A short history of earrings, slaves and masters. Enjoy this coming of age story, all in a flash! — Editor’s note
Women born into my family do not have their ears pierced.
It used to be that earrings were used to differentiate slaves from the freeborn. Thanks to the British, this class divide has long been stamped out but in households like mine, the custom survives.
At school, my refusal to wear gold studs was interpreted as insubordination. Even after my father had written to the school authorities, our principal loved nothing more than to berate me. “When you are in your village, you can have your stupid cultural beliefs but as long as you are here, you have to obey the school rules.”
I bought magnetic clips as a compromise but they turned out to be contraband. I came to accept that it was my fate to cut more portions of grass than everybody else and that made life easier. At least, until University.
At an age when a lot of my peers were reducing their future bride price by messing around with boys and becoming regular patients at abortion clinics, I caused my parents heartache by coming home mid-semester with a pair of costume jewelry dangling from my earlobes. At the mere sight of them, my father shouted himself into a frenzy. He shouted some more when I visited again with new piercings. By the time I had five holes in each ear, he had nothing left to say to me.
But I did not stop there. Once I had made sure that the cartilage in my ears could not endure another puncture, I began to manufacture new orifices – my eyebrow, my nostril, my septum, my tongue. The same people who had once enquired if I was some sort of Christian fundamentalist were now asking me if I was possessed.
This time around, I did not care.
Image by Beth Kimwele. We just love her art and colors. You can find out more about her work here
Akumbu Uche was born in Kaduna, raised in Port Harcourt and educated at the University of Jos. Her writing has appeared in The Kalahari Review, Saraba Magazine, Qarrtsiluni and elsewhere. She lives in Lagos.