Written by Azuka Onwuka - Nigeria
I have a confession to make. When we had our first child and noticed that occasionally, he used his left hand to do things, I began to encourage him, hoping that by doing that, I would "help" him to be left-handed. Unfortunately, he turned out to be right-handed and right-footed like his mother and I. He is not even ambidextrous. So all my "help" came to nought!
Why did I want him to be left-handed in a right-handed world?
From my childhood, I had noticed that left-handed and left-footed people seemed to be more intelligent, more successful and more precise when shooting. I watched with excitement in 1992 as two left-handed people - Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush – contested the presidency of the United States. I learnt that the third top contender in that election, Ross Perot, is also left-handed. In 1996, I watched again as a left-handed Clinton was challenged by a left-handed Bob Dole of the Republican Party, who learnt to use the left hand after his right hand was paralysed by a World War II injury. Left-handed Perot was also the third top contender in that election.
My first child had been born before a left-handed Barack Obama and a left-handed John McCain contested the 2008 American presidency. Today, the United Kingdom is governed by a left-handed Prime Minister: David Cameron. In 2007, a left-handed Babatunde Fashola became the Governor of Lagos State. And, in 2010, a left-handed Namadi Sambo emerged as Nigerian Vice President.
I cannot forget the fire-power and precision of Emmanuel Amunike at the 1994 African Nations Cup, 1994 World Cup and 1996 Atlanta Olympics. His goals gave us the Nations Cup trophy and the 1996 Olympics football gold medal. The first World Cup I watched with understanding was Mexico '86, and the magic Diego Maradona performed with his left foot is forever etched in my memory. Why not forgetting the magic left foot of Lionel Messi of Argentina and Barcelona, let us also remember that the best player of the 2013 Under-17 World Cup was a left-footed Kelechi Iheanacho of Nigeria, while the best player of the 2014 Championship of African Nations held in South Africa was Nigeria's left-footed footballer, Ejike Uzoenyi.
It was, therefore, shocking for me to learn many years ago that the word "sinister" was derived from "the left side." What it means is that the ancient Romans believed that the left hand/side was the evil side/hand or the unlucky hand/side. The same belief existed in most parts of the world. In the Bible, we are told that the saints are on the right-hand side of God enjoying bliss, while Satan and the sinners are on the left-hand side of God being barbecued in the fire that burns with sulphur.
In our Nigerian cultures, the left hand is still demonised as unlucky, evil, clumsy, etc. Not only that, it is seen as disrespectful to accept or give someone anything with the left hand.
I find this oppression of the minority by the majority unfair. I believe that people should not be told that it is wrong to receive or give things with the left hand. Since they did not choose to be left-handed, what we are saying is that their Creator was wrong to have made them left-handed.
Any time my children receive or give things to an elder with the left hand, the elder usually corrects or rebukes them to use the right hand. I have been faced with the dilemma of what to teach the children about the left hand. Should I teach them that they should not use the left hand when giving or receiving things from an elder because the left hand is bad? Should I tell them that the left hand is not bad but that many people see it as such? I hate people growing up loaded with misconceptions.
What I have been able to teach them is that the left hand is not bad, but that most of our people wrongly believe that it is disrespectful to be used when receiving or giving things to people, especially elders; so to avoid running into trouble with elders, they should use the right hand. But I would like them to reject that thinking when they grow up.
On a couple of occasions, I have had to protest such discrimination against the left-handed. Once, I hired a taxi. When I was getting off, because I held my bag with my right hand, I gave the taxi driver his fare with my left hand. He refused to take it and told me to use my right hand. I wanted to explode in indignation but I controlled myself and asked him: "So you are saying that God made a mistake by creating some people left-handed? If not for God, I would not pay you again for discriminating against me by telling me that my left hand is evil." I dropped the money in the car and stepped out.
Every race or ethnic group has its customs. Adhering to societal customs and ethos is important, as it makes the community to be cohesive and peaceful. But when a custom is practised out of ignorance, discrimination, injustice, etc, it should be jettisoned. For example, it was ignorance that made the killing of twins accepted as a custom, because it was believed that only animals gave birth in twos. When slavery was practised, those who sold and bought fellow human beings as slaves justified it. The American Civil War that raged from 1861 to 1865 was not because the North was killing the South or oppressing them politically, but simply because Abraham Lincoln, who opposed slavery, had won an election, and his stance threatened the economy of the slave states of the South. Even after Lincoln won that war, some people felt so angry with him for stopping their custom of making their fellow human beings slaves that one of such people (John Wilkes Booth) assassinated Lincoln six days after the war.
Furthermore, many countries did not allow women or Blacks to vote in elections for a long time. Those who were the vocal advocates used religion, tradition and other reasons to justify such exclusion and injustice.
I grew up in a tradition that believed that children with dreadlocks (called dada) would not have their hair shaved unless certain rites were performed by a prophet of a white-garment church. And such rites always were never performed until the parents of the child had provided items like goat, chicken, money, and rice. It was believed that if anyone went against that, such a child would die. And nobody wanted to take such a risk. It took decades before some Anglican and Roman Catholic priests successfully challenged the belief in the mid 1980s. At first, the people were hesitant, but a few people summoned courage and took their children to their priests to shave their hair. Days and months later, the children did not die, neither were they attacked by mysterious illnesses. By 1990, there was no dada child in my community. Today, it is rare to find a dada child in Igboland. I remember that when our first child's hair began to twist like that of a dada, we got it combed. When it seemed to persist, I got a pair of scissors, prayed for him and gave him his first haircut. When his hair began to grow anew, the hair did not twist anymore.
Anytime I see a court officer hand over any document to an American judge with her left hand, I always wonder how a Nigerian judge would have reacted: the poor woman would get a reprimand or a contempt charge for disrespecting "His Lordship."
Discriminating against the left-handed is not our custom. It is a pure case of injustice that is based on misconception. We must stop it right. No hand is evil; no hand is more blessed. That our heart (the engine of our life) is slightly to the left side of our chest should tell us that if there were to be any lucky hand or side, it should actually be the left.