Essence of Gurmat Sangeet

Gurmat SangeetRagis have gone into tunes on Gurbani Keertan these days, rather than singing on the Gurmat recommended Raagas. Seems as though they are all in competition with others, feeding modern Sangat with what they want, rather than what they need to be nurtured on. With all due respect to Gurbani, these tunes are appalling to say the least. Are the Raagis too lazy to learn Raagas, or are they in it for what comes easy to sustain their livelihood?

The blame rests equally on the parbandhaks who themselves are out of sync with Gurmat values and living and do not encourage the tradition of Gurmat Sangeet. That is why Sangat is also out of touch with Gurbani because they are now accustomed to tunes, rather than the essence of the Shabads and the purpose with which they had been composed in Guru Granth Sahib.

It would be ideal if Gurmat Sangeet diwans are organised in every locality in the world, at least during the Gurpurbs. That way, Sikhs can spiritually reconnect to Shabad Guru in the form intended by the Sikh Gurus.

Advertisements

A Tale of Two Princes

princes

One was the son of an Ethiopian Emperor – Atse Tewodros II – and the other the son of the Sikh King of Punjab – Maharaja Ranjit Singh . Both were taken to England by the British and placed under the care of Queen Victoria who took affection to both lads. The kingdoms of both the Ethiopian and of the Sikh homeland of Punjab were defeated by the British and the heirs to the the respective thrones taken away across the seas to the United Kingdom.

Though continents apart, they two boys share a similar tragic story at the hands of the British colonialists. The Ethiopian Prince Dejazmatch Alemayehu Tewodros (b. 1861) and the Sikh Prince Duleep Singh (b. 1838) were born 23 years apart, and whose respective royal parents died forlorn and heartbroken.

Emperor Tewodros II, a Christian nobleman, took his own life at the age of 50 following his defeat by the British at the Battle of Magdala in 1868; while Maharaja Ranjit Singh died at the age of 58 following health complications. Empress Tewodros, the mother of Alemayehu, died on her way to England in an attempt to visit her son; while Maharani Jind Kaur, the mother of Duleep Singh, though blind by then, was fortunate enough to make it to England to meet her son – but died there.

The Ethiopian Prince was smuggled out to England, in as much the same way as the Sikh Prince was kidnapped and ripped away from his Kingdom and mother so that he would not grow up to reclaim his Sikh homeland back from the British. Though Alemayehu was already a Christian when taken to England at the age of 7, Duleep suffered an even greater loss when he was shipped off at the age of 15 and systematically disrobed of not only his royalty but of his Sikh faith as well by being deceptively converted into Christianity.

Upon the fall of both Kingdoms, the British plundered and looted their riches for themselves and the two boys displaced from their homelands. Neither were allowed to return to their native land, lest they reclaim their kingdoms and power.

Both boys were tranformed into Englishmen and their respective native identities taken away. While Alemayehu died from pleurisy at the age of just 18 in 1879, Duleep died at the age of 55 in 1893 – 14 years apart – and both were buried on English soil and denied their rights to be returned to their respective homelands.

The British seem to have replicated the Ethiopian example with the Sikh one. Stolen artefacts from both Kingdoms rest with the British Monarchy to this day, including the priceless Kohinoor Diamond which was stolen from Maharaja Ranjit Singh (which the British split into two, one half of which is now part of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. The Kohinoor was is one of the largest cut diamonds in the world, weighing 105.6 carats (21g).

The lives of legends of both Princes have been the subject of feature films, subjects that fascinate the generations to this day that hope to reclaim their lost glory and heritage.

Kirpan – A Timeless Concept

KirpanPeople arguing over the relevance of the Sikh Kirpan in today’s day and age are not only ignorant about the concept of Sikhi, but also averse to the thought of our Gurus. While this little article of faith as part of the 5K for the dedicated Sikh (spelled Khalsa) may be of no match to the modern weapons of today, it still remains what it was intended for – defence of self, or of another, in times of danger to life.

