My breasts, My Baby, My Business

Since time immemorial, breasts, for Africans were a source of food for the growing baby and nothing else. Unlike in Western societies, in African societies breasts do not create sexual associations both in men and women.

Women expose their breasts in public spaces freely without any fear that they may arouse sexual connotations. Africans view the sexual behaviour associated with the breast as unnatural and perverted.

It is for this reason that Africans have for centuries breastfed their children right upto the age of six wherever they wished.

In the Western world however, the breast is associated with sexual behaviour and pleasure and in the case when the breast is used to feed a baby, it must be done in private spaces and breastfeeding must be very short.

In these societies where the breast is viewed as a sexual organ, women have come to fear breastfeeding; that it will distort their breasts and their sexuality and make them unattractive to their husbands and other men.

Studies have now been undertaken on the benefits of breastfeeding and the West would like to assume wisdom and knowledge about breastfeeding that Africans have had for centuries.

With colonisation and imperialism, the notion that African culture and traditions were backward became rife and we adopted Western norms. Accompanying the annexation of land and culture was the introduction of capitalism which further discouraged Africans from practicing their traditions. Beyond simply stamping all over our culture and dignity, money had to be made. Free breast milk had to be replaced with powdered milk and all other unhealthy baby foods.

Holding their bible, the West came with a new religion that denigrated the African religions, rites, cultures and traditions as evil and practices that should be shunned upon hence we find a confused and conflicted African today.

Many Africans still adopt the concept of badimo and amadlozi even though they religiously attend the Christian church every Sunday where heaven and hell are preached. Adopting Western norms is seen as progress and breastfeeding has come under similar denigration.

I breastfed both my kids until the age of four. I could stop on the side of the road and offer them my breast whenever they were unhappy, hungry and just restless. I hardly go to restaurants and have never found myself in a position of having to feed them while at these venues. I could expose my breast anywhere and feed my children wherever I wanted. Having lived in Lesotho and Botswana, where breastfeeding is a natural occurrence, I was shocked at the stares I got in South Africa.

One white woman one day gave me a word of advice; “there are places in the toilets for breastfeeding”. And I asked if she ate in public toilets. She was taken aback and said she didn’t. The conversation ended there. She was to be one of many and the answer and end result to the conversation was always the same.

I would not feed my children in public toilets just to accommodate the perverse culture of others; Western society in particular. If you think a breast is a sex object, that’s your business. In my culture it is the best food for my child until we both find it is no longer of importance for purposes of feeding, comfort and feel good. Its our business, we dont get into yours.

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