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Doek: Black and female

by Liyema Mkabile

Iqhiya is the isiXhosa word for a head wrap, it is
dignified. A doek (at least as I understand it) is any
common cloth, at times it is a head wrap and at
other times it is merely a rag. The point is that the
word ‘doek’ is not a particularly dignified one and the
wearers of it are often treated as such.

When I wear my Doek
Tied on top
Wrapped around
The higher the better
It does not matter

You see
When I wear my doek
No matter the weather
Whether it is to
Cover my pride
Protect my vanity
Conceal my suffering
It does not matter

I reawaken my blackness
I grieve the eight
Mourn fifty six
Two twenty-four
Three thousand
But I know ten thousand

No matter the weather
Flood, famine or drought
When, I wear my Doek
I celebrate my rebirth
Disappear and find myself with the thousands of this
The most Exclusive Club
Draw the strength of the millions before
Not quite this only nor that alone

And when you look at me
Sister of rivers
Daughter of the sea
Me with my sardonic smile
Conceited mouth
Cynical eyes
Sweet waters incarnate
You wonder
Why all the confidence

Well you see
When my Doek is on my head
Not made of diamonds
Not worth gold
Not bejeweled or ostentatious
But well designed (it is not unnecessarily show-offish)
Ha! and a bit obstinate
Unbreakably flexible
Incorrigibly defiant
Certainly not a crown,
Not power born of myths of greatness
Pseudo-truths of justification
Not bloodied
Not sordid
Extremely explicit
No not pseudo demure
Not polite smiles
Not concealed, savage brutality
Not barbaric
Just my doek

I become . . .
Bending to the will of would-be gods
Contorting and assimilating
Gracefully humbly intelligent
My Doek knows
For centuries it has been a shield
Has never killed
Has fought many wars
Has reared girls
Taught them to be women
Fierce and undaunted

Indeed it is not a coward
Moulded at Ife
At the birth of life
My Doek is ancient
Has given life
Suffered loss
Travelled far
Knows the signs
Awaits the change
Indeed it holds wisdom

And when I am desolate
Abandoned and lost
My Doek borrows strength from another
For my Doek is brave
And yes perhaps anyone could buy a cloth
Call it a Doek
But the secrets of the Doek are unlocked by a lifetime
Synergistic and cumulative effects of
Being Black and Female
My Doek has taught me well