By Dr Michelina Andreucci
STRIDING through the wet streets of Harare’s central business district (CBD), I was visually accosted by the sight of mannequins, women’s scarlet lingerie, camisoles and a variety of other women’s intimate, personal undergarments glaring in all directions from behind shop windows.
I wondered if it was the norm for our otherwise conservative Zimbabwean culture to be so shameless.
Red feminine undergarments: brassieres, knickers, tangas and thongs, bikinis, briefs, and g-strings; red teddy bears, red stuffed hearts, fancy red-laced heart-shaped pillows, red artificial flowers and other red knick-knacks shouted at the pedestrians prancing and parlancing along the dangerous, crowded, wet and crumbling pavements, daring all to buy!
Blooming in the CBD shop fronts is yet another whiteman’s burden — St Valentine’s Day fever — thrust upon the indigenous African psyche.
Valentine’s Day has resulted in many indigenous women feeling unloved and unappreciated because the African male gender of the species may have not yet comprehended or appreciate its significance, and rightly so.
Many young (and not so young) modern women have shed tears; newly-wed couples have almost divorced, while the more suspicious and insecure among us have checked their spouses’ cellphones and android tablets to see if someone else has received flowers, chocolates and/or roses instead of them.
The cellular phone becomes a dangerous weapon on Valentine’s Day!
Elvis Presley was astutely aware of love, and jealously, when he sang the song ‘Suspicious Minds’; he must have had an urban Zimbabwean lady in mind.
No offence intended!
In days of yore in Italy and Britain, unmarried girls would wake up very early, before sunrise, on St Valentine’s Day to stand by their windows and wait for men to pass.
The belief (or hope) was that the first man they saw that day would marry them within the year.
English playwright William Shakespeare mentioned this in his play Hamlet when Ophelia sings: “…good morrow, ‘tis St Valentine’s Day, all in the morning betime, and I a maid at your window, to be your Valentine…”
St Valentine’s Day was a means to express their emotions at a time when direct expression of one’s feelings was discouraged, especially for women.
It is estimated that 25 percent of all cards sent each year are Valentines; they total one billion St Valentine’s Day cards sent each year, 85 percent of them by women!
In the past, cheaper postage rates contributed to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine’s Day greetings.
St Valentine’s Day is a Western day for lovers, celebrated with much charm, enthusiasm and gaiety.
In most Western countries, people express love for their beloved on this day by presenting them with chocolates, flowers, sweetly-worded cards and other special gifts.
Love in the Western context is represented as carnal love.
Has sleaze and commercialisation turned ‘love’ to a cheap commodity today?
St Valentine’s Day sales recorded during 2016 confirm the commercial significance and exploitation of this day.
While everybody wants to be loved, (hapana asingade kudiwa), what are our own traditional customs of love?
As an artist, florist and designer, one is expected to be sensitive, flexible, free-thinking and even romantic on this day; but as a rational scholar it is hard to ignore the commodification of love that came with the colonisation of Africa.
While the West, who commodify love, castigates indigenous people, including Africans for their custom of ‘roora/lobola’ (bride price), somehow when faced with something so precious as love, the indigenous psyche feels that we cannot put a price on it, and roora/lobola becomes more symbolic of societal integration than monetary exchange.
That is how it is supposed to be.
An integral part of hunhu/ubuntu was the indigenous courtship ritual of roora.
While a couple was dating, the go-between would be ascertaining the suitability of the suitor through a long-winding protocol.
The suitor (the prospective mukwasha), is finally introduced to the family, not without disparaging looks from the brothers, who would also want to ensure the prospective suitor is well-heeled to keep them supplied with beer no doubt!
Both parties engage an go-between (munyayi/mutumwa) to negotiate and deliberate on the nuptials.
The philosophy behind this is that beyond the immediate couple, a marriage is between families and the communities in further concomitance to the African norms of hunhu/ubuntu.
While the indigenous communal system of a marriage union may appear as interference to the Western mind, this arrangement implies a shared responsibility for the successful union of the couple.
According to African philosophy, a man or woman marries into a lineage. Therefore, if a man beats his wife, he beats the wives of the whole community; equally, if he looks after his wife, he looks after the wives of the village.
But what does our hunhu/ubuntu and African sensibilities have to say regarding Valentine’s Day?
Is Valentine’s Day part of our indigenous philosophy, cultural make-up and aesthetics?
The scarlet colour that is associated with February 14 and Valentine’s Day has many symbols; while it alludes to love in the West, in Zimbabwe, the colour red is associated with war and the spilling of blood and the termination of life; the colour red is forbidden during many indigenous ceremonies.
The concept of love in African culture and spaces reaches beyond the mere consent of a couple and broadens its tentacles to a communal, national and universal realm.
Love, in an African context embodies the tenets of hunhu/ubuntu, tolerance, acceptance and integration.
The colonisation and commodification of love that is symbolised on St Valentine’s Day is, if anything, a celebration of European commercial interests. Africa, in its desire to be part of the global village, has absorbed many of the foreign cultures and rituals that are not part of its heritage.
The local mass media overdo their advertisements of rowdy gigs, dinners, lunches, drinks and love parties.
The electronic media is awash with Valentine’s Day messages to lost, past and prospective lovers.
Shops, department stores, sports shops, hotels, pharmacies, restaurants, cafes and even street vendors cashed in on this one day of love with revealing cheap synthetic red see-through knickers and other intimate underwear; a variety of trinkets, perfumes, cosmetics and masses of manufactured artificial plastic roses, as insincere as the messages that accompany the gifts; all to cash-in, find out, ensnare, exploit and lure innocent men on this day of love.
The next thing is the scourge of Eurocentric supernatural pastors will be advertising ‘anointed roses’ and ‘anointed panties’ as a commodification of religion.
I would not be surprised if the so-called ‘men-of-god’ distributed anointed designer condoms and g-strings on this day.
Another heathen holiday in the guise of European civilisation.
Semi-naked shop dummies clad in scarlet lingerie and miniscule underwear; red teddy bears and stuffed hearts of red, are some of the enterprising gimmicks that fill the windows of nakedness in order to entice customers, stripping our culture again of its central tenets of hunhu/ubuntu.
I am reminded of a blind beggar jingling a measly coin in her enamel cup for survival outside a city department store; the old woman who for years I thought was sightless said ‘maita henyu ambuya murungu’, when I dropped a few coins in her cup.
It took a long time for the words to register, until I realised that she could see beyond the nakedness of the shop windows.
She continued: “Kufumuka nekusapfeka kwedu kwazonyanya pamberi pa Mwari” – our nakedness is now too much for God’s eyes.
Had she seen the nakedness displayed in the shop windows announcing the commemoration of yet another heathen holiday?
Should Zimbabweans not be more discerning, concerning which customs we embrace as sacrosanct?
‘Chakafukidza dzimba matenga…..’!
Dr Michelina Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant lecturer and specialist hospitality interior decorator. She is a published author in her field.
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