Before I wore this blanket

Before I wore this blanket

The polarity of the world hinges on one axis; politics, and whatever or however we may want to view the world otherwise, the fact of the matter is that there will always be a north pole and a south pole, and any argument to the contrary is utter denial of the factual: it is only in current politics where the difference between the east and the west is conveniently ignored or defined as something other than what it really is, perhaps for the sole purpose of garnering the votes that will catapult a simple village man into the hallowed halls of the house on top of the hill.
I am aware that there is a left hand and there is also naturally a right hand on the opposite side of the chest cavity, this is a clearly evidenced reality whose existence I cannot ignore.
The functioning of either hand is not effected by choice (though it can be forced upon the individual in instances where religious fanaticism takes precedence over logic and common sense in ‘right hand only’ societies); only the brain determines what hand an individual will use, and therefore, right handedness or left handedness will always be there in society.

That thin rare breed that can boast of being ambidextrous will always remain in the minute in terms of numbers: those who can toe the line from the middle are indeed rare and unexpected in a human society that expects one to either belong to the left or to the right.
I can safely guess that before the colonialist came with his blankets of many colours and strange imperial-worshipping patterns, we Africans were an ambidextrous society in terms of dealing with matters that needed to be tackled and issues that needed to be solved.

The dexterity came from the basic understanding that all are manually different, that is, some (the larger proportion in fact) would be right-handed, and the others would be left-handed.
Internal strife was rare (I can safely guess), and this behaviour was influenced to a large extent by the basic understanding that opposition polishes all parties involved in that act of forming a working society. I often use the image of the river pebble in describing what exactly happens in society.
The river pebble does not start its life as smooth as it is when one picks it out of the waters of the river; it is actually born as a rough rock with sharp corners on a mountain’s side that is carried to the river by the torrent of the flood when the floodgates of heaven open up in a deluge.

It lands in the river where it finds fellows of different shades and hardness, and stirred by the waters of the river in flood, the different types and shades of rock are agitated, crash against each other, and at the end of the skirmish end up as smooth pebbles if they are strong enough to last the butting session at the bottom of the river.
The weak ones are ground to the size of rough sand grains, and the weaker ones end up as fine sand we walk upon on the beaches and sandbanks of the river.
This is the way of the river as seen from my perspective, and often enough, I find its verisimilitudes in the images of the life around me on my walks as a practicing literary observer and writer.
Growing up, I used to read Paliso ea Sesotho and therein the leaves of this fine collection of insightful stories was Pale ea Kobo (The Tale of the Blanket), to which I believe, many of us would be glued to in its recount of the story of the process in the manufacture of the woollen blanket.

From the moment it is shorn from the sheep in the high mountains of Lesotho, to being packed in the bales in the buyer’s warehouse, then the long journey by steam train to the harbours of Cape Town and Durban, and the long voyage across the seas to faraway England’s factories where it would be woven into fine woollen blankets to be sold at a high price to the “natives” who are in actual fact the providers of the raw material.

The wearing of such a blanket was an affair full of pride, surpassing even the kaleidoscope of colours and patterns as witnessed at such parades as the Durban July.
The locals who had sold their wool to the trader for pennies were more than willing to buy the blankets for many a pound, though these same blankets they fought over were in actual fact were a product gleaned with the shears off their herds up in the mountain outposts (Metebo) manned by solitary figures who spent a large part of the year with only their large and uncountable herds and loyal and fierce dogs for company.

This is the tale of the blanket, simple; you sell the raw material cheap, and you buy the finished product at the cost of an arm and a torso: and this is the story of the colonised Africa.
Last week, I mentioned in brief the story of the blanket, and I was frank enough to express my utter disdain at this piece of raiment which I view as a symbol of our neo-colonialism.
I do not believe that we shall ever progress as a continent if we keep on worshipping those very symbols our oppressors in colonial times used to worship.
We cannot go on and progress if we believe that the Union Jack means jack to us when the Briton found our capital town (“city”) not worthy as a domicile of their consulate.

And so, it vexes me why I should find Seana-Marena, Lefitori, Letlama and company fascinating national symbols. I am baffled by the fanatic allegiance to these symbolic pieces of clothing that we have in actual fact never owned, because in truth, we were de-colonised in 1966, but still, we cling on to the very symbols of our serfdom, and the feudal lords make the patronising slogans (ma-apara kobo a matle), and keep the cash register chiming whilst the poor natives spend their last pennies on a piece of clothing just so they can appear ‘nice’ at some feast.

