GOD HELP THE CHILD

This weekend, a popular writer lit up the internet after sharing her ‘unmotherly’ relationship with her son.In a long candid Facebook post,she opened up on how she doesnt love her son of seven years.This post isnt about her, or her son, but about the complex social issues raised by that post.

In one of her last novels- God Help the Child- Toni Morrison tells the story of a black woman called Sweetness who gives birth to a child she hates from the word go.

While Sweetness is lightskinned, with hair colour they call ‘high yellow’, the child’s skin is midnight black.Black than a Sudanese.The child- whose name is Bride- has curly hair like those naked tribes of Australia.Sweetness hates the child from the start.

Bride grows up without her mother’s love and affection.Sweetness wont even touch her daughter’s skin without a sponge or cloth.Her colour becomes the cross she had to always carry.

In the end, its Sweetness cruelty to her daughter that impacts on Bride’s life, rather than the colour of her skin. She ends up a fractured child- just like her mom. This is a recurring theme in Toni Morrison’s novels.

Many readers of the book say that Sweetness suffered from post partum depression.I have a problem with the increasing lay use of the word ‘depression’ , together with its prefixes like post partum, clinical,etc.This is because it leads to medicalization of phenomena that are social in nature.

Two,there’s the danger of lumping of complex social phenomena into a single medical condition.Which in turn leads to use of medical means to solve psycho- social problems.

So what is post partum depression?Does ithave biological roots- such as dramatic changes in hormones that occurs after birth?Or does it occur from social causes- such as lacl of support in the motherhood role? Or does it-like in the fictional example of the Sweetness above-originate from unmet expectations in the looks of the new-born baby?

We need to discuss post partum conditions in women. But while we do that, we need to avoid exploring it solely as a medical condition that requires to be solved by popping in anti- depressants. We also need to explore it as a culturally bound syndrome that originates in the mother’s pyscho- social environment.

THE FRUITS WE LOST

Matomoka.A fruit that was in abundance back in the day.Until we were lied to that an apple a day keeps the doc away and forgot about these fruits.

This fruit,known as Custard apple, is said to have many benefits, one of them being cancer fighting properties.But you wont find it in our supermarkets.Its not even common in our rural markets.Our kids know only of apples and pomegranates and such imported fruits.Imported fruits that are laced with chemicals so that they can last on the shelves long enough.

Its time we decolonized our foods. And did away with overrated Eurocentric fruits and go back to ‘matomokas’ and ‘matuyas’ and ‘ngambura’.That aside, what’s the English name for ‘matuya?’ and ‘ngambura?’ Which other forgotten fruit do we need to bring back to our plates?

AND, CUT!


Mulembe Nation, specifically the Bukusus and the Tachonis, are caught up in a socio-cultural tussle with the CS for Health.

The old wazees down yonder insist that they have to cut their boys who have come of age this August.CS Kagwe, on the other hand,says the timing is bad.That they cant cut because of the prevailing Covid-19 condition.

This conflict between culture and the pandemic is interesting for students of culture and society.Largely because its challenging paradigms and upsetting orders.I am following it with glee.

The Mulembe nation adheres to age old male initiation rites that have remained largely untainted for years.Not even Covid can halt it.And for that, I have lots of respect for them.

Their rite is communal, complete with the frenzied cultural razzmattaz and beats of Isukuti.It is a social glue for the various clans of the Mulembe Nation.

The process is purposefully painful.The purpose of the painful ritual- which is not limited to the Bukusus but common in most ancient cultutes- is to mortify the body as a way of understanding that the energy of the soul is indestructible.Pain ceases to be pain to who has given it meaning and a purpose.

And therein lies the power of the initiation.

The initiation rites of Mulembe Nation are a far cry from the way we do our things in the House of Mumbi.Our male intiation is an obsolete rite- devoid of the cultural confetti it used to have say 100 years ago.

Our boys get their pencils sharpened in sanitized hospitals by clinical officers under local anaesthesia.Sometimes female ones. I can count the surviving Kikuyus who faced the knife by the river on my five fingers.

