Early this year the Ugandan parliament passed what they called an Anti-pornography bill which was soon after enacted into law. The legislation was envisaged to curb the perceived decaying moral standards of the conservative East African Nation. The law criminalizes “….. the showing of sexual parts of a person such as breasts, thighs, buttocks or sexual genitalia.” Simon Lokodo, Uganda’s Ethics and Integrity Minister and the main figure behind the Bill, clarified : “Any attire which exposes intimate parts of the human body, especially areas that are of erotic function, are outlawed. Anything above the knee is outlawed. If a woman wears a miniskirt, we will arrest her.” Since the law was passed a number women wearing mini skirts have been physically attacked and assaulted in the streets of the capital, Kampala by self appointed moral vigilantes. Here in Kenya and in South Africa women being assaulted and stripped in public has become a frighteningly far too common an occurrence. According to proponents of the Ugandan law and the so-called moral vigilantes, – all men, it is meant to protect our African moral values from decadent western influence. This is a bit strange as even a cursory glance at African traditional dress and the dressing mode of some of the tribes still untouched by western values even today reveals a wonderful celebration of the human body and a matter of fact acceptance of nakedness. All over Africa, men and women in traditional communities like the Karamajong in Uganda, the Samburu and Turkana, in Kenya, the Nuba of Southern Sudan, and many others continue to dress appropriately for the climate without hullabaloo about the morality of their dress. In fact, it was the Westerner that was shocked and embarrassed on his first contact with the Africans. Elspheth Huxley one of the chroniclers of this contact recorded one such encounter with the Kikuyu. She noted how a group of men and women settlers were embarrassed in front of young Kikuyu men, who “smelt powerfully and richly, though not unpleasantly of rancid fat and red earth, wore short leather cloaks which failed to hide their genitals … the girls with nothing on but very small triangles of leather and string of beads, and whose breasts were still half-formed and therefore firm and in the right position” Another of the early chroniclers writing of “the long African night” before the Dawn, and how the eternal savage “unchanged, undeveloped, uncivilized with his clothing (if any) of skins almost unchanged during countless generations was in a perpetual state of stagnation.” and according to another missionary, “As for clothing, satisfied as Mother Nature brought them into the wild, if they threw anything on their bodies, it was for ornament, not for protection.” It was the feeling of the Christian missionaries that the African was immoral, and that he needed to be lifted from this “natural depravity” through Christianization and the instilment of sound moral values. The new mode of dressing introduced by the missionaries was therefore meant to save these decadent pagans and fashion men and women from this raw savage as one Raoul Allier wrote “turning all these aborigines into true men, fully developed and capable of progress.” Progress of cause in pornography, rape, and eroticization of the mind and body. It is therefore obvious that the so-called African values that are preached today and presented as authentically African are nothing more than missionary standards. When someone says, “such and such a dress is un-African”, what he really means is that such a dress is un-missionary or is pushing him/her towards eroticism and away from Soul awareness. The thin line between erotic susceptibility of the mzungu and soulful celebration of nudity by true Africans must be understood. Such laws as the Ugandan Anti-pornography law are a sick joke played on the true African who would like to emancipate himself from erotic susceptibility and from the stifling three piece suits and tuxedos. I suppose the Ugandan people should be thankful of their post-independent government that is trying to protect them from falling back and returning to “natural depravity” But seriously, is the shielding and protection from nudity the panacea for a moral society? It may come as a surprise to the Ugandan lawmakers in their stiffling and extremely ugly three piece suits that young men in traditional African societies like Huxley was recording and existing in many parts of Africa today did not and do not walk around in a perpetual daze of erotic excitement. On the contrary, the level of control was excellent and rape was unheard of. There was no such thing as unwanted pregnancy or abortion and neither were babies raped as is reported in today’s African society. A more open discussion of the human body where it is brought back into social consciousness, into the public realm may do more than so-called sex education where the discussions of the body are more often than not sexualized and sex is seen as something dirty and to be hidden. I have in mind such discussions as public art where the body is celebrated like Michelangelo did. In actual fact, some of his most wonderful explorations of the naked human body are to be found in the Sistine Chapel within the Vatican, the very Chapel where the Pope is selected. Or are Africans now more Catholic than the Pope? Silly fellows!! It is amazing that we do not appreciate public nude art enough to fill our cities with statues and murals of nudes. This is one way that youth today may begin to get comfortable with nudity from an early age. Once the mystery is removed the body shall no longer be a mysterious object existing in the dark colonized pornographic mind of the African but shall be seen as Michelangelo saw it – a reflection of the Divine. Below are a few images from Michelangelo and traditional Africa. Such an intoxicating wonderful joyfulness cannot be condemned as primitive or erotic.
