African woman

Do I Make A Statement With My Natural African Hair?

I’m at that stage in my life when I have no idea what to do with my hair. It’s about slightly over an inch long (courtesy of a shave I did sometime in September last year, when I still didn’t know what to do with the full length, African mane on my head), partly chemically processed, partly natural. So on days when I’m leaving the house, I do the curl activator thing to make it look a bit presentable and comb it into an impressionable afro. If you can call it that.

This is my current hair situation. I was trying a kind of mohawk look sometime back.

This is my current hair situation. I was trying a kind of mohawk look sometime back.

 

This was my chemically processed, styled in curls hair sometime back at its full length.

This was my chemically processed, styled in curls hair sometime back at its full length. Forgive the 60s retro look that is oh, so old fashioned.

 

My once full length completely natural hair when I had belief in my original kink

My once full length completely natural hair when I still held belief in my original kink.

It’s not the first time I’m writing about hair on the blog. Because hair is a part of us. And especially African women who are blessed with kinky manes. That shrubbery on your head, if you would call it that on days that it just can’t sit right and frame your face right, always reminds you of your African roots. You can’t run away from it. You can perm it, like I have done in the past and recent past just to make it more manageable, but as soon as that growth of natural hair appears, you are reminded of your roots.

Not that it is a bad thing to be an African woman.

However, an African woman who chooses to embrace her natural kinky hair is a force to reckon with. I have seen celebrities try the no make-up look albeit successfully. I have also seen celebrities of pure African descent swear that the long, silky hair we were seeing on their heads was indeed natural. I have equally seen pictures online of natural, African hair that still didn’t look natural enough. So whenever I see an African woman walking around with what indeed looks natural and still appear confident in her skin, I silently salute her because I’m still not that confident with my natural one.

Nigerian Writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who has a penchant for rocking her natural mane. Bellanaija.com

Nigerian Writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who has a penchant for rocking her natural mane. Bellanaija.com

Take Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, for example, who is never afraid to wear her hair natural. She has actually talked about African hair in her books. She is also considered a feminist. Not the bashful kind of feminist who got the script all wrong and ended up appearing bitter instead of passing a message. Which actually brings me to my blog’s title today, Do I Make A Statement With My African Natural Hair?

In many ways, yes.

It takes a lot of courage for an African woman to choose to wear her hair natural. Not with the wide array of styles and weaves to choose from, coupled with all the tricks available, to help make your hair appear fuller and much more silkier than it originally is. Hair is considered sacred in many religions. They actually refer to hair in Islam as “ornaments” which a woman is supposed to cover, to avoid unwarranted attention such as admiration, envy, sexual attraction and the likes. This just proves how much power hair actually has and especially on a female.

Therefore, when an African woman decides to celebrate her actual hair by choosing to wear it natural, she is passing out the message that she embraces all that makes her African. Including her hair which had once been considered undesirable for a long time, by the African female fraternity due to its texture. A texture that seemed unusual when compared to Caucasian hair.

She is making a beauty statement that by deciding to take the often unpredictable natural look route, she is not fazed by the desirability factor. She is confident enough to work with what mother nature blessed her with. And trust me, African men are totally turned on by African hair on a woman’s head that is well taken care of. So a woman is not only making a statement but embracing that which makes her an African woman. It oozes confidence to the opposite sex.

And while it has taken a very long time for African women to love their natural hair, it is refreshing to see a natural hair fad in Nairobi, a city I have resided in for sometime. It speaks volumes about the liberation of the African woman, who tried sometimes unsuccessfully to achieve that silky Caucasian hair look. Who literally tied her head with a head tie on those days when she didn’t have her braids or weave on, because she was not confident enough to venture out in all her African glory.

That woman has since seen the light and is rapidly moving in a direction that celebrates what was once considered unusual. That woman can be called a feminist who accepts herself first, before she can begin to demand for gender equality and for more opportunities for the oppressed girl child. That woman is a shining light in a dark tunnel.

 

Who Said Small Town Girl Can’t Make It Big?

First and foremost, I would like to announce to my readers that I’m officially back in the blogging scene therefore, expect to see more of my posts from now henceforth.

So let’s jump right into today’s topic!

Quite recently I remembered a conversation I once had with someone I intended to date. I’m a small town born and raised girl. Well, not necessarily small town per se. I have grown up in locations considered major towns in Kenya but if you compare those major towns to Nairobi, where I currently reside, they are no match to the city. And Kenya, for my foreign readers is not a very large country. It’s big alright but not to the magnitude of Sudan, Brazil and the likes and not as small as The Central African Republic. Somewhere in the middle of very large and small. Anyways…

I have always considered our current Cabinet Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Amb. Dr. Amina Mohammed as a role model. Secretly, I have also harbored the desire to one day venture into Diplomacy.

kenyan Foreign Affairs CS, Amb. Dr. Amina Mohammed

Kenyan Foreign Affairs CS, Amb. Dr. Amina Mohammed. Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia.

So we were on a first date and somewhere along the way, my conversation with this guy veered toward school and career ambitions and for some reason, I mentioned that I would like someday to go the Diplomacy way in my career. This guy looked at me with a somewhat sympathetic smile and said, “Wewe msichana wa Nakuru uko na hizo mafikira?” For my foreign readers, he simply wondered how I thought I could make it to be a Diplomat, being a chic from Nakuru (my current hometown). Well, I was somewhat offended but being a first date, you kind of don’t show it. However, that particular subject ended at that point and we talked of other things instead.

Well, to cut a long story short, we barely dated. It didn’t work out very early on which was just as well, seeing that this guy wasn’t quite the ambitious type despite his surprisingly, good education.

Anyways, let me state to all and sundry that Amb. Amina Mohammed is actually a small town girl. A “very small” town girl who was brought up in Amalemba, Kakamega and attended schools in the then Western Province of Kenya before proceeding overseas for her university education. We talk of counties nowadays. Plus, she is of Somali descent where for a long time, educating the girl child in the community, was not considered that important. So anyone who thinks that small town girls from marginalized communities can’t make it big are thoroughly mistaken.