When Guru Gobind Singh created the Khalsa and made the Kirpan as one of the 5 articles of the faith of his Sikh, he knew very well why he chose it over other weapons like guns, which were there even during his times of battle with the tyrant Mughals.

Guns need ammunition and run out. They can backfire, and they come in all shapes and sizes. They are also prone to becoming obsolete. Other weapons like bows and arrows also had their own flaws in comparison to the Kirpan.

The Kirpan of today is a far cry to the original one that Guru Gobind Singh created and recommended for his Khalsa. Over the centuries, various powers that came to rule of the Sikhs (especially the British) slashed the power of the Sikhs by imposing restrictions on the size of the Kirpan, because they knew very well who the greatest threat would come from in their rule over India.

Punjab – the very land of the Sikh Empire – that took over 200 years for the British to overpower and colonise after they had already subjugated the rest of the Indian subcontinent, was solid proof that it could take a matter of just half a decade at most for the Sikhs to win back their land and for the rest of India. So they had to limit their physical prowess by weakening the defence of the ordinary Sikh, especially when even a handful could overpower an enemy of thousands at a time, as proven through history.

So what really makes the Kirpan still relevant today, regardless of its size and relative ‘harmlessness’ before weapons of ‘greater’ calibre? The reason is simple – simplicity.

The Kirpan is the most basic weapon of defence that can be used when all else fails to protect the life of self or of another. It needs no reloading, it doesn’t splinter, nor backfire. It’s timeless, it’s not subject to becoming obsolete. It is so basic, a Khalsa hardly even feels it as part of their uniform as it is just right in size and unobstructive concept. It is worn within easy reach and doesn’t need to be prepared.

The 5Ks – Kirpan, Kanga, Kaccherra, Kara and Kes (or Keski) are all so basic, that it beats reason why people still cannot understand them in the age of ‘intellectualism’. It’s all about understanding the message of the Guru and not to question his thinking.

Sikhi is simply the ‘game of love’ for trusting and following what the Guru designed for us in the package of Sikhi that was put together carefully over 240 years. It’s the collective work and sacrifice of 10 masters who shared the same spirit and ideal of Sikhi that gave Khalsa the form that it has today, and will remain, so long as there is life on this earth.

Visitation of Guru Gobind Singh in Makindu

guru.jpg

In the course of my interviews for the upcoming book on Kenya’s world-famous Gurudwara Sahib Makindu with various Sikhs and non-Sikhs, one incidence in history was repeatedly discussed and recalled through those that have met the one man who ‘saw Guru Gobind Singh’ with his very eyes.

Ever since the occurrence in the 1950s, the account of Gwalo, an African caretaker at Gurudwara Sahib Makindu, sent the community into a frenzy to a point some even doubted it ever happened. Until now, the narrative was the same – and it has proven to be the same even now – only this time, the doubts have been allayed.

Gwalo was entrusted with the daily care of the Gurudwara Sahib in Makindu, because the Sikhs were busy with their businesses miles away from the Gurudwara. He not only cleaned and maintained the Gurudwara, but also prepared meals and accommodations for those who visited in the days when the area was still heavily forested, desolate and teeming with wild game – especially rhinos, elephants and lions.

It is an account he shared with a few of those Sikhs he trusted and knew. The ones I interviewed in the past few days had not even heard of each other – and lived countries apart – but their recollection of Gwalo’s narrative was the same. One such person who I conversed with said that he personally met Gwalo, who spoke to him in a Kenyan dialect.

He told him how, one night, he heard the gentle approaching footsteps of a horse, and upon looking up, he saw a ‘Kalasingha’ (turbaned and bearded Sikh) on a horse – describing both in good build and size. His description fitted that of the tenth and last human Guru of the Sikhs – Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708), who is known to have been a horseman and soldier.

What happened to Gwalo after that incident and how the Sikh community in Kenya reacted to it is the subject of a chapter in the book. This is one one of the many such experiences at Gurudwara Sahib Makindu that built the reputation of the place of great spiritual significance and power that today draws Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike in their thousands each year from across Kenya, Africa and beyond – and where they continue to feel the bliss and divine peace the moment they drive into its gates.

