African Women, Western Women
As I was relaxing on the beach in Valencia, all around me there were topless women, and that got me to thinking about the village of Gouria, located high in the mountains of The Extreme North of Cameroon, West Africa. Myself, together with six other volunteers adopted this village in 1999, and we are lending support and guidance to bring the citizens of this remote area into the 21st century. I should add that this is at the request of the people themselves.
When we first encountered the village life progressed largely as it did at least one thousand years ago, with the exception that the motorbike had become a form of transport that was owned and used by some of the young men of the village. There was also a dirt road that carried trucks and a few cars past the village, and as a result some visitors from far off places came into contact with the people.
Their life style was very simple, and was ordered by the break of day and the setting of the sun. The daily routine was unrelenting, in that there was always the search for wood and water, and herding of the cows and goats, and working in the fields to grow crops. Most of this work was done by the women and children as the men concerned themselves in meetings to discuss the present and future of the area.
The village had many customs and traditions that have existed since time immemorial, many of which our little solidarity group still don't understand. As a people, our tribal group are known as The Kapisiki, and are as pure an ethnic specimen as can be found. Their culture is somewhat complex for the foreigner to understand, but it has worked for them. We do not agree with everything that we have learnt, but we first and foremost respect what they have.
We entered the picture at their invitation because they were concerned that their boys were not being educated, and the request was made of us to help. We, of course had to insist that if they wanted our help they would have to agree to educate both boys and girls. They were simple people but they were not stupid. I want to focus on the attitude of the women, and to a certain extent, the men.
We have all seen those National Geographic films depicting Africans in their native dress. The women of our village dressed in like manner in that they covered up their lower body but went about bare chested, the same as the men. The men likewise covered their torsos, but they did not seem to notice the female's exposed breasts.
Over the years we have brought education to the children, and their parents of Gouria. We have also introduced certain other social benefits, including providing the children with shoes. The change of attitude was electric upon putting on shoes for the first time. We were astonished to observe how the children held themselves erect, and their sense of pride was palpable.
As the children progressed in their education , and as they carried themselves with more pride and respect, so too did the mothers start to wrap their upper halfs in cloth. Our teachers are native locals, who are helped by the occasional visitor from abroad, but it was not a part of our philosphy to have women cover their breasts. There are Christian churches in the area who might have had something to do with the change, but the end result is that most of our women are now covered up.
Switch now to Europe, where for many years European women have reserved to themselves the right to sun themselves on the beach topless. The beach, and on the water are the only places where this is done in public, but there are also nudist beaches to worship the sun completely naked. The European attitude to full frontal nudity has always been healthy as we are all constructed in the same manner, so it's no big surprise to anyone. However, it's curious that in Africa where women have always been completely un-selfconcious, that practice there is going in one direction while in Europe and The United States the trend is in the opposite direction.
For the record, I note that exposed women's breasts in public are not sexy. The woman who wears a fashionable bra is sexy, until she takes it off. Sexy is in the imagination, or in my bedroom. I, together with my companion, once wandereed into a nudist hotel late at night in France because we were desperate for a bed for the night. Breakfast was taken while nude, which excited us, but our fellow diners were not impressed with us sexually, but they sure were impressed how smooth our skin was. (They were all senior citizens.)
A while ago there was a boatlod of Africans who had been at sea for far too long. They were in dire straits with some of those on board who had died. The boat drifted ashore on a nudist's beach, and I hate to seem to be making light of such a serious situation, but surely for the survivors encountering a whole beach full of naked white people must have been quite a shock for them
What is your tribe, and take me to your leader!
Copyright (c) 2011 Eugene Carmichael