I tend to think that society has over time drafted this image considered “ideal” for a woman to make it big. She has to be the sophisticated type, from this exposed family, born and raised in a big city, beautiful, well traveled, of a certain skin tone…blah, blah, blah. The same happens in other parts of the world not necessarily in Africa. Just last month, a West Virginia Official in the US lost her job after referring to Outgoing First Lady of the US, Michelle Obama as an “Ape in heels”. With yet another woman of high standing, agreeing with her in the comment section of the offensive post on Facebook which read;

“It will be refreshing to have a classy, beautiful, dignified First Lady in the White House. I’m tired of seeing a Ape in heels,”

From the above incident, it is pretty obvious that society has over time set standards considered ideal, for a woman to make something of herself. And we tend to not quite believe that hard work, ambition and determination is often times all it takes, for a woman to be where she wants to be in life. I consider Michelle Obama one of those self driven women, who were ambitious enough to achieve what they wanted.

She did not come from a well to do family, but that fact did not stop her from making it to top universities to pursue her career of choice. It’s not a matter of what color her skin is or whether someone, somewhere, considers her a cousin to a primate, it’s all about what she has achieved as an individual and the possibility of a Black woman, to carry herself with such grace and end up as a First Lady of a superpower.

Many girls have been made to believe that they cannot achieve anything just from that mere fact of where they come from. Almost like their destiny has been mapped out for them by people who hardly know better. So she’s from a small town or community, then she only needs a basic education, a man to marry her and children to raise that will keep her busy.

Society does not realize that we are killing the dreams of many girls who could have otherwise made something great out of themselves. Who is society? Society is you and me who decide to give a free pass to girls from certain backgrounds just because we assume their social standing equates to success. Society is you and me who look at a woman’s skin tone and decide whether she can make it to an advertising billboard or not. Society is you and me who stereotype girls who come from remote, dusty locations as uncultured, unexposed and unworthy of any forms of success.

It might surprise you that most women who go on to become such great people came from places that can hardly be located on a map. They were not necessarily beautiful, vain or monied. They worked their way up. Got scholarships to study in prestigious universities, maximized on their special giftings and displayed a certain level of intellect that amazed all those who interacted with them.

I can’t really blame that guy I was on a date with for being stereotypical. I actually attribute his reasoning to what he has grown accustomed to seeing. Women not believing in themselves enough to come out of their areas of locality and actually achieve something tangible. It may have sounded really foreign to him that a woman somewhere thought that she could become something, he hasn’t seen other women becoming in that particular locality.

Women should stop believing in these baseless stereotypes. Women need to believe in themselves to the point where anything is possible for them to achieve. I still consider Amb. Amina Mohammed a role model. I still hope that someday, I end up in diplomacy. If it so happens, you my readers will be the first to know that I made it 😉

 

Do African Women Really Need Husbands To Keep Them In Check?

What happens when an African woman gets married?

  • People in society take her seriously.
  • She is no longer considered a threat to her married friend’s husbands.
  • She gets to sleep with one man.
  • She now has somebody to keep her in check in terms of taming her once ill habits while still unmarried.
  • She can now be accorded the status of a respected mother once children are in the picture.
  • She has a title while being identified as Mrs. So and So.

What happens when an African woman fails to get married and especially if she has children or a child from a previously failed relationship?

  • Every perverted man now feels he has the warrant to hit on her.
  • Her married friends can be excused for secretly considering her a threat to their marriages.
  • She is untamed because she has no figure of authority in the house.
  • She must be slutty for choosing to remain unmarried and especially if there is evidence of children.
  • Who beds her?!
  • She probably set unrealistic standards that ended up in her being single.
  • She is damaged goods.

And what happens when an African woman fails to get married, has a child/children or no child and is highly successful in her career?

  • Well, some influential man contributed significantly in her climb on the career ladder.
  • She’s free to use her body in whichever way to get ahead. No inhibitions. I mean, she has no husband…

About two weeks back, I attended a Girlfriend’s Confidential Talk in Nairobi and when the floor was opened for women to share their views, literally every unmarried woman mentioned something concerning the pressure to get married that some were already facing. The theme behind the talk was totally different but it was not long before the conversation veered off toward marriage and the expectations that the African society places on women concerning it.

A Ghanaian traditional marriage. Photo courtesy of www.pinterest.com

A Ghanaian traditional marriage. Photo courtesy of http://www.pinterest.com

There’s a notion in Africa that a woman needs to have a husband in order to be kept in check. Single women in top positions in our country have often been criticized bitterly concerning their marital status. It almost seems like nobody in Africa wants to believe that someone can remain unmarried at a certain age and be totally normal. There has to be something wrong with that person according to many. And it sometimes goes both ways with unmarried African men in their 40s and 50s being considered selfish and irresponsible to choose to avoid starting families.

African women approaching marriageable age with no fiance in sight have been known to go to crazy lengths just to speed up the marriage process. I was a child or pre-teen then, I can’t remember, when some preacher decided to show up in Nairobi with a promise that after his crusade, all the women present will be contacted by their future husbands. As ridiculous as it sounded, Kenyan women turned up in droves all jostling to get space in the already crowded stadium where the crusade was being held.

The pressure for an African woman to get a husband is pretty much intense. As you approach your late twenties and seem not to have an eligible character in sight, your elder sisters, mum and aunts will begin questioning frequently when your boyfriend will be visiting. I think the most appalling thing I heard from a close relative was to hurry up and get married before my arms got flabby. Apparently, according to some, women age faster than men. And in Africa, we do not quite want to believe that an older woman can indeed get a husband.

We associate marriage with a woman having a husband who ensures she tows the line. No wonder all the tag names that single women and mothers have to endure being branded. Marriage is a wonderful thing but many times the “Wives submit to your husbands” Biblical phrase is usually taken out of context. Marriage is then made to seem like only the woman has an obligation to the husband to be obedient and to follow his direction.

We forget the Biblical phrase “Husbands love your wives just like Christ loved the church”. So it is not only women who are obligated to obey the husband and to submit to him and to allow themselves to be kept in check. Husbands have an obligation too to love their wives unconditionally. How will it be possible for a woman to submit to a man who does not show any slightest signs of love for her?

Love does not only encompass romance and sex. There are many aspects of love that ensure that the act of submission of a wife to a husband is easily and willingly, effected. Love includes care, support, understanding, encouragement, wise counsel, guidance, tolerance. It is only when both African men and women understand this that the stereotype of African women needing husbands to be kept in check will go.

