Weekly Column: Language, chicken and jeans

By Samuel Chamboko – Muraho! Just as a follow up, there is this often unsaid connection between Afrikaans or Afrikaaners and native Africans especially in the Southern African region. While Afrikaaners have never been painted in the best light mainly because of their mothering of the system of apartheid in South Africa, the majority of salt of the earth Afrikaaners are genuinely good people. People might misunderstand their possessiveness with their culture and language as being racism, but it’s not. In my opinion it’s something that many of us could learn a thing or two about. That they have their own everything, schools, newspapers, radio stations, cultural clubs and even universities is something that should be admired. The way they go out of their way to maintain their language and uphold their culture as well. They insist that their children, some who attend English medium schools, should speak Afrikaans at home and they instil in them Afrikaaner values, one of which is respect. An Afrikaaner child will never refer to an adult by their first name, it’s always ‘oom’ (uncle) or ‘tannie’ (auntie). In my opinion, in as much as linguistically and culturally we have taken a lot from them, they have also taken some things from us. The adult name thing is a simple example of this. This is a very African of doing things. Most western cultures are use people’s first names, irrespective of age, however in Africa, as long as the person is older than you, you need to show some respect especially with the title with which you use to refer to them. Even in situations where one employs a person older than you, there are ways of showing that age respect without undermining your position as the employer. Anyway, back to Afrikaaners, of the 11 official languages in South Africa, besides English, Afrikaans is the only other language that is used as a teaching medium at tertiary level, unless you are doing a language degree in any of the other nine. This is absolutely amazing, considering the fact that they have kept this going almost 20years after losing power to a democratically elected government. Much of this enculturation, if I may call it, happens in the home. Children are taught to respect their culture and language. They are in such a minority but theirs is one of the most spoken languages. Just drawing parallels with my own mother tongue and how, in its purest form, it is headed for dirt bin with Latin and all the other dead languages, is a painful reality for me.  A friend cracked me up when I gave him my passionate plea about how our language is dying when he reminded me that that entire speech I had given was in English, the irony. To my credit, I can still speak the mother tongue properly and without shame. There is a huge misconception among the emerging black middle class that if we teach our children English first at home, they will have a head-start when they go to school. What a load of BS! I know a lot of kids who went to school without knowing how to string a single sentence in English but graduated with degrees in English cum-laude. Language is a key form of our identity and without it, these children that we are hoping to give to a ‘head start’ in life will be held back by an acute form of identity crisis later on in life. The question will always be ‘you are not English by birth, adoption or displacement, how can you insist that English is your first language?’ I know we all have choices, but think carefully about the choices you make, especially for your children.

One of my sisters recently said that everything I do revolves around food. I’m not going to deny, I love food, anything tasty I’ll eat and the food belly is testament to this. This reminds of one of my favourite foods, chicken. There is a misguided stereotype that all black people love chicken. I do not know where this comes. I am supposing that it maybe from African-American culture as seen in the movies. I remember one of my former white colleagues jokingly saying that whenever he sees black people eat, they are eating chicken. I protested vehemently. In retrospect maybe I shouldn’t have. Nowadays we eat quite a lot of chicken as it has become one of the cheapest sources of protein. The food we eat now has evolved so much from what we were eating 20 years ago. I remember growing up, where I come from chicken was a very special meal and would only be eaten on very special occasions or if we had visitors. That does not mean we did not eat meat, beef was the cheapest meat and we had beef daily, chicken was very special. When I think about it now, it is quite funny because now, we probably have chicken more than once a week in our household. We don’t have to wait for visitors, we can have it any day. Up to today, however, if you visit many homes in Zimbabwe, especially in the rural parts, as a sign of hospitality, a chicken is slaughtered to welcome you. Furthermore as the visitor, they will dish the choicest pieces of chicken for you to enjoy. Maybe the whole stereotype of blacks loving chicken thing is just us trying to make up for all those years of ‘denial’.

I am not a huge fan of jeans. I do, however, admit that they are very comfortable. I don’t know whether I should be surprised by this but through all the changes in fashion over the years, they are the one constant. They have changed colour and style but they have remained the same, jeans. We have worn them skinny jeans, bell bottom jeans, flared, bootleg, straight cut, stone wash, cross-colour, jeans in all colours, but the denim material remains the constant. They have come a long way these jeans, from being seen as a preserve of weed smoking hippies and arty-farty types to being recognised a component of the vaguely defined ‘smart casual’. To show how far jeans have come in their social acceptability and their status as an icon of fashion, even bank employees are wearing them to work. In a snap survey I did recently out of a group of nearly 50 people at a public gathering, nearly 98% of them were wearing the traditional blue denims, in varying forms, shapes and sizes, just showing the popularity of this fashion item. So maybe as a business idea, for those interested in fashion, instead of making pretentious couture dresses and stuffy suits, make jeans, they are easy to make, cheap raw materials, have wider appeal and a bigger market.

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