“Decolonizing self” is a photo demonstrating the complexity of cultures and how inter twinned African and western cultures have become. The photo was taken at a traditional wedding in Kanyanya village, where African cultural practices like sitting down on the mat are proudly demonstrated. Paradoxically, decolonizing the self-starting with the dress, is not an easy process as pieces of the western culture are clearly visible, for example the sunglasses, the necklace and ear rings all show the interlinkages between cultures. The example is excellent in showing culture, history and evolution of the traditional dress and political economy for educators. The mood of the gaze is best described by former President Thabo Mbeki in his poem,” I am an African” as he proudly says, “ “Today I feel good to be an African”.
In unravelling decolonizing self, I want to start with explaining colonialism; Torres (2007) refers to colonialism as, “ a political and economic relation in which the sovereignty of a nation or people rests on the power of another nation”. He refers to coloniality as a long-standing patterns of power that emerged as a result of colonialism but that define “culture, labour, intersubjective relations and knowledge production well beyond the duration of colonial administration”. Hence, coloniality, he argues, survives colonialism and is maintained through books, music, academic performance, cultural patterns, in self-image and aspirations of self and is lived every day. It follows therefore that decolonizing self would have aspects of culture, language and daily practices that one has to get rid of. Taking an example of cultural dress, I dress in my traditional dress called the busuti or Gomesi. The image shows the dress and the Shaath (cream colour that is used to tie it). The necklace is modern shining with stones. The accessories are also western. I am sitting down on a mat made out of sisal and “nsansa- palm tree leaves. Sitting down is a cultural tradition and practice that dates back for generations. This is also a gender demonstration of roles of women who would sit on the mat to greet visitors who had come to be introduced. The practice of paying lobola (bride price) is common in Southern Africa and traverses the African continent. In the photograph, everybody dresses in the traditional dresses. It is a way of saying “I am an African” and I dress like this, “Look how smart my dress is lovely”.
Ironically, long ago, the traditional dress was made of out of the Mutuba tree- Fig tree Ficus species. They got it from the bark of the tree, which they smashed until it became flat. It was dried and then rolled out. The cloth (Kikunta or Lubugo) comprised only of a sheet, which was wrapped around, the shoulders. Over the years, the Kikoyi replaced the kikunta as it was made out of cloth- cotton. Linked to the traditional dress, is the decorative materials from India. Inside the dress is another wraparound Kikoyi that together with decorations were also from India. The image shows the material of the dress- silk with beads. This material is from India or Dubai. The modern materials are no longer traditional (Kikunta and kikoyi). The local industry has adapted to make traditional dresses out of new materials linen, nylon, chiffon or a mixture instead of cotton or Lubugo from the Mutuba tree back.
The image also demonstrates the mostly western sunglasses or gaggles. The sunglasses show the western culture I have adopted over the years. The Europeans normally put on sunglasses to protect their eyes from the sun. The occasion was held during the day as the sun was shining. It is not traditional practice to wear sunglasses. However, they help protect the shy people, as they do not have to look at all the guests. The gaze in the image is that of a woman comfortable in her body, sitting down with pride and taking pride in her tradition. This particular image was selected because it reveals the culture in transition. It is contemporary culture- a traditional wedding- a place where African Culture is luxuriously displayed. Paradoxically, the dress is traditional but the accessories are western showing the entangled nature of coloniality- the tradition African culture and the western culture, practices, all intertwined in intercultural interactions. The sunglasses may also demonstrate the cover up- hiding of self in the modern practices. Based on the above, it is not surprising that Decolonization is a layered process, which takes time and patience.
Thabo Mbeki wrote a poem, “I am an African” expresses the objective of the constitution, “It is a firm assertion made by ourselves that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, Black and White”.
As I sit on the mat and watch the bride and groom give gifts to each other, I remember the words of the former President of South Africa, “Today I feel good to be an African”.
In decolonizing self, “decolonization” that has become the rallying cry for those trying to undo the racist legacies of the past, according to Achille Mbembe. Starting with cultural dressing is the first form of decolonizing self. Other forms include decolonizing power and decolonizing knowledge.
published January 2020