As a matter of fact, you do not need a man to keep you in check. Your own individual principles are enough to keep you in check. Every person has different principles. Principles are varied and choosing to be and act in a certain way depends on an individual’s perspectives. So even if an African woman who has always been a rebel got married, a husband will not successfully change that. It may even be a cause for their separation or divorce. And that is the main reason why compatibility in a partner is particularly important when choosing someone to date possibly leading to marriage.

I feel like many African women fail to reach their full potential while single because their minds are preoccupied with the pressure to get married and the fear of their success while single being associated with sleeping around. Marriage is a personal choice and there is absolutely no wrong in a woman choosing to concentrate on career and fulfilling her dreams first before settling down in marriage. We all seek self fulfillment at some point in life.

It would indeed be a tragedy if a woman rushed into marriage to beat the biological clock and got kept in check by a husband so much that all she ever wanted to achieve got buried 6 feet under. We need to understand the concept of marriage rather than confusing it with a husband’s right to domination of a wife. Because this whole keeping in check argument is in essence a form of patriarchal, chauvinistic thinking needing to be done away with.

Thoughts?

 

I recently got the opportunity to join the contribution team of Conor Boyle’s amazing blog The Conversation Room. You can keep up with some of my posts and Conor’s work on http://www.theconversationroomblog.wordpress.com

 

 

The African Pressure For Grandchildren

Slightly over a month back, 27 year old Kenyan woman Jackline Mwende suffered the brutality of domestic violence when her husband of 7 years, Stephen Ngila chopped off her hands after a gruesome machete attack in their home. Reason behind the attack; In their marriage period, Mwende had not borne him any children.

However, the story takes a turn for the worse when it came to light that the root cause behind the couple not having any children was in fact due to Ngila’s infertility. This had been previously proven at a clinical facility. But being an African man sadly with the chauvinistic thinking that men cannot fail to produce offspring, Ngila went ahead and attacked his wife. Slashing her across the face and back then chopping off both of her hands.

Jackline Mwende on the left with injuries after the attack and her husband, Ngila on the right after arrest by the Police. Image courtesy of nairobinews.co.ke

Jackline Mwende ( left) with injuries after the attack and her husband, Ngila (right) after arrest by the Police. Image courtesy of nairobinews.co.ke

It was a tale that left a sour taste in the mouth and got men and women alike outraged and speaking up against it. Women leaders  visited Mwende in her father’s home where she was recuperating and later, in hospital where companies pledged to come to her aid with prosthetic limbs and a decent monthly stipend.

Mwende may have gotten a great deal of help after her ordeal but her limbs are not going to be the same again. The scars she now bears will often be a cruel reminder to her, how brutal domestic violence and patriarchy can often times turn out to be.

But was the pressure to bear children only coming from her husband Ngila? I can’t help but ask.

With all due respect to both families involved in the aforementioned , I will choose not to use them as a reference point for my argument. However, I will choose to look at the African societal set up instead.

In Africa, children have often been associated with being a source of wealth. Indeed parents who bore many children in the olden times needed not worry for it was assumed that they would have helpers in old age. We may have moved from the olden, primitive times but Africans still hold on to the notion that children are especially important in a marriage to complete the family unit.

It is not entirely uncommon to find African women who have faced enough castigation from in-laws simply for the sole reason that they had not borne their son a child/children. Many African families equally value the boy child and an African woman in such a familial set up would give birth to as many as 6 or 7 or 8 children just looking for a boy.

The fear often being that if she does not bear her husband a boy child, then he will definitely go in search of another woman to marry who can give him boys. These things are happening up to date in African society. I reside in Nairobi myself, the hub of East Africa, a capital city and I still encounter stories of real life educated people, who are actively seeking to conceive boy children as if the girl children they have are not human enough.

The pressure from the parents of the husband and sometimes, from those of the wife not doing much to help matters. The idea behind this usually being that the grandparents yearn to see their grandchildren which they consider a blessing to live up to the point of seeing children of your children.

Often times, these aged parents may not see how much their demands may be affecting a couple trying unsuccessfully to conceive. I mean, why do you think rogue pastors in African society are raking in big bucks just from offering false hope to childless couples? It is this pressure for grandchildren sometimes leading to sarcastic remarks from in laws directed many times to the woman and the husband being urged to get a fertile wife to bear him children.

There are many African women who have been cast aside by their husbands because the family had no children. In Africa, unlike the West, you cannot just decide not to have children as a woman. Society expects you to have children by a certain age. As a woman fast approaching my late twenties, I nowadays frequently encounter individuals who assume I’m already a mother. Not that it bothers me. As a matter of fact, I chuckle at their assumptions for I identify it as an African thing.

A wedding photo. Image courtesy of www.brides.com

A wedding photo. Image courtesy of http://www.brides.com

However, the tragedy behind this pressure for children/grandchildren is that African women get blamed for there not being the existence of offspring. Africans do not believe that a man can be infertile even if medical tests prove so. There’s this often stupid belief that African men are fertile, studs in bed. If there are no children, then it definitely has to be the woman. She has to be blamed. She has to be punished for it. She deserves to be added another wife who will bear children.

It is a backward belief. A chauvinistic kind of thinking that makes many African men shy away from infertility treatment. They just don’t want to face and admit the fact that the problem can be both ways and that there is nothing wrong with that. Treatment of either party addressing the underlying issue can solve this. They instead choose to ride on the wave of a false belief of an African man being powerful enough sexually to produce children.

So you can already tell how much mental torture an African woman goes through if she does not get children within an expected period in marriage. The husband may even justify the domestic violence with the fact that “Mwanamke amekataa kunizalia” (A woman has refused to bear me children). As if a normal functioning woman with motherly instincts may just make an intentional decision to irk her husband by not getting any children.

As a modern woman who has become exposed to other societal views, I think that the decision to have children by a couple should be theirs alone. I also urge African men to open their minds to the world of medicine. Infertility can be both ways. There is no shame in it. There is medical help for it. Bearing children is not only a woman’s thing. When two people come together with the intention of conceiving, it is a joint decision. The child will bear both of their DNAs.

How ironic that African children are considered to belong to the father yet when it comes to matters conceiving and family planning, it is the woman who is often blamed or tasked with that? Food for thought, per se.

 

Are African Men Entirely Clueless On Romance?

