A Sports Illustrated online columnist described David Rudisha as the Maasai warrior. I found the term offending. British and America correspondents during the London Olympics would use the tag more than once in articles about Rudisha’s exploits on the track. Prezzo, the entertainer was also described by one South African news outlet during his stint at the Big Brother game show as a Maasai warrior and that ticked me off royally. Some smart Alec probably thought it was a complimentary thing to say. In this Google, Wikipedia age, that level of ignorance smacks of racial bigotry.
Some words are subjects of self pride and ownership. They are packed with layered meaning and are best not tossed about carelessly. For example, black people can refer to other black people as ’nigga’ but a white person cannot say that to his black friend without raising racial connotations. Kenyans can refer to each other as ‘nyeuthi’ but coming from foreign national it meets a frown. The people of Kilgoris may hold as many warriors banners as they wish to welcome back their brilliant son however the moment a Western sport correspondent uses the term Maasai warrior in reference to Rudisha, it gets personal. Who you calling warrior?
Mention Maasai warrior and my mental programming is tuned to see images of a man coated in ochre, wrapped in a shuka and holding a spear and stealthily approaching a lion that mauled his goats. That is the image of Kenya marketed to rest of the world alongside the entrancing poverty shrine known as Kibera. That face of Kenya does exist but it is not something I want rubbed in my face especially not on a stage as big as the Olympics.
A warrior in the Kenyan context is a nagging colonial stereotype that comes across as the coded word for a noble savage. What follows is another annoying romanticized description of old world Africa, where wild animals roam the plains and probably a commentator whispering “Watch the bravery of these Maasai hunters approaching a dangerous black rhino without it knowing to place a stone on its back to demonstrate their skill”. The culture of the African warrior is objectified and loaded with racist stereotypes of warlike savages with painted faces and bad tempers.
The insinuation is that Kenyan athletes succeed not out of discipline and commitment like their western counterparts but rather as product of an unfair advantage that is hidden in their genes and powered by ‘primitive energy’ needed to escape from poverty.
It is a fact that there are men brave enough to go after a lion in this day and age with nothing but a spear and a deep sense of revenge. But we do not call them warriors. We call them frustrated villagers living on the fringes of national parks known for giving the Kenya Wildlife Service ultimatums; take your animals back to the park or we kill them.
There is an unspoken rule, that Kenyan sportsmen and women at the world stage are tribe-less. When excels happens abroad, everyone is proud to be Kenyan first that includes Barrack Obama. So while Kenyans can use tribal stereotypes against each other, the moment a foreigner says, ‘Maasai warrior’, we take offense. Some people are just more sensitive to stereotypes than others.
I AM LEGEND
Usain Bolt was supreme in London, the fastest man in the world no doubt. There is no argument that Bolt is one of the greatest sprinters of our time but his declaration as a self proclaimed legend must be taken as youthful zeal. I only wish he would let his countrymen and women gloat on his behalf. But Bolt knows showmanship is good for business. Hype sells particularly when you can live up to it.
Nevertheless it was a different brand of ‘greatness’ that I admired at the London Olympics. A supremely confident athlete kept his cool and delivered under pressure. That man, David Lekuta Rudisha historic ran at London Olympics has become stuff of legend in my books. It was the fastest 800m ever run. All the runners in that race were gifted on by Rudisha’s golden touch. The last placed finisher’s time would have been good for gold in previous Olympic Games. Sir Sebastian Coe, another great Olympian captured the essence this achievement when he said, “Bolt was good, but Rudisha was magnificent.” I think he is the greatest middle distance runner I will see in my lifetime and thank God! Rudisha is humble about it.
18 thoughts on “Who Are You Calling Warrior?”
Good read warrior scribe 🙂
You are quite right OP. The west have this warped image of Africa, and sadly Africa is (probably) not doing much to dispel this. Could it be because we think if we look any other way we will not get aid, tourists etc? Tourists actually come to Kenya with a visit to Kibera as part of their itinerary!
