November 25, 2008

The Frustrations of Big Manitude

Theodore Dalrymple once pointed out that being a Big Man in Africa isn't as sweet a deal as you might think.

Imagine you get out of school, get your first decent job, and your own apartment. You decide to celebrate by inviting four relatives to your place for Thanksgiving Dinner. A year later, you get a promotion so you start thinking about where you'll take your first vacation. But on Thanksgiving Day, instead of just four relatives showing up, eight show up. You mention to your nearest and dearest that you only bought enough food for four guests. They say in loud voices for the more distant relatives to hear, "Oh, we are so proud you are getting to be a Big Man and have offered to go to the store to buy more food!"

And so it goes. Next year it's 16 relatives, and a half dozen of them need to crash at your place and need you to drive them to the airport. You try to hint to your mom that it's getting to be a little much, but she makes it clear that any slacking on your part would bring shame to all your loved ones. So, each year you get a promotion and the number of relatives you must feed and entertain and find jobs for and bail out of jail and generally subsidize keeps growing with every increase in your income.

It's kind of like what Anthony Quinn says as Auda Bin Tayi in "Lawrence of Arabia:"

I carry twenty-three great wounds, all got in battle. Seventy-five men have I killed with my own hands in battle. I scatter, I burn my enemies' tents. I take away their flocks and herds. The Turks pay me a golden treasure, yet I am poor! Because I am a river to my people!

Here's Edmund Sanders in the LA Times on the multitudinous Obamas:
Reporting from Nyangoma-Kogelo, Kenya — For about 400 people in western Kenya who can call the next U.S. president "part of the family," being an Obama has a whole new meaning.

The modest family compound here has been inundated by hordes of visitors, from reporters and local politicians to ordinary Kenyans looking for help in getting U.S. visas, scholarships, jobs or cash. Family matriarch Sarah Onyango, step-grandmother of President-elect Barack Obama, is treated like a rock star wherever she goes.

The Kenyan government, which once ostracized Obama's father, is falling over itself to attend to the family. There's a new road, 24-hour police security and an electricity line -- the first in the village. It was installed hours after U.S. election results were announced, bypassing neighbors who have been waiting years for a connection.

"Dealing with all this," Said Obama, the president-elect's uncle, said with a sigh, "it's been like a full-time job."

In U.S. politics, presidential relatives are always something of a wild card, often the subject of curiosity or controversy. But the Obamas of Kenya promise to be a First Family like none America has seen.

Here in sleepy Nyangoma-Kogelo, the Obamas are widely admired as the richest family in a town of about 2,000, successful farmers who have always helped neighbors in need, and flirted with the political elite when Obama's Harvard-educated father rose to a prominent government post.

But while they're at the top of the social ladder at home, the international spotlight has cast the family in an unfamiliar role: as poor relations who suddenly appear to have hit it big. Overnight, they've gone from Kennedys to Clampetts.

It's true, by U.S. standards many of the family members are relatively poor, living in mud-brick homes with no running water or, until recently, electricity. A few have tried to cash in on Obama's success by selling their stories. ...

Onyango, who until the recent flurry of attention still worked in the fields tending her crops, said she hoped life would return to normal. "We don't feel that we should or ought to be treated differently," she said....

For the family, of course, there have also been other fringe benefits to their fame. In addition to the security and infrastructure improvements, family members are fielding various offers for jobs, partnerships and endorsement deals.

Said Obama, who struggled for more than a decade amid Kenya's chronic unemployment to find full-time work, admits he probably owes his current job as a mechanic at a factory co-owned by the prime minister's family to his relationship with Obama.

"The Obama name is now a powerful key to open doors," he said. "But the family is wary. I don't want to exploit my relationship with Barack."

Other family members have been more assertive. Malik Obama, the eldest half-brother, has asked reporters seeking interviews to first make donations to his "Barack H. Obama Foundation," which he said funds school uniforms and community projects.

When the election results were announced, Malik Obama held a separate news conference after being nudged out of the family's official briefing.

"The children used to be close," said Charles Oluoch, a cousin. "But with the election, everyone is fighting to be closest to the president." ...

In a 2006 interview with The Times, Obama acknowledged the expectations of his large family in Kenya, some of whom he has never met.