I recently stumbled on a comment on some Kardashian related post. Someone had posed this question in what seemed like anger, disgust even; “why are all the Kardashian women dating Black men?!” I must admit that I have in the recent past equally got puzzled by the choice of men to date or get married to in the Kardashian family. Whenever I pore over Kardashian related news and  comments, I always seem to get the idea that Americans are pretty tired of having this family constantly shoved into their faces by the media. Well, Americans, you are not alone.

You see even here in Africa, Kenya to be precise, we are starting to get a little too tired of all the Kardashian themed shows that seem to dominate the E channel. And while quite a number of women genuinely admire the Kardashians’ fashion sense, yet a sizeable number gets really irked by the domination of this family on the media. So fret not brothers and sisters, we are in the same boat of irritation, if we choose to put it like that.

Kim Kardashian and hubby Kanye. Photo courtesy of www.people.com

Kim Kardashian and hubby Kanye. Photo courtesy of http://www.people.com

As a Kenyan woman, I’m very aware of how we tend to rate our fellow Kenyan men on a lower scale while compared to the European and American men or any man who is not of African descent. It’s really interesting that nowadays, I tend to bump into interracial couples on almost a daily basis with of course the man being White and the woman, Kenyan. I mean, these White men are very romantic when compared to the normal African man who probably grew up in the village, went to school at some point barefoot and only landed in the city for campus, we may be tempted to reason.

Well, I would like to question what romance really means to some women. Is romance the ability of a man to be loaded (with cash of course) and to spoil a woman silly, upgrade her even? Or is romance the tendency of a man to treat you right, to listen to you, to support you, to comfort you while in distress and to respect you as a woman and the role you play in his life? If we choose to look at romance from these two perspectives, then I begrudgingly have to admit that most of us Kenyan women or just to be fair, African women are lost.

I have no idea whatsoever why the Kardashian women settle on their choices of Black men but seeing how high maintenance these women come across to be, I tend to reason that these Black men are up to the game. Could be to boost their ratings, who knows? It would be unwise of me to carry on with my list of probabilities seeing that I’m Kenyan born and bred.

However, there was a wide range of wealthy romantic White men for these women to take their pick from but they instead settled on these particular men. Could it be far fetched for us to actually conclude that the Black men in the Kardashian women’s lives are actually romantic? And that the poser of the aforementioned question, happened to be a Black/African woman who over time has accepted the stereotype that Black men are no good or only good for Black women, so why are these White women with them in the first place?

I have nothing against an African woman choosing to date a White man. But if at all she’s of the notion that African men are clueless on romance and therefore her choice to date the former, then I have a problem. We have to admit that as Africans, for the longest time possible we have battled esteem issues with our kind. Why do we have this idea that we are inferior when compared to other races and therefore consider the weaknesses of our African men, as something that is equally inferior to other races? Is it because we allowed our once oppressors to totally brainwash us into believing that nothing good can come out of our race? Just to make things straight, our once oppressors being the colonial masters of many years gone by.

Well, it might surprise you that domestic violence is also an occurrence in countries in the West and is perpetrated by equally, men of descents that are nothing close to being African. So that is not reason enough to dismiss our African men with the notion that they can be violent toward women. Men looking down on women happens all over the world. It simply depends on the mindset of a man and at times has nothing whatsoever, to do with culture or how the man has been socialized to view women after circumcision. Yet another reason that is not justification enough to rate our African men poorly. Levels of civilization depend on one’s open mindedness and if he is not willing to be civilized, then you have no business being with him. However, there are numerous African men who are civilized or act as urbanites and not countrymen if we are to be blunt in that sense.

Media has contributed greatly in giving African women the false illusion that White men are better in matters love and treatment than the normal African man. African women on the other hand are wrong to judge the African man based on how society has groomed him to be a man. We do not expect our African men to hold hands in public and to plant wet kisses on our lips in full view of everyone just to appreciate us, yet we secretly do. To be honest, most African societies frown on emotional men. Even in funerals which are obviously sad and painful affairs, men in many African societies are expected to remain strong and not shed a tear in public even if it happens to be their wives who have passed on. We then have our Mexican soaps where men openly shed tears while professing their love to women and we subconsciously internalize that to mean romance?!

Romance should not be gauged by one’s race. As a matter of fact, romance has absolutely nothing to do with race. And if as a woman you desire to have a romantic man in your life, then perhaps it is time that you truly appreciated yourself to the point where even an African man will see the need to romance you.

 

 

 

 

 

Of Body Art And Beauty Politics

What crosses your mind when you see a heavily tattooed woman?

genevieveng.com

genevieveng.com

Well, I kinda was confronted by that question a couple of hours back. I walked into a shop and one of the shop attendants was a woman, with lots of tattoos on her arms as well as a large flower detailed one on her lower back. You might wonder how I was able to make out that she had a tattoo on her lower back. Well, this particular woman who is every inch African, was wearing a daring cut out blouse that was literally open at the back so you could get an ample peek of her bra as well as the tattoo.

I emphasize on the word African because the tattoo craze has only caught up in Kenya a couple of years ago. Back in 2003, you could walk up and down a street all day long and not spot a single soul with a tattooed arm or neck or whatever. For those who are African and have been born and brought up in Africa like me, they probably know how much religious Africans are. We tend to attach every little detail of life to what religion states and since the Bible forbids one from putting permanent markings on their skin, tattoos are still being frowned upon by many of the older and younger generation alike.

Most people of the above reasoning tend to associate the putting of tattoos on one’s body with being devilish. However, for quite a large number of people from this generation, tattoos just like ear piercings are a form of body art. A way to express oneself. Well, if being tattooed wasn’t entirely a painful process, perhaps I would be having one teeny tiny one myself. I’m not so big on several tattoos on one’s body but I must admit that I have previously (and in the recent past) yearned to have one small one. If I was the very daring type, perhaps 3 small ones in different locations. However, it’s not something that I’ve finally concluded to do. Fleeting thoughts if I choose to look at it from that angle.

Some religious denominations equally discourage body piercings in addition to tattoos. There are members of certain denominations who would not dare wear earrings or any jewellery. All these things are usually attributed to some demonic origin thus the shunning. Well, Christians tend to be divided in the aforementioned reasoning. I personally have had my piercings from a very young age and I now consider them a part of me. The first pair of ear piercings I got at 6 years of age and the second pair at 10. I sleep in my studs, shower in them and only part with them when I want to change earrings into something more fancier.

