Headman Harry

This is a little late, being an idea that struck me on the road to Makhathini, where I’ve been spending the last couple of weeks (more on that soon). The storm around Harry Windsor was dying down even then, but for no reason I can recall, I remembered a talk given by Nkosi Phathekile Holomisa, head of Contralesa (Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa). A man of royal blood, he had this to say about his title in society, and the history of British colonialism:

The British would not even allow that the traditional leaders be referred to by their proper titles such as king, prince, counts and so on, as such titles were the reserves of whites and the aristocracy of the English in Europe. Most African aristrocracy could at best be referred to as paramount chiefs, chiefs and headmen. This legacy lives on in the minds of some educated black intellectuals, who continue to call African royalty “chiefs” in spite of their stated objection to such a colonial title.

He’s quite right, of course, that double standards operate here. He wants to be called a Prince, and wants his subordinates to be Lords and Counts (no mention, oddly, of princesses, ladies and countesses). Here, Holomisa has it ass backwards. “Chiefs” and “headmen” strike me as precisely the right terms to describe these feudal hangovers. The terms just haven’t been applied consistently. Why not Chief Elizabeth and Headman Harry? The U.S.Americans don’t have a problem with “hail to the chief”, after all…

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