Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tribe, Nation, Ethnicity

English is a living language like all other languages and there are no statutory laws regarding it's usage. Nevertheless, we need to be wary of throwing around loaded words like "tribe". Such usage is a holdover from previous eras when openly racist discourse -- tribe, barbarian, pagan, cannibal, heathen, savage -- was used in justifying the enslavement, colonisation, and oppression of Non-European peoples in Africa, The Americas, and the Pacific islands.

It's much more preferable to use use "nation", or "nationality" when referring to the people (or peoples) who inhabit a specific geographic area, and "ethnicity" when referring to the language/cultural groups who make up that nation. Indeed that is how the indigenous peoples of North America define themselves: a member of the Lakota "tribe" will never besmirch his identity in such a way, but rather will say that he belongs to the Lakota nation. That is how the indigenous peoples of Canada are described: as First Nations.

Just because certain African intellectuals frequently use the term "tribe" does not, in any way, remove its negative connotations. My fellow African intellectuals are often prone to intellectual laziness, and tend to regurgitate whatever rigmarole is spewed out from the West. Furthermore, many of them -- despite claiming to speak for Africa -- are weighed down by acute inferiority complexes. They too need to be 're-educated', so to speak, and to be shown the error in their ways.