki, in his book, The Seed: Akamba Christian Heritage, the Akamba creation myth empathises the need for peace and protection of all human lives. The Akamba traditional affirmation (credo) says in part, “I am a true Mukamba … One that cannot do harm to another human being because Mulungu (God) sees it all…”

Rising action: Following this new insight, I published two articles: “A Movement for Social Change with Folktales” and “Ethnic Conflicts: Understanding the Important Role of Folktales” My book Fundamental Theories of Ethnic Conflict is a unique publication that brings together eminent theorists and scholars from many academic disciplines – and from around the world – to discuss what they consider to be fundamental cause or causes of ethnic and racial conflicts from the perspectives of their own disciples.  My article, “Myth values: An Approach to Understanding Ethnic Conflicts” is published as a Chapter in the book. The article concretizes the Myth Values Theory.

Myths Values Theory: The Myth Values Theory, states that all human societies are built upon myth values. Their cultures including economies and social structures stand upon and radiate from the myth values. Myth values are sets of dos and don’ts and the benefits and rewards contained in a covenant, an agreement between the founding entity and humanity or a human community. These entities may be Super-Beings as in the case of myths or human heroes as in the case of legends. Donna Rosenberg in the book, Folklore, Myth, and Legends: A World Perspective, makes important distinctions between a myth and a legend. A myth is about human creation. Myths are concerned with the establishment of the human race on earth – the birth of humanity.  Thus, as J. P. Vernant observed, the past revealed in a myth of creation is much more than the antecedent of the present; it is its source. In going back to it, recollection does not seek to situate events in a temporal frame but to reach the depths of being, to discover the original, the primordial reality from which the cosmos issued and which makes it possible to understand becoming as a whole.  On the other hand, alegend is a story from the past about a subject that was, or is believed to have lived.  Legends are concerned with establishment a society or the birth of an ethnic community. Usually, the subject is a saint, a king, a hero, a famous person, or a warrior. Legends  are stories of human action – the hero achieves for a community an important goal or meets and finds favor with a Supreme Being with whom a covenant is established.

 

 

Figure1:Conceptualschema showingtherelationshipbetweenmyth values,waysofseeing,waysofbeing,waysofearningaliving,ideasof wellbeingandculturebyMuliwaKyendo

Myth values establish the culture which, in my definition, is “the tangible or visible forms of myth values”. Culture includes all things that make a human society – ways of seeing (world view including ways of reaching the Supreme Being), ways of being (environment and its protection), ways of earning a living (economy and technology) and ways of wellbeing (ideas or health, food, order, peace among others) as shown in the schema above.

Myth Values as the organising principle of human societies: Myth values are the organising principle of any stable nation. Traditionally, when human societies were small and controlled vast lands, the likelihood of ethnic and racial contacts were limited. Thus, every community had an opportunity to grow as a cultural nation (also known as nation state and defined as a political unit where the state and nation are congruent). Cultural nations were guided by their myth values. Their development and the history of a cultural nation depended on challenges posed mainly by actions of the Super Being as a result of disobedience of the covenant or through diffusion as a result of the occasional contact with others wit different myth values, especially by travel or in grazing fields (compare with the history of the Jews as narrated in the Bible). Today, however, we live in multinational states, (also referred to as a multicultural states). Communication and trade have also intensified interethnic and interracial contacts. This has initiated and intensified myth values competition with each myth values trying to suppress the other or others.  in multinational states myth values aggressiveness (myth values strength), define the nature of organization. The ethnic or racial group with more aggressive myth values occupy privileged position at top with the ranking of the rest positioned by the strength of their myth values. Myth values therefore, determine the nature of interethnic and interracial relations and the nature of development and history of multiracial or multi-ethnic nations. And these relations will, eventually, determine the future the human race.  American political scientist Samuel Huntington says the world is already poised for major cultural rivalry wars and eventual doom. He states, “Source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural.”

When myth values are defeated, the culture or civilization upon which it is built dies. This is the greatest fear of all cultural groups. It is the source of senseless fights and deaths.  And it is reason why myth values are indeed, what people live with, live by and can even die for.

Promotion and preservation of myth values: Although all elements of a culture are designed to promote and preserve a community’s myth values, folklore and material culture are the chief methods of propagating and preserving myth values. According to the websitewhatisfolklore.org, a project of American Folklore Society, folklore is “our cultural DNA”.  Every member of cultural community with a share, has, as a central part of that identity, folk traditions (the things that people learn to do largely through oral communication), material culture (such as folk art, architecture), music and dance, narrative (such as, fairy tales, folk tales), verbal art (such as jokes, proverbs, word games), belief and religion, as well as knowledge such as cooking and customs, relationships between food and culture, age set roles.