I tend to believe that the Israelites too donned a lot of jewellery. When Moses in the Bible went up to the mountain and these people who seemed to possess such little faith, decided to remove all of their jewellery and make a golden calf to worship, that must have been a ton of jewellery. As a kid, we once visited the Gede ruins in the Coastal region of my country on a school trip and one of the photos I saw and remember, in the mini museum at the historical site, has this Arabic woman wearing so much jewellery including a quite heavy looking nose ring. I had never known people adorned their noses with other things other than studs before and therefore, remained quite puzzled for a while, long after the school trip was over.

Africans too have been known to fancy tribal markings. This is more like the tattoo version of Africa. Surprisingly, the idea behind some of these tribal markings was to enhance the beauty of a woman. I have witnessed Sudanese citizens currently residing in Kenya with wavy tribal markings on their foreheads that are permanent, men and women alike. I once mentioned that to a friend and with a puzzled look on his face, he stated that he had never noticed these kinds of markings on our Kenyan-Sudanese counterparts. I reminded him to pay close attention next time and he will surely spot this.

It might come as a surprise to many Kenyans of the latter day generation that some communities too in our country had tribal marks. However, you can hardly spot any Kenyan nowadays with tribal markings since these are practices that have been completely phased out over time. Save for the Maasais, Turkanas and Samburus who still elongate their earlobes, it is quite rare to encounter a Kenyan with tribal markings across the face or body. So we can confidently state that human beings have always possessed this fixation with body art for eons. That doesn’t mean that those actively pursuing the culturally motivated ones are primitive or in need of serious enlightenment.

On the tattooed woman I met today, well, I personally still get a little surprised seeing all those tattoos on someone. I’m not one to impose what I believe on another. I’m also very aware that there are a lot of stereotypes attached to people who decide to get tattoos. We may be tempted to brand them as misfits, ungodly or rebels. Perhaps people who have no intention whatsoever of ever being employed in a sober organization. Being a third world, Africans tend to place a lot of emphasis on education for a better life. We are guilty of overlooking the Arts or someone’s creativity in making a living. That’s what the missionaries drummed into our heads. Education is the ticket to success.

Well, it might come as a surprise to many that there are people out there who have no intention whatsoever of ever getting white collar jobs. Who do not care whether a tattoo is on their face, wrists or wherever. That is simply their choice. We also vary greatly in our choices of body art and while I will always prefer ear piercings over large tattoos someone of another thought may view tattoos as the way to go. Such is the diversity of different personalities.

So what crosses your mind when you see tattoos on anyone?

 

 

 

African Men And Polygamy

Are African men naturally polygamous?

I got thinking about this after a story surfaced on the internet sometime last week concerning the African country of Eritrea. It was alleged by an unknown source, that the Eritrean government had passed a law requiring all men to take up two wives or a second wife or face life imprisonment. The story has since been proven to be a hoax according to http://www.tesfanews.net/eritrea-forced-polygamy-story-exposed/ 

Knowing how creative and hilarious Kenyans can get, the news immediately sparked a horde of memes mainly communicating the glee and anticipation that the story had caused in Kenyan men. Almost like they all couldn’t wait to get a go ahead to woo and marry Eritrean women considered very pretty together with their Ethiopian counterparts in the African continent. The author of the above post on the link provided, has quite some harsh words to say with regards to the reaction, the supposed hoax of a story caused.

I’m not basing my post only on Kenyan men but on African men in general. For generations, most African men have been painted to be polygamous by nature. The practice of polygamy is so deeply ingrained in some African countries that their own leaders have no qualms, getting several wives and being actually proud of it. After all, it is considered normal for an African man to prove his manliness by not sticking to one wife.

African women on the other hand are expected to go along with the flow and accommodate the additional wives. They should consider it healthy competition and accept that their men’s needs have to be met. They should actually keep up with the timetable if there happens to be one, dictating what days of the week or month the husband will visit particular homes of his many wives.

After the introduction of Christianity in my country, many Kenyan men felt embarrassed to openly exhibit their polygamous sides and therefore opted to keep concubines. For some whom the polygamous bug had bitten them to the point of no return, one woman could have been wedded in church thus paraded as the legitimate wife while the other could have been wedded traditionally.

Of course once the secret leaked that this man had more than one wife other than the one people were used to seeing, the man would indeed be at horrible pains to explain his situation and especially, if he had a position of some sort in the church. No wonder the need for our own president to sign a bill into law permitting men to marry additional wives even if the first wife does not approve of it in 2014. I have a feeling that the African patriarchal way of thinking regarding polygamy pushed the president to do this.

With the emergence of the HIV/AIDS virus at some point in time, a couple of polygamous homes suffered gravely. Many homes too, where the husband kept a concubine or side chick were not spared either from the spread of the deadly virus. Suddenly, polygamy did not seem all that fashionable if people in marriages got infected with HIV and had to suffer the consequences of living with the virus. But still, a huge section of African men felt that they could not survive with only one woman.

Is this really true? Could this be a myth that over time turned into a fact for some?

Polygamy in my view, is another form of cheating in a marriage that is only coated with terms of culture, tradition or male nature. In these times where the economy is never that favorable, you cannot quite convince me that a polygamous man will give his extensive family the very best of his abilities. As per my understanding, one cannot serve two masters.

Many Africans for the polygamy idea may argue that most men who take up additional wives are in fact capable of providing for the whole brood of children as well as the wives. After all, polygamy is yet another sign of wealth in Africa. However, a man with over 12 children from different women may find it difficult to give all of his children and wives his undivided attention, education and livelihood of a similar standard. Of course there is the school of thought that the women should understand the situation and live with it.

But could it be the reason why many co-wives suffer bitter rivalry among themselves all through their lives? There is no one woman who is similar to another and in such a situation, the man may tend to favor one woman over all the others. It is human nature to develop preferences over some things of a similar nature. Jealousy is bound to arise as well as unhealthy competition. It may be hidden in some situations but deep down, it will always exist only to further hamper the success of the whole family. You may even encounter children of a particular wife being more learned than children of the other wives or vice versa.

