I was in a town called Voi. Voi sits in the midst of the Tsavo National Game preserve in Kenya and is the area around which one of the great stories that has haunted big game hunters and tourists alike took place. Tsavo means “place of slaughter” and was in this area that two lions killed and ate 135 porters, workers and assorted hangers on who were trying to complete the Uganda Railway in the 1800’s. Needless to say their activity brought the work pretty much to a halt until the engineer in charge, John Patterson, finally killed both of the lions. The story has been turned into many a Hollywood movie the latest of which is “The Ghost and the Darkness”. Anyway these were the thoughts on my mind as we visited a Norwegian Mission outpost and the man in charge told me of an incident in which a lion had recently came into the compound by jumping a twelve foot electric fence, chewed through another chain link fence and took off with a goat that had been penned inside. Witnesses said that the lion leaped back over the electric fence with a full grown goat in it’s mouth with hardly any discernible effort. The fear was that since it had chewed through the chain link fence it would have ruined it’s teeth and now would start hunting humans because they are easy prey. So these were my thoughts when we passed a little boy standing on a mound of garbage with his goat. He shouted something at us that I took to be some kind of derisive remark. I asked my friend what the boy had said and he told me that he thought our vehicle was “cool” or something to that effect. That started another train of thought and once I start down the tracks it is hard to derail me unless there is a siding somewhere and I will probably take that. “What is the worst thing that you can call someone?” I asked. He asked if I meant for a local or a visitor and I said for a visitor “like me”. He answered without much thought – “Colonizer”.
As the discussion continued I took some insights away from that conversation. Kenyans love their country and they want you to love it as well. The folks that I visited with had no problem when I said I would love to buy some land and come and live there. They have no problem with suggestions or questions about why they do certain things the way they do them. They love partnerships and the give and take that a true partnership entails, but a colonizer is something they cannot tolerate and what it means as near as I can tell is someone who believes that they know better than the indigenous people how to live and work and function. That is a pretty mild form of colonialism but it is still odious.
We have been having a discussion based upon some questions raised by Prof Erik Hermann at Concordia Seminary on “mercy” and if it is the best word that we can use when describing what institutions do when they do human care among those that they deem “less fortunate”. It is a good question and the discussion needs to take place because we have all sorts of organizations affiliated with the LCMS, some that have RSO status and some that are just “Lutheran”, doing all kinds of work in all kinds of places that I would classify as “colonizers”. Some are wonderful Christian folk just trying to do good who have no idea that they are being hurtful to church relations and the work of the church at large. Some have a mindset that whatever they do is right and anyone including Lutheran churches in the areas that they choose to go that disagree with them are by definition “heterodox and in need of reform”. Some are individuals who simply assume because they are white and from the USA that whatever they do will be appreciated and will be helpful to the poor benighted souls that bow down to wood and stone, (From Greenland’s Icy Mountains by Reginald Heber). I used to sing that song with gusto and now it just makes me nervous. Prof. Herrmann is right to worry about that colonialist instinct unchecked by a theologically informed discussion of who we are as the body of Christ.
There is another song that I have been singing with gusto. I heard it and asked the folks that I was with if anyone knew what it was about. Some thought it had to do with George Bush and the war on terror. Some thought it had to do with drugs. The give away to me was the inclusion of Ladysmith Black Mombazo and a Zulu slogan that means “man can only do so much”. The black singing group that was included on the song were children that grew up in the “Ladysmith” township much like Soweto in South Africa. This is a protest song against the ultimate colonization – the technical enslavement of a majority of a population by a small minority justified by peace and order and “controling a threat”. For those too young to remember the strange days of “apartheid”, this song might be a stepping stone to some study of what an even mild form of colonizing can lead to.
by Bright Blue
Recorded by Bright Blue (1987), by Vusi Mahlasela (1994), Soweto String Quartet (1999), Soweto Gospel Choir (2005), Josh Groban (2006) – these are the most well known version (a full list available at the official song website: weeping.info). This is my humble cover of a great protest song.