Jesus and the Sikh Gurus

jesus

Overzealous Christian missionaries have always laid claim to the superiority and monopoly of their faith against the the rest – mainly on the context that Jesus died on the cross for ‘the sins of the world’, and that he is the only genuine saving grace of humanity because ‘he was the son of God’, and also because he rose from the dead – and is ‘alive’.

I respect all religions and scriptures, but when it comes to their putting down of others on contexts that defy spiritual logic, I feel I need to let my opinion about these issues be finally known.

I have had run-ins with such missionaries who use these arguments to win new flock to their fold, including naive and uninformed Sikhs who are being converted by the thousands every single year around the world. I was once a victim of these missionaries who sought to rip away not only myself but my entire family from Sikhi and into Christianity. Because we were not aware of Sikhi at that time, it was easy for them to brainwash us out of out of the faith of our ancestors. The logic they used on us, and many other Sikhs with us, that ‘only Jesus is alive’ and the rest, including our Sikh Gurus ‘were dead’ and ‘can be stepped on underneath our feet’ – and the usual rhetoric that those that did not believe in Jesus would ‘go to hell’.

Back then, I was on the spiritual crossroads and misled by the missionaries into not only parting with my Sikh identity of the turban and long uncut hair, but also stopped from ever visiting the Sikh Gurudwara and instead redirected to the Church. Soon, our entire family was coerced into attending weekly Church, and bibles put into our hands. Even then, I had little idea on what was being done to us, until one fine day, one of the missionaries asked me why I was still wearing my Sikh bracelet – the kara. For some odd reason, that question upset me as I thought to myself, how dare one ask me such an inane question when somewhere deep inside of me, the kara reminded me of my Guru who always held my hand. The missionary’s question sparked a kind of an internal battle in my mind that it was the last symbol of my bond and love to my Guru, after already having lost the rest of my identity – and these people wanted to take that away as well.

The next few days, the kara issue touched a raw nerve, and I ruminated over what had transpired over the past few months and we all lost our Sikhi and almost Christianised. I asked myself just how logical the missionaries’ assertions were – and they didn’t make sense. If they claimed that if we didn’t believe in Jesus and that we’d ‘go to hell’, I tried to reason where my Sikh Gurus were today, because they didn’t believe in Jesus either – and would such blessed souls who wrote such beautifully deep and soul-liberating hymns in the form of Word, and who gave their all for the freedom and protection of humanity, would they be in hell? If yes even then, according to the missionaries, then I would also want to go to the ‘hell’ my Gurus are in.

That is what prompted my about-turn upon realising that to justify their own religion, the Christian missionaries were insulting ours by peddling hatred and discord about those averse to the Christian thought and averse to their own. I stopped going to Church and I told my family that they don’t need to either – and we slowly but surely, returned to our Sikhi.

Within a year after that, I not only put my turban back on and started growing my beard, but further, became a Khalsa (through the Sikh baptism of Amrit) to solidify my Sikhi after having being internally convinced that I was not born into Sikhi by mistake but by divine purpose and will.

Jesus has a very special place in my heart and regard him as a divine soul, akin to our Sikh Gurus and other spiritual greats of the world. I only take objection to the misinterpretation of Jesus’ teachings at the hands of overzealous and spiritual blackmailers in the garb of Christianity.

In reverse logic, if Christians have one Jesus who died for the sins for the world, I would also state that not only our ten Sikh Gurus, but Sikhs in the millions also gave their lives too for the protection and freedom of the oppressed masses – not only in India, but across the world, in way or another. But we do not base our faith on those sacrifices to justify ourselves over the others, because Truth needs neither defence, nor justification to be be accepted.

If Jesus is alive – and he surely is (in the form of his Gospel and Word of God), then so are our Gurus – through their teachings as enshrined in the Sikh Scriptures, Guru Granth Sahib – in the form of Divine Word.

Christian missionaries need to empower their own weak flock and not jostle to literally preach the Gospel to turn the entire world into the followers of Jesus Christ. That is the very pretext of other religions, too who envision their own sole superiority over the others – except for Sikhi, that only seeks to help each soul realise their divine essence and potential to realise God. The contest between missionary religions needs to stop, because it is one of the core reason of conflict between mankind which the world uses against religions as dividers of men and nations.

