Tag: African culture

Beauty and the weave

(Pic: Flickr / Viqi French)
(Pic: Flickr / Viqi French)

It is Wednesday afternoon in Gaborone and I am having a bad hair day. I head into town to see my hairdresser for my monthly haircut. I have deliberately set my appointment for midweek to avoid the mayhem that happens on weekends in the hair salon. As I stride in, behold, four beautiful ladies ALL getting their weaves on. There was a rather colourful assortment of hair pieces ranging from black Brazilians to blond fringes. It suddenly dawns on me that the legend of the weave ladies might be true after all: they prefer visiting the salon smack in the middle of the week when everyone else is at work. Reason? Their obsession with the weave has cost them their hairlines and so they do not want anyone but their hairdressers to witness the calamity that has hit their pretty heads.

They say imitation is the highest form of flattery.  We live in the “hair piece” era and in Botswana many young women do not grow their hair naturally anymore, but instead go out of their way to wear hair that belongs to Brazilians, Peruvians, Malaysians, Mongolians and many other nationalities on their heads. What happened to good old dreadlocks, the afro or even plain straightened hair which can be braided every now and then? Why do we want to imitate members of other races when the African race is so beautiful? Are we losing our identities to the weave craze? Have we been corrupted into conforming to mainstream standards of beauty and femininity, believing that we can’t be beautiful if we wear natural hair? Fake it til’ you make it is the motto.

Being a member of #TeamNatural, chances of me donning a weave are slim to none. I will admit that I did try it out once, out of curiosity. And it is suffice to say my affair with the hair piece ended a week later. I just couldn’t stand the itching and the constant head-patting. It felt like dozens of mosquitoes had purchased real estate on my scalp! And the inability to scratch made it even worse. So I decided to leave it to other ladies, concluding that experience has taught them to handle the discomfort better.

I have no problem with the weave; I just have a problem with natural hair being vilified. Are we going to pass down negative perceptions of black hair to generations after us so they become ingrained in our children’s mentality to the point where they will be accepted as simple truths?

For many black women, the weave is probably the next best thing after high heels. In many parts of Botswana, especially the urban areas, the weave is not just a trend, it’s a lifestyle. It looks really good and boosts a girl’s confidence if sewn on right, making her look and feel like an African queen. The problem is the hair looks so fake it could melt under the merciless Botswana sun.

From itchy scalps and patchy hair loss, these inventions not only cause premature balding but they cost big bucks. The men say they hate it – for two reasons: 1) they want to be able to run their fingers through a woman’s hair without their hand being smacked and 2) 80% of the time they have to pay for it.

I asked one of my friends who has embraced the weave craze about her choice. She said the appeal of it lies in how it makes her feel – sexy, stylish, expensive. “You don’t look basic. And going to the salon often to get it done is one of the few ways of pampering myself, just like getting my nails done or having a massage,” she explained.

Most races – Asian, Caucasian, and Hispanics etc. –  have no problem wearing their hair as is, but in black culture it’s looked upon as subversive. That’s not to say that other races don’t change or play around with their hair (white women wear weaves and call them extensions). However, it becomes concerning when we measure self-worth by what kind of hair we wear – or don’t wear.

Maybe one day, we African women will evolve to a level where we are proud of dark skin and nappy hair; to a level where society deems wearing natural hair as a progressive statement for everyone – not just for poets or the “artsy” or “afrocentric” types. Maybe one day our hair in its natural state will be a symbol of African pride.

Rorisang Mogojwe is a features writer in Botswana. 

What’s the point of polygamy?

Do you have a concubine, a ‘side dish’ or a ‘small house’? In Kenya, now is apparently the time to bring them out so they can be registered officially. Do not be shy, do not hide them. It is time to make the illicit clean and chaste.

It’s been official as of March 20 2014, when a Bill allowing polygamy was passed by our Parliament. If you’re married to a Kenyan man, he can bring home the other woman without your consent – and with the government’s blessings.

One MP, Junet Mohammed, even told her colleagues, “When you marry an African woman she must know the second one is on the way and a third wife..”

But the question is, why?

What do African men need with all these women? What good does it do to the women in the relationship or even the men themselves?

To answer that, I think one must tackle a more important question: What is the point of polygamy? What is the basis for it other than men wanting to have more than one ‘honey’ and a host of different places to sleep at night?

There have been a number of arguments for the role of polygamy within tradition, but none remains as strong as the core one: “It’s our culture”.

As much as we must pay homage to culture, we need to remember it is based on the needs of society and is not static. We must analyse if the reasons for having a particular tradition still hold true.

In the case of polygamy, one can see why the reasons for this practice no longer apply.

Firstly, the economy in Kenya is not what it used to be. The boom that we saw at the beginning of the Kibaki regime has stalled, halted (and some say even reversed) in the past years. The price of food has risen and there is barely enough money going around for people to run one household, let alone two, three or four. Having one household is not a cultural or moral issue; it is just good business sense.

What tends to happen to the average woman in a polygamous relationship is that one household suffers at the expense of another. When one household starts living the good life (cars, expensive schools, holidays etc), funds are diverted from another household. The man benefits regardless of which wife has these ‘perks’, but it’s not an equal arrangement for the women (and children) involved.

On argument that stems from ‘pre-colonial times’ is that polygamy was a way of empire-building. A full house was a powerful house. Children were seen as a source of wealth. However, in this day and age, one need only look at the price of higher education and the children-turned-adults who live with their parents for extended periods of time, sometimes till the ripe old age of 30. Children are not the investment they used to be.

Furthermore, with the rise of absentee fathers in our society, one must question whether men can really be entrusted with the responsibility of parenting children in multiple households when some can barely manage being a father in one.  The strange thing is that these very men who are already negligent of their parental responsibilities are the most vocal about wanting multiple households.

Other reasons for polygamy hold equally as little weight:

  • It is a form of birth control for women: No, we have the pill now.
  • For political alliances: Now you can merely join your local political party. They will handle the alliances on your behalf. Or you can run for office yourself.
  • Agricultural manpower: Children helped farm the earth for food. Well, try going to your local supermarket today with more than two family members and then explain this to me as a justification for polygamy.
  • For male sexual gratification: Now this one is a good one. The world has gone through waves of sexual revolutions and women are no longer passive participants in sex.  The statistics are that a large majority of heterosexual women have never had an orgasm. Handle one woman first, then we can talk.

And if we are going to have polygamy then why can we not have polyandry? If men can be seen to run more than one household then, in the spirit of gender equality, should the same courtesy not be extended to women? Give the average woman an Excel spreadsheet, a car with fuel and some stretching exercises to keep limber and in top shape and watch her show you what running more than one household is about.

A great number of households already suffer from a chronic case of absentee fathers and ‘men-missing-till-midnight’ syndrome. Should we really then institutionalise a practice that is already being somewhat abused? Or could this law possibly strengthen the entire sordid situation by giving women and children who remain in vulnerable situations legal rights?

Could this law possibly be a case of ‘if you can’t beat them, register them’?

I believe there are many men who do not understand the emotional, financial and social responsibilities that come with polygamy. We need to figure out why exactly polygamy is so important outside of being ‘part of tradition’. And if we cannot answer this question then we should not be engaging in polygamy.

Kagure Mugo is a freelance writer and co-founder and curator of holaafrica.org, a Pan-Africanist queer women’s collective which engages in activism and awareness-building around issues of African women’s identity, experiences and sexuality. Connect with her on Twitter@tiffmugo