Why that Western name is only leading Africa to poverty –not heaven
- June 07, 2018
IT’S not every day that you get to contradict a clergyman in front of his congregation. Perhaps that’s because it requires guts –and to some degree, a deficiency of wisdom. I’m neither stupid nor brave.
I’m also not a radical, never been. In fact, I am remotely rebellious. Ordinarily, I am the arbiter. So, it was a shocker to everyone when I stood up to a pastor over a name and baptism of a friend’s child three weeks ago.
But this in question was no ordinary child. He is the first kid I have been made godfather of. And where I come from, that is reason enough for a man to abandon the warmth of his bed on a rainy ‘day of rest’ and endure the long trip across Nairobi to a stuffy mabati church in Dandora’s Phase II.
And other than the terrible sound system and an overwhelming desire to wink off during the lengthy sermon, everything else went fine…well, until the cleric summoned the tots to the front. It was Baptism Sunday.
By the time his echo made the return trip from the nearby garbage hill, I was lining at the front of the church, little Mugambi suckling his finger noisily in my arms. The pace was painfully slow, but eventually, the pastor’s robe was reflecting the purple and white on us as he inquired the kid’s name.
“Mugambi… Mugambi Munene. I am the godfather,” I told him happily.
“Na jina ya ubatizo, his baptism name?” he asked wiping sweat from his shiny head. Man of God had lost all, but, a few strands of hair on his skull.
I told him what I had given him is all the names the boy has, so could he pick either?
He shook his head in disapproval and exhaled heavily into the ageing microphone before declaring “mtoto lazima awe na jina ya kichristo”.
I argued that even an African name can be “jina la kichristo”.
He disagreed, “Because African names are not in the Bible”. “An English name is a must for the kid to be baptised correctly,” he decided with an air of finality.
“No pastor, it isn’t, na ni kwa sababu huyu mtoto si mzungu,” I pressed, but Pastor Calvin said the kid doesn’t necessarily need be English.
He went ahead to enquire my baptism status, a snare I am happily familiar with. The man of God joyfully acknowledged the depth of my church’s roots. He was exultant to learn that not only did I grow up as a Sunday school teacher in the particular prominent church, I was also baptised in it. The trap was set. It was time to spring it. So it was with a smirk of infinite wisdom that he asked my baptism name.
And Calvin was a greatly distressed pastor shortly after when I sang out Kimathi Mutegi Murang’a Njogu M’Wamwiriungia… He, consolingly, advised an urgent adoption of an English name to be engraved on the ‘Book of Life’ if I am to stand a chance of seeing the Pearly Gates.
But then I divulged some piece of intelligence that drained sweat out of his dome in torrents. That his name ‘Calvin’ is not even originally English was some enlightenment he would have preferred to live without.
The clergyman was wide-eyed as I explained that the name comes from the French “chauve”, meaning “bald”. I silently thanked ‘Google’ as the visibly rattled cleric scratched his hairless dome in confusion. The congregation thought that was funny.
But it is after the Pastor couldn’t pick out a single ‘Calvin’ from the Biblical population –as requested by me –that some thorough-bred puzzlement stunned him to silence.
I told him (and the now attentive congregation) that most of what Africans give their children as ‘Christian names’ are nothing but traditional Western names equivalent to any of our local ones.
I was hoping to wipe away the “so what?s” from the faces staring back at me by explaining the mental enslavement the colonialists left Africa in by making us adopt his name. I told them how the same now makes us think we are an extension of the white man.
“And why should we tire our brains seeking solutions and inventing things if our ‘big brother’ is already doing it?” I posed.
We don’t, so we wait for ‘big bro’ to come up with the goods which we buy. “After all, he is family –so we think.”
I expounded the concept of a ‘consumer population’ the West turned Africa into and why it is terrible for development.
“And unless we reclaim our identities by unlinking our kids from this powerful psycho-social link, we will always be the miserable continent everyone else looks down on,” I told the seated Christians.
The blank looks from the crusaders didn’t profess understanding, so I gave them a few examples of influential people who have de-linked themselves from the colonial tag. Uhuru Kenyatta, his father; Raila Odinga, his father; Ngugi Wathiong’o, Anyang’ Nyongó…myself. They didn’t get the joke.
But Pastor Calvin was sufficiently recovered now. He was also determined to seize back the initiative. So he bluntly said we either get a ‘baptism name’ for the little tyke or a different pastor.
I am not a dissenter, especially to authority. But this was one battle I could not cede an inch of ground.
Pastor Calvin, on the other hand, was not used to being questioned. Giving in would be a sign of weakness, his kind think. We were both in strange territory, a place of great discomfort.
As happens in such situations, we had no clue how to disengage. That is how Mutegi and his godson were kicked out of a Dandora church. But, I left with a smiling heart in the knowledge that I had planted some critical seeds in those Christians’ minds.
What’s your name, my friend?