All religions, based on values to truth, virtue and unconditional love, are equal in the eyes of God and to compete in his Name as to who He ‘favours’ is to signify our foolishness and reverse our gains in spiritual endeavours.

On a parting note, I may even suggest that had Jesus been persecuted in the time of our Sikh Gurus, they would have laid down their lives to protect and save him from the hands of tyrants, as they did for the millions of Hindus of their time. Sikh Gurus sacrificed their all for humanity, regardless of whether deserving or not, because they exemplified that ‘humanity is the greatest faith of all’.

It is foolish to pit Jesus against the Sikh Gurus, and I will restrain myself from further justifying our Gurus because we do not need to – for one of our Gurus, Guru Gobind Singh proclaimed that we are to ‘regard all mankind as one brotherhood‘.

2000 - Lucky - Before and After

Nanak.

NanakShabadNANAK // Some call him Guru Nanak, others call him Baba Nanak, Satguru Nanak or Guru Nanak Dev. But I choose to call him just ‘Nanak’ because Nanak itself is higher than any other words attached to it – and because I consider Nanak as very personal to me and is far more spiritually beautiful to call him by just one name – Nanak. It connects me even deeper to his soul when I meditate on just the name NANAK. The vibration of the word alone sends currents through my being .. NANAK. NANAK. NANAK.

Regardless of what we may choose to call him, he is not reduced or amplified by what we take away or add to his name. What matters is how much we adhere to his WORD as enshrined in Shabad Guru – Guru Granth Sahib.

Nanak was beyond ritualism of any kind – even by name, and to enforce how we call him is to go against his very teachings – to focus on the essence and not on the entity.

The thread of Nanak was Shabad Guru

Guru Nanak and the Threads

Rakhri for Sikhs is manmat – and manmat is doing what is contrary to the teachings of the Sikh Gurus, as enshrined in Gurmat, Gurbani and Rehat. If as a Sikh, you engage in such a ritual, you accord a great disservice to the sacrifices of our Gurus to bless us with Sikhi.

As the festival of Raksha Bandhan approaches each year, it’s no longer strange to see Sikhs lining up to purchase these threads to tie on the wrists of their brothers and fathers, in return for blessings and gifts. What was originally a Hindu festival has ignorantly been accepted in Sikh culture, without prior thought to what it is all about and why our Gurus would never support it. Instead, manmat has only taken lead, with the explanation that it is the day dedicated to the bond of a brother and sister, and an excuse to pamper each other.

According to the Hindus, this is how the day is marked, ‘As per the traditions, the sister on this day prepares the pooja thali with diya, roli, chawal and rakhis. She worships the deities, ties Rakhi to the brother(s) and wishes for their well being. The brother in turn acknowledges the love with a promise to be by the sisters’ side through the thick and thin and gives her a token gift.’

Festivals like these are beautiful, no doubt, but in Sikhi, what we do – or do not do – is sanctioned only by the Shabad Guru. Nowhere in Sikh history has any Sikh Guru known to have accepted this Hindu custom. In  one image of Guru Nanak Dev Ji is depicted to have a raakhi being tied on his wrist by his sister Bebe Nanaki. This is nothing more than a work of fiction and ill-thinking against the Guru – and even against Bebe Nanaki who was the first Sikh (follower) of Guru Nanak’s teachings and philosophy.

The Guru – in the midst of all the learned Pandits, Brahmins and his own father – who rejected the spiritual thread that the Hindu Brahmins consider makes them connected to God, would that same Guru accept the far more earthy thread called a rakhi? It’s plain logic – he wouldn’t.

When asked by his father to go forth and make a profitable bargain in business, young Nanak came back having spent all his given money on feeding starving fakirs. If Nanak could challenge the Brahmins and reject outright the janeu, would he want to contradict himself by accepting another thread? The image of the Guru and of Nanaki may have been done by an admirer of the Guru, and was only imagining the love between a brother and a sister, but didn’t realise that it is against the Guru’s own philosophy to depict what the artist did.