"Everyone in the village feels related," he said. "Some family members are very close; others I feel less close to."

Oluoch, who lives with about 200 other Obamas in a second ancestral village 100 miles away called Kobama, complained that the Kogelo wing is getting all the attention and investment. In Kobama, they recently spruced up the gravestone of Obama's great-grandfather and are preserving a mud hut "where the president once slept" as a potential tourist attraction.

He said the Obamas have a proud history of producing prosperous leaders with a knack for breaking down racial barriers.

Obama's grandfather Hussein Onyango Obama befriended white settlers when others feared the strangers as "unclean." After serving with the British army in Tanzania during World War I, he learned English, adopted Western dress and eventually worked as a cook in colonialists' homes.

"At first, everyone in the village feared him, but eventually they came to admire him because he could talk to a white person," said Alfred Obama, 76, a nephew of Onyango who lives in Kobama.

Over the years, he introduced many European customs to the village, such as eating on plates with utensils, planting trees, deep-frying food and maintaining an immaculate home.

Although Onyango was standoffish, his second wife, Sarah, was outgoing and down-to-earth. ...

On trips home to his village, usually in a fancy car, Obama Sr. always brought cabbages and potatoes for every household. He found government jobs for numerous villagers.

But the family's political rise was short-lived. By the early 1970s, the elder Obama's tendency to criticize his superiors and a worsening alcohol problem led to a career spiral that left him dejected and broke. As a Luo, he found himself the victim of rising tribalism as rival Kikuyus seized control of the government.

Old friends abandoned him. In 1982, Obama ran his car off the road after a night of drinking and was killed. He was 46.

Sarah Onyango worried about the family's future.

"She said, 'Now that this has happened to our son, what will happen us?'" according to Ndalo, the former housekeeper. "The family was very bitter about the way they were treated."

Obama's election brought a sense of vindication, friends and family members say, particularly as government officials have made the trek down the dirt road to the Obama compound to pay their respects. President Mwai Kibaki declared a national holiday in Obama's honor.

"The death was a great blow to the Obamas," Oluoch, the cousin, said. "We had no one else to be proud of. But 26 years later, God gave us another one."


Anonymous said...

Ha ha ha ha, any level-headed Afrikaner knows this feature of African culture. But westerners are such dunces. All the crap they are being told about Obama, Mandela, Tutu and other pillars of morality in our “modern” world.

Anyway, the soon to be prez of South Africa has 5 wives and 15 children. He was convicted of taking bribes in a huge weapons deal (Brits, Swedes, French and Germans selling the ANC government weapons they cannot use) but thought nothing of it since he such a large family to take care of. Its part of the African Ubuntu lifestyle. And that's only the direct ones. The distant ones keep popping up the higher you go.

Many in South Africa think that the famous Mandela Children's Fund is nothing more than a tribal chest set up to take care of the extended Mandela family. All those moronic pinko liberals in the US and EU pay into his fund to make themselves feel good, and he cashes-in in order to send his kids, cousins, once removed, twice removed, thrice removed to schools and colleges in the US. To date there has not been an audit of the money he gets. Everyone assumes he must be faithful since he is such a hero and saint and whatever. Ha ha ha ha. B.t.w. Bishop Tutu is into the same ploy. His kids attend lavish colleges in the US and England. Ever wonder how that's possible on a measly South African bureaucrat salary with the exchange rate being in the toilet since the blacks took over?

This also explains the African tendency to see governmental coffers as their own. In tribal culture the tribe’s wealth belongs to the big chief. In return he gives them identity and group protection and pays a core patronage constituency to sit on their arses all day and support him. So when black leaders come into power they immediately begin scouring the state coffers. Mugabe is just an extreme version of this. They need this money to keep their large patronages, which also act as power bases running. Those who do not belong to this network invariably get screwed.

In South Africa there is no limit to black politicians wanting to increase taxes on whites and foreign businesses. They see this as legitimate and also need the money. Nothing burns money faster than these black patronage networks. The reason is that most on the take don’t do any productive work. That’s why it’s normal to walk into a government department and the boss is permanently awol. Their reason de etre is supporting the big man, not doing any work. As payback they get the big jobs. This would not be so destructive were it not that these jobs are meant to be clearinghouses for decisions which affect the whole country. But then these departments are relics of colonial days where western values dominated and those in charge were paid to make decisions, not be awol. I keep reading about how outraged Americans are at the corruption in NO or Detroit. And about how outraged black officials are that they are being prosecuted. But knowing black culture it does not surprise me at all.

michael farris said...