Rudisha is humble, taking his win calmly. It is a good thing he does not have (embarrassing) theatrics like Kemboi. Bolt is quite the show off and the cameras love him. I wonder what will happen when some person beats him.
I agree with what you are saying except this: As it is not acceptable for other people to use derogatory terminology such as “nigga”, or as you view “Massai Warrior” why is it okay for us to call ourselves that? why is it only when we are on the world stage that we are tribe-less surely this should apply when we are at home to…..these are double standards
We should have more self respect, and stop pointing the finger at others as and of when you feel offended..
People will only stop using such language when we refrain from it ourselves, when we show we have self respect they shall respect us..lead by example, and then the rest will follow….Let us get our house in order, for when it is, there shall be no confusion over what our nation stands for
Hey Wambui, I think it all depends on who is saying what. For instance, with my sister, I have a long history, so I could refer to her in a certain way and she will not take offense. On other hand, if someone else was to use the exact same reference, we would both take offense and come out guns blazing. The main questions here being ” what are they trying to imply? what impressions have they formed? what do they take me for? “
Fair enough, if that is the type of relationship you have nurtured with your sister… that you have somehow become so desensitized to the arguments and harmful words that get thrown around carelessly that you no longer take offense…..
However I come from the school of thought that I have no right to refer to my siblings in any derogatory way even in jest. Even though it may seem as a joke, it can cause a small chip in their self esteem….In the same way I will never go calling someone any name……I do not see how it can ever be okay to be negative towards anybody history or no history…A negative will never have a positive outcome
To play devils advocate on your second point: Who are we even to assume what they are trying to imply, how do we know what impressions they have formed…..This is all based on someones opinion of what someone else thinks of them…we should not go putting words in other peoples mouths….Perhaps it is because we have such low self esteem that we think being called a Massai Warrior only has negative connotations…
I agree that it is stuck in a colonialist past, but it is up to us to forge a positive current image of how we would like to be portrayed whilst at the same time be proud of our past and current traditions where being a warrior is still valued and held in high esteem….For even if the lions are coming from the national park who will protect the villagers if not a warrior with a spear (making reference to the article; especially if you can not afford a gun)?
As well if we want the world to stop referring to us as Masai warriors we need to recall all the postcards that we produce with images of Masai’s and wildlife, and begin to re-fund all the Masai tourist safaris that are currently booked, and asking all the non-Masai but dressed up as Masai jewelry sellers at the coast to wear there own traditional or normal attire and begin promoting Kenya as a touristic destination of other sorts…
Wambui, I second you on this one. A negative word cannot be positve just because it is said by someone who knows me…I’m reminded of something Chris Rock once pointed out…that its pretty bizarre to see a lady dancing to a rap song where she’s being refered to as a bitch and she happily rationalizes the whole thing by saying ‘But they mean it as a term of endearment!” but when someone in the streets calls her ‘bitch’ she’s all upset…
As for the maasai warrior term being offensive, I’m puzzled: does it mean that we somehow see the ‘maasai’ as backward hence the reason we take offense…and yes, how do we know what they were implying? And the fact that we first and foremost choose to interpret it negatively first what does it say about us?
And Sarah, have you gone to find out, why Kibera is part of the itinerary? Are you aware that some tour companies have established community projects where they partner with their clients (the said tourists) in funding community projects like schools, health centres, art centres etc and have been doing it for years? Are you aware, that instead of just handing out cash, most of these tourists insist on seeing the progress of the community projects they’re contributing to? And yet, you first and foremost prefer to look at it from a lesser light…
It just occured to me: Isn’t Rudisha Maasai? What was wrong in calling him a Maasai warrior? Was Kemboi called a Maasai warrior too? I’m just trying to figure out why we should really be offended…
Ladies, when I gave the example of the relationship between my sister and I, I did not talk of using derogatory terms. You don’t see anything wrong with the term Maasai Warrior in reference to Rudisha, (he is after all Maasai) because it is not derogatory. But as Wambui pointed out, there is the history of a colonial past, where Africa was portrayed as backward, savage, primitive. Was it necessary to refer to Rudisha or Prezzo for that matter as Maasai warriors? Why did the reporters find it necessary to insert this piece of information in their comments? What did it add to their reports? What images did they hope to invoke in their readers? Perhaps ” . . a man coated in ochre, wrapped in a shuka and holding a spear and stealthily approaching a lion that mauled his goats. . . “, and to what end?