If the Guru’s life is studied closely, and compared with his hymns, one can deduce for oneself whether the Guru would say something and preach something else. Likewise, no other Sikh Guru subscribed to the rakhsha bandhan ceremony – it was just not a Sikh practice, be it religious or cultural.

‘So what’s the harm in commemorating the day?’, is the usual argument of those Sikhs that accept the practice. There’s no harm in doing any of these things, but our Guru just did not approve them for his Sikhs. He’s taken us out of the clutter of all those things that have no meaning in Sikhi, and have instructed us to focus more on God than on worldly fanfares that eventually take the mortal away from God.

The heritage of the Sikhs is so unique, that the men and women have been given an equal status. Why would a Kaur ever need anyone’s protection when they have the power within them to defend themselves by living the life of the Khalsa? That is why if the Singh was given a Kirpan, so was a Kaur granted the same. When the 40 Sikhs abandoned the Guru in his time of need, their wives took away the weaponry and horses of the men – leaving their husbands home to take their place. It was proof of the might of the Guru’s daughters – that they are as mighty, or even mightier, than men.

‘Truth is high,’ Guru Nanak stated in Gurbani and, further added, ‘but higher still is truthful living.’ So how can a mere thread prove the love between a brother and sister. Will that thread not wear out too, just like the janeu?

Sikhs were blessed with the roop of the Guru so that they may emulate their example of life and living which would connect us to Waheguru. Ceremonies like rakhsha bandhan are good for those for whom it was made, for the Hindu faith has it’s own valid reasons.

Sikhi is a completely distinct faith. And how? Guru Nanak did not accept the janeu; he rejected the offering of water to his ancestors; he did not recite the Hindu Vedas; nor prayed to the 330 million gods, but contemplated only on Shabad Guru what was revealed to Him from the Court of the Lord. Likewise, the other Sikh Gurus further developed what Guru Nanak preached, they never contradicted Nanak’s message and way of life.

In conclusion, while the ceremony is a beautiful one, it simply has not place in Sikhi because it is not higher than the Sikh way of life. The simple thread that is meant as a prayer to protect a sister and to seek the blessings of the brother’s long life and wellbeing, is not any higher than believing that it is Akaal Purakh that protects and blesses His beings.

A thread is just an illusion, a Sikh of the Guru has no need for it to be reminded of his duty to the world, otherwise our Gurus would have allowed us to adopt it. And what of those who have no brothers? Who will protect them? What of those who have no sisters, who will pray for their long life and wellbeing? It’s all out of logic for Sikhs.

Rakhsha Bandhan is good for the Hindus, the Sikhs have their own beautiful way of life, made as simple as it could ever have been so that we can connect more to the Divine, and detach more from the illusionary world.

Make mercy thy cotton, contentment thy thread, continence its knot, truth its twist. That would make a janeu for the soul; if thou have it, O Brahman, then put it on me. It will not break, or become soiled, or be burned, or lost. Blest the man, O Nanak, who goeth with such a thread on his neck. Thou purchasest a janeu for four damris, and seated in a square puttest it on; Thou whisperest instruction that the Brahman is the guru of the Hindus – Man dieth, the janeu falleth, and the soul departeth without it.

~ Guru Granth Sahib

Truthful Living is the Highest Religion

All in One - One in all
Like, really? So where do non-Christians go – including all the really beautiful, prayerful and sincere souls? This is where Christianity miseducates the masses on the illegitimacy of other religions other than that of their own.
 
Any religion that does not embrace, worship, and obey Jesus as he is revealed in the Bible is a false religion.
 
The quote by John Piper would ring true if he replaced the word ‘any religion’ with ‘any Christian sect’. No one religion has a monopoly over God, and to claim otherwise is being over-zealous, intolerant and hateful – and that is what equally amounts to a false religion.
The Living Guru of the Sikhs, in the form of Scripture, attests that:
Of all religions, the best religion is to chant the Name of the Lord and maintain pure conduct.
 
