Thursday, February 02, 2006

Trying to have it both ways

When I woke up this morning, and turned on my computer, to check the news, I did not expect to see this article, on the almighty BBC (my homepage right now):
BBC | NEWS Africa | Zimbabwe furore over loincloths

Twin Zimbabwean brothers arrested for wearing loincloths have agreed to end their shocking campaign for traditional dress and wear shirts and shorts.

Tafadzwanashe and Tapiwanashe Fichani were charged with indecent exposure after walking around in goatskin kilts, which left their buttocks exposed.

I twice stayed - for 3 months each time - in Zimbabwe, in 1998 and 1999. I therefore cannot claim to be an expert on this country, which is also - at least that is the official position of the DRCongo government - my country's closest military ally. But while I was there, something shocked me: unlike many African countries in the Central, West and even North Africa, there was none/little of the usual bright colored outfits, the multi-colored fabrics, or even the more so-called "tribal" wear one may find in Swaziland, or some areas of South Africa. No, no, no.

Everybody was in some pale immitation - I appologize for the qualification, but it is how it looked - of Western attire. And this from the maid, to the gardner, to the taxi driver, to the business people. Everytime we saw a lady with the 3-piece wraps and blouse that I was more acustomed to, 1 in 2 times, I could say hello in my language, and she would reply fluently, as she was probably from Congo. If she was not, she was from Togo, Ivory Coast, or one of the countries relatively close to the gulf of Guinea.

My first reaction, in my mind, was that this was a people that had felt even deeper than we did, the influence of Victorian rigor, and colonialism. It was understandable, considering Euro-Zimbabweans were indeed in power up to 1980. Knowing this, you can imagine my surprise when President Mugabe started his all out attack on Euro-Zimbabwean farmers (outrageous campaign, despite justified motives), and start claiming this African-ness of Zimbabwe. After the passing surprise, I thought to myself, "well, maybe now the African cultural elements of Zimbabwe will be promoted"...

And then I find the above-mentioned article. Someone who does want to reclaim some aspects of heir culture, is being shunned, and there are such comments as "humans evolved from apes", to discredit the use of traditional loincloth, I do not get it anymore. Zimbabwe needs to realize that it is suffering from a case of acute colonial complex (and I do not mean this as an insult at all). A nation that claims to be so African, and yet uses European-based standards of decency to regulate its dress-code... that is just contradictory.

And it is not just Zimbabwe. Many East African countries (especially Kenya) have dress-codes that do not allow for African attire in the workplace, a rule that is even more enforced for males. And they are where? In AFRICA!!! And on a continent scale, there are so many things that we pass as "purely African", or "African customs", or "African morality", that we have simply acquired from the over-zealous Western Protestant and Catholic (and Muslim, we forget those) missionaries that flooded Africa in the past 2 centuries, and systematically worked at destroying African history and culture.

Africans in general must accept to live with a diversity of opinions, creeds, and yes, attires. The entire society should not be limited to a narrow stream of acceptable and imposed attitudes, but to a broad spectrum of behavior, that reflects ALL the realities of the Mother-continent. It part of our culture and our history, that at some point, some people wore loincloth, and some women went bare-breasted. Though I may personally choose not to wear either, I have no problem with someone wearing them and sitting next to me in the bus, in the restaurant; maybe not across from my desk, admitedly, but there are other African attires that are considered formal, such as the great tunics, the various wraps and kongas combinations, etc. Africans - including Zimbabwe president Mugabe - are quick to scream at (and sometimes kill) gay/lesbian people for being un-African (which I disagree with), but we act as perfectly alienated people in many other fields.

We cannot have it both ways... unless we accept the fact that there is, and has always been, a wide spectrum of traditions, behaviors, attires, and beliefs that ALL represent Africa, in its multi-dimensional nature. We must acknowledge both our ancestral and colonial heritage, and remember that as the Mother-continent, and the shattered continent, we have a duty to become an example of harmony, tolerance, and promotion of freedoms to the world. And we must also remember that these religions that we claim so strongly to be intrisincally ours (Christianity and Islam), are also the very same tools that were used as justification and/or tools for our enslavement and colonization. If we cannot see that, then the Zima=babwean twins are right: We are mentally colinized.

We have our work cut out for us. And I still wonder...



Cool said...

That´s what the rich coutrys peoples should do... not wear animal clothes

TheMalau said...

I am not sure I understood your comment

Black River Eagle said...

Sorry I haven't been by the Salon for awhile Malau, I've been terribly busy these days. There is a good article over at the PINR (Power and Interest News Report) site about the upcoming polls in the DRC. Checkout their February 10th cover article titled "Elections Approach in Democratic Republic of Congo". I'd love to post about it, but this is your area of expertise.

If Zimbabwe is the DRC's closest military ally, then I am Whistler's Mother!! Mugabe doesn't have any allies except for China and the ZANU-PF partymembers and those politicians and crooks who he can blackmail and coerce into supporting his brutal regime.

Of course, none of what I have said has anything to do with your post. Sorry, in a hurry. Ciao.

TheMalau said...

I just love your comments BRE!!!
Check out my new post on the topic you bring up.

Anonymous said...

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