Your bias is showing. The "Big Man" syndrome is an individualist's heuristic way of understanding a collectivist phenomenon. It reveals a little but conceals a lot.

The basic problem is assuming that the Big Man fulfills the role of the father in the 1950's nuclear family as sole breadwinner. He doesn't, he lives in a spider's web of favors and obligations.

The person in your scenario may have been selected by the family to receive the higher education that led to the good paying job in the first place (as the surest bet among the male children in his generation) and many relatives' may have made sacrifices to help pay for it. None of this is kept from the person, but it is meant to motivate him to not let the group down.
Any achievements the group-supported man makes are seen as honors given to the group who helped him rise. There's no such thing as a self-made man in a collectivist culture.

And resource sharing is constant and multi-directional. People from collectivist cultures never invite four relatives, they may only mention their plans to four but they know word will spread and more can and will show up. The motto for this type of gathering is, the more the merrier. Many guests will bring food too.

People from collectivist cultures don't think in terms of having enough food for only four people. When the guests arrive the larder is emptied and if the food is modest, one of two things happens:
1. everybody makes do, enjoying each other's company
2. the senior person present (probably the oldest person present) suggests a break in the festivities "while the next course is prepared" (a signal for money to be discreetly collected and people delegated to go to the store or market)
No one will criticise the ostensible host for not having enough food as long as he's emptied out his provisions for the group.

The real Big Man is usually not the only provider (or sometimes not a provider at all). One of his first priorities in his new job will be to secure employment for relatives. (Listen to any This American Life story set in Iraq for many examples of this). If he's reasonably competent the employer will be glad to hire from his group as a known quantity and the idea of not shaming their group will also motivate them to not misbehave on the job.

Also your prospective young man can call upon the group network for all sorts of needs. All he has to do is put out the word and a young likely male relative or two will be sent to clean and cook for him and provide company (he's probably been socialized to want other group members around whenever possible). A complaint about city food will bring regular shipments of meat or vegetables of whatever from the countryside.
When he mentions that he might want to marry, likely candidates (pre-screened by his female relatives who will be much more demanding than he is) will show up.
The final choice is likely to be made as a group decision.

In short the mutual obligations to share resources and services are never ending, but again, mutual and as long as he's loyal to the group lifelong. Most westerners can't imagine the simultaneous level of acceptance and security as well as the endless pressure to fulfill obligations that life in such a group entails. It's not something that most of us would want either, but it is the way that most of the world works.

Anonymous said...

Michael Farris wrote:
"Most westerners can't imagine the simultaneous level of acceptance and security as well as the endless pressure to fulfill obligations that life in such a group entails. It's not something that most of us would want either, but it is the way that most of the world works."

Good points. This is also a source of much of the conflict between blacks and whites, certainly in southern Africa. Blacks assume all the property and wealth belongs to everyone. So when they steal they are just helping themselves to the communal trough. As far as they are concerned whites are being selfish hoarding all that money, cars, houses and pretty wives/girlfriends. So they help themselves to it (a rape here, a looting there, a hijack here, a hoist there). When whites resist the black "criminals" act in self-defense and kill the obstinate white "racist". Whites get enraged and want to send in the rangers (or kommandos as they are known in Afrikaans culture) but the new black governments fiercely resist this because they understand and approve of the motives of their black underlings.

The thing is to accept these cultural traits as reality and not judge them per se. Then try and look for a workable solution. Its obvious that the two cultures cannot co-exist without either one of the two losing out. Under Apartheid, which was a strict Calvinist order, blacks were being screwed, under ANC rule whites are in for the high-jump. Obviously the only reasonable solution is, to borrow the phrase from our Israeli friends, "unilateral separation". I've read about that concept somewhere before, but it had a non-English name. Darn, I cannot think of it now...

Anonymous said...

