Thursday, 25 September 2014

5 Things The Brits Left Behind After Colonialism That We Really Don't Need

1. Stiff Upper Lips


We are more British than the Brits when it comes to stiff upper lips. You don't air your dirty laundry in public. You don't yell or lose your temper. And you never, ever cry. Tears are for children. And sometimes, women. And even then those must be shed surreptitiously in a locked bathroom. If anyone dares ask you how you're doing, you say 'splendid, never been better', in all your red-eyed, puffy-faced glory. You do not cry in public. Except at funerals. And then The African in you emerges. You wail and roll on the ground. You ululate and self-flagellate. You hire professional mourners. And when you're done, you get up, dust yourself off and head to the buffet table. 

2. Clothes

We were perfectly fine running around in pure leather loin cloths, ivory waists beads, fantastic jewellery and the most extravagant head gear. It suited our climate and it suited our penchant for the extravagant. But no. The Brits came along and wham bam no thank you mam, suddenly we had cotton. *yawn*  Men now spend their days throttled by starched collars and tear-inducing ties. Women are hobbled and cinched breathless by toe-pinching heels and spanx. SPANX! What sorcery is this. But spend any summer in an English city and the flesh on display would put a French nudist colony to shame. Because suddenly, it's OK to show vast quantities of flesh. You left us your modesty, hopped on your ships and are now all running around starkers. But here's the thing. Dudes, we know you're cold. Two days of sun does not a summer make. So, why dont you take back your clothes and give us back our nudity. Please and thank you. 

3. Words
Why use words when you have tone of voice. Depending on how much you elongate a vowel or how much emphasis you put on a consonant, you can convey distance, speed, urgency, anger, distress, sympathy...really any subtext of the spoken word. One simple phrase 'eh' can express agreement, surprise and encouragement to keep talking. Sawa is the closest thing to the English 'fine' that I can think of. The one that women use. The one that can be good or bad. Inflection speaks far more than any words we could ever use.

4. Religion

Most of us take this with a pinch of salt. It's the side dish to our main meal, which is, of course, culture. If something in the scripture doesn't work for us, we just ignore it and replace it with tradition. We go to church but we still believe in waganga. We sing hymns then go home and watch people eating grass on the news. We give tithe, but only a little because we want to eat nyama choma with our friends for Sunday lunch. I like to think we have the best of both worlds. 'Why isn't there an African bible?', you ask.  There is. It's called 'The Old Testament'. 

4. Divorce
You do not leave your spouse. You hang in there no matter what. Leaving means giving back the cows, the goats, the khangas and the house built for your ageing mum. Leaving means shaming your family name. Leaving means having to walk around head down, ignoring the judging stares and watching your friends drop off one by one. So what do you do? You marry more people. Wait, there's method to the madness. You find someone agreeable to both and, if the man is wealthy enough, you find two or three. That way, even if he spread himself really thin, you'd only have to see each other a few times a week. They don't say absecnce makes the heart grow fonder for nothing. No more enduring lame jokes day after day or listening to the same boring prattle about the colour of baby poop. Instead, the woman gets someone to help with the chores and have a nice chat with over a cup of tea, the children get lots of new playmates and the husband gets a battalion of people to take care of him in his old age. Win, win. 

5. Exercise

This is an actual program on telly!

A rotund man was a wealthy man in days gone by. It was a display of how much a man could afford to eat and how much he could afford not to have to toil in the fields. Similarly, curvaceous women were considered fertile, warm, motherly and feminine. And if said wealthy man met said comely woman, it was his duty to keep her in the body size to which she was accustomed. A thigh gap is something that should only be seen on a chicken or goat. Preferably one on its way to the cooking pot. Exercise was something only carried out horizontally. Young men herded livestock and women worked in the fields. It kept us fit and strong but we didn't call it exercise. We called it life. I'm an African. I have hips. And a butt. Africans view skinniness as a sign of illness or poverty. I am afflicted by neither. Let me be happy in my body. Let me eat cake.  

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