Reality of folklore: Folklore is the history of cultural nations and their struggles to preserve and promote their myth values in the face of changing environment or against other myth values. German scholar Lutz Röhrich stated that folklore is not a fabled poetry, a product of fantasy which does not require belief. Folklore is based upon human reality. Röhrich says: “folklore genres are verbal formulations of reality; of that which encompass social life, religious beliefs, and natural laws”. Even “fictive reality” is not purely imaginative, but part of transformed “historical reality”. Rohrich talks about transformation where customs, beliefs, social organization, and material goods that were an integral part of a given historical reality have been eliminated, through a process of change from the narrators’ world, and transformed into the fictive reality of folk narratives, where they survive. An example is Black American’s folklore which carries transformed reality of the myth values of the African race. Alex Haley’s Roots: The Saga of an American Family, illustrates this point. Reality turns into fantasy so that it is preserved as a historical record of the existence of myth values. Indeed, where folklore mentions geographical locations, archaeology has often confirmed the factual basis of the “myths”. The ancient Egyptian city of Pithom has been uncovered and storehouses fitting the description of those built by the Israelites have been found, the lower portion containing brick with straw and the upper portion containing brick without straw. Material culture is among the best ways to confirm historical reality of myths. The achievements of Ancient Egypt are still visible today in the grand monuments, artworks, and artifacts that have survived the passage of time. From the Great Sphinx  and the Pyramids of Giza to the hieroglyphs and papyrus scrolls that record their history, ancient Egypt continues to captivate and inspire people from around the world. In Myth Values Theory both folklore and material culture are seen as part of culture defined as tangible or visible forms of myth values.

Epilogue: In his book, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, Robin S. Sharma tells the story of an American lawyer, Julian Mantle, who, at the prime of his success, is “forced to confront the spiritual crisis of his out of balance life”. His search for spiritual balance takes him to India – to the monks, the custodian of ancient Indian wisdom. When the monk he met was convinced that he wanted to learn their ancient wisdom, he told Julian that he was the first person to want to learn their wisdom for many years.

The monk said: “If you like you may come with me, as my guest, to our temple. It rests in a hidden part of the mountain region, still many, many hours from here. My brothers and sisters will welcome you with open arms. We will together teach you the ancient principles and strategies that our ancestors have passed down through the ages.” It’s the invitation I would like to extend to you to join me in the walk to the custodians of ancient wisdom hidden in myth values. For, if we understand the past more thoroughly, we shall better understand the present, and better prepare for the future.

What next: Contact me at mkyendo@gmail.com to be included in the list for my forthcoming book: Myth Values Theory and Our Social Mind which explains why we live the way we do; act the way we do and how we can build a better world for our societies and self.

 

Bibliography

Eliade Mircea (1963)., Myth and Reality

Hobley C.W. (1909)., The Ethnology of the Akamba

Jacobs Donald R., (1961)., Culture, Themes and Puberty Rites of the Akamba, a Bantu Tribe of East Africa.

Krapf J.L (1860)., Travels, Researches, and Missionary Labors, During an Eighteen Years’ Residence in Eastern Africa

Lindblom G.  (1903)., The Akamba in British East Africa.

Lizorkin-Eyzenberg E. (2021)., Becoming Israel

  1. wa Kyendo (2016)., “A Movement for Social Change with Folktales?” in Strategies for Peace, Bruce L. Cook and Maria Cristina Azcona (Eds), Cook Communication, USA
  2. wa Kyendo (2018) “Ethnic Conflicts: Understanding the Important Role of Folktales” in Handbook of Research on Examining Global Placemaking in the Digital Age, Bruce L. Cook (ed), IGI Global, USA
  3. wa Kyendo (2019)., “Myth values: An Approach to Understanding Ethnic Conflicts” inFundamental Theories of Ethnic Conflict, Muli wa Kyendo (ed), Syokimau Cultural Centre, Kenya

Mbiti John S. (1969)., African Religions and Philosophy

Mbiti John S.  1966., Akamba Stories

Mbiti John S. 1988., Prayer and Spirituality in African Religion

Ndambuki Timothy N. (2016)., The Seed: Akamba Christian Heritage, Sahel Publishing Association, Kenya

Rosenberg D. (1997)., Folklore, Myth, and Legends: A World Perspective

Sankatsing G. (2021)., Command of Destiny: Breaking the wheels of domination in Africa

Rosenberg D. (1997)., Folklore, Myth, and Legends: A World Perspective

Sharma Robin S. (1999)., The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari: Discover Your Destiny with the Monk Who Sold His Ferrari: The 7 Stages of Self-Awakening

 

 

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