History

Are Kenyans Embarrassed By Their Own Culture?

In the wake of Lisa Gaitho’s blog post which caused quite a stir, with what many termed as a bashing of Kenyan culture with an insinuation of Nigerian culture being superior, I decided to take a look at the whole issue from a different angle. My post is not necessarily a response to Lisa, since I do not know her personally and what motivates her thought process. Let it not be taken as a direct jab at a fellow blogger as I believe in this Internet space, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, whether they are agreeable to everyone or not.

Anyways, I’m more concerned with what the post intentionally or unintentionally, brought to the fore. And the question is, are we Kenyans embarrassed by our own culture? Or rather, do we even feel like we have a Kenyan culture in the first place?

Looking at other African nations, we can be tempted to quickly make a conclusion as Kenyans, that we may indeed be lacking in a cultural identity. The first thing that first comes to a Kenyan mind is the fact that many African nations have a cultural dress. Just next door in Uganda, we have the gomez. In Ethiopia, we have the Abeba and Habesha traditional dresses complete with a hairstyle synonymous with Ethiopian women. In Rwanda, there is the mushanana for the Rwandese women. Further afield in West Africa, Ankara rules the region. South Africa has the colorful beads and traditional skirts complete with a traditional cap.

When you come to Kenya, what is mostly identified by foreigners as the Kenyan dress is the Maasai attire. And as we Kenyans know, the Maasai do not really represent the whole country as a whole, seeing that we comprise of 43 different ethnic groups. But since the Maasais are notably the only Kenyan tribe, that has wisely held onto most of their cultural way of life and have been greatly marketed overseas as a result, they are the ones inevitably accorded the Kenyan identity symbol.

Unfortunately, for the younger generation which has grown up in an era of modernization, we may not even have an idea of what our individual, ethnic, cultural dress actually looked like. Reason being that with the coming of missionaries, many tribes in Kenya ditched their cultural dress to embrace the White man’s dress and education in a move toward civilization. So really, the whole idea of lacking in a present day cultural dress goes way back to the pre-colonial era, where to be educated and clothed in modern clothes symbolized being civilized.

The Kenyan flag. Google Images

The missionaries brought us Education and Christianity which was and is a good thing, do not get me wrong. However, our cultural identity got lost in the process and it didn’t help matters that Kenya is not predominantly made up of one ethnic group or just two or three. With the mishmash of 42 now 43 different tribes with their own individual cultural dresses, it would have been difficult really, to embrace just one particular cultural dress that would have incorporated all the ethnic groups  as one. Could be the reason why an attempt a couple of years back to come up with a Kenyan dress seemingly, flopped.

When it comes to food, I see many Kenyans complaining about our bland culinary choices. To be honest, I’m one of those Kenyans who feel like we could have at least tried to be a little more creative with our food choices. However, the Coastal people are touted to have the most tasty choices of food. And it is part of their culture. So when you hear of biryani, mahamri, pilau, chapati, spicy sauces and the likes, think of Mombasa, Kenya.

I must admit it kind of makes the rest of  the Kenyans a little envious that while we are busy mashing potatoes, maize, beans and pumpkin leaves into a dish, the Coastal residents are pounding  a combination of spices together, to create a wonderful aroma and taste for their dishes. Ugali, the Kenyan staple is simply one of those uninspiring dishes that Kenyans had no choice but to embrace due to how economical the dish was. However, the economical nature of Ugali as a dish and especially this year, is up for debate with the soaring prices of maize flour and the scarcity of it.

As for how we treat our elders, it all depends on how a Kenyan individual was raised. Many Kenyans grew up in homes where to be disrespectful to an elder warranted a thorough beating. However, with all this urbanization business, it is not entirely uncommon to have working parents who have absolutely no time to spare for their growing children and may not even realize, when their children are picking up bad habits and manners. There is simply no time for effective disciplining of children since more parents are working more hours than in the past.

That said, I do not feel like it is wise for a Kenyan to simply feel embarrassed for being of the same nationality or to feel inadequate, when compared to other African nations. We do have rich urban cultures that are quite alluring to non-Kenyans. A notable one being the matatu culture of pimping rides with graffiti. Nowhere in the world will you find a public service vehicle decorated with as much art as we decorate our matatus here. This even surpasses the  cultural dressing and the likes. It is uniquely Kenyan.

