Written by Andronicus Enoch Muwanguzi
A piece of mind: beauty of an African
What’s beauty and how is it ranked? A question I ask myself quite often, as in, who doesn’t want to be beautiful? Not only the ladies, even the men (speaking for myself here) enjoy having the beautiful/handsome attribute to their name as it is a sole factor in attracting the opposite force. But as much as beauty is largely attributed to good looks, it has an extra ranking in society.
The nature of beauty I’m dealing with is the one hand in hand with morals/etiquette. A beautiful woman/person, according to my view of morals and etiquette is one that will poses a package of respectable and acceptable behavior in society. Someone respected and admired in the society not for material wealth and looks but because of their social attribute.
But what’s this acceptable/ respectable behavior in society?
For every different society, region or country there are different acceptable behavior. For example in my country Uganda, ethnicity Muganda, it was only natural for someone to kneel when greeting, more so to the ladies. And someone who’d do this often with the elders, greeting with a smile would be regarded of upright moral upbringing hence their beauty in society. For a lady who treated people with such utmost respect, the quality of suitors was also to be high. It had to be a man who had evidenced his manly qualities in terms of cattle they owned, land they had, it was the work of their hands that proved a man’s potential to take care of this beautiful lady. The society could even, at a certain age allow the boy to build his own shelter around home so that he moves out of his father’s house. All this so that if the boy is indeed hardworking, then his work would easily standout without the shadow of the father who proved himself ages ago.
Dressing/ attire was also one way of expressing beauty. The women of my ethnicity could wear gomesi when on prestigious functions. A gomesi or busuuti is a colorful floor-length dress. It is the most commonly used costume for women in Buganda and Busoga, Wearing a gomesi is still an art in itself. “From a sash that will not stay in place, to material that keeps sliding away, the trouble it takes to put on a gomesi might not seem worth it, but a woman who perfected this dressing was indeed beautiful. She’d be respected as it’s believed that the gomesi is of elegance. The men on the other side wore a kanzu. The kanzu was like a handmade white dress topped onto with a coat. This also filled a man with pride, he’d be of significance for having the best made kanzu.
Furthermore, a woman had to be highly capable in the arts of cooking. There was great discipline in this sacred art and whoever mastered it was indeed beautiful. In my ethnicity for instance, women were expected to be fine at preparing bananas (Matooke) food, and their success at its preparation deemed them quite respectable. First, the women to do the preparations would cover themselves fully in cloth and kneel as they peeled off the banana peelings. This was an act of respect to the food and only peeled Matooke made it to the kitchen. And then the actual cooking took place, the woman kneeling to arrange the food in the cooking pots carefully wrapped in banana leaves that at the time of serving the food would be presented in a kind of wrapped up package. Such success was a woman’s beauty that even with the good looks, she needed these qualities else she’d be deemed useless and suitors would have considerations taking her on knowing that she wasn’t complete.
The beauty of an African woman was also evidenced in their self-consciousness. She had to be respectful, confident and determined. Their determination was most portrayed in marriage. An African woman was never to divorce. Once married, that’s it and however many women the husband married at the same time, they all had to co-operate (at least in his eyes).
So beauty turned out to be a package, a set of qualities supplemented by the charming looks that seem to have taken over the definition of beauty today. Which makes me wonder, are we fully beautiful? Well, gone are the days when beauty was by one’s social traits and not having tons of makeup upon their face.
Text © Andronicus Enoch Muwanguzi
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