Revisiting Culture

Patrick Kayongo | 2 Nov , 2016  

Decolonisation. This seems to be the word of the day. University students throughout the country are fighting for a more Afro-centric curriculum without the baggage of the colonial past. Relaxed hair is now frowned upon by many, and natural hair is in. African print is en vogue. Animals are being slaughtered in suburban backyards. Children are being given long and hard to pronounce names.  Yellow bones are losing to darker tones. Africa is coming back!

Now, this is a good thing. Sometimes. Anglo is no longer the assumed standard, with other groups being seen as deviant. There is now a rise in people making African print outfits, as you probably won’t find dashiki fabric in H&M. BrownSense market has more vendors selling the same thing. People get to sound intellectual by speaking of the ‘great African past’. All lovely. Sometimes.

You see, in trying to rediscover our different identities, many have created a picture of ‘Africanness’ which they then impose on others. Recently with the tragic passing of Gugu Zulu, many people commented that his wife, Letshego Zulu, was not mourning properly. Apparently, she was not supposed to speak at the funeral. Gugu’s mother should’ve spoken. She also shouldn’t talk to other people. And she shouldn’t visit friends. And she should have her own plate and cup. Because culture.

Similarly, recently my wife and I had a maternity photoshoot. One of the pictures was of my wife wearing her traditional Xhosa garb. This picture mysteriously landed on a Xhosa Culture Facebook page. Somebody commented that it is improper for a pregnant woman to wear black. Because culture.

Can people just live? Culture is a continuously evolving social contract between people, and therefore it is not expected that what was considered normal and acceptable to Nongqawuse is then a requirement until the return of Yeshua ben-Yosef. And by the evolution of a culture, I do not mean becoming more ‘western’ as if that is the heavenly standard to which we should all aspire . I just mean continuously re-evalutating how we live as a collective, and seeking to improve ourselves.

So can those who have relaxed hair, and weaves be comfortable in it without being assumed shallow or compromised. Can those who want to wear a suit instead of a dashiki or leopard print top to a function be comfortable to do so. Can those of us who didn’t grow up drinking Epsom salts be comfortable in knowing we also had a real African upbringing. Can those who have their rural areas in Sandton, be allowed to go to their rural areas without shame. Can the African identity be dynamic and not a static myopic understanding of stories half-told and half-remembered. Can we just live. Mayibuye! iAfrika!

Featured image by Christiane Birr. Used under Creative Commons licence.

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Patrick Kayongo is a Ugandan born, Mthatha raised and Johannesburg based software developer. He enjoys reading about history, listening to music he considers good and watching useless videos on Youtube.