On Sunday witnessed a crucial moment in a little girl’s life. At my usual hair salon in Yeoville, a little girl of about 7 is shaving off her big Afro for reasons unknown to the rest of us. Her mother and older sister or aunt are on either side of her speaking in melodic Xhosa. At stage two of the girl’s transformation, the part where the hair isn’t cleanly shaven but the head is covered in uneven tufts, the mother and aunt stop their conversation to proclaim “Yhu awumbi”! (Gosh, you’re so ugly) I search for a reaction on the girls face and it appears, like me, she is stunned into silence and resignation. I look away and notice the mother and aunt have nonchalantly moved past that moment and are facing each other above the child’s head, talking about something else, as if they had just said pass the salt.
In many African homes, being told you are fat or ugly is usually not said to offend. It’s usually said matter- of-factly by someone who loves you very much like your mother or grandmother. I don’t know why. I think it’s because historically, as a currency, beauty ranked lower than the ability to produce children, coming from a wealthy family or being a physically stout, even corpulent woman. 100 years ago, it the sensibilities of little black girls had not yet been merged with generally trying experience of life that little black girls in the world have today.
Image: J Quazi King