Memoirs of Life in South Africa

English 162: Literature and Place (A Queens College Study Abroad Course)

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January 5th, 2012 by Merzela · 2 Comments · Uncategorized

British ideologies were/are so heavily imposed on the Native Africans and as Mandela mentions in the book, British superiority failed to acknowledge African culture. This is most obvious when Rolihlahla Mandela goes to school, and is given the Western name: Nelson. This moment of cross-cultural mixing (or rather a moment where one’s cultural is crossed out) epitomizes the lack of respect and acknowledgement, given to African culture. To rename someone without their permission and with the air of superiority, is to neglect their essence. A name is a crucial part of ones’ identity and Mandela begins the book with the origins of his birth name, signifying not only it’s relevance to him, but also it’s relevance to his culture.

His birth name is in his language, has a meaning and was given to him by someone significant in his life: his father. When he is renamed, British culture neglects the idea of crossing with African culture. Rather, it depicts the desire to erase anything that is associated with being African. By beginning the book with the story of his name, he brings his culture to the forefront and acknowledges that British culture has not erased his African culture. A name is large; a name becomes you. In the same breath, Mandela still goes by the name Nelson. That is to say, Nelson and Rolihlahla come from two cultures and in a lot of ways both of these names have become him.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • raquelabraham

    It interesting that you mention language because from the article decolonizing my mind, the author talks being punished for speaking his language, showing you that british colonies have taken away so much culture within one’s race. they wanted to take over that they went to the extent of having people punished for speaking their own language.

    I can also relate to this on a personal level. When my mother arrived from her native country to the U.S. she was told that the spelling of her name was wrong and was then given the “proper” way of spelling it. The “proper” way of spelling her name lead to a completely different name which she is stuck with for the rest of her life

  • mikestrianese

    On a personal level, I can’t imagine walking into class and having a teacher say to me, “Michael, from now on you will be known as _____.” I take nearly nothing personally and feel as if I’m a laid back person, to say the least, but I feel that if someone gave me a new name against my will I would have a difficult time coping. For Nelson, or Rolihlahla’s teacher to rename him shows that she truly did feel superior to him because of incarnations uncontrolled.

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