Dr Denis Okiya Phd works in Tangaza University and did his doctorate in African religio-cultural studies, and especially in the culture of Maasai marriage. He has worked with children and youth, and conducts workshops for small Christian communities. He works for the Maryknoll Institute for African Studies (MIAS). He has also conducted workshops for small Christian communities on the issue of child rights and responsibilities.
He introduced himself by explaining the origins of his name which came from the friendship between his father and one of his friends. He also explained ‘nominal incarnation’ where the names of people are given to their children in order for the deceased person lives on in the name of the newly born in the family. Denis went on to explain inculturation, a sense of belonging, identity, dialogue and family.
He talked about a sense of belonging where a temporary attachment can be full of contradiction, laden with feelings of rejection and otherness. He went on to talk about identity where the individual’s search for personal meaning in relation to his or her place within the larger social context in which he or she finds him or herself.
Denis referred to the idea of bi-cultural awareness where we are challenged to study and understand the cultural heritage, including the language of the host culture. The challenge is to make the insights and understanding of the host culture a permanent part of your emotional and mental reality. Such appropriation leads to permanent change and forms our autobiographical memory. Part of this process involves freeing oneself from the ‘jail’ of one’s own culture, opening the possibility of embracing the new culture.
Denis then went on explain culture as something that human beings create. It includes technical processes for obtaining food and shelter, conventions for interacting with other people, and ideas about the structure of the world. He quoted Geert Hofstede’s definition of culture as ‘the collective programming of the mind distinguishing the members of one group or category of people from another.’ He then went on to give many examples of cultural practices, explaining the significant of them and pointing out how interpretations of various practices can vary considerably in different cultures.