Who owns Sierra Leone’s culture?
There has been a lot of conversation around culture and tradition lately. Most especially around the question of cultural preservation. You are a ”real Sierra Leonean” if you say everything about our culture is good and you're a Westernized trope if you have a view that our culture must and should evolve.
I am not the face of culture or tradition in Sierra Leone, I don't seek to be. In fact, I know that in many circles I am considered to be everything that is wrong with educated Sierra Leonean women, especially because my education was acquired outside of home.
It has been written and said that I am against my culture because of my position on female genital cutting, and because of my rejection of traditional gender roles. I don't know my place as a woman. To some I am not even a woman, I am a man. HA!
But who owns our culture anyway? Is it something that anyone can keep? And those who claim to be the keepers of our culture, when did we vote for them and what makes their voices any more valid than my own? I don't have any answers for you.
What I do know is this: I am my culture. I create and shape culture everyday. And that culture is a mix of my past, my present, and also has elements of my future in it as I evolve in real time. One day when I become an ancestor? future generations will use me as point of reference. They will do what I am doing today and call it culture. I am the culture and so are you.
On the right is a wooden carving that has sat in our house in Freetown for the past 30 years.
I'm sure my grandparents bought it and kept it because it had some value to them.
Today the carving is still in our home. The only purpose it serves now, is to remind us of our grandparents. We don't know why they bought it. We don't know how it got into our house. We don't know what the carving is supposed to represent.
When I was thinking of what to do with my hair, I remembered the carving. I went to it and I thought, well I guess this will do.
And so here we are, the two of us, with our traditional hair, and breasts on show.
Though I must say as you can see I went way more conservative on the breast than the carving. Seems our ancestors culture was to show way more of the bobbi than I am doin. Oona gee me credit small tiday.
My hairstyle is political, it is art, it is style, and it is also for me an act of love. I use my hair to pay homage to those who came before and also to shape the culture for tomorrow.