Sikhi maintains that so long as that is the determining factor to determine God, then, any religion that goes by such principles and values is acceptable and true.
 
To enforce any one particular religion on all is to in turn falsify it.

There’s no Sikhi in Tattoos

1014576_10151454668315583_443171284_oThose who lack faith may close their eyes, hypocritically pretending and faking devotion, but their false pretenses shall soon wear off.
~ Guru Ram Das Ji, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Ang 734

In an age where image is everything, more and more youth are beginning to define their spiritual connections – not necessarily by public display of devotion – but by showcasing their alliances in the form of tattoos. While no religion specifically condones them, tattoos however, raise suspicious and sarcastic looks from those that find them undesirable, no matter how simple and clean they may seem. The Sikh youth are abandoning the Guru’s form (specifically the turban and unshorn hair) and replacing it with their own alternative – by expressing their pride through ways that find them acceptance with their peers who can longer bear the weight of conforming to their age-old tradition of wearing dastaar and unshorn hair.

The turbans have swiftly lost their princely status, and replaced with chic statements of tattooed arms, chests, backs and necks. Today’s generation is into the GenerationX thing – technology, luxury, image and peer-respect. It no longer matters what the Guru thinks is better – our educated youth ‘know better’ and have given godly status to their outer displays of fashion statements. Tattoos have today joined the legions of body piercings, crew cuts and blings. It seems like God is in fashion these days, regardless of how aloof or ignorant we want be in trying to understand His Will, and attempting to win His attention with our artistically decorated bodies. Whether it is to show your religious alliance, to make a fashion statement or to try and interpret your version of spirituality, tattoos may not be condemned by religion, but they lead you no where.

The Sikh Gurus revealed to us what Akaal Purakh had envisioned for His peoples. Over 240 years, the Sikh of Guru Nanak was groomed into the Khalsa of Guru Gobind Singh. Abandoned were all rituals and meaningless aspects of life, and replaced with those that would stand the test of time and be of purpose and lead us to our Creator Lord. One may argue that while tattoos are of outer display, then so are the turbans and beards. Valid argument, but . . . the dastaar and kesh of were marks of our affiliation to the Guru, a form blessed to the adherents of the Sikh way of life. One may adorn the Sikh turban and even maintain his kesh, and yet still pierce his body and tattoo his skin, is far more close to manmat and foolishness than those that have forsaken the Sikh identity altogether. Tattoos are nothing less than body-modification which is a process of deciding who you are and what you want to be. Tattooing and its allied arts, in other words, are increasingly understood as substitutes for more traditional religious rites of passage. Body art may be considered as an individual expression but it will never find favour with Sikhi, no matter how much one may claim to defend it as their way of spiritual expression.

Many who decorate their bodies with religious icons as tattoos claim to educate those that catch their curiosity. This is simply a sign of cultural starvation, resulting from rebelling against the norms and established way of a religious life. People claim to wear meaningful tattoos, but unless their life is dedicated to the inner self, the outer statements are as good as decorating a dead body. When we lose our intrinsic values, we attempt to guise that vacuum with alternative, self-defined ways. By ignoring the path of religious teachings and claiming to be wiser than the Masters, we do nothing more than condemning ourselves into the darkness of meaningless existence.

The greatest show of religious affiliation and devotion is a silent and humble one. When one sees a turbaned Sikh with a full kesh, he says more than one who has discarded the form of his Guru. What God wants to see is not your self-defined image, but the one that He commissioned, through teachings of faith. In the end, the outer is to rot away anyway, whether it is adorned by the dastaar or by tattoos, but what will matter in the Court of the True Lord is how much of our being we offered to the Guru and accepted as good what they instructed us to do, not what our fickle minds thought so otherwise. A life lived without contemplation on the Word of God is far worse that exhibiting our decorated bodies that insult our divine form.

In Sikhi, any body modification is a clear breach of the rehAt (way of living of a Sikh) – and is tantamount to of cutting hair – a clear indication of adversity to the true teachings of the Gurus. The modification and interference in any way of the human body – termed as the temple of God – is totally against Sikhi. Tattoos, thus, not only a cheap way to exhibit your Sikhi, but is also vain, empty and useless in the quest for whatever they are used to portray.

