18 December 2008


18 December 2008b

“You’re going to see something bizarre soon. Don’t get upset.”

I’d been forewarned already, but I still wasn’t interested in seeing the apprentice kneeling in front of me being hit with a paddle. She had already endured half an hour or more lecture from Da E and the other tailor officiating at the liberation ceremony. Her face had started to crumble and her voice had gotten shaky and weak. I just didn’t need to see any more of her punishment, thankyouverymuch.
A liberation ceremony is when an apprentice is released from her patron and declared finished with her apprenticeship. This was a special case – the apprentice had passed her test before her 3 years of work were up; she’d been discovered stealing from the workshop and she refused to return to finish her obligation to Da E. Generally, the mood was tense and punitive rather than joyful like it should be.
It is a normal part of the ceremony for the patron to deliver a couple of blows of the paddle to the apprentice – as a symbolic punishment for any frustration or bad behaviour over the past three years. It was very unusual for the officiating tailor to take the apprentice’s parents aside to fix an amount for recompense for stolen materials.
In the end, though, the idea is that all is now forgiven. After the punishment, the apprentice changed out of regular clothes into a piece of kente cloth – expensive traditionally woven cloth usually used for ceremonies like marriage – and received the tools of the trade: scissors, pins, and a tape measure. Then everyone partook of sodabi (local gin), beer, and soda before sharing a meal of pate and ademe sauce.
The ceremony finished, my friend V who has already performed 3 years of service and is only waiting to pass her test, started talking about how she wants her liberation party to be. She said that she has been in Mission Tove for nearly 4 years now and her mother hasn’t come to see her yet. Her father died several years ago, leaving V unable to continue with school because she couldn’t pay the fees. So she came to Tove to live with her uncle and learn couturiere skills from Da E. At her liberation she plans on inviting all of her family to come down – the party will be in a public place – perhaps at the church or the Centre Sociale. And her family will bring down lots and lots of sodabi.
I can’t wait for her party – it should be amazing and much more joyful than this one. Of course, once she’s liberated, she won’t live here anymore and I’ll miss her a lot.

Current Reading: Sabriel by Garth Nix


Anonymous said...

Is it traditional NOT to smile in photos in Africa?

Rose said...

yes. it is extremely hard to get people to smile in photos here.

very intimidating, dontcha think?