September is lovely. The colorful displays of Spring usher in Heritage month, with it’s plethora of colours that make up our Rainbow Nation. Although our cultural flair is displayed throughout the year, it comes to full bloom during Heritage month. We remember where we come from and dedicate a month with a public holiday to celebrate our heritage. We know that one day in September doesn’t fully express who we are, but we are nonetheless proud to wear our traditional attire and have events to celebrate our heritage on Heritage Day. It’s beautiful, and I couldn’t be prouder of my Sesotho Heritage.
I read up a bit on the heritage of Naomi Osaka, who won the US Open, against Serena Williams. The whole story about that game has been making its rounds in social media, with so much being said about Serena’s behaviour etc, but this is not what this post is about. I saw something on Facebook about how Wikipedia had Naomi’s heritage as Haitian-Japanese, and after her grand win,changed it to Japanese. I have no idea why that was done, but I know that half of who she was, was left out deliberately. She was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and Haitian- American father (according to Wikipedia, she and her sister kept their mother’s surname for practical reasons while they lived in Japan) . Naomi left Japan for the United States when she was 3 years old, and has dual citizenship from both countries. In the United States, if you are of mixed race, and have a black parent, you are classified as African American, if I am correct…So what does that make Naomi, Japanese? Haitian American? It’s quite clear what the media prefers to call her, probably because she represents Japan in the game. She is also not fluent in Japanese. Whatever the case, I find her beautiful, with a rich and colourful heritage. A picture of what so many people in this world don’t like because they like to put people in boxes, and if the box doesn’t fit, confusion erupts and prejudiced anchors are hurled to weigh someone down in the category chosen for them.
I grew up in a family where we all spoke English to one another. I still speak English in the home, to my husband and children. Not because it’s a superior language or that I love it, but for various circumstantial reasons, including the fact that it’s an international language. It doesn’t make any other language any less.
I also speak Sesotho, which I learned from family and friends and from everyday conversations I would hear, being surrounded by the language. I speak it fluently, although at times with adopted English, Afrikaans or Zulu words that have become somewhat slang in this vernacular. Over the years I have learned how to speak Afrikaans, understand some isiZulu and isiXhosa, can communicate with a Pedi or Tswana speaker, and have picked up some German. I have friends from all over the world, from whom I picked up a few words that can in some cases build a conversation or at least allow you to get around in their respective countries. I can at least greet someone in more than 10 languages and I am now learning Chichewa.
When people ask me, “what’s your first language”, I have to think of a politically correct answer, so I say Sesotho. “Can you translate this Sesotho document into English for us?” and I have to explain myself. “But I thought you are Mosotho?” Yes, and a proud one at that, but I don’t speak it everyday, I don’t hear it everyday and I cannot trust myself to accurately translate documents without input from another Sesotho speaker. Does that make me any less of a Mosotho? I wouldn’t say that.
“Did your husband have to pay lobola before you got married? Did he have to slaughter a goat? Did you have a traditional wedding? Do you sacrifice to “badimo?” No. “Do you know this and that about your culture?” Yes, to an extent. “Then how can you call yourself a true Mosotho?” Well, because from my Dad’s side Sesotho is our lineage, it’s the cultural group that I identify with, for that reason. In our culture, your father’s lineage is your lineage. Your mother’s is a part of it, but you identify yourself by your father’s lineage. That’s what makes me Mosotho. It’s in my blood, not whether or not I subscribe to certain cultural practices, especially those I don’t agree with. Not whether or not I speak the language fluently. I am Mosotho, but does that completely say who I am?
I was born in a country in which I lived for 18 years of my life (6 of those were in and out of the country as I was in boarding school), lived in another country (of which I am a citizen) where my parents were born, for 10 years, and for now I am settled in a different country for as long as the Lord pleases. Where do I call home? Well, I guess where I am for now. Am I still Mosotho? Yes, that can never change.
My family is a colourful plethora of cultures, with every member of my family having grown up in different countries across the world, having relatives from different countries, through intermarriage. Not one family unit is homogenous. There are a number of different languages spoken, from South Sotho to North Sotho, Yoruba, to French, to Swedish, to German, to Bemba, isiSwati ,Chichewa and Russian to name a few. That’s what our beautiful family is like, and we all speak English to one another. Imagine trying to learn all the different languages and cultures. We could, but English is one of the most commonly spoken languages. Sadly, Sesotho isn’t spoken by my entire extended family, but that’s okay because language doesn’t make us who we are either. Who we are is ultimately in Christ, who created us, every tribe and nation. Am I related to my Nigerian cousin? Is my Swati uncle still my real uncle, yes. We are family. Is Naomi Osaka Haitian? Yes. Japanese? Yes. American? Yes. She doesn’t need to be put in only one of those categories or whichever category we like. We are all part of humanity and our lives are a culmination of cultural experiences, from wherever God places us, at whatever time in our life. It’s beautiful to identify with one culture, or many, for the glory of our Creator.
Is my cultural identity of utmost importance in my life? Certainly not, it’s not who I am. If we are in Christ, in Him we find our identity. We were all created, by one creator, Acts 17:26 says “ And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,” No matter our birthplace or dwelling place, the Creator who created us, placed us there for a reason, for His purposes. We were all Created by one Creator, but only those who call upon His name, only those whom He has saved, are adopted into His family. As sinners before a Holy God, we don’t deserve to be a part of His family, but by His grace, we are.
Acts 10: 34-35, “So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
John 1: 12-13 says “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
I am thankful that the Lord has placed me in a family with a number of different cultures, I am also thankful for the lovely and rich cultural group I am a part of. I like the fact that I can embrace different cultures and feel at home. But what matters most is my eternal heritage in Christ. Let us not be too caught up in culture, which is not static, but remain steadfast in our walk with our Creator who has given us an identity, in Himself, through Himself. It saddens me that people can be so entangled in cultural differences instead of seeing the beauty of Christ in all of them. Even as believers, we need to see that Christ makes us one, in His body we are all different parts that fit together perfectly. Let us call upon Him, love one another as He has loved us, as part of His body, His family. That’s all that counts in this life. Culture will always change, but the word of God remains forever, God is eternal. All things shall pass away, but His word remains.
At the end of the day, the question won’t be “How did you enjoy, portray or represent the culture/country/society/family in which God placed you?” But rather“ How did you impact the people in your culture/country/society/family, where God placed you, by pointing them towards Christ? How did you play your part in the beautiful body of Christ? Did you seek to divide His body or unite it? ” The great commission should be carried out first to the people closest to you. May we serve Christ that on that day, he says “ Well done, good and faithful servant.”
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