I also feel like we haven’t really lost touch with our culture since there are some cultural practices that Kenyans still follow.  Many of my peers have held traditional weddings before church weddings. Many of my peers have named their children after family members. Many of us possess traditional second names. Many of us still take our kin back to our ancestral lands for burial and perform all these burial rites. If that isn’t cultural enough for some Kenyans, then I do not understand what culture means to them as individuals.

 

 

Is The World’s Fascination With Africa Hypocritical?

A couple of weeks back, I happened to get into a conversation of sorts on a page I follow on Facebook centered on a certain meme. The meme in question had an individual announcing their desire to visit Africa, with the other person insisting that the individual be specific on which country in Africa, they would like to visit. Of course our opinions happened to be varied with other page mates concluding that a section of us were simply being overly sensitive.

However, I think we have very valid reasons as Africans to be skeptical about the world’s fascination with Africa. Having been categorized as a third world continent for the longest time possible in addition to getting quite negative coverage by the international media, we can’t sometimes really help wondering whether people from other parts of the world, genuinely appreciate our continent.

In certain cases, the desire by others to visit the continent has been in essence, to confirm whether Africans still lead lives as the primitive people they have since been largely branded to be. Not forgetting the fact that a majority of countries in the African continent have a dark history of colonization and therefore, are still a tad bit distrusting of the intentions of foreign visitors. Not that we feel a repeat can happen but past experiences tend to shape present perceptions.

Africa is a continent made up of several nations with very distinct cultures and ways of life but that has not stopped the rest of the world and especially the West, from failing to acknowledge this fact. Hollywood has often seemed confused and thoroughly ignorant about Africa when basing movies and shows  on the continent. It is always disconcerting for an African to watch a movie or show, that decides to mix two African languages, from two different countries and then try to pass it off as a movie set in one particular African country.

Even more upsetting is having to keep explaining yourself in a foreign country as an African, that where you come from is not plagued by war and disease. The idea that Africans still walk around naked, live in makeshift homes, possess primitive ideas and the likes, has failed to completely fade from the minds of  Westerners who seem to still feel the need to “discover” the continent.

I understand that for foreigners of African descent, their wish to visit Africa has always been to connect with their roots. For us Africans who have been born and brought up in our motherland, we may many times fail to understand this specific need.

Perhaps, we find it absurd that they would just desire to be in the continent, without being specific with which country in particular because for us who come from the continent, we can easily trace our roots. And our individual roots, happen to be centered around a particular locality and not the continent as a whole.

voiceofafrica.fm

Indeed one of the arguments that came up in the aforementioned conversation on the page, was related to this inherent need by African-Americans and people of African descent from the Caribbean, to visit the continent. However, this does not completely erase the fact that our continent happens to be the most misunderstood by many, often basing their view of the continent on hearsay.

Call it inferiority complex, sensitivity or what but Africans are increasingly getting tired of having to justify their legibility to others who are not from the same race or continent. Issues of racism and racial discrimination do not make it any easier for us. It only serves to heighten our skepticism of the world’s interest with our continent.

It should be understood that histories of oppression by others who felt superior to us, have contributed largely to Africans feeling the need to protect themselves from hypocritical intentions. We may argue that issues of xenophobia are perpetrated by Africans to fellow Africans and therefore as an African, I have no right to conclude that only those not from the continent discriminated against us and oppressed us.

Xenophobic attacks such as the ones witnessed in South Africa are deeply rooted on colonialism and the fact that Africans felt divided and denied of opportunities at that particular dark time. I’m no advocate of senseless killings neither am I trying to lay blame on the colonialists at this point in time. However, how a nation chooses to heal from past hurtful experiences, determines the way forward for the development of the nation in future.

I would like to believe that many South Africans have healed but there is still that percentage, that has not completely healed and are therefore willing to incite and attack their fellow brothers and sisters, whom they feel are taking away opportunities meant for them, the original citizens.