A section of people advocating for polygamy look at it from the Biblical point of view. Indeed some notable men in the Old Testament of the Bible had more than one wife and God endorsed it. Why is it now considered a taboo in some circles to be polygamous? It should be noted that in Biblical times, population was not as dense as it is in modern ages. Perhaps it was God’s way of fulfilling his multiply and fill the earth law if we choose to look at it that way. It should be remembered too that Jesus Christ in the New Testament came to amend many of the laws that had existed in previous times.

Patriarchal societies have however seemed to twist the whole idea to suit their patriarchal needs over time. African women are now expected to put up with this culturally endorsed form of cheating by turning a blind eye to their men’s philandering ways or welcoming a new wife in the house. Quite recently, there was a story of a Kenyan woman whose own adopted daughter ended up stealing her husband and her husband blaming her for it.

It is despicable really that many choose to justify their lustful transgressions by riding on the wave of polygamy being a male nature. However, polyandry should be frowned upon and such a woman stoned to death if possible. If African women should have no qualms whatsoever sharing their husbands, shouldn’t the African men too have no qualms sharing their wives?

Issues of polygamy in African societies can transform into a raging debate of sorts. I however firmly believe that polygamy is based on personal choice and not biology as many would like us to believe.

 

 

 

Has Africa Done Enough To Cub FGM?

Should these girls face FGM? Photo courtesy of globalhealthstudents.blogs.ku.dk

Should these girls face FGM? Photo courtesy of globalhealthstudents.blogs.ku.dk

In 2011, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was outlawed in Kenya. A law was equally passed clearly outlining the illegality of practicing FGM or taking someone out of the country, to have the procedure done. However, despite a law banning FGM existing in my country, some communities still actively engage in the heinous practice till date.

According to a definition by WHO, UNICEF and UNFPA in 1997, FGM is the partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. World Health Organisation (WHO) goes further to expound that an estimated 91.5 million girls and women above the age of 9 in Africa are currently living with the consequences of FGM. A further 3 million girls in reference to the report by WHO, are at a risk of undergoing the cut every year.

Indeed as I was going through the FGM related images on the Internet for this post, I couldn’t help but find a huge chunk of them to be too graphic for myself and I believe, my readers too. I chose to settle on a milder form of the images. But is there really a milder form of FGM for those women who have undergone the worst form of it and have to further undergo reconstructive surgery in order to consummate their marriages? Worst case scenario, die in the process or develop complications during delivery because of being victims of the cut?

I sought to understand what lies in the mindset of female circumcisers and ended up stumbling on an article dated July 3rd 2015, by Felicity Thistlethwaite on the website http://www.express.co.uk. Two female circumcisers had been interviewed by MailOnline in their village in Kenya (Names have been omitted for this post to avoid ethnic profiling).

Woman 1 had this to say about the deeply entrenched practice in her community;

Girls are cut to ensure they remain faithful because the sexual organ is not there anymore. When you are cut you will not be like a slut looking for men here and there like a prostitute. You are docile waiting for your husband because after you are cut, sex is for having children not for anything else.

Woman 2 further added;

When you are cut, that is when you grow healthily into a woman because the bad blood is not there anymore. In the body, there is good blood and bad blood. After a girl is cut, the bad blood is gone.

Just by looking at these women’s reasoning, it was quite evident to me that a female’s sexuality has always proven to be a bone of contention. In most societies in Africa and across the world practicing FGM, the main intention is usually to tame the girl child from being sexually active before marriage. We can also capture a patriarchal kind of brainwashing in women toward what marital sex constitutes.

If sex in marriage is only for making babies and nothing else, then happens a situation whereby the husband craves sex but with no intention of getting his wife pregnant, then will sex in marriage have lost its meaning? And is it in order to conclude that women do not desire to engage in intercourse with their husbands except in situations where they have a plan to conceive? How then can we explain troubled marriages whose main cause is them being devoid of sex?

Indeed, there lies quite deep connotations of patriarchy in this whole business of FGM in societies which actively pursue the practice. It may come out as cheap feminism banter if we decided to question the liberal nature that has been accorded men when it comes to their sexuality, in comparison to the subdued nature accorded to the women’s sexuality?

And while FGM has always been painted to seem like it advocates for morality in matters sex, truly, its main intention is to further oppress the weaker sex in society, and that is the woman. To deny her a voice and a right to own her sexuality. To equally deny her a right to exercise her own self control while giving the stronger sex, the upper hand to decide what to do with regards to what should actually be a female responsibility.

Some of you may argue that no man participates in the cutting of women and that women, in most cases are actually willing to undergo it. I attribute this fact to the patriarchal brainwashing I previously mentioned. When you live in a society where the major decisions are being undertaken by one gender, then it becomes acceptable over time and a way of life. Unless enlightened, sadly, the situation remains the same and you will find women echoing what has been put in place for generations. They will not even think of questioning its validity in their lives.

You may agree with me that most of the societies engaging in active FGM are societies that lie on the deeply entrenched patriarchal spectrum. And that after the girls are circumcised then they are considered ready for marriage. Why not ready for other aspects pertaining to their lives as women? I leave that for you to judge. Yet FGM is considered a must for women in these societies and a woman who has failed to undergo it is subject to malicious gossip, shunning and taunts.

Apart from the sexual aspect of FGM, the girls are equally exposed to a horde of other risks. There is the risk of contracting the virus due to the poor sterilization standards of the crude razor blades used, bleeding to death, experiencing difficulty in delivery as well as the whole experience being traumatic for the girl.

I once watched a docu series where a circumcised girl in one of the communities in my country, had to walk kilometers after the practice under the hot sun in pain and bleeding. And all the while villagers awarded her with notes of cash. How that is supposed to prepare someone for womanhood beats my logic as the only interpretation I’m getting from it is that, this girl will probably conclude that womanhood is often traumatic. I fear that she may never view her womanhood as a cause for celebration and equally fulfilling.

An expose at the turn of the year by NTV’s Enock Sikolia on FGM among one of the communities in Kenya where the practice is heavily rampant, revealed that some trained nurses also perform the cut on unsuspecting, uncircumcised, pregnant women as soon as they go into labor. I found this unsettling in so many different angles.

First, a nurse is someone who has been to medical school and is therefore literate as well as enlightened on the dangers of FGM. Second, a nurse is someone a patient trusts to handle them professionally. Third, circumcising a vulnerable woman in the throes of labor pain is akin to maliciously abusing this woman physically and emotionally, while overlooking her right to stay uncircumcised. It would therefore be in order for parliament to pass a law that will ensure such rogue nurses, are liable for prosecution if it is ascertained that they indeed did circumcise a pregnant woman in labor.

