I grew up at a time when Kenyans held themselves in very high esteem. So much so that even the dirt poor had some sense of pride and dignity, and you would only catch them dead clad in mitumba (second-hand clothes and footwear).
Oh yes, we had mitumba in the 1970s and 80, but no self-respecting poor sod would endure the indignity of being spotted wearing them. In fact, most Kenyans, including those who were wallowing in abject poverty, scoffed at mitumba, calling them ‘dead mzungus’ clothes’. Talk of maskini jeuri.
Kenya was broke and with a tiny economy then, but her textile industry was doing relatively well. Plus we had Asians all over the place, selling new clothes. But generally, back then clothes were seen as a luxury, thus not in very high demand and supply. Actually, poverty was like a national heritage and most Kenyans used to walk around barefoot because shoes were for very special occasions, say, church service or Christmas.
Someone would prefer to buy new clothes, especially around Christmas, and put them on till they turned threadbare. This made us have three types of clothes. Brand new ones were automatically turned into Sunday best. Once they began wearing out, we turned them into clothes for going out or visiting distant places, town, relatives etc. Once they became faded rags, we turned them into what we used to call nguo za kukalia (homely clad).
I must also mention that brand new clothes were accorded a lot of respect and dignity. Playing, digging, eating, carrying out household chores or even just chilling at home in them was frowned upon, and would earn you a thorough beating from parents. Mitumba were so much despised that they could never make Sunday best, they were bought and immediately turned into nguo za kukalia.
Fast forward to today, when Kenya’s economy is booming, with abundance of technology, massive civilisation and all. You would expect Kenyans to be doing better as far as clothes and footwear are concerned, but wapi (far from it)! Mitumba business is now flourishing.
The shocking thing is that we even buy second and third-hand underwear, socks, tie and handkerchiefs. However, brethren, of all these second-hand items we buy, if there is one that experiences slavery and torture, then, it has to be the underwear.
I always pity this item of clothing, the moment a Kenyan gains its ownership. If only underwear would speak about the enslavement it goes through in this country! Just because this special garment is worn underneath clothes, there are Kenyans who wear it till it turns into a discoloured rag. If all the style and fashion-conscience, nail-polishing, English-speaking and perfume-wearing corporate types were asked to strip naked so that we do a report on the status of Kenyans’ underwear, it would be a big scandal.
Some of these elegant ladies who prance around like peacocks and showy gentlemen who walk around with the swagger of a 21st Century man wear old, dirty rags for underwear! I recall visiting a hot, polished and elegant lady I was wooing a couple of years back.
While using her bathroom, my journalistic nosiness send my eyes wandering around. I was expecting to satisfy the manly fetish for female undies in me by marveling at her aired lacy panties, sexy lingerie, bras, thongs, G-strings and what not. But lo and behold, my eyes stumbled on some old, stained, discoloured and torn rags masquerading as underwear. Of course, I instantly lost interest in her. Gosh! The rags still haunt me to date.
Methinks, second-hand underwear is not only an affront to the dignity of this great nation, but also takes away the pride of the wearer.
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