As a continent that is forever trying to get to the same level as other continents and many times falling short in the process, our main concern is being genuinely accepted as capable of competing on the same level as other continents. It may seem like a far fetched idea to many but past branding of the continent as incapable has contributed to our wariness. We may many times fail to understand other people’s intentions or might even be right about their hypocrisy, who knows?

The Kenyan-Indian Connection

Nairobi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta after their press statements at State House in Nairobi, Kenya on Monday. PTI Photo by Kamal Singh (PTI7_11_2016_000128B)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta after their press statements at State House in Nairobi, during the PM’s visit to Kenya. PTI Photo by Kamal Singh

The day before yesterday therebout, I chanced upon a post by a local media station on Facebook, claiming that the Kenyan-Indians had requested to be recognized as the 44th tribe of Kenya. So I was curious to read the comments and the vitriol that spewed from Kenyans could not be masked in the comment section. I’m not sure if the Indians among us read those comments and what they felt about it.

As I have already mentioned before on my blog for the sake of my foreign readers, the Indian community came to Kenya in the 1890s to aid in the building of the Kenya-Uganda railway. Many opted to stay and bring their families after it was completed. So when we are talking about the Asian community, as we like to refer to them in Kenya, we are talking about 3rd and 4th generation Indians who only know of Kenya as their home.

It may surprise you though, that the Kenyan-Indians upheld their culture and still practice many if not all, of their Indian cultural practices to date. It may surprise you further, that many Kenyan-Indians have chosen to get married to their fellow Indians and stick to their close knit way of life. To the other Kenyans, this tends to come off as snobbish and probably racist?

It’s not something we openly talk about but when given a chance, Kenyans can really talk ill about the Asian community. This was evident in the many comments I scrolled through on the Facebook post. Many of the bitter complaints arising from the kind of treatment metted unto them while working for Indian bosses, who have a reputation of being hard to please and too harsh for their liking.

In essence, I think Kenyans would really appreciate it if their Indian brothers and sisters chose to intergrate with them. I also think that the foreign culture of Indians in general greatly confuses them. It is a culture that is rich and Kenyans would love to understand it but fail miserably at it, with the level of silent suspiscion between the two groups that simmers just beneath the surface.

My childhood best friend in the 8 years of primary school happened to be a Kenyan-Indian. I have equally worked for an Indian boss. Therefore, when I talk about the Asian community, it’s not out of bitterness or a need for vindication. It’s basically to bring issues to the fore, that have for a long time been swept under the carpet yet they affect our Kenyan society.

Trust me, there are many Kenyans of African descent who have worked for Indian companies and bosses and have a long list of complaints regarding unfair treatment. But why is this so? Methinks colonialism and ancient Indian culture played a huge role in contributing to this kind of sour relationship between the Kenyans and Kenyan-Indians.

During colonial times, of course the Black Africans were at the lowest on the tier. As a result of their skin color and culture considered primitive by the colonialists who had their own hidden agendas, the Black Africans were looked down upon and suffered many injustices as a result.

The Indians were of course lighter with silky hair and therefore not really prejudiced against as much as the Black Africans were. They were of course not considered to be of the same level as the European colonialists, but they were placed somewhere in the middle, above the Black Africans.

It should also be noted that the Indian coolies who came to offer labor in building the railway line, landed in Kenya at a time when colonialism was just taking root. Coupled with their ancient caste system that grouped individuals in society according to their social standing, it was inevitable really for the Indians not to look down upon the Black Africans.

By Independence, the enterprising Kenyan-Indians already had a presence in many economic spheres. Not so for the Black Africans in Kenya who had been long suppressed by the colonial system. Indeed one of the first president’s agendas was to eradicate illetracy among mainly the Black African community.

It is however unfortunate that the preceeding generations of the Asian community in Kenya, held on to what their forefathers believed in and passed it down to their own children. The Indians chose to stick to the familiar thus limiting their interaction with the other Kenyans in society.

At my time in primary school, I would still see Indian kids from different classes, opting to form a large group of friends despite their age differences. The memory is still vivid in my mind when my Indian friend once tried to include me in one of these groups.

One Asian girl in particular, carried on speaking in Gujarati despite my apparent lack of understanding and my friend’s obvious struggle in communicating back in the same language, thus opting to reply in English. It was the last I would agree to tag along. However, there were and are still those Kenyan-Indians, who do not mind interacting with the Black Africans as was evidenced by my friend back then.