The expose further shed light on the circumcisers change of tact. Instead of performing the practice during the expected periods by authorities, keen on pouncing on such offenders, they opted to circumcise girls at a much younger age or in hospitals. Here is where the role of some of the nurses came in. However, as a result of pressure from the community, many married women had voluntarily decided to get circumcised in a bid to save face. A sad state of affairs.

WHO states that the prevalence of FGM varies significantly between regions with ethnicity as the most decisive factor. The specific FGM procedure performed also varies by ethnicity. As of 2008/9 the prevalence of FGM in Kenyan women and girls between the ages of 15-49 years was 27.1% (www.compassion.com)

An article by Silas Irungu, a Compassion Kenya, Field Communications Specialist titled Fleeing the Knife on the website mentioned above narrates;

Young (insert tribe name) women undergo female circumcision as part of an elaborate rite of passage that initiates young girls into adulthood and ultimately early marriage.

The practice is deeply ingrained in the culture such that women who have not gone through it are not considered for marriage or if married, the bride price is heavily discounted much to the disappointment of the bride’s family.

Silas Irungu goes on to state;

The law in Kenya prohibits female circumcision and other cultural practices considered to be violence against women. It is difficult to prosecute the perpetrators of FGM because of cultural allegiance. Usually the practice is done in private under the cover of darkness.

To sum it all up, FGM is a thorn in the flesh and it is quite refreshing to witness many anti-FGM women crusaders up in arms against the practice in Kenya. Educational centres have been set up in communities where the practice is rampant, with an aim to shield young girls keen on pursuing their education, from undergoing the cut and being married off. Former Marakwet East MP, Linah Jebii Kilimo is one of the many high profile women against the heinous practice of FGM. She rose up to become a female leader in her community, despite being uncut.

Which firmly proves that if the African girl child is to truly prosper, then the practice of FGM needs to transform into a thing of the past. A retrogressive aspect of culture to be shunned and forgotten. Despite the many loopholes that we face in completely eradicating this practice, with one voice as Africa, it can be achieved.

What has your African country done to cub FGM?

 

African Women And Sexism: Sara Baartman

As I was going through my Facebook Newsfeed earlier in the day, a status update caught my attention. It was something to do with an African woman once upon a time in history, being displayed to curious onlookers as a result of her unusually large derriere. As is my nature, I quickly Googled the story and what I read presented to me the worst form of sexism and racial discrimination that an African woman has ever had to endure.

I have to say that being a Kenyan, I have been very lucky to be spared racial discrimination of any kind during my lifetime. Not that I’m gloating over that fact knowing that there are quite a number of Africans in their own respective African nations, who have unfortunately had to endure being treated as minorities by foreigners in their land. My forefathers did suffer racial discrimination and especially during the colonial times. I’m sure it was a really tough and annoying time for them. Other people from races considered minorities by some backward minded individuals, still continue to suffer racial discrimination in this day and era.

Again, I consider myself very lucky to have been spared most of the harsh sexism that other women have unfortunately had to endure or grapple with on a daily basis. That doesn’t mean that acts of sexism do not elicit any form of reaction from me! As a matter of fact, just the mere thought of a woman being discriminated against because of her sex makes my blood boil with rage!

I consider it an injustice of the highest order for this poor woman called Sara ‘saartjie’ Baartman to be lured from her home country of South Africa under the guise of going overseas to work as a domestic servant and to be exhibited for entertainment purposes. It is said that she did sign a contract for it before leaving which is highly unlikely considering the fact that she definitely was illiterate. For my readers who are getting a bit confused, Sara is the woman I read about today after seeing the status update concerning her.

Born in the 1700s in the current Eastern Cape of South Africa, Sara was a Khoikhoi woman who was sold to London to work as a domestic servant as well as for the entertainment purposes. She was about 20 years old at the time. She would later be nicknamed Hottentot Venus. The reason why she was considered an entertainment of sorts was the fact that due to a medical condition, she had unusually large buttocks.

In addition to that, it was rumored that Khoikhoi women had elongated labias which hang down almost 3 to 4 inches in some women. This was attributed to the fact that since Africans were considered savages then, the body parts that were of normal size in other normal  human beings had to be abnormal in size in the so called “relatives of apes”. Don’t ask me why but I simply do not know what kind of weed the scholars of that age were smoking.

A disturbing picture indeed of onlookers "marveling" at Sara's so called unusual asset. Picture courtesy of www.telegraph.co.uk

A disturbing picture indeed of onlookers “marveling” at Sara’s so called unusual asset. Picture courtesy of http://www.telegraph.co.uk

You see, being from a community that definitely practiced labia elongation in women, Sara could not have been spared from the practice. Labia stretching, also referred to as labia elongation or labia pulling, is the act of elongating the labia minora through manual manipulation (pulling) or physical equipment (such as weights), according to a definition by Wikipedia. The practice happens in Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Malawi and some countries in Sub Saharan Africa. The Khoisan were equally known for it.

However, to the onlookers on Piccadilly street in London where Sara was paraded due to her skin coloring and the behind, her elongated labia was equally an oddity attributed to some African sexual stereotype. But Sara refused to expose her private parts considered sacred in her community though many would have liked to gawk at them and always had them covered in a small piece of garment.

Her exploitation caused an uproar among abolitionist circles. However the fact that it was claimed and proven that she had signed a contract, her exploitation was made to appear consensual on her part. Eventually, Sara was sold to a French man who took her to Paris where she continued to be exhibited in a cage together with a baby rhinoceros. She would later end up prostituting and bordering on alcoholism.

After her death at around 26 years of age, naturalist George Cuvier was given custody of her body which he made a plaster cast of, took out her brains and genitalia which he preserved in laboratory bottles.It is said that as late as 1975, Sara’s genitalia and brains were being displayed in a museum in Paris.

When I look at this whole narration of what this woman was put through I can only attribute it to the fact that her naivete was thoroughly taken advantage of. In addition, the racial stereotypes of the time contributed greatly to her exploitation. I find it the worst form of women degradation bordering on the primitive. The fact that a woman’s body part considered out of the ordinary can be put on show for people to amuse themselves is truly sickening. Worst case scenario is the go ahead given to the naturalist to continue making fun of her bodily aspects in death in the name of research.

