17 Nov Much Ado About Left Hand
Childhood in Enugu was many things to me. It was plucking mangoes along quiet lanes in GRA, trading cashew for all sorts of things and off course, Christmas at Ngwo. Childhood was also being accompanied by my mother to school at the beginning of an academic year. She had one assignment, to tell the teachers to let me be.
You see, I am left-handed. And being left-handed is (or used be) considered a taboo or bad omen in many cultures. In Nigeria, if it was discovered that a child is left-handed, the entire “community” comes together to cure her/him of the ailment using different antics the most common being wrapping the hand with a bandage and tying it up as though it were broken.
So, my mother would go to all my teachers from kindergarten to Primary 3 to let them know she approved of my being left-handed sternly warning them to refrain from correcting me. But school was a tiny fragment of the problems I would face. If I swept, people would ask, “will you use your left hand to sweep in your husband’s house?”. When I stirred food, they will ask if I would use my left hand to turn garri for my in-laws. When I give them something, some would insist I use my right hand. I dare not talk about my experiences eating outside the home.
Recently, a lady came on Twitter to share her experience with a man who would not collect money from her because she offered with her left hand. As usual, the mob descended on her, everyone with a differing opinion. For most people, their argument was premised on culture.
What is culture? A people’s way of life you say. Or a set of imposed values that apparently guide people to utopia? culture should and must be contextualised. I have said before that a culture that refuses to adapt would not survive generations to come.
The left- and right-hand logic argues that the right symbolises good omen while the left symbolises bad omen and bad luck. Let’s agree for a minute that that is true. Using the same logic, we can arbitrarily say that Anambra represents a bad omen while Enugu represents the good. It doesn’t really matter, right? It’s just symbolism. We can take further by disusing our left leg, eye, left nostrils etc why must we stop at just the hands?
Culture will not change because a generation passed away. It would only change when we begin to re-engineer the minds of people. Left-handed people like me have lived through years of verbal abuse because we by default, (and as it should be) gave or received something from someone using a part of our body. How much longer can we condone such abuses?
We have come a long way from the ’80s and ’90s. However, we must begin to have open conversations about the context of our belief systems. For a mere body part, there is much ado about the left hand.