How Shall I Deal With My Neighbour?

Imagine the hatred that manifests during the election season in our beloved country Kenya. Net effect of property destruction, loss of lives, displacements, etc. You have some idea of the feeling and its causes between Jews and Samaritans in the time of Jesus. Both politics and religion were involved.

I was raised in rural areas of central Kenya and that meant exposure to people of different cultures was equivalent to milking sheep- at least for myself. There was indoctrination of hatred which we gladly absorbed unconsciously. If you behaved in a manner that demonstrated decimal or no hygiene we were told by our mothers: Tiga mitugo ya Jaluo aria mathambagiria mwana karai ga kurugira ngima (Don’t behave like Luos who bath their children in the metallic basin which will later be used to cook ugali) or Tiga guikara ta Turukana haha (Don’t stay here like turkana- nakedness) or tiga gutuhenia ta maathai (Don’t cheat us like maasai). Imagine now of an individual who never left the locality of the people of his culture and how their perspective is shaped with reference to the mentioning of these tribes. They will think that Luos are dirty, maasais are fools, naked like Turkana and dark-skinned like Nubians amongst others. This reminds me of a roommate in college who told me of a similar experience where being called a Dinka (a tribe) was an insult by their parents- he is from South Sudan. Funny enough he had never known that such a tribe exists.

Such warping of minds by our parents and old folks of our cultures are meant to cut short any link of friendship, association and so on with other communities. They tried to establish utopias which are hard based on the idea that we have at some point stretched ourselves beyond the horizon in search of better lives. Unfortunately, many have remained captives of such ideologies and whenever they see individuals from other tribes especially from western Kenya they will describe them as Nyamu (animals). This is not a problem with Kikuyus only but with other tribes too referring to others as wachawi (witches), wezi (thieves), night runners, etc. Talk of deep rooted stereotyping. There is a saying amongst the kikuyus: mari kuraihu matininaga nyota (the water that is far away will not quench your thirst) which means that your brother who was willing to assist you yet he is far is no good. The one near you is far more important. Imagine insulting others by the mention of other tribes: wewe jaluo, wewe maasai, wewe this, wewe that. Jews called the Samaritans a ‘herd’, not a nation. A widely used Jewish proverb stated that “a piece of bread given by a Samaritan is more unclean than swine’s flesh.”  The worst insult that a Jew could use was to call someone a Samaritan, such as in John 8:48 when the hostile Pharisees answered Jesus by saying, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and are possessed?”

When I was relocated beyond my region to RifValley, I was deposited in the midst of individuals of different cultures and had to subscribe to a different school of reasoning. Experience and exposure opened my mind to the running of the actual individuals and the errors we had been baptized into. Our parents had not also had that much experience and so this was a narrative that was long instilled into them by the political elites and their parents too. Theirs has been the commitment to pass these ‘oracles and knowledge’ (of course it is foolishness) to the next generation. Intermarriages were and are still avoided due to the myths and misconceptions that have been deeply inculcated into them/us. I hear there are curses in some of our clans where the great grandpas left statements of how noone in their families shall marry from certain tribes and parents forbidding their children from marrying from other tribes or else be excommunicated. At one point I went home and I was asked by one of the elders: Nyamu iramutwara atia (how are those animals taking you)? I knew he was referring to the demonstrators during the 2017/2018 election period and I told him  God has distinguished animals and people and he should not confuse the two. Those are human beings, not animals.

How ought we to treat our neighbours irrespective of them being different from us? Should we still hold on unto the myths whose origin is not our doings? It is the generalization concept that has made temperatures and tensions to be held unto all along. Have we allowed ourselves to be  overtaken by bigotry and prejudices?

The fact that there was such dislike and hostility between Jews and Samaritans is what gives the use of the Samaritan in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37) such force! The Samaritan is the one who is able to rise above the bigotry and prejudices of centuries and show mercy and compassion for the injured Jew after the Jew’s own countrymen pass him by! It is with those centuries of opposition and incidents behind their peoples that we can understand the surprise of the Samaritan woman (John 4:9) when Jesus rises above the social and religious restrictions not just of a man talking to a woman, but also of a Jew talking to a Samaritan. At times the Samaritans were known to lie in wait for Jews traveling from Galilee to Jerusalem for the feast days. Sometimes these attacks escalated into death. As a result, Galileans (except for Jesus) used the longer route on the other side of the Jordan. Keeping this long-running feud in mind, Jesus’ contact with the Samaritan woman at the well was not only surprising, it was shocking. And his parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’ was not a gentle story, but a stinging insult to the Pharisees.

This is no different than what we experience in our times. When you introduce your fiance, business partner, best friend, close allies, etc from a different tribe other than your own where everyone else from your locals are left with their mouths wide open. I must confess that my best friends are not from my tribes and my locals find that hard nut to crack. That you support individuals from different tribes other than yours is such a surprise.

Just like the old day rabbis, our politicians have made use of these mistrusts and stereotypes to hold captive the electorate by lighting their emotions. It is in this season that the so-called kingpins will converge and plot schemes to manipulate the electorate in the name of tribes. On one hand it will be about us and our people and on the other hard it will be about how the other tribes are not worth. That is when massacre and wars burst forth. And what for? Mtu wetu/ our tribe. Soon we will paste our minds with the old mindset replacing the help, assistance, friendship, brotherhood, goodness, etc we have received from other individuals. Just like the Jews of old, we dehumanize others and that makes it easy to perform any other animosity unto them. We overlook the neighbours we were having as family friends, fellowship members, clients and customers, etc. They will trigger on the emotional parts like land, positions in government, livelihood and so on. At the end of the day everyone will rise against the other but their safety is guaranteed. 

The jews looked for an opportunity to trap Jesus in the bid to discredit his teaching as well as vindicate their ground. In Matthew 22.34-39 Jesus gave a very compelling answer contrary to their expectations that the whole law is pegged on two commands: Love God with everything and secondly love your neighbor as yourselves. He did not speak of tribe, kins, etc but anyone who is your neighbour. The samaritan woman and the good samaritan display the truthfulness of this script. Jesus has loved the whole world and since no one holds the monopoly of choosing the tribe to be born into, the best we can do is to treat everyone with love. Do away with stereotyping and prejudice and avoid generalising. Worth noting is the fact that no matter the evils we find in individuals belonging to certain tribes, the truth will always be that the guilt is on the individual and not the tribe and the reason for them being so is not pegged on the tribe but individual decision. So then, how shall I treat my neighbor? I will do so by love.