Why we interpret comments negatively? Why were Kenyans miffed when Korean airlines used “primitive energy” on their site? We could have just sat back and read their good intentions, no? Often our interpretation of things is based on our knowledge and experiences. We know that there exists a negative view of Africa, so when they use certain choice words and phrases, they evoke these images in our minds and in the minds of others. As OP puts it “That face of Kenya does exist but it is not something I want rubbed in my face especially not on a stage as big as the Olympics.”
On Tourists and Kibera, you, Jackie, are right. There are many noble projects there, run or sponsored by foreign nationals who demand accountability. But there are also those few misguided folk who simply go there to take photos of the squalor, to keep alive the image of the third world
I too think we should hold this with pride.
Definition of the word warrior: One who is engaged in or experienced in battle.
and yes Rudisha coincidently is a Maasai.
Kemboi was not called a Massai warrior.
Great read..as always
Finally i found your blog, this was worth my time. Good stuff.
I remember the primitive energy connotation by those small people. Have never felt so offended. Today is another good read. Salute.
David Lekuta Rudisha (born 17 December 1988) is a Kenya n middle distance runner and world record holder in the 800 metres with a time of 1:41.01. Rudisha holds five of the ten fastest times for this event. Born in Kilgoris, Trans Mara District , Rudisha went to St. Francis, Kimuron Secondary School in Iten , Keiyo District , which is known for nurturing several top runners including Wilson Kipketer the previous 800 m world record holder, who had already held the record for several years before Rudisha joined the school. In April 2005 Japheth Kimutai recommended Rudisha to James Templeton , and Rudisha joined the group of runners managed by Templeton, which has at various time included Kimutai, Bernard Lagat and Augustine Choge . Initially he was a 400 metres runner, but his coach, Colm O’Connell , prompted him to try 800 metres. In 2006 he became the world junior champion over that distance. Rudisha competed at the 2009 World Athletics Championships , reaching the 800 metres semifinals . In September 2009, Rudisha won the IAAF Grand Prix meeting in Rieti , Italy , posting a new African record of 1:42.01, beating the 25-year old record of 1:42.28 set by compatriot Sammy Koskei . That effort put him in fourth place on the all-time list. In the 2010 IAAF Diamond League , he took on Abubaker Kaki at the Bislett Games in June. He defeated Sebastian Coe ‘s 31-year-old meet record with a run of 1:42.04, giving him another place in the top-ten fastest ever 800 m and leaving Kaki the consolation of the fastest ever non-winning time. On 10 July 2010, Rudisha ran the 800 m in 1:41.51 at the KBC Night of Athletics in Heusden , Belgium ; this new personal record placed him #2 all-time in the world for the 800 m.
The latest world-beating product of the remarkable Brother Colm’s stable of middle and long distance runners at St Patrick’s High School in Iten happens to be a fully-fledged Maasai warrior. A herd of 50 cattle was slaughtered in Rudisha’s honour at the initiation ceremony two years ago.
Yes I agree! Black brilliance can not possibly be due to discipline, hard work a strong work ethic, strategic thinking and flawless execution. The Great Primitive seems to be the mantra.
Have you ever considered about including a little bit more than just your articles? I mean, what you say is fundamental and all. But imagine if you added some great graphics or video clips to give your posts more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with pics and video clips, this site could certainly be one of the very best in its niche. Terrific blog!
You are so excellent at writing, you could have been an English prof.