I think the thing that irks many Kenyans the most though, is the fact that we have heard of stories where if an Asian got married to an African, he/she would be considered an outcast by his/her family. This was quite evident in the My Bukusu Darling saga, where an Indian girl in Western Kenya fell in love with her father’s employee, an African and moved in with him.

It was evident that her parents did not agree nor approve of it and many Kenyans doubted the union would last. It is not everyday we get to see an Indian marrying a Kenyan of African descent. True to the majority’s doubts, the union between these two individuals did not successfully weather the family storm. Quite soon enough, the marriage broke.

This and many other misplaced beliefs between the two groups is what makes genuine interaction nearly impossible. Over time, Kenyans have equally developed an attitude toward the Asians, that further hampers hopes of the two groups integrating.

When a Kenyan walks into an Asian owned business/company as an employee with a set mentality that he/she will be mistreated, then justified acts of sternness by the Asians present, will be interprated as acts of cruelty. It is what fuels the constant whines and complaints about difficult Asian bosses and causes others to steer clear of the Kenyan-Indians.

As for the Kenyan-Indians, the mentality that an African cannot be trusted to do a good job, be a good friend or an upright individual, is what creates that level of suspiscion that you can almost feel, when sometimes interacting with an Indian. The superiority complex that still makes a section of Kenyan-Indians, to view themselves as better and of a higher social standing than the Kenyans of African descent further stretches the divide.

The Indians in our midst are an enterprising lot that have greatly contributed to the Kenyan economy. However, some of these backward mentalities, religious and social stances that we stubbornly hold on to, are what makes Kenyans be wary of the Kenyan-Indians and harshly criticize their suggestion of being recognized as a tribe.

Why The Constant Need To Identify As African/Black?

Before you accuse me of being ashamed of my roots, I shall first and foremost state that, I’m every inch proud to be from the African continent. However, I’m getting a little irritated every time I read or get to hear an introduction by someone of the same roots as me, which goes in the lines of…

Hey, I’m so and so, a Medical Researcher and Black…

or

Hey, I’m so and so, a Linguist and African

or

I’m a wife, mother, culinary expert, with an environmental degree and Black/African…

I know you are probably wondering by now what my beef is with this. Take a seat, I will tell you.

You see, over time, Africans or anyone with an African origin have grown so defensive of their roots, to the extent where we are constantly trying to prove our legibility to other races. I have a huge problem with such introductions because, whether the initial intention behind them was to communicate a certain pride in one’s heritage or culture, they always seem to emit a kind of justification for being African/Black vibe to them.

But why do we, as Africans, feel the need to keep on justifying the fact that we are of Chocolate skin and of kinky hair? Why do we always feel the need to state our occupations and achievements then add the fact that we are Black/African? Why isn’t it as common as it is with us, for other people from different races to identify themselves as

An Engineer and White/Asian/Arab

or

A wife, mother, culinary expert with an environmental degree and White/Asian/Arab?

I know many will argue that Africans are the ones who have been through a lot in terms of oppression and the harsh vagaries of life. I mean, there was slavery, colonialism, racial discrimination, poverty, disease…you name it. So ultimately, an African or someone with African roots who is an achiever irregardless of these factors, will automatically want to add the term I am Black/African in their introduction of themselves.

This just goes on to prove that despite efforts in the past by other races to try and put down the African or Black man or woman, an African can still rise up and become a successful medical doctor or mother or wife or environmentalist or linguist. We just have to keep on reminding these people that Black/African people can indeed be something in society.

However, I tend to disagree and with all due respect to all movements which have been formed in the past, in regards to fighting for the Black/African man/woman’s rights. I applaud such movements as a matter of fact, because they have gone a long way in addressing the plight of races that are stubbornly being still considered inferior by a section of close minded individuals.

But as much as we want to drive a point home that we can still be achievers, I think constantly alluding to our races exhibits a form of desperation of sorts. And so what if I’m Black or African? It doesn’t matter my heritage because all human beings are equipped with similar bodily functions irregardless of race. Along the way, we forgot about this and started looking at our skin colors as a basis for judgment of other people’s abilities.

