The rubbish of culture

The rubbish of culture

YOU know a debate is about to go haywire when an African starts mumbling something about culture and tradition to justify rank barbarity.
In Lesotho it starts with a vague reference to “We” before it gets to “We Basotho!” Reason would have bolted out of the head like a Matador bull.
Prejudice with a dash of manure would have captured that debate and you will be swimming in thick tosh.

Beyond that point you remain in that conversation at your own peril for you will be swimming against a tsunami of sewage.
As you gulp the dung morsels you can only watch hopelessly as ignorance races to the shore to claim victory. A stolen victory.
There it will raise its victory flag like a British colonialist hoisting the Union Jack after annihilating the natives.
A few days ago a mob in the Bus Stop area harassed a woman.

According to the crowd – a mishmash of random thugs, loud-mouthed women and ill nurtured (notice Muckraker did not say nature) zealots – her only crime was that she was dressed too scantly for a pregnant woman.
Whose baby was the pack protecting? Hers! And where was the father? Only the woman knows. So there we have it: breasted women and bearded men were fighting to protect an unborn baby against her mother.

Yet those logical questions were not enough for the too-smart-by-half inmates of the asylum called social media to get even a whiff of the injustice against the poor woman.

Instead we have them punching the daylight out of their keyboards and jamming their smartphones as they lecture their “friends” on how pregnant women are supposed to dress.

Their malicious and hare-brained comments laden with ‘likes’, they clambered the high moral ground and awarded themselves doctorate degrees in Sesotho culture.

By “proper dressing” they mean a pregnant woman should be wrapped in a blanket that makes her look ten times older than her age. They mean she must be covered up in this sweltering heat. The scientific purpose behind stuffing a pregnant woman with a blanket and other sweat-inducing garments is not known.

But that doesn’t matter because they say it’s our culture and tradition. And to ‘defend’ it they behave like barbarians. Holy dung!

She was disrespecting our culture, opined one opinionated citizen of the madhouse that is social media. She was dressed incorrectly in a wrong place, bellowed another who likes to indulge in opinion rather than thought.
She got what she deserved, said another mean-spirited man.

You would think such vitriol is coming mostly from men but hell no. Women too were chattering on about our culture and tradition.
The sole purpose of such talk is to blame the woman for being a victim. We have seen the same use of using culture to rationalise domestic violence and rape.

The mob that hackled her is seen as a battalion of foot soldiers in the battles against moral decadence and fashion that is rapidly eating away at our sacrosanct culture and tradition. The winners, of course, are our so-called ‘values’, a thing we so vaguely define that it has become meaningless. They forget that those who support the harassment of that woman are as nasty as the mob that tried to lynch her.

How a pregnant woman chooses to dress is her business. If you don’t like what you see just turn that long neck and look somewhere. There are many spectacles in the world. You are allowed to frown, curse under your breathe or shed a tear but you shall not utter a word of insult to that woman.
The reasons are clear. You are neither the father nor the mother of the child.

You are enjoying your share of the oxygen, so why bother what an expectant mother wears. You were not witness to the making of that baby. The only things you share with that woman are this country and the Maqalika water. The only way you can hit back at a pregnant woman in a short or miniskirt is to strip to your undies and dance to a Famo song in front of one of those shops in the Bus Stop area.

That way it will be fair and square. You get your few minutes of glory and she gets to be free to walk the streets.

The problem with the cultural police in our midst is that they don’t put their minds into gear before opening their mouths. That is because if their minds have any semblance of connection to the mouths it would require them to engage in an exercise they dislike with passion: thinking, an excruciatingly painful process for many people.

The culture thing is based of feeble memory. Because it is never properly recorded each generation tinkers with its key facets to suit its own situation.
Along the way it gains a whole new character so far removed from its original state. The truth is that nothing we have in our culture today is purely ours.

We have stolen from others to create this so-called culture we now defend with unbridled gusto.
This appropriation is neither recorded nor acknowledged. So lies are allowed to go unchallenged. Fiction is massaged in the hope that it becomes reality.

Nyoe, nyoe, nyoe, the blanket is part of our culture. As if any of our ancestors owned a blanket factory. Nyoe, nyoe, nyoe, Seshoeshoe is our traditional dress.  As if there was ever a time our ancestors could make such fabric. Our culture says we should not speak ill of the dead, they say. But that is something we stole from the Greeks.

And it was not for the fear of offending the dead that they insisted on mourners keeping the truth to themselves. The rulers concocted that rule when they got weary of brawls at funerals. Back then you could call a lazybone a lazybone, a harlot a harlot and a thief a thief.

But as you insulted the dead you had to have one hand on your sword and one eye on the shortest path to safety.
Ours is a culture that robs the living to ‘feed’ the ego of the dead. Men who never owned even a mouse in their lives are sent to the ancestors with a cow. Question the logic of such a ritual and you will be told it’s what our culture says.

Muckraker has often been amused when mourning families smear their windows with ash.
When she asks what our forefathers would smear since they did not have windows the answers are never forthcoming. In the end they resort to the old trick of blaming it on culture.

It turns out this was probably borrowed from South Africa during apartheid.
Blacks were supposed to have a Pass to move from one town to the other so the ashes were sort of a plea to the Boers to bear with their transgression during mourning.

More like saying “we broke the Pass regulation to bury our relative so please just let this one pass”. We have also stolen this cultural practice that forces widows to wear black and members to tie black cloths on their foreheads. The same applies to this business of women shaving their hair during mourning.

That is why ‘culture’ should not be treated like Big Brother in Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell’s classic novel. We are not mindlessly following its rules like zombies.

We have taken all these dresses, manners, rituals and value to create something we can call our own. But having built something out of stolen components we have no business harassing those who don’t want to conform or simply want to continue the appropriation.
To do that is to create straitjacket that locks the so-called culture in one place for eternity.

The Sunday Times’s Ndumiso Ngcobo, one of Muckraker’s favourite writers, put this culture thing into perspective on one of his recent articles.
His gripe was with the warped notion that tripe, Likahare, is our traditional food. He questions if our forefathers were so stupid that the only type of meat they really liked on a cow were the intestines, the dirtiest meat there is.

He asks whether our forefathers did not know about silverside, fillet stake, brisket, oxtail, tongue and T-bone.
It’s as if our forefathers would leave all these tender meats and scramble for the dung-laden intestines.
The point here is that our definition of tradition in Africa is limited to that which we think we know.

This generation likes to use the early 1900s as a starting point to decree what constitutes our culture and tradition.
To make it worse we pepper that culture with a lot of borrowed religious rituals whose real import we don’t understand.

Here we are, using the so-called culture to justify an attack on an innocent woman who does not think having a person growing inside her should dictate what she wears. It’s not a violation of culture but a personal choice.

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