The Construction of Images of Power among the Sabaot of Kenya as Represented In Their Male Initiation Poetry
Chepsigor, Robin Toskin
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This study examined the construction of images of power in initiation male oral poetry of the Sabaot with a view to revealing how this community contests power relations with its neighbours. The study also investigated how this contest of power relations creates or maintains a cultural identity, which like in any other community is derived from a sense of imagined superiority. Oral Poetry is an incontestable reservoir of values, sensibilities, aesthetics and also a genre through which traditional thought and imagination is achieved. The study assumed that initiation provides a cultural arena where Sabaot artists express those values, virtues, aesthetics and traditional thought and identity. The study postulated that the meaning(s) of words in the initiation poetry can only be understood within the context of performance of these poems. By analysing these poems the study set out to establish how the attendant images of power contribute to the creation of the Sabaot identity in contesting power relations. The study used a composite theoretical framework that integrates Ethno-poetics theory and Psychoanalytic Criticism theory to analyse collected oral poems. This framework enabled the study to gather and interpret data with respect to meanings that ‘words’ or ‘utterances’ take during performances as opposed to basic referential language outside the “performance arena” or “interpretive frame”. Psychoanalytic Criticism theory was beneficial in analysing the imagined superiority of the Sabaot as demonstrated by the images of power found in their male initiation poetry. Backed with a corpus of library research information the study narrowed down to the Sabaot living in Kopsiro division of Mt. Elgon District for the reason that initiation is still actively practised there. The findings are quite interesting, especially the fact that words acquire different meanings when placed in an “interpretive frame” or “a performance arena”. For example a community’s name becomes a symbol of cowardice. The mention of a monkey or rain in that arena takes an entirely different meaning from the basic referencial meaning. The study offers compelling opportunities for research on many aspects of poetry of the Sabaot and reveals conflict resolution efforts.