Growing up in the mid 80s tight down towards the early 90s, young girls ranging from toddlers to pre-pubescent girls could run around playing bare chested. And it was not unusual to find an older lady sitting on the veranda during the hot Botswana summer only covering the lower parts of her body with her breasts in the open.
Of late, young girls from a tender age are aware that their chest also qualifies as a private part when covering their bodies from prying eyes because globalisation has infiltrated our way of thinking making breats qualify as a sexual body part.
Colloquially, breasts are considered as a symbol of motherhood, nurturing and vitality, and they have very little or no any sexual connotations at all. The traditional attire for the first people of Botswana does not require women’s breasts to be covered. It is only recently that traditional dancers started wearing skirts, ‘Makgabe’ without necessarily covering their breasts.
This enigma of the women’s breast goes beyond our borders. The lack of clothing above the waist for both females and males was the norm in traditional cultures in the African culture before the arrival of Christianity. This enigma existed in various Asian cultures before the Muslim expansion in the 13th and 14th centuries.
Bringing it home to Southern Africa, to date the annual Reed Dance held in Swaziland is still very popular, the girls wear nothing more than short beaded skirts and tasselled scarves that traditionally denote virginity. This eight day festival celebrates culture and has very little to do with the fact that throughout the ceremony the girls are ‘topless’. Emphasis is put on this eight-day ceremony, where young girls cut reeds and present them to the Queen Mother. Over 50 000 girls from as young as age 13 participate in the ceremony.
Despite these norms and traditions, it has become difficult to separate breasts from sexuality. Breats have become a secondary sexual organ in both men and women over the years. Arguments brought forward include the fact that it is not considered a coincidence that in the female anatomy breast enlargement occurs at puberty when the body gets ready for sexual intercourse and child bearing.
Women from a very young age nowadays generally cover their breasts all the time, which is probably not such a bad idea with rising number of child molesters and rapists roaming the streets. It just reduces the number of reasons these maniacs use as an excuse for their horrendous acts.