I am indeed glad that I was born in the 20th century where racial stereotypes of such a magnitude had somehow been completely done away with. It is clear that even in primitive societies, there was objectification of women based on what was considered curious or sexually odd by their onlookers as opposed to sexually enticing in this age. Perhaps the stress of one’s private part being put on display, gawked at, groped, made fun of and  equally the pain of being equated to a wild animal on a daily basis is what drove Sara to a life of prostitution and alcoholism in the end.

It may have been painted to seem like she was a savage without feelings yet this was an African woman who was as normal as the women of other races then. The only difference was her skin color and level of exposure or education! And maybe what was considered an unusually large butt then could just have been an average big butt today! How times change that big butts nowadays are considered a must have by a section of women and men alike!

Seeing how disturbing her story is, I can now understand why a South African chief told off celebrity,  Beyonce, for wanting to write and star in a film based on the life of Sara. South Africans still have a long way to go when it comes to matters healing. This is a country that suffered the extremities of colonial injustices for the longest time possible on the African continent. I can only understand why they would not want to stir up the racial discrimination they have endured in the past, with a film on a fellow country woman who underwent the worst form of it starred by a foreigner.

Perhaps they have a preference to let the past remain in the past if at all it only conjures painful memories. And isn’t it time that Sara was finally allowed to rest in peace?

Additional sources from a couple of articles on the Internet on the life and times of Sara Baartmann.

 

The African Woman’s Natural Hair Diaries

Let’s talk about the African woman’s natural hair.

Forget about the amazing, edited photos we see online of African women with sleek, black “natural” hair braided into cornrows or held up in fancy hairstyles, that make you somehow insecure with your own mane. As a matter of fact, I tried my level best just to find authentic, natural hair images from the Internet for this post.

Let’s talk about our own African, natural hair as we know it. Kinky, often times unmanageable, which hardly grows to our desired lengths or if it does, then thanks to our blessed genes. Let’s face the real truth of our African hair from a feminist perspective.

African natural hair comes with its bagful of challenges.

In my country Kenya, for example, some of the communities famed to have nearly all of their women with naturally long, soft, manageable hair happen to notably be the Maasai, Samburu, Somali and communities from Northern Kenya such as the Borana, Gabra and the likes. Other women from other communities who may possess such kind of hair, considered beautiful by many, may attribute it to familial genes.

As a clarification of my statements above, there are African women with naturally, long, soft hair doesn’t matter from which community they come from, (though there are those from communities that have a distinct hair texture) and African women as well, with kinky, shorter hair.

A shy but beautiful Samburu woman. Photo courtesy of http://www.beontheroad.com

For most of my life, I have struggled with hair. It is the kinky type. The one that a blow dryer cannot even manage. It has it’s good days and oh, so many bad days, that I would be forced to tie a turban to avoid the embarrassment of a bad hair day. I have been tempted to perm it before. I have actually gone ahead and had my hair chemically processed, just to avoid the hassle of natural hair which shrinks when it comes into contact with water.

Please do not be fooled by the picture below. This is my natural hair at its finest. There are days when I swore I would shave it all off and I know many African women secretly struggle with hair issues. We just don’t say it aloud because we believe that we are past that stage of constantly fretting about hair. But then it is a known fact that hair makes a woman. How a woman wears her hair determines her whole look. We look different every time we come from a salon which is proof of this.

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Good Hair Day Image Of My Own Natural Hair

 

There is a contributing factor to this struggle with our hair though. Society long came up with a gauge of what is considered beautiful and what is considered not beautiful. Africans have sadly endured periods of oppression in the past, where their oppressors appeared to have “better” hair, “better” looks and “better” opportunities than them. We were socialized to find something wrong with ourselves from our way of life, to our looks. We developed a desire to emulate what was considered ideal. If we didn’t achieve it, we felt at a loss on what to do and our insecurities set in.

I’m not employing a victim mentality by stating the above, far from it! However, most of the insecurities that African women have with their hair, is mainly due to the fact that it does not grow to amazing lengths, it is not soft and flowy like that of their Caucasian counterparts. The end result is African women trying to achieve the long, flowy hair look by donning weaves and chemically processing our hair.

And while I have no issue whatsoever with weaves and permed hair ( remember, I have equally tried both in the recent past), my perspective on this is that as African women, we have not taken our time to really understand the intricacies of our hair. We only find the need to take really good care of our hair once it is chemically processed, because there are consequences for ignoring a permed head. When it is in it’s natural state, we assume that a full blow dry will do.

Convincing an African woman to treat natural hair with wholesome hair treatments would be like convincing a tired mule to transport heavy luggage. The only hair treatment we deem appropriate for natural hair, is washing it with a shampoo we assume will take care of everything and using hair oil during our blow dry sessions. We at times tend to neglect our hair lines, which break with every braiding and twisting session at the salon, only noticing there is a huge problem once the damage is already done. The blow dryers with their heat do no justice to our scalp.

Braided African hair. Image courtesy of nappilyjenny.blogspot.com

However, all hope is not totally lost as in recent times, an ever increasing number of African women are opting to take really good care of their natural manes. Some are ditching the weaves for their well kept kinky dos and the results are truly amazing. An African woman with a full head of black, natural, kinky hair is a sight to behold. We all have admired the afros of the 70s era that our parents rocked. The same hasn’t changed in this era. An African afro is our identity and will still be our identity for decades to come.

African women need only five remedies to fully appreciate their natural hair:

  • Take time to study your natural hair.
  • Understand your natural hair and what works for it.
  • Embrace your natural hair, short or long, kinky or soft with no comparisons to another’s.
  • Fiercely love it.
  • Take good care of it.

Ethiopian hair. Image Courtesy of http://www.pinterest.com

Remember, how a woman chooses to wear her hair reflects a lot about her personality. All these unattainable targets we set for our hair are not necessary. The versatility of natural African hair is that it can be braided into so many different styles and as much as we love our weaves, the hair underneath is what will always matter. So make a mental note to always and I mean ALWAYS, take good care of it.

Our kinky, curly and knotty heads are our identities. Columnist, Carol Odero, on today’s Sunday Nation, clearly attests to this with her article on hair. We got to rock these manes we’ve got!