If we are to successfully do away with racial profiling, then we better stop emphasizing on the point that we are something, yet from the African heritage. We need to focus on where we are headed as individuals other than on constantly devising ways, of justifying why we have been able to achieve this or that, irregardless of whatever stereotypes have been put in place in the past, concerning us.

Unidentified African woman. Twitter.com

An unidentified African woman. Twitter.com

In countries from the African continent which have successfully to some large extent, tried killing ethnic profiling, doing away with descriptions of self as from this tribe or that has been adopted as a tough stance. This has worked in Rwanda which experienced the harrowing genocide in 1994. Nobody constantly introduces themselves as from this tribe or that tribe in the said country.

In our bid to try to show the rest of the world that we are making it irrespective of what has been said of us in the past, we are constantly reminding the world that we are indeed different. Yes, our skin colors may be different. Our experiences may be very different indeed. Our cultures all the more different but we all eat, sleep, talk and breath.

It would be refreshing to see a Black or African man or woman who perhaps is a blogger/writer but who chose to only identify with the country of origin. Say British or American or Australian and did not allude to the African/Black part only to have his/her readers get pleasantly surprised when they finally discover he/she is Black or African.

And yes, I’m every inch African but if I were to relocate to a country where my skin color stood out from the rest of the population, I would constantly allude to the fact that I’m from Kenya. I may experience the culture shock, I may take a hellova long time to adjust to my new environment, hell, I may even be lumped in the category of the “Black Community”and start being referred to as a Black woman, but I would continually identify myself as Kenyan.

It might surprise some of my readers that while biracial individuals are considered Black in the West, here in Africa, they are considered the most prettiest/handsome looking individuals. We of darker shades marvel at their latte and caramel shades and silkier, softer hair and may not really call them African. My latter statement not intended to ridicule the fact that as a result of not being considered purely White or Black, quite a number of Biracial individuals suffer identity issues. What I’m driving at is the fact that what might be considered a minority elsewhere, may actually be a source of marvel and beauty elsewhere.

Plus constantly trying to prove people wrong only ends up in some form of deep frustration. Remember, we all sleep, eat, breath and talk. We are humans.

Any thoughts on this?

 

Some Of The Wealthiest Kenyans Are Of Asian Origin

Ever wondered why Kenyan-Asians seem to be so successful in their respective fields?

I have too. A couple of times already!

Kenyans of Asian origin are proprietors of large successful companies, 5 star hotels, thriving retail and wholesale shops, travel agencies, hospitals and schools (most of which attribute their existence to foundations spearheaded by Kenyan-Asians), well known supermarket chains, media publications…and the list goes on.

So when you see a Muhindi (Indian) driving the latest car model in Nairobi and residing in the affluent Westlands or Lavington or Karen area, you are sure to attribute his or her wealth, to a highly successful, business venture.

But why is this so?

Asian migration to modern day Kenya, began with the construction of the Uganda railway between 1896 and 1901 when some 32,000 indentured laborers were recruited from British India. (Wikipedia)

Although many of the Indian coolies as they were referred to then, lost their lives during the construction of the railway line, as a result of the harsh conditions and the vicious lions from the Tsavo, otherwise referred to as the Tsavo maneaters, once it was complete, quite a number chose to stay.

Their families from India would later join them. According to the description given by Wikipedia, the early Indian settlers were mainly from Gujarat and Punjab provinces of India.

Unlike black Africans, Asians were permitted to reside legally in Nairobi in what was then a burgeoning white settler town. (Wikipedia)

Team of workers near Voi. Photo Courtesy of Google Images.

Team of Indian workers near Voi, Kenya. Photo Courtesy of Google Images.

By the 1920s, Indian settlers in Kenya, were more economically stable as compared to the Kenyans of African origin. After World War II, they were already active in several fields in Nairobi. Their entrepreneurial skills further praised for its contribution to the Kenyan economy.

It is quite interesting to note that in modern day Kenya, many of these highly successful Asian owned businesses are family run. According to an article by Pravin K R on workehow.com, titled INDIA, A CULTURAL LENSE;

Indians have a strong family bonding, they live together as large families and don’t have a concept of moving out of the house at 18 and for them the strangest thing is calling parents for an appointment. This strong bonding comes from the courage of their parents to sacrifice everything for the future of kids.

