Use of cloth mannequins shows a dark colonial past

Mannequins dressed to advertise women clothing long Komarock Road, Nairobi. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

More than 60 years after Uhuru, the legacy of colonialism still litters the land. They range from our names to attire, language and dreams.

Over 60 years after the Union Jack was lowered, the generation that saw the excesses of colonialism has long rested.  They could have shared the memories with the next generation. By the third generation, the memories have been attenuated, not just by time but by other competing messages piped to our homes through TV, the internet and movies.

But one legacy has surprised me - mannequins which are used to advertise clothes for most women.

The mannequins are usually “white”. The last time I saw a black mannequin was in Dubai!

Mannequins are dressed like mzungus whom most of us have only seen in movies, documentaries or in the streets, but not interacted with directly. We want to look like men and women we have never met.

In the cities and in the countryside, mannequins are stationed strategically to attract customers. It is perplexing how you buy clothes to look like mzungu yet you can never be like them. Never mind that someone makes money selling mannequins, made from plastic. 

Cloth mannequins at a stall in Roysambu, Nairobi.  [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Mannequins sell by association, the same way we pick foreign names to associate ourselves with heroes like musicians and presidents, among others. 

With time, we learn to dislike ourselves and think that imported products are better. We extend the liking to not just products but also visits. We start dreaming of visiting foreign countries like the UK, the US, and European Union among others. And take our money there. 

When we complain that we are importing too much, it’s not just about less manufacturing, but our cultural orientation. We come to believe that what is not indigenous is good. That includes food. Ever seen a queue for ngwaci (sweet potatoes) or Kimanga (Taita traditional meal)? While I do not want to be Donald Trumpish with Kenya first, some national pride would make a difference. West Africans have a vibrant textile industry with fewer mannequins. We could learn from them. 

Next time you see mannequins, remember it’s a leftover from a bygone age.

This echo from the past is not just felt through our clothes but the entire economy through imports and even our foreign exchange. Have you bought any clothes because of mannequins? Talk to us.