If one loves Sikhi, the only acceptable and useful way to express is to live by the true principles of it – through Gurmat, Gurbani and Rehat. All other ways are rejected by the Guru and not acceptable to Him. If it is not specifically written where the Guru disapproves of body decorations in the form of tattoos and piercings , neither will one find such an argument to be approved of in Gurbani. To challenge that is to verily express further ignorance and contempt for the teachings of the Gurus.

Without the Naam, all occupations are useless, like decorations on a dead body.
-Guru Arjan Dev Ji, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Ang 240

Saving history for posterity

KLS - Star - Sasa - 2016History is the best gift each of us can leave behind for future generations – through various mediums.

The world is becoming more informed than ever before, to a point that it’s becoming a burden on what’s important and what is not. History is taking a beating in the process, as we devalue it as a distant and outdated past that we deem no longer plays a role in the development of mankind’s pursuits in life.

However, it is history itself that gives our today meaning and a promise of the future. It reminds us what we have been through— both thick and thin — what we have endured, and what we have triumphed over, which further guides us on what we need to seek inspiration from to further our progressive ambitions. History teaches lessons, both hard ones and sweet ones. We do not live long enough to make all the mistakes on our own to learn from. Neither do we have the time to waste on what has already been prepared for us by the past. We need only build on it.

A timeless wise saying from West Africa states: “Until the lion has his or her own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best part of the story.”

This is solid proof of how important our history really is. History defines our identity and purpose, without which we can end up living an aimless and thankless existence. It is only man who was created to live with purpose. The rest of creation has not been endowed with that level of intellect and understanding. Unfortunately, apathy is growing against history, where people even question why we have to remember the dead and preserve memories of them. What we do not realise is that we may not necessarily preserve history for the dead, but for the living.

Humanity has come a long way and endured time and trial to become what it is today: human. That is why we need to look back and see how far we have come, and out of what odds. That is what gives us a gauge to whether we are progressing or digressing. History is the best gift we leave behind for our coming generations, through books, museums, film, audio and even monuments that speak of the past. Without these references, we deny ourselves and our children the vital lessons we require to survive our journey of life, where we have come to learn vital lessons in existence.

Coming back to the aspect of identity, it is where our respect is. Without respect for ourselves and for others, we will descend into chaos and be used, abused, misused and reused over and over again, like slaves of a tyrant master. That is why hunters glorify themselves as brave when they kill a lion. If only the lion could communicate and state its account, the hunter would surely be put to shame. Likewise, if we do not discover, rediscover, write and rewrite our own history, our adversaries will always be regarded as the heroes and deny us the equal respect we all deserve.

As Africans, our history has been polluted, distorted, misreported, diluted and even obliterated by those seeking to stamp out our existence so they may retain their authority on the coming generations. This injustice stop with us. We need to take the onus upon ourselves to study, research, publish and preserve history that fills us with pride of achievement, setting a pedestal for the others to seek inspiration from and enjoy the same freedom from mental slavery that we freed ourselves from.

Until now, others wrote about us, and it is possible that much of what’s been written is not necessarily true or even useful. But when we write our own history, there are better chances that we will narrate our stories as we have earned them. Once we begin to do this, we must also be prepared to defend it from those who may not share our greatness, because our adversaries know every well that a man without history is a man that can be easily conquered, so they will do anything to systematically destroy it.

SEVEN WAYS TO RECORD HISTORY

1. Museums

There is great potential to turn a historical home or edifice into a museum, or contribute images and manuscripts to existing ones. Many places with rich history are being transformed into ventures both educational and profitable. One example is the Karen Blixen Museum in Nairobi, residence of the immortalised settler Karen Blixen. It is a top national tourist destination where people experience past and present at once, marveling at splendid colonial relics while enjoying a drink or meal with family, friends or associates. Another great, but relatively unknown spot is Mervyn Hugh Cowie Park in Nairobi. It is dedicated to the pioneer settler credited with creating Nairobi National Park. He was National Parks from 1956 to 1966. Stroll vast gardens, have a meal and reimagine the legend.