In addition,our rite is a private one- it lacks the communal fire that engulfs the initiation rites of the Bukusu.Or even those of our cousins like the Ameru or the Tharaka.

Lastly,and more importantly,our rite is devoid of the vigorous socialisation that went together with it back in the day.Its heavily censored by the modern ethos thats it has lost meaning.Heck, we even forgot the dizzying initiation songs that went with it.

In short, male initiation as carried by the House of Mumbi in modern times is no different from clipping ones fingernails.

Yet, if there is a community that discriminates others based on the cut,then its the house of Mumbi.If there are men who suffer communal hubris because of being circumcised, then they are the sons of Mumbi.

Going forward,the House of Mumbi should rethink male initiation.Its time we allowed our boys to decide whether to undergo it or not when they come of age.

Why?

Modern Kikuyu male intiation is a culturally vestigial rite.It serves no purpose other than giving Kikuyu young men a false sense of superiority over other communities that do not cut their boys in hospitals, before female nurses.

Thaayu!

THE FRUITS WE LOST


Matomoka.A fruit that was in abundance back in the day.Until we were lied to that an apple a day keeps the doc away and forgot about these fruits.

This fruit,known as Custard apple, is said to have many benefits, one of them being cancer fighting properties.

But you wont find it in our supermarkets.Its not even common in our rural markets.Our kids know only of apples and pomegranates and such imported fruits.Imported fruits that are laced with chemicals so that they can last on the shelves long enough.

Its time we decolonised our foods.And did away with overated Eurocentric fruits and go back to ‘matomokas’ and ‘matuyas’ and ‘ngambura’.That aside, whats the English name for ‘matuya?’ and ‘ngambura?’

Which other forgotten fruit do we need to bring back to our plates?

HUGGING RULES FOR MEN


Corona has come with some welcome paradigm shifts. One of my favourite is the need for decreased bodily contact- which includes hugs.

I have never been fond of hugs.Not because they are inherently bad;but because most men dont know how to hug.I have also been influenced by my uncle who sneers at men who hug with an epithet like ‘maiyuria ndua’.Useless men.

To set the record straight, here are some fast rules about hugging for men:

1.DURATION
A lady to a lady hug can go on forever- its one of their few inventions anyway.But a brother to brother hug should be brief- 00.5 seconds utmost according to John Hopkins University Centre for Men Studies.Anything longer than that is invasion of a man’s privacy which is a serious offence.

2.HANDS
Most men dont know what to do with their hands when they hug.When hugging ladies,some deliberately let their uncouth fingers wander on the ladies backs.We know their aim is to pry open the bra straps.Such ne’er do wells will gnash their teeth in the same cubicle with Wanugu, Wacucu and Hitler in the hereafter.Thus saith the holy writ.

3.GLUTEUS
Cursed is the man who touches another man’s gluteus maximus( I am avoiding the word ‘ass’ here)when hugging.A mans sitting area should only be touched by his mom when applying baby ‘poda’ on it when young.Anybody who tries to touch it after that in the name of a hug commits an offence punishable by law as outlined in the Sexual Offences Act( 2006)

4.EYE CONTACT
Men shouldnt look into each others eyes when hugging.Its supposed to be one shoulder bumping to one shoulder while facing the other way.Not chest to chest kind of thing like high school sissies or Mothers’ Union mamas.

5.MUSHINESS
The rough a hug between two men is, the better it is.Thats how the world knows we got high octane testerone coursing in our veins.Men who break this rule should have their certificate of good conduct withheld.

6.FREQUENCY
Ladies can hug after every hour for all we care.But no two men should hug more than thrice a year without written permission from Director of Health.When we will pay China’s astronomical debt if all we do is hug?

7.LAUGHTER
No two men should laugh or giggle when hugging.Mens’ hugs should be accompanied by silence.Dark aristocratic silence that says their moms brought them up well.If there has to be sound,then its only some deep grunts like the Neanderthals we are.

Thats all brothers.Go forth and hug no more.

