For years and years Africa has been shown through the perspective of Westerners. Now more than ever, young African creatives are beginning to repaint the image of Africa and her many countries and ethnic groups. Liberal individuals are sharing their first hand stories and experiences about their homeland through mediums such as photography, blogging, poetry, fashion and merchandise designs and many more. Africa is being seen by the world through the eyes and lenses of young millennials, yet in our race to change the world’s perception of our ancient continent, how are our customs and cultures fairing?
Recently I met up with a young lady by the name of Tamia Frank. Tamia is originally from Zimbabwe and moved to Botswana to finish her senior primary and high school career. We met because I reached out to Tamia to offer her a free photoshoot as gratitude to her constant support of my photographic and blogging work since I started several months ago. I put the ball in her court and asked her to style herself in an outfit that best represented her and her persona for our collaboration. A young woman of discipline and conduct, Tamia weighs heavily on her traditional heritage and upbringing to guide her through this fast changing and developing country that is Botswana. It was inevitable that she would turn to her culture for inspiration for our photoshoot.
After meeting at the local taxi stop in Oodi on the outskirts of Gaborone, we drove a short distance to her parent’s farm. Her choice of location was perfect as it added to the rawness of her choice in outfit. While we drove, Tamia explained the history behind her outfit, the controversy it causes when she wears it and why she will always be proud to wear it.
Mzinga is a tradition that has been practiced for the past fifty years in Bindura, Tamia’s home village. This tradition started with a story about a young man called Gift Mzinga who fell gravely ill and upon his deathbed decided to give a blanket to his firstborn son. The blanket was greatly sentimental to Gift as it was the first possession he bought himself with money earned from his job working in the mines. The blanket was symbolic of his departure and ultimately the passing on of responsibility for his family, to his son. The people of Bindura started the tradition of gifting their first born sons with a prized possession as a gift of prosperity and good will. It is almost considered as a blessing from father to son as a coming of age ritual. The gifts can be absolutely anything that is of value to the father gifting it to his son. This tradition has become part of Tamia’s culture and she is proud of it, however; Tamia is the first born daughter in a family of four sisters.
Tamia was only a child when her father gifted her with a beautiful blue and yellow blanket as his Mzinga offering to her. Oblivious to the harsh judgement and retribution her father faced by the community for giving his daughter Mzinga, Tamia grew up a strong young woman. Only recently when she returned to her home village for a wedding and wore her blanket, she felt the wrath of strong traditionalists. Tamia explained that sometimes there is a separation between women and men and it is enforced by the mentality of the elders that women are meant to work in the fields, raise children and tend to the house. Men are allowed to seek an education and find employment. There is a stark contrast between the way men and women are viewed in the more rural areas, such as Bindura. Tamia was suddenly exposed to the narrow minds of her fellow villagers and had to face discrimination from her community because she proudly displayed her gift from her father. She is often taunted and teased by other young ladies; her father is questioned by other men for his choice to give his firstborn daughter Mzinga. Tamia says her father’s resilience and solid mind-set have inspired her to be proud of her heritage regardless of it breaking the norm. She will continue to celebrate her culture and display it through wearing her gift from her father. She is a young and responsible woman who loves her heritage and embraces the 21st century way of life too – she lives the best of both lives.
Thank you for reading Tamia Frank’s story about her heritage.
Please come back tomorrow for another uplifting blog about how African women are tearing down societal beauty standards. Take care. Xx