I will go Chuck Berry on this one; give me the money for the wool and wear your blanket in your cold Europe and America: you need to keep warm more than I do anyway.
Why we keep on worshipping these symbols of colonial subjugation provides the answer to why we never progressed as a country; we love the praise more than the reward due to us based on the efforts we put in to see a raw material converted into a finished product.

Only the prominent (those who could afford the exorbitant cost of buying blankets) could wear these coveted symbols of colonial domination, so much so that a simple Paisano could spend their entire life savings to attain the ownership of a blanket with crowns and Spitfires.
This was done on the basis of allegiance based largely on colour; the very evil that split human society and thrust it into bane of strife and total chaos.
Those from one district wore a certain colour, and those from another had their own colour; sort of like a standard or banner which they wore on their persons to mark their prominence or difference when they gathered at those Pitsos.

The blanket thus became the precursor to the political colours that with the advance of time and the increasing gap from the initial day of independence in October 1966, are splitting the country into political factions.
The gap is seeing further increase and the people are drifting farther away from the original credo that begot the country its nationhood.
We were different, but Letlama bound us together into one, then the trader arrived and told us we could leave our Makupa, Matâtā, and Mekhahla for the ‘sweet’ comfort of the woollen blanket.
We wore the blanket because it was soft, we wore it because we had lost entire herds to Rinderpest and therefore could not get the hides we needed to make cowhide blankets. By wearing the blanket, we were keeping the cold freeze at bay, I think we did not realise that we were drifting away from who we really were.
The trader knew the power of the European concept of ‘status’, and by introducing it through some of the brands, he or she succeeded in dividing us on the basis of a simple glorified shawl and its imperial patterns.
The current reality is that there are Famo wars raging on the basis of blanket lines and patterns; one side wears a certain brand and pattern, and their archrivals another: and the killing fields are thus begun.
The significance of the pattern is as vital as the marks on the hide of a beast of prey, and those who don a different glorified shawl (blanket) become quarry that is riddled with bullets if they are caught unaware by the other blanket-wearing faction. In instances where they are aware of each other’s presence, sticks and stones will break backs and shatter skulls, and copper-jacketed bullets will sing their symphonies of death on their flights and ricochets through the peaceful air of the Kingdom in the Sky.
We live to wear the blanket because the notion of its beauty was imposed upon us by the colonial profiteer.
Sadly, we die defending the patterns on the same blanket made of wool shorn off the backs of our fathers’ flocks. Of what we are we do not know, of who we once were, we have totally forgotten.
The stupid shawl we bought at the cost of an arm and a leg has us mowing each other down over pride and allegiance to some stupid fool lounging in the background with his harem of shebeen queens.
The poor boys from squalid quarters of society somehow seem to think it is sensible to kill each over blankets. I believe we should have forgotten about the darn shawl when Louis Vuitton bought the right to produce the oversized nappy in new patterns. We should have by now found something else to wear.
I was not this strange creature before the piece of woven wool was put on my back by a snide profiteer who early on realised that a lot of us folks think praise is worth more than coins (well, it is not). Chanting hypocritical slogans of stupidity over passing political terms that are getting shorter with each passing election will not get us anywhere. Rather, we will soon be as far away from each other as the Arctic Sea is from the Antarctic Ocean.

If my grandfather was proud that he wore the same blanket that his chief wore, it was probably sensible to do so, because both men were still very close to their traditions.
But in an era where copyright and intellectual property are the core issues that trebuchet entire economies forward, I do not understand why I should wear a blanket whose brand is not owned by my people even though it is associated to them.

Do not tell me I own a motorbike when I do not even own a model bicycle. This culture of associating ourselves with symbols and products that do not bring in any kind of money for our communities should be done away with.  It is time the Basotho woke up to the stark sarcasm in their association to a blanket they never really owned in the first place. All they did all along was consume, consume, consume.

Of ownership of the blanket as a brand dololo! Wear it however you like, this symbol of our colonisation. Just do not bring it to my door, for I guarantee you it will fill that space on the floor of my bedroom vacated by the floor-mat that travelling vendor repossessed after I missed paying seven instalments.
This thing is not a blanket, it is a mat. Why we fight over it, defend it, worship it . . . I do not know. I guess we are just hung up on worshipping picnic cloths and bedcovers. I was before this shameful blanket came along; I still am because I never put it on my back because I hated its dank woollen smell and the smell of naphthalene (bosulu ba makhooa! ).

Tsepiso S Mothibi

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