ON GIFTS


Last week, the internet registered a seismic shift when a renown media personality gifted his wife with cheque of Ksh 1million for her birthday. I must say from the onset that the purpose of this post is not to discuss that couple. Mama brought us up well so I don’t do such things.

Ladies went gaga over the magnanimous display of love. Some lamented that since they got married, their hubbies have never as much given them Ksh 500 to have their hair done, let alone a million. Others lamented that they have never been taken for holiday, despite having been married for a quarter of a century now.

Look ladies, if you got married to a man from Murang’a who believes in saving all his money in Equity Bank, accept your choices. Expecting him to take you to Seychelles like Nyanza men do is like expecting a goat to lay eggs. Even if you fed it on layers mash for a year and gave it a chickenish nickname like Cluck it won’t. If you love someone, you are always joined with them – in their joy, in their strife, in their stinginess or in their magnanimity.

Gifts should not taken on their face value. Rather, they should be gauged on the giver’s level of sacrifice. When boda guy who earns Ksh 500 per day forgoes his daily jug of keg for a week and buys her wife a kitenge and matching kamithi,that sacrifice is bigger than a million cheque one. When a Murang’a man foregoes his monthly savings meant to buy a plot at Kenol and takes his wife to a smoky joint for choma and some Mugithi, that’s a huge sacrifice.

The Bible, a book that I hold in high esteem for its enduring moral lessons, has a say on this. It’s contained in that story of that widow who tithed all that she had. She was said to have given more than the mabwanyenye who gave gold coins because of her sacrifice.

The Gift of the Magi-a timeless short story written in the 1920s, captures this aptly too. It tells of a modest couple that was deeply in love .Each wanted to give the best he or she could to the other.

The wife wanted to give his husband a gold chain to hang his watch with so that it couldn’t get lost. On the other hand, the husband wanted to gift his wife with a hair clip to hold her beautiful hair together. It turns out that each had no money to buy what they wanted to gift the other.

The lady sold her hair (which was later sold to African women) so that she could purchase the golden chain for his husband’s watch. The husband sold his watch so that he could buy her wife the hair clip to tie her hair together.

When they met at home, each had the other’s gifts yes, but both had no use for the gift since the man had already sold his watch and the woman her hair. However, each had sacrificed the most precious things they had to purchase the gift. But it turns out that anything you lose for love comes back in another form for their love emerged stronger than ever.

The story’s title-The Gift of the Magi-is borrowed from the three wise wazee who came to see baby Jesus after his birth. They didn’t bring him Pampers or mbocoris because it was winter or toys because it was a baby boy. Instead they brought him gold, myrrh and frankincense. These three gifts were informed by wisdom and their value lay not in their commercial worth, but in their timeless symbolism.

And so should gifts couples give to each other.

I WILL KEEP BROKEN THINGS

img src="puppy.jpg" alt="broken thing pan">

Yesterday I stumbled upon my late mother’s retired frying pan.

It looks dejected, with rust erupting from it like a bad rash. Streaks of oxides run across it like ancient tears. Before it got to this state, how many chapattis had it churned? How many rumbling stomachs of hungry village boy had it made glad? How many hearts did this frying pan touch before it got broken?

Alice Walker, the Black American poet talks of keeping broken things. Things whose beauty is that don’t ever need any fixing. Things that remind us of someone who is forever dear to us. In my house there remains an honored shelf on which I will keep broken things. I will keep this broken frying pan which always reminds me of my late mother. I will keep her.

We all have that thing, that family heirloom, which reminds us of our mother if she went to be with the Lord. It may be a physical thing like my broken frying pan above. It may be a whiff of Lady Gay pomade which she used to wear every morning. It may an old sepia photo of her in Afro and bell bottoms, like a girl groupie from the 70s.

We all keep such things in our houses, our hearts and minds, not because they are new, but because they are broken. But above all, because we are broken by the loss of our loved ones which they remind us of.

We keep broken things because we are pilgrims of sorrow hanging on to broken things that need not ever be fixed.