Leaving home is not easy as I have discovered for the second time since leaving Zimbabwe again last year. I long for the sun, for food that I know and for my mother’s language. These days anything and everything can trigger my memories of home and either give me nostalgia or soothe my homesick soul. One thing that does the latter is ethnic fabric print. I have a such an attachment to fabrics that speak to me as an African. I become instantly attached when I see a person adorned in them. But can fabric help us to stay connected to our roots?
By Edinah Masanga
Although fabrics can be used to identify people, Southern Africa lacks a distinct ethnic print of their own. It is interesting to note that when talking about ethnic print we have to focus on East and West Africa. Some parts of Southern Africa embrace this but I realise that the longer the country was colonised the weaker their link to tradition. If we look at Ghana, the kente cloth is very traditional and valued, it had a profound cultural meaning and was hand woven, not the fake cotton print that we see, this kills culture. So you find the people of Ghana have a stronger unity and identify with Kente because by 1957 they had gained independence yet we were still in the yorks of depression brought by colonialism. Fabric plays an important role in our culture as black people but the African heatwave brought in by the commercial industry dilutes the value of African print and what it means to us as our source of pride. When we teach children, we have to try to emphasise that what they see today is mostly a fashion fad but long back African print was for cultural and special events. In Zimbabwe we have the Retso print which is a red, black and white chevron style distinctive print. This is associated with hard working people and was used to identify and celebrate prowess. Some chose to demonise it because of the distortion brought by the colonisers when they came with Christianity as a tool to brainwash and control us.
I sat down via skype with award winning Zim fashion designer Zuwa Re to discuss ethnic prints, and whether parents should teach children born in the diaspora about their roots.
“I think identity first and foremost is taught by the parent or carer of that child. Children appreciate and internalise what they learn from people they trust, in this case the parent or carer is the first teacher before the child is exposed to other education. Children create attachments with their parents and are eager to learn and value and please their parents when they are younger. It is there fore the best time to teach the self value, respect and pride. We are fortunate to know our roots and we have to impart this wisdom upon the children. It is like oral tradition and it can only stay alive if we continue talking and teaching them about who they are, where they come from, what culture means and their food and values. The totem is an essential part of who we are as Zimbabweans, it helps us to identify our roots, lineage and our DNA. This helps to avoid complications associated with marrying the same DNA type. All these things we have to teach them through talking, you know long back they used folklore to tell stories of importance, it is the same tradition we should carry to preserve the African child”, she said
We do not have a multiple identity, we are Africans first and we adopt other cultures but we are organically Africans and that is who we forever will be. We are influenced by our surroundings, so away from home we have to work extrahard to preserve our culture and identity to erase a feeling of confusion and lost helplessness.
But should children know their background?
To this Zuwa Re said – “I believe the best inheritance any parent can give their child is the knowledge of who they are. What tribe they come from, what totem and the cultural norms and values that come along with being a Zimbabwean. Simple things like respecting an elder, self respect and speaking our native language help with raising strong and confident children who are culturally aware and proud. Some children cannot even understand a simple shona command like “gara pasi” here because we don’t teach them shona or Ndebele, its so sad. So it is a failure on our parts as parents because it is our duty to impart this valuable knowledge to them. Other African children born and raised here speak their languages , there is no excuse for us as Zimbabweans, we have failed. Nigerians, Ghanians and other nationals speak their languages so what is our reason for not helping our children. This causes the children to go through a confusing period when they reach their teens, they feel lost and act out because they have no identity, they might have British or whatever adopted country passports but if they do not know who they are there is a crisis. It is very serious and am trying my part, but we all need to, some children do not even know what sadza is or even eat it. When we do this we create problems for the children, when they go home they do not fit in, here they are reminded that they are not indigenous, we then have troubled teens and wayward youths. It is our duty to teach them culture, heritage and all things African to create a better and brighter future for them”.
With the rise of immigration, this century could be dubbed the immigration era in the future, how does cross cultural marriages affect one´s culture. Or do they?
“Cross cultural marriages have been there for ages, when this happens we need to teach them the best of both cultures because that is what makes them. Children will always choose which of the two cultures to identity with the most. It is however important to teach them who they are. Fashion is a less serious way of teaching the basic things so as designers we need to think carefully of the messages we are pushing and their impact and contribution to the preservation of our culture. I always say fashion educates in a less serious way, and the messages have a magic bullet effect. We can make a positive change through fashion. We teach them best of our Zimbabwean culture and the best the best of the other culture. That way we have balanced children who have pride and knowledge of who they are. This avoids bullying as they are confident of they are. When a child knows themselves, they can achieve anything”, said Zuwa Re.
I wanted to know more about Zuwa Re and how she came to be a designer since she first studied for a Bsc in Media and Society studies and MSU in Zimbabwe.
“ I think life is a journey and you constantly discover and rediscover yourself. I came into the world of designing by nature. I did fashion and fabrics at Fletcher High School and I was one of the top students. My teacher Mrs Ndaguta was amazing and she believed in me , she made me think I could do anything and it is that believe that placed me where I am today. My greatest passion is to demystify the bad thing associated with culture, certain cultural practices and our beautiful country. I am not preserving the beauty of the African woman through a mixture of vintage and modern creations. It is a journey and we are walking steadily”, she said.
In line with amplifying women´s voices I will be interviewing women on various issues from now on.