Tongue and tribe. Why do I speak English better than my mother tongue, Kikuyu? I was born in Nairobi, Kenya two generations post-independence from British colonial rule in 1963. The forceful imposition of the imperial rule led to the erosion of the cultural identity of my people, who adopted foreign practices. By primarily speaking English, many in my generation never got a chance to learn their native languages.
In his book Afrikan Alphabets, author and design educator Saki Mafundikwa notes that “language was one of the most powerful weapons used against colonized Afrikan people.” Each time I say I am from the Kikuyu tribe, but I cannot speak the language, causes an internal conflict. I feel like I am unable to access a part of my identity and authentically express myself. Tongue and tribe is a product of personal reflection on what it means for me to be a Kikuyu person today.
In undertaking this project, I explore my history and heritage interpreting it in a creative way to understand how communication design can help me learn my native language and empower my peers to do the same. The core component of my thesis is the development of a typeface that is inspired by Mount Kenya, an important social and geographic landmark of the Kikuyu people. The goal of my work is to showcase, celebrate, and preserve Kikuyu culture. This establishes the notion that our heritage and traditions are still relevant in an increasingly globalized world, one that tends to flatten out the multiplicities of our layered identities.