Perhaps this could explain why the Kenyan-Asians prefer running their businesses as a family. It could also be the reason why the money stays within the family unit and ends up serving the future generations of the same family, who equally carry the mantle of their patriarch, in ensuring that the business continues to thrive. It is not uncommon, to walk into an Indian owned business in my country and to see a photo of the patriarch of the family, who is credited with starting the business, proudly hanging somewhere overhead.

I was surprised to read an article, THE HINDU WORK ETHIC, by a guest writer simply identified as Dota, on the blog http://www.robertlindsay.wordpress.com where he (i believe it’s a he) goes on to critic the Indian work ethic. According to the article, Indians are poor time keepers and cannot seem to work without supervision when compared to the West. He goes on to state that India’s skilled labor is lacking in training thus lagging behind in infrastructure development.

Kenyans might echo in my surprise of this revelation, because the Indians in my country are known to be the best time keepers. If an Indian shop selling something as simple as spices is supposed to be opened at 7 am, then you are sure to find the owner at his desk at 7 am in the morning! He/she will equally expect his workers to be at the shop by 7 sharp.

Kenyans of African descent in the past have been known to complain about Indian employers, as a result of the crude nature they tend to treat their employees with. Indian employers are known to be quite strict bordering on harshness. A simple work related mistake can quickly earn you a sacking. They also never seem to be understanding of their workers’ needs and may often times, not even bother forging an amicable rapport with their employees most being of African origin.

It is quite interesting and refreshing to see this writer Dota, touch on the caste system in India and how this perspective by Indians, seems to be working against India’s economy. If the lower caste in Indian society has always been associated with darker skinned individuals and jobs considered useless for eons, then you are sure to find a section of close minded modern day Indians, still stuck with this misplaced notion. And this therefore, explains why some Indian employers have been known to look down upon their African employees with dark skin. The colonialists further stamping this belief that Asians were considered of a higher class than Africans.

However, not all Asian employers in Kenya possess this kind of reasoning. There are Kenyans of Asian origin who would gladly work with an African anytime! Who would even consider partnering with a Kenyan of African descent in business! It should be noted that the caste system is equally fading in India and especially in urban areas. One thing that Dota touches on that I find very important is that loyalty to one’s employer in contemporary India is considered virtuous.

No wonder an Indian would not tolerate an employee stealing from the company. Those who have worked for Indian bosses in the past can attest to this fact that Indians value loyalty. They value honesty in work dealings. Dishonesty is hardly ever tolerated by an Indian boss and many who have thought of stealing from an Asian entity, have ended up being fired or in police custody.

Asian owned Nakumatt Supermarket chain. Photo courtesy of www.capitalfm.co.ke

Asian owned Nakumatt Supermarket chain. Photo courtesy of http://www.capitalfm.co.ke

I tend to attribute the success of Asian owned businesses to the kind of dedication they put into their ventures. For an Indian, a business is not only a solo venture but something intended to benefit the whole family. We cannot confidently state that families do not have squabbles. All families do but the Asians have over time developed a way of dealing silently with these squabbles, without letting their family ventures suffer gravely.

Indians are highly industrious. They will keep on trying business ventures until they find one which works for them. If a Muhindi opens a fabric shop which a few months down the line, starts to show signs of recording more losses than profits, then you are sure to find the shop closed. In a couple of weeks, you will find a hardware shop replacing the fabric shop with the same owner. In short, they are not at all afraid of taking business risks all in a quest to find that which will be highly beneficial to them.

Indians will instill a work ethic in their children early on. It is not uncommon to find high school going Asian children helping out in the shop on school holidays. In time, these children exposed to their fathers’ businesses will develop a deep understanding of the need to be useful in society in future. It does not matter if their parents take them abroad to study an engineering course, over the holidays if they get a chance to fly back home, you will find them in that sweet shop helping their parents.

Other than the secret superiority wars between Kenyans of Asian and African descent, we can’t really fail to acknowledge that without the input of the Indians in our midst, our economy wouldn’t have been where it is at the moment.

 

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.