Have You Ever Killed a Lion?

On African Stereotypes and Shaping Narratives

“Yes!” That was my exhausted answer. I had been asked that question so many times that I finally gave in. If I look like I’ve killed a lion, I might as well just own it.

“At five,” I started explaining, “we have an initiation ceremony in Africa. Parents bring lions for every child has to kill.”

“Whoa!” they would say utterly amazed! (I mean, what other reaction could they possibly have?)

By now — if you are an ingenious thinker — you’re wondering who ‘they’ is and, maybe, if I have killed a lion. For some reason, I am a skinny, dark, and petite, little lady. So there is no way in life I would have killed a lion. And I spent a few of my formative years with much lighter people.

The fact of the matter is that several young westerners expect us to have at least killed a hyena in our lifetime. Why? Because the gods must be crazy. (Pun intended.) They have been told, growing up, that Mamadou and Kunta Kinte were savage beings who hunted to live. To date, they are told that we are dying of hunger, conflict, and AIDS (or, most recently, Ebola). Honestly, who would blame them? From the books to the movies, Africa is a people that are close to no humanity. But is it? Do you watch the news, sometimes, and wonder: “These guys are super accurate! Probably the most accurate story in the history of accuracy.” (Read in Trump’s voice.)

I get frustrated every time there is another hungry child shown in the international media. Of course, I would not say that we have no hungry child. That it is not all we have, nor is it the ultimate symbol of our economic state. How come they don’t know that? Because, if I may, nobody is telling them. At least, not loudly enough.

I had the honour of being in a fancy documentary recently. They had warned us, from the very beginning, that it would be quite staged and I had said that it was okay. For the most part, we were happy and excited about what was going on until we were taken to the bush. It was the perfect scenery, they thought, for an African documentary. Hah!

At first, I told myself that I was a civilized person who doesn’t go nuts when something visibly awkward happens. I took a few deep breaths as we were driving down the hill — further and further away from our reality. I also smiled a few times because I am a Public Relations specialist! But someone had to say it. And the conversation went like this:

Fancy journalist: Hey, do you want to go down this dirt road and start walking up to the camera?

Me to the journalist: Of course. Sure!

Me to me: Wow. Look at you walking in the bush like that is what you do every day. Why don’t you also borrow a basket of bananas to put on top of your head? Seriously. (Mxioum.)

Me to the journalist: Do you like this place? Like, is this where you want to do this?

Fancy journalist: Don’t you? Seems like a pretty cool place to me.

Me to the journalist: Well, this is too stereotypical to Africa but, sure, let’s do it!

Ouch. I am still cringing at what went down afterwards. I mean, part of me is happy that we went to a place that represented the Kigali I see every day. But I also realised that this is our fight. We cannot just keep quiet when we are placed in stereotypical boxes.

Here is something to wrap your minds around: Yes, some of us study “under trees,” but many of us study in decent classrooms; yes, some of us fetch water before going to class, but many of us are given rides in cars to school; and yes, many of us wear old, second-hand clothes that were donated or bought from the West, but we are also thriving to make our own.

To be truthful, all I am advocating for is a little bit of balance. But I also know that balance won’t come from them. We have to push for what version of our story we want to see in books and on TV. We cannot wait for others to just feel cute and cuddly about us. Sometimes you have to take the bull by the horns and lead it where it needs to be.

As I conclude my rant, I am compelled to wonder which scene will the documentary show? That, I do not know. But I have learned my lesson! We have better stories that can only be told by us. No one will volunteer! So, Africa, let’s get our heads together and start from wherever.

A huge shout-out to those who have killed lions and leopards. Somehow you made me look a bit cooler than I can possibly be.

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