10 thoughts on “The Politics of African “Moral” Dress”
Mbica icio ni thaka muno. Niku ungiona andu athaka uguo na matiire na uhoro wa njaga yao. Airitu acio a thamburu makwendwo monanio mari “Aiiritu a bururi wa kenya”
Talk of the African soul being battered for ten pieces of silver.
Breath of fresh air this is exactly my sentiment , although Every time I speak about nakedness Africans behave as if I’m talking about pork. Nude is the natural state of the human body.
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Wow. What a tragedy to see the internalisation of imported body-shaming. I was a small, often naked child when I first saw photographs of grown-up tribal people wearing appropriate adornments for hot weather. I noticed that some of them smiled in a way that I only saw on very rare occasions around me in real life. I decided, by age four, that I needed to find-out everything I could about the sorts of people who could live like that. I became an armchair anthropologist. God willing, I will join a hunter-gatherer group in subsaharan Africa before they get culturally digested, killed by disease and habitat loss, or murdered by logging or mining obsessions. Hopefully my timing will be just right in the spectrum of globalisation, and my symbionts won’t sicken them. Also I plan to walk a long time to arrive, rather than hopping a plane. Hopefully my body will gradually assimilate local organisms along the route and I will be less trouble to them that way.
I plan to die there, although if my birth people will listen, I intend to send soundbites ‘back home’, though home I have none. Probably in the form of culture-disruptive questions.
Daniel Quinn, in ‘Ishmael’ famously asked, “With man gone, will there be hope for gorilla?”
Did Zo’e girls in Brazil ‘sit modestly’ prior to the arrival of cameras? Do the punishments for failure to abide by sexual mores in any society (as distinct from acts of aggression carried-out while aroused sexually) fit the ‘crimes’?
Nitucokie Rui mukaro
Well, first change their names, second their food, third their dressing, then their believes and that way you will easily and ultimately rule them. Abram to Abraham, Hadassar to Esther, Daniel; Hananiah; Mishael; Azariah were also changed but some areas they couldn’t at all; their food and their thinking philosophy.
Nakedness is not the physical nudeness but lack of proper governing etiquettes forgot our beautiful Kikuyu communal checks and balances and now in confused individualistic hypocrisy.
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Communal checks. That’s right. Everyone looked out for everyone.
This is such an enlightening post. First, I am a millenial, and much of my knowledge and education on sexuality came from watching western movies, shows, music videos etc. Of course I learned about sex at school in my biology class, which covered reproduction, but not comprehensively. A biology teacher could not provide a detailed coverage on the intricacies of sex or nudity the way the precolonial mugikuyu implemented nguiko. So, the masculine and feminine fabric of the current society has been perforated to the point that people lack self-control and consciousness, particualrly for men, in circumstances where nudity is embraced. Thus, instances of rape, incest, and pedophilia are pervasive in the modern society. As a result, legislations such as Uganda’s anti-pornography bill are introduced and executed to actually control the “daze of erotic excitement,” as you had mentioned. Indeed, we have no harmony of the mind, body, and soul.
Thank you Mukuyu for this revelation. The knowledge your are providing on this site is changing every aspect of me.
religions are the problem!
Hey I love this! I am a Kenyan student at Harvard and I will cite this in an essay