By Taruberekera Brighton
In the recent past, a Chinese museum has displayed a series of portraits titled ‘This Is Africa’ whose images present African subjects side by side with animals. Many people have already waved racist cards arguing that it degrading black people in viewing them as ‘subhuman’.
However, is the display not a mere artistic presentation of the concept of totems in the African society? And as Africans we usually take pride in our totems and brag about them. Is it bad when foreigners present the concept artistically or otherwise?
Racism exists and it is a crime against humanity. Wars and genocide have been carried out under the influence of this ugly creature. Racism should be condemned strongest in all possible terms. However, I do believe that in some cases, Africans, and blacks to be specific have at times been cry babies especially in the twenty first century. Someone fail to secure employment because he or she is incompetent and lacks merit and blame it on ‘ because I am black’.
I have had the experience of sitting next to someone with body oduor on public transport. Suppose someone who is not black is in that same context and he or she refuses to sit there then immediately the racist card is waved.
A person is called with his or her totem when they do great things for the family or community. During meal times, family members can use totems to appreciate the person who cooked or brought food on the table.Totems can also be used when appreciating someone who has been victorious or has achieved something in life. In my country we have people who are known as ‘Sekuru Gudo’ (Baboon) , ‘Shoko’ ( Monkey) among others. It is quite common or almost an everyday thing to hear someone bragging that ‘Ndiri Shumba nyange zvikaoma sei handidye muriwo’ ( I am a ‘Lion’ and will never eat herbs no matter the circumstances). We take pride in that, its an everyday greeting and a way to identify ourselves. Also numerous books have been written about our ‘pride in totems’.
In the streets of our African cities it is common to find vending stalls for totemic picture frames with all the clan praises. These frames are every household artefacts and we have the ‘Mhofu Yemukono’ (Eland clan)‘Samaita’ ( Zebra clan), Zenda (Bird) among others. Certain denominations of Christianity have agitated for the elimination of totems.
However when a foreigner especially someone who is not black does the same to an African, the whole world goes crazy over the issue. Some have gone to an extent of calling on the deportation of Chinese in African countries. Yes they can go but is China was to do the same ‘cry babies’ would weep.
The authorities at the museum can be only exercising their freedom of expression by artistically presenting the concept of totems to an international audience. Instead of continuously being cry babies, Africans can present our own story to the international arena rather than wait for some to do it for us and later on throw tantrums that it is a wrong interpretation which prejudice our humanity. This reminds me of the 1949 Union Shona bible translation. The translation of ‘a drunkard’ (Greek methusos , 1 Corinthians 5:11) or ‘drunkards’ (1 Corinthians 6:10) in the Union Shona is a case in point here. The Shona Bible translates these as kana anosinwa (or plural vanosimwa) doro (singular; meaning those who occassionally/sometimes drinks beer).
The trend of misinterpretation we suffer as African has also been noted in our socio-economic life. We are told statistics about how our economies are performing, how many of us have ever wondered on whose standards we are measured? When they say, for instance that 87% of Zimbabweans are unemployed basically informal traders, farmers and artisanal miners are seen as unemployed. Isn’t that when someone comes and asks you where is your brother even if he is a hwindi (tout/conductor) the response is ‘aenda kubasa’ (he has gone to work). Thus although it might be of a low profile but he is working.
Brighton Taruberekera aka @tbmunyori is a political science student at the University Of Zimbabwe. He is also a poet. Above all, he is passionate about writing. The views expressed above are completely his. He can be contacted on 0778992045 / firstname.lastname@example.org or www.facebook.com/tbmunyori.