The Lion Shakes His Mane

I’m reading a great book called “Culture and the Senses: Bodily Ways of Knowing in an African Community” by Kathryn Linn-Geurts. In the Western world there is ‘consensus’ that we have five senses and if we have a sixth sense that somehow it is associated with some kind of mystical intuition about the supernatural world somehow – spirits, dead people, premonitions of the future.

Among the Anlo-Ewe people of Ghana they don’t count senses but they consider the sense of balance to be every bit as important as sight or taste. Parenting among the Anlo emphasizes in small but meaningful ways the importance of having this sense of physical integrity in relationship to the earth for children. This doesn’t mean that they are doing handstands or walking on tight ropes but it means that the Anlo have an awake relationship with how their bodies move in the world and that is part of their capacity to inhabit their bodies very differently than people in the West do. And this relationship plays out in beautiful ways. The broadly nuanced word they have for the sense of feeling at home in the body is ‘seselelame’

The clothing and jewelry of the Anlo are exceptionally beautiful but to the Western eye they might look fidgety – needing constant adjustments, re-tightenings, hoisting, cinching and the like. On page 149 Linn-Geurts quotes Jean Comaroff that the fitted and snug, out of the way nature of sleeves, cuffs, trousers, collars, and waistbands are ‘the straightjacket of Protestant personhood.”

But Anlo, with their constant throwing of an end of cloth over the shoulder or the fixing of the lay of jewelry on the wrist by raising it to re-settle the bangle further down the arm, or hiking a skirt up drops the Anlo people into a deep sense of ‘seselelame.’ This action gives them the sense of majesty. It puts them in the sensation of their body which makes them feel long, tall, proud, and placed somewhere. The Anlo report that wearing their traditional garb changes their gait. The phrase in the book is that making these adjustments to the clothing is like ‘when the lion shakes his mane’. One man spoke of his ‘seselelame’ as ‘zc kadzakadza’ which means ‘walking or moving like a lion.’

The beauty of being willing to take up space and not automatically strive for efficiency is something we could do well to cultivate in our days.

Not every trail that is old is worth walking or reclaiming but here at the end of Black History Month it is worthy to remember that a labor rich approach towards the way you dress might begin to put you in a new sense of your carriage. There is a lot to learn about being human from the Anlo-Ewe, to be sure.

Primal Derma is slow to produce and more expensive than Jergens or Vaseline products. But each little jar is held by human hands at every step. I take great pride in knowing the farmers and bottling and labeling the jars you order. I make no claim to being as in my body as any Anlo person but I’m gladdened to have something alive and worth holding in the world.

Talk soon enough.


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