There's this theory floating around that BHO is not actually the biological son of BHO Sr. but rather of Malcolm X. It seems crazy, but the physical resemblance is astonishing, and he certainly doesn't look anything like the putative father. The theory is that Stanley Anne got knocked up as a sort of civil rights groupie and then got one of the few blacks on Hawaii to marry her to provide the baby a name. BHO Sr. had absolutely nothing to do with BHO Jr. all through his life. The interview with Percy Sutton (Malcolm's lawyer) about how he got BHO into Harvard law school at the behest of a black Muslim with ties to Saudi Arabia was quite interesting. People promoting MX's son?

Steve Sailer said...

Well, sure, if Malcolm X was in Hawaii in early November 1960, and if Malcolm X was an East African.

Anonymous said...

Great comment, Michael Farris. The final two paragraphs reminded me of the domestic situations of any number of US professional athletes, as well.

Anonymous said...

Well folks:

I live in Woodstock, NY. Obama's mother was a true Woodstock woman.

From this perspective, things look a little different.

Has it ever occured to you that the left supports Obama precisely because it admires the values of that Big Man black culture? And wants to see the U.S. adopt those values?

Anonymous said...

Michael Farris, I have corrected your typographical error.

Surely, "but it is the way that most of the world works."

Should read, "but it is why most of the world doesn't work."

--Anonymous because I can't afford to have a Steve Sailer link pops up if an employer Googles.

Anonymous said...

Steve, you made my day again with your sociological insightfulness... ooops, sorry, mere "common sense" ;) (BTW Has anyone heard Picasso's one of handful of useful sayings: that "common sense is not so common?")

You nailed this one, too, dude! My hat's off.

Also, loved the phrase "Big Manitude!" Like "His Rotundity, His Obesity..." etc. "His Bigmanitude," "His Awesome-dudity!" :D


Anonymous said...

Anonymous: There's this theory floating around that BHO is not actually the biological son of BHO Sr. but rather of Malcolm X. It seems crazy, but the physical resemblance is astonishing....

That's just a bunch of nonsensical wishful-thinking on some people's part.

What's throwing people off (i.e. why people think Barack doesn't look like Obama Sr.) is that he looks, overall, more like his mother than his father.

Barack has his mother's chin (and overall facial structure for that matter). It's a pretty prominent chin, which Obama Sr. didn't have. While Malcolm X had a strong chin/jaw, too, it's not at all the chin that Barack has -- Macolm X has the square-jaw look -- Barack's is a long, pointy chin.

Barack totally has Obama Sr.'s eyes though.

Truth said...

"There's this theory floating around that BHO is not actually the biological son of BHO Sr. but rather of Malcolm X."

I'm starting to understand why suicide rates in all-white countries are so high; I mean, think about it; without your Obama's and your T.O's and your Michael Vick's a lot of you would have nothing to live for.

Anonymous said...

From the article: Family matriarch Sarah Onyango, step-grandmother of President-elect Barack Obama....

Maybe I'm remembering wrong, but isn't Sarah Onyango the third wife of Obama's grandfather -- in the polygamous sense of the word?

If so, she's not Barack's "step-grandmother". She's ... uh ... she's something we don't have a word for in English (AFAIK). She's Barack Jr's grandfather's "wife number 3" (i.e. Barack's grandfather did not marry her after his first & second wives died or were divorced from him).

While she did take care of Barack Sr. after his own mother abandoned him (sad family tradition there), calling Sarah Onyango Barack's "step-grandmother" is misleading. Most Americans/Westerners reading that would think (if they thought about it much at all) that she was Barack's grandfather's wife after a previous wife (or wives) had died or they had divorced.

And, why's she called Sarah Onyango? Shouldn't she be Sarah Onyango *Obama*? Her husband (Barack's grandfather) was Hussein Onyango Obama. Why isn't she also Onyango Obama?

Anonymous said...

Michael Farris - it all sounds great. Yet somehow it doesnt seem to work.

Whites in Rhodesia and South Africa are screwed...and so are blacks, or most of them anyway.

Anonymous said...

Farris -- Collectivism does not work. It has produced only poverty.

Because what happens is an aristocracy soon develops, see Castro, Chavez, Kim, China, the Russian Politburo, etc. Or Latin America. Or Africa.

