Reflections of an ordinary African woman

Being Proudly African

The problem with African society today is the right to choose. In reality this should not be a problem, but it seems all the people’s choices are about not being African anymore.

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Being Proudly African

I recently engaged a group of people in a conversation in which I was lamenting the loss of our culture in Ghana. I made a comment that today fried rice is considered a national meal in Ghana, to which a young lady replied that if people wanted to eat fried rice, that was their business. In as much as I agree with that sentiment, I also think that we need to look at this at a deeper level. I have no problem with people eating fried rice. The problem arises when traditional meals, such as plantain and kontomire (a type of spinach) stew, are downgraded in favour of fried rice. Why should this bother me? I will tell you.

The rice we consume in Ghana is imported from America and Thailand. For as long as we promote fried rice over plantain, it means our plantain farmers (if we have any more left in Ghana) will have less of a market. And this will lead to unemployment, which can lead to crime. And in the long run, this can affect me when I am mugged by a young boy who should be on a farm.

The problem with the world is that we are all becoming so me, me, me that we forget how some of our actions can affect society as a whole. Each time a woman in Africa buys Brazilian hair, she empowers the Asian economy because it is not Africans who are producing these products. Rather than buy local Shea butter and black soap, which is suitable for the maintenance of our natural hair, our women in Ghana will wear Brazilian hair and buy all the products needed to make the Brazilian hair look nice!

The main problem for me is that under the guise of an individual’s freedom to be what they want to be, everything Ghanaian is being demonised. So if you eat traditional foods, which are healthier, you are considered as “colo” (old-fashioned). If you prefer or encourage women to wear their natural hair, you are considered radical or controversial. If you want to do only the traditional customary marriage, you are made to feel that you are indeed not properly married. You have to do a “white” wedding in church. Yet legally, customary marriage is the accepted norm of the land.

So, the freedom to choose to have a white wedding in church has devalued the essence of the traditional customary wedding. By all means, people should have the right and freedom to do what they want to do and what they want to be. However, in doing so, they need to look at the long-term effect on society.

I just don’t understand why the right to choose means those of us who choose to respect our cultures and traditions are made to feel as if we are rather in the wrong. When I talk about young boys walking around the streets of Ghana with their saggy jeans and underwear showing, I am told the world is moving, or has moved, forward. So I have to ask, forward to what?

In the days of yore, men went about in loincloth and women went about with their breasts exposed. If I choose to go out like that today, I would be branded old-fashioned. Maybe even crazy. Yet because saggy jeans came from America, that is accepted as okay! There is a very popular artiste in Ghana called Wanlov the Kubolor. He wears clothes and walks around barefoot. People think he is mad. Yet nobody questions the sanity of the young boys who wear saggy jeans, Timberlands and hooded tops in the Ghanaian heat!

Today the way some Ghanaian women dress leaves very little to the imagination. In fact I feel these women have devalued womanhood. Most of these women are walking around looking like hookers. But because they dress like Rihanna and Beyoncé, this makes it acceptable. If I were to dress as my ancestors did and go out with my breasts hanging out, I would be considered a mad woman. Yet to dress like Nicky Minaj and have my breasts hanging out over a tight top is perceived as fashionable. You see the double standards? If it’s African, it’s crazy. If it’s from America or Europe, it’s fashionable and the right of the individual to choose it.

Today in Ghana, the majority of women wear Brazilian, Peruvian or Indian hair. This is not all. They top the fake hair with Taiwanese nails and China-made eyelashes. If I wear my natural African hair, I am made to feel like a fool, like I don’t know what time it is. So once again the freedom to choose means those of us who choose the African way are stupid!

I remember the joy I had growing up as a child in Ghana, whenever we went to the village and went to the farm with my grandmother. It was exciting coming back with food and firewood. I also remember the countless number of trees that yielded fruit that we could just pick and eat. Today, where are all the traditional fruits of Ghana? The norm in our shops and on the streets is now apples and grapes. Apples and grapes that are imported into the country. Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to have the option of eating a variety of foods, fruits and vegetables. However, each time we mock our local foods in favour of the imported ones, we kill the life of the local farmer. I would love a situation where, alongside the imported apples and grapes, we also promote and accept our local fruits as normal.

Currently, doctors are saying that soursoup is a great preventer of cancer. Soursoup used to grow all over Ghana. Where is it today? Our ancestors in their wisdom ate soursoup. However, today, unless America says so, we don’t believe anything we grow in our lands is good!

I remember serving sorrel to my guests on my 40th birthday. My Ghanaian family were horrified. What was I thinking? A “big madam” like me serving sorrel? Everybody would think I was tight-fisted or crazy. Nobody served sorrel at the time because it was something schoolchildren drank. Despite their horror, I stuck to my guns. Today, Ghanaians are seeing the health benefits of sorrel and now serve it at social functions.

Again my issue is this: if Ghanaians want to drink all the chemically enhanced fizzy drinks, that is their choice. But why demonise those of us who prefer what grows on our land? The same way they have the freedom to choose everything that is American or European, is the same way I also have the freedom to choose everything Ghanaian or African. Yet society will frown on me for my choice. I will be made to feel like I am an inferior being. And if I’m not strong-willed, I will end up conforming to what is actually not our culture or way of life.

Driving around Ghana, you will notice a number of billboards advertising skin-bleaching products. Again, it is the right of any individual to choose to bleach their skin. However, their choice affects me because if I don’t conform and bleach my skin too, I will be considered ugly. It’s not uncommon to hear of our actresses bleaching their skin to get roles. But why should I have to bleach my skin to get a job? Why can’t I keep the black skin my God created me with and still have an equal chance when it comes to competing with others?

I agree that the world is moving forward and we need to move with the times. However, it’s not everything that we as Africans have to copy blindly. Of course, we can copy the good things from somewhere, for example, the rules and regulations governing driving?  But drive around Accra and indeed you will think that common sense is not common. Rather than copy how the Americans, for example, take people through driving lessons, a theory test and a practical test, before getting their licences to drive, we go around aping their accents and call this progress!

As a Krobo woman, I have done my dipo (a rite of passage for women). Traditionally, when doing the dipo, women are barechested. Once when I visited my village during the time of dipo, I was disgusted at the number of German men taking pictures of the young girls, with their breasts exposed. Leering as they clicked away with their cameras, these men looked like paedophiles.

So I talked to some of the queenmothers about modernising dipo by allowing the young girls to cover their breasts. That is moving forward. Cancelling dipo altogether in the name of progress is not moving forward, but rather, losing an essential part of being a Krobo woman.

No doubt there are certain cultural practices across Africa that need to be abolished, for example, female circumcision and the widowhood rites. I’m not for one moment saying we need to hold on to all our cultural practices, no matter how negative they are. But we need to appreciate what is ours and beneficial to our society. In the past, children would come home from school and greet their parents with a curtsey and a polite “Good afternoon, Ma”. Today our young children can greet an adult with ‘”Woz op?’”, not even the correct “what’s up”, but their version of what they hear!

That is the problem with the African of today. The right to choose – but it seems all their choices are about choosing not to be African any more. As another year comes to an end, and people across Africa buy into the Christmas myth that we need to eat turkey, buy plastic trees and put fake snow all over our homes, I think we need to take some time out and really ask ourselves, what are the choices we are making. And more importantly, how do these choices affect African society as a whole? But hey, these are just the reflections of an ordinary African woman.

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