BY GIKONYO MACHARIA
Due to my love for photography and interest, I was inspired to attend this photo exhibition that was advertised as Jerry Riley\’s new photography show "Evoking Hawa" at the simple but very calm Le Rustique Restaurant on General Mathenge Rd, and yes it did invoke Hawa greatly – through the great art, culture, history and story that is the Kanga, not to mention all the beautiful people in attendance. So I did some more research on the Kanga as it fascinates me too.
Heri Kuniuliza Kuliko Kunichunguza (Better to ask me than spy on me).
The Kanga has been Kenya’s and by extension East Africa’s national dress/clothe since before all of us were alive – yet we have the audacity to put on a grossly exaggerated search for a national dress, which off course failed flat on its behind – as expected. Who even remembers what the so-called national dress looked like? Who doesn’t know what a Kanga looks like or is it a Lesso – Kanga is Ki Unguja and Lesso is Ki Mvita (that would be Zanzibar Swahili versus Mombasa Swahili for the uninitiated) so the speaker, Mshai, let us know.
Mapenzi hudumu ukila zabibu (love lasts if you eat grapes)
The main speaker at the exhibition was Mshai Mwangola Githongo and isn’t she an orator? She took the audience through the history of the Kanga and her own personal story of the Kanga. The import of her message was that Kanga is at once communal as it is personal for East Africans (including the islands of Mauritius, Seychelles and Comoros). But the clincher from her talk, for me, was the fact that the messages on the Kanga are traditionally used to pass subtle messages by the lady wearer to those in her family/social circles. Like one she got from her mother that read ‘mdomo wako ndio shida yako\’ or something of the sort. Translated to mean ‘your mouth is your problem’ and she was kind enough to confirm that she is indeed a chatter-box.
So this got me thinking, if that is how society used to use the Kanga, then Facebook and by extension social media has just made this possible for millions in the world to enjoy this form of subtle messaging that is distinctly East African. Have you noticed or been part of this phenomenon? Say if you are a guy who has been accused by the girlfriend of having a roving eye, you will most probably join the facebook group ‘I am not a pervert, I just like adding girls to my profile’. This kind of subtle messaging extends to status\’ updates, which are not direct but implicit in their message to the intended target. Thus, one who has not been such a good friend of late will post an update like \’friends are forever, forgive and forget\’.
Posting of subtle messages is also very common on twitter and other social networking sites and this is best achieved by posting related direct or indirect web articles. So if you are having a problem with your boss, try ‘11 signs you are a bad boss’. Off course, just like the Kanga, you must be sure that the intended recipient of the message views it. So whereas for a Kanga you would have to wear it in plain sight of your recipient, for the social networking site, you must make sure that your recipient is your \’friend\’, \’follows you\’, \’in your network\’ etc etc.
This kind of subtle messaging is very African, where proverbs, sayings and stories were used to communicate and where wisdom is mostly a measure by how well one is able communicate without really communicating – especially in complex situations like dowry negotiations.