Sunday, September 27, 2020

Fashion-wise, Trump’s wife has something in common with Bangwato tribesmen

If she ever visited the Serowe kgotla, United States First Lady and former fashion model, Melania Trump, would spot a familiar fashion item on some elderly men in the crowd.

While her husband was barnstorming through the US addressing KKK-like rallies, Melania made an official visit to Kenya. During a safari outing, she chose to wear a pith helmet and back home was hauled over the coals for evoking memories of colonialism which, on the whole, was a really brutal enterprise.

According to The Guardian of Britain: “Pith helmets ÔÇô so-called because they are made of the material sholapith ÔÇô were worn by European explorers and imperial administrators in Africa, parts of Asia and the Middle East in the 19th century before being adopted by military officers, rapidly becoming a symbol of status ÔÇô and oppression. Soldiers, guides and wildlife specialists replaced the pith helmet long ago with more practical and less controversial headgear, but they are still in ceremonial use in a handful of countries ÔÇô and by tourists in Africa who have limited experience of local conditions and sensibilities.”

However, not every African has this level of political awareness and the result is that at important kgotla meetings in Serowe (like the one President Mokgweetsi Masisi addressed recently), some elderly Bangwato men show up wearing colonial pith helmets. Their thinking on this and other cultural issues is quite basic: western culture represents civilization, the pith helmet comes from a culture superior to theirs and that superiority rubs off on you if you wear this helmet. Most of them would not have Pan-Africanist sensibilities because of the times and culture they grew up in. The irony of the outrage Melania’s hat provoked is that some of the people whose dignity such outrage was meant to protect don’t feel offended at all.

Likewise, Batswana of yesteryear were not thoroughly acquainted with the meaning of “picaninny”, a racist term for dark-skinned children of African descent. In Setswana, this term became “pekenene” and some parents unwittingly gave it to their children as a name. The result is that there is now a government-owned school in Mahalapye called Pekenene Junior Secondary School. The school was named after the person on whose land the school is built.

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Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 27 - 3 October, 2020.