Are you down for your heritage?
Image from The New Yorker
A heritage can tell the story about where someone comes from, or the people and environment they grew up around. One’s heritage could hold the memory of important events in their people’s history or details about their values, beliefs and temperaments.
“To me heritage is knowing who you are and where you come from. It’s your identity and the inheritance of your culture and tradition as a person. ”
“ My heritage is African. I have Pedi and Ndebele blood running through me. I also believe that my lineage is from the Bantu supergroup that migrated downwards from West Africa, but I’m still tracing my roots so only time will tell.” – Precious Nkadimeng
To have a heritage, all we have to do is decide which cloth we were cut from and how being part of that influences our identity. For most Africans, our heritage is the cultural, ethnic or language groups we are privileged to call our home.
Others’ heritage includes the tangible and intangible things they’ve inherited from the people, environment and experiences that have contributed to their identity.
While I have a personal theory about capitalism being our one true heritage, for this Heritage Month feature, we look at some (6 to be exact) of the different “things” South Africans rep, rock or express as part of their heritage.
1. Family Heritage
Family heritage can be expressed by upholding values or teachings that are synonymous with those of your kinsmen or elders.
In Africa, family heritage is also subconsciously expressed by physical markings like scars or individual traits that are likened to other family members or ancestors. For example, the Ngubanes are renowned for their amputated pinky fingers, which mark almost every member of the clan from birth.
2. Spiritual Beliefs
Beyond their family name or ancestors, many people also go out of their way to show off their religious or spiritual beliefs. Beyond the various uniforms worn, bumper stickers and “church music”, some of the scarification mentioned in point 1 may be for religious reasons.
Africans may respond to certain events, especially within our families, by changing our hair, “dress code” or wearing specific emblems/ adornments to mark such occasions.
3. Hometown Heritage
Above their family name or beliefs, one thing most people will tell you about is where they come from. The experiences and people we encounter because of where we grew up are impressed upon our self-identity from a young age.
The memories, understandings and language we share with people from our “hoods” form the basis of many relationships, and may even teach us things we didn’t know about ourselves.
What embodies the spirit of your hometown?
What are people from, where you are from, like?
For most South Africans, the origin (story) of our townships may be bittersweet, but this doesn’t take away from their feeling of belonging to one. Here and around the world, our hometown heritage touches the way we talk, dress, move, the things we eat and some of the instincts that guide our thinking and behaviour.
4. Life’s Work
Maybe not just career, but coming from a musical family and becoming a musician, or “following in [someone]’s footsteps” are common expressions of heritage.
Perhaps closely linked to the point of family heritage, some families or groups are renowned for their skill in certain professions. Perhaps it’s grooming from a young age or a natural aptitude, but such people may express their heritage by striving to uphold the family name in everything they do.
5. Social Identity
Especially once people go out into the world and experience different people, we may feel a need to wear what makes us different on our sleeves.
As our beliefs, ideas and self-perceptions grow; so do the different ways we try to show people who we are. We may dress a specific way, adopt new ways of doing/ speaking or align ourselves with causes that support our new ideas.
Of all the points mentioned, our social identity is perhaps the only all-encompassing and ever-evolving “heritage root”. Additionally, our personal “heritage” is usually the basis for challenging the archaic bits of each point mentioned above.
Another way in which South Africans express or celebrate their heritage is by starting businesses that are close to their culture, beliefs or overall identity. This type of “corporate heritage” can also be seen in the names people give to their businesses and the activities they choose to partake in.
Image taken from irunjhb.tumblr
“ We fuse African traditional aesthetics with urban streetwear to make our cultures and all African cultures cool and relevant to the youth. Our quest is to make African kids love and be proud of their own cultures and show it through the clothes they wear on the daily; not only when it is heritage day. As the youth, we have to show pride in our cultures and traditional values everyday and export them to the world so they know what we are about.” – King & Neo, from I RUN JHB
“ Heritage is the authenticity of my community. It comes alive in our business through the acts we book and the clients we choose to render our services to. “ – Tshidiso Setshogwe, His & Her Jams
“ The matter of identity and staying true to yourself is something I preach in my music conferences for artists. Especially where brand identity and alignment are concerned. Heritage – of any kind – should be an integral part of every artist’s marketing strategy.” – Precious Nkadimeng, AKA SpokenPriestess
Image taken from Afr.Expl. Magazine
Sometimes you don’t have to tell us who you are, we can see it in your features. Sometimes, the way you speak, carry yourself or your values can tell us everything about the culture that raised you.
Today, you don’t have to dress like a sacred warrior to celebrate your heritage. As read from the points above, all you need is a personal identity and some sort of voice to tell us who you think you are.
Let me go watch Shaka Zulu…