2. Publications

Words (if not always on paper these days) are a source of history outliving most other records. More people are chronicling their personal histories, enlightening those who would otherwise never know about them and their achievements. Many people pen their own books or hire professionals to produce compelling reads and visual treats that keep memories green and alive for generations. Recently, Sir Mohinder Dhillon launched his triple-volume autobiography titled My Camera, My Life — photojournalism in Kenya for more than seven decades of adventures and misadventures. The Sikhs of Kisumu recently published three coffee table books on the history, contributions and community in Nyanza. They demonstrate just how much history remains untold, a century down the road from Kenya’s earliest days. Even President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta left behind Facing Mt Kenya, recording the anthropology of the country he helped lead to independence.

3. Blogs

Almost everyone has access to a computer or digital devices that can use free internet resources to self-publish anything under the stars. History can also be written and shared with the world with a click, across platforms such as WordPress, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest or personal websites. There is no limit to what can be shared visual, aural and written forms — inviting feedback from total strangers the digital realm. This prompted me to create a registered trademark brand called KenyanKalasingha that seeks to reconnect shared histories of Sikhs in Kenya. It is but one touchpoint, which has a following of thousands on Facebook, from across the world and across peoples of all backgrounds — African, Indian and Caucasian. The brand has generated a lot of interest as people share Kenyan pride their own viewpoints in weekly posts.

4. Teaching

The most invaluable gift to generations is education and whoever has a history to narrate can begin simply by giving talks in museums, libraries, schools and other institutions. This can inspire and encourage others to appreciate and learn from progressive and positive history. One can volunteer to speak on topical issues or hire experts to give talks, as does the Kenya National Archives. Lectures can be arranged for visiting groups. The institution itself is Africa’s largest pan-African art gallery, containing ancient collections from diverse regions and communities. They include the Murumbi Gallery containing artefacts collected in the 19th century. Joseph Murumbi was Kenya’s second vice president.

5. Articles

One can contribute historical articles to magazines, newspapers, periodicals and other publications with a wide and established audience. This can generate additional income as we narrate unique episodes of the past that are exclusive to us and of interest to others. ‘Old Africa’ is one regular magazine available in both print and digital editions, with a global reach of thousands. Readers are invited to submit pieces related to their Africa memories. Magazines like this transcend time and much sought-after for decades ahead by collectors and enthusiasts. Short memory pieces become part history.

6. Exhibitions

These are powerful media of education that can be customised and organised regularly in any formal or informal setting. All it takes is a good story, a narrative, and pictorial collections. To cover costs, one can find sponsors for venues, collateral and large format printing, light refreshments and invited guest speakers. History enthusiast Tayiana Chao, founder of Thee Agora that documents Kenya past and heritage, recently held an exhibition on her ‘Save The Railway’ project. It chronicled work capturing the last days of Kenya’s original railway network that built history as it snaked its way from Mombasa to Kisumu from 1898 to 1901. She preserved the last memories of the antique railway stations before the new standard gauge railway overwrote its history. Though not a full-time historian, she is one of the first young Kenyans taking a keen interest in almost forgotten history and turning her findings into educational tools for those who otherwise would never know this past.

7. Film

Moving images and sound go beyond the printed word and can guide us visually and through narration. Meaningful videography need not be professional to be meaningful as we live in an age when almost everyone owns a smartphone with a powerful camera that can film interviews, places and events. Then post then on social media or store in digital formats. Older generations are passing on, taking with them vivid, sometimes nostalgic memories easily lost lest preserved through oral and video history. Film can also be made available for documentaries or broadcast in museums and schools. One brilliant example is the Kenya History and Biographies Company producing historical videos about Kenyan personalities.

Conclusion

History is the very foundation upon which mankind lives and builds, much as a tree must have roots to sink firmly on earth and flourish to bear fruit. The roots are our history, the structure our today and the fruit is our future. History made us, we owe ourselves to remember it, honour it and defend it, too.