26th June 2002. It’s the morning of my 8th birthday. I run out of my room and throw myself onto the couch and turn on the telly. It’s the usual- anarchy, starvation and political unrest at some point on this pale blue ball of stress that we’ve all come to accept as home. But it’s not so usual. I see pictures of women with banners that scream CUNT POWER. I’m curious. I love words, especially words I don’t understand. I go to mama and ask her.
‘Mama, what does cunt mean?’
‘Well honey, it’s an acronym. You know…a short hand for Caring, Understanding, Nurturing and Tender, just like I am to you.’
I smile. I’m happy that mama is such a cunt mom.
Then she turns around, looks at me and says, ‘Never use it though, it’s our little secret.’ And I never did. It remained our secret acronym for almost ten years.
26th June 2011. Ten years after the last time I heard mama say it. You know? CUNT.
I’m now leaving for home again, and I remember that someone knew mom’s secret, and they had changed it for me irrevocably. You see, when I got to this place- The African Leadership Academy- I was leaving home for the first time. It was a confusing thing to do. I was sad about leaving mama behind. Leaving all I knew to pursue a life without the safety net of a mother. I still carried our secret word: a word that I’d spoken countless nights to thank God for giving me a woman like mama. ‘You’re such a CUNT God,’ I’d pray. I realised that to me, the word seemed to have the gift of contortion. It was malleable. It was my noun, my verb, my adverb. It was a prayer, a love letter. It was my reasoning for this life, and my hope for the next. CUNT, CUNT, CUNT, I’d scream internally, feeling asphyxiated by the reality that everyone didn’t celebrate and scream it with me. That only our Mother in heaven knew I said it. It was irrational to keep quiet, but for mama, I did.
I got to ALA, and for the first time, I had to share a room with a complete stranger. I wondered if he was a CUNT. You know… Caring, Understanding, Nurturing, and Tender. But he wasn’t, at least not in the beginning. In fact it was He who called me a CUNT, but when he said it, it sounded vulgar, vile insalubrious and sordid. When his angry mouth erupted, ejecting the lava of the word he shouldn’t and couldn’t have known my heart broke. He wasn’t mama. He wasn’t those women I’d seen 10 years ago with the banners. He was an egotistical, sad Nigerian boy, who knew my secret. Who knew my heart and who knew my mom and how he loved me like a CUNT. He said it again and again and again and each time it sounded more and more vile. I couldn’t take it anymore. I stormed out of the room consumed by a raging blaze of anger, but even more pressing, was a cloud of confusion. How could such a pure word- one that I’d run to as a child- also be used for such angry emotions? It seemed incredibly daunting, and I really never understood. He knew our secret, and I started wondering if everyone else knew it too, and if they like him said the word in fit of anger and resentment. There was only one way to find out. I walked up to a girl at our school during lunch break, and inquired. ‘Hello! Do you know what cunt means?’
She never replied. All she did was spit and stand up to walk the other way. I was now spiralling into a vortex of confusion, and I hoped that like the eye of a storm, there would be calm and quiet at the centre of all this mayhem. Separated from all the negativity, and from the flow of time, there would be just me and my cunt. I finally understood how conservative Christians must feel when the existence of God was put into question. The great sorrow and confusion they must feel at the rejection and so often rude denunciation of an idea that they believed was true with every cell and atom in their bodies. I felt great loss and anger.
I felt pity for them for not knowing what I knew. What mam knew and what who-so-ever was up there also knew. I consulted a few other people and at the end I got their renditions about what CUNT really meant.
To them it was a horrible word- a word that was taboo and meant to remain that way. But even with all their conviction and Wikipedia proof, I somehow never believed them. I believed in my mama’s cunt. The Caring, the Understanding cunt, the Nurturing and Tender cunt. My conviction was intoxicating. It was like religion. It was wonderful and inspiring and false. It was the only explanation that I had for my irrational love for that word.
Then I embarked on a journey that would become my first lesson in humanity and social anthropology. I looked everywhere for the roots of the roots of this word. What it was, and primarily why it was created if it was so bad. Why mama had convinced me that it was beautiful and worth loving, and why those women not only sang it out loud, but put it on billboards and shirts and in their hearts.
I got to the bottom of it. A Cunt refers to the female genitalia. A part that many women choose to deem as non-existent, or as their ‘down there.’ A part that is given countless pet names and one that is there only to be conquered. Unusually enough the word is derived from Kunti, the goddess of female fertility in Hindi culture, and cunt shares the same word root as the words country and kin. I also discovered that the root ‘cu’ also has associations with knowledge: ‘can’ and ‘ken’ (both ‘to know’) evolved from the ‘cu’/’ku’ prefix. Therefore the root ‘cun’ has two lines of descent: the one emphasising the mother and the other knowledge, but the word cunt, like many words has been mutilated into a green monster. The chauvinistic patriarchal powers who’ve denounced the gospel of Mary Magdalene, and shamed and enervated femininity were responsible for the alienation of this word, and by extension the alienation if female sexuality.
I learned from this that love and hate give power to words, and that there’s no such thing as good or bad words. There’re just words. Words like Nigger, Stupid and Dum. Words like CUNT, love and hate. Words that we love and those that we’re brainwashed into hating. This made it very clear to me that like the decades when Africans were made to believe that they’re inferior, women were also convinced that their cunts are not worth loving, and that they are shameful and derogatory.
I learned then and will carry with me as I go on in life that choosing to shun words from ever seeing the light of day will now bridge the chasms in society. It will not heal the wounds of the earth, and it will not change the mistakes of the past. However removing the negative power and hate in the words we use will. It has done that for me, and since learning that I say CUNT out loud, because the puss of negativity and hate that I once allowed others to place on it has been bled out.