The nuclear family and the social structure that produces, "deep" wealth spread out widely and independently is the only check on the Pharoah-slave structure of agricultural society that has plagued mankind since the dawn of cities. Pastoralists like the Arab raiders or Mongols are no better either, just more mobile.

As long as polygamy, "Big Man" ism, and collectivism inform a society it will be a violent, poor, rathole ranging from Charles Taylor's Liberia to Mugabe's Zimbabwe to Chavez's Venezuela or Castro's Prison-Plantation estate.

That's it.

Anonymous said...

" Anonymous said...

Whites in Rhodesia and South Africa are screwed...and so are blacks, or most of them anyway."

Yea, like whites in the US are about to be as well. At least whites in Rhodesia and South Africa have 15-20 years advantage in the experience of being screwed. Being under pressure helps to develop solutions and strategies. You guys are only beginning to take that road.

michael farris said...

First, I was being descriptive, not prescriptive. The model I described (the big extended family that provides what security it can in exchange for absolute loyalty) is the default mode of human existence. In that way, yes, it works.

Its own success tends to work against it long term in that increasing societal wealth inevitably loosens extended family ties (which then spiral downward into the nuclear family and smaller and smaller idiosyncratic units until you have an atomized society of individuals). The nuclear family doesn't represent traditional human family values but their breakdown.

And of course, lots of factors both internal and external to the extended family model itself make wealth creation under that system difficult. The biggest is the lack of trust extended to outsiders and strangers (often for good reason). Another is the tendency toward insulation either from low-level incest (cousin marriage) or the creation of family-like alliances (compadrazgo) that mean the well-connected almost never have to deal with outsiders at all (which only increases the fear and distrust of strangers).

Another is the tendency for two sets of ethics to sprout up, treatment of family members follows lots of rules of reciprosity and courtesy but treatment of non-family members can be be remorselessly brutal and longterm this can lead to stratification between winner and loser families. This is why white elites in Mexico have more in common with the Kenyan Obamas than anything North Americans can identify with.

Regarding: 'step-graqndmother'. Precise degree of relation is, again, an individualist pre-occupation. A common tendency in traditional societies is for generational nomenclature. Any adult in the generation of your parents' parents is a grandparent, any child of your children's children's generation is your grandchild. In extreme cases children of aunts and uncles are treated as siblings. The precise degree of relation is known within the group but trivial.

Anonymous said...

And of course, lots of factors both internal and external to the extended family model itself make wealth creation under that system difficult. The biggest is the lack of trust extended to outsiders and strangers (often for good reason). Another is the tendency toward insulation either from low-level incest (cousin marriage) or the creation of family-like alliances (compadrazgo) that mean the well-connected almost never have to deal with outsiders at all (which only increases the fear and distrust of strangers).

Why should wealth creation be difficult for such groups? It works for Kevin Macdonald's favorite people, doesn't it?

If the clan's not over-extended, cousin marriage and nepotism make capital formation easier, I tend to think.

michael farris said...

"Why should wealth creation be difficult for such groups?
If the clan's not over-extended, cousin marriage and nepotism make capital formation easier, I tend to think."

What I meant (as opposed to what I wrote) is that it's not good for fostering the conditions that make a society wealthier overall (where you need the kind of social trust that doesn't exist in BEF (big extended family) cultures.
You end up with winner families and loser families (which outnumber the winner families).

Another weakness is that intellectual curiosity (for its own sake) is frowned upon.
The good BEF member is interested in:
1. the minutiae of interactions and personalities in the BEF
2. helping the BEF survive and/or prosper.
Academic pursuits that don't transparently lead to material gain are frowned upon. And the acceptable academic pursuits are pursued for said material gain (IIRC there's a Chinese adage about education being a brick you use to break down a door, once you're inside you don't need the brick anymore).

Anonymous said...

I would say that if Obama were the son of Malcom X (who had a lot of European ancestry from looking at his pictures) and a white woman, he would be lighter than he is.

That interview on youtube with Percy Sutton is pretty interesting though. There's got to be something going on with his time at Columbia too.

Anonymous said...

Pretty striking pictures though.

Revnant Dream said...

Please tell me this was all a great work of Satire? Pretty please, with Acorns on top.
In the end will all of Kenya be American by Obama's election?
You won't find this on or in the MSM. That's for sure.
Thanks for the info & well said.