In many African cultures, there are many stigmas associated with left-handedness. For instance, it is considered extremely disrespectful to shake hands with an elder using the left hand.
There is a negative tone around being left-handed and in some extreme cultures, being left-handed carries almost the same stigma as being gay.
Exactly why the left hand has been looked at with such disdain is unclear. Although the stigma has been around long before the Europeans arrived on the African shores, it appears the introduction of Christianity helped perpetuate it.
Albertina Iitenge says (75) says, “The right side is considered the honoured one. When Jesus rose from death, He went to sit on the right hand side of God, so the left hand has often been perceived to come with a bad omen.” She further explains even a potential king or queen, in the olden days, would be disregarded if they were left-handed.
A lecturer at the University of Namibia (Unam) and observer of the Oshiwambo culture, Petrus Angula Mbezi, concurs saying, “They could never ascend to the throne or become leaders of the people, because it was believed the reign of anyone who was left-handed would be riddled with bad luck and utter failure. This is such an important belief that traditionally, a child can be punished for being left-handed.”
However, with the continued popularity of Christianity, this belief has somewhat waned. There are plenty of left-handed people who have become quite successful and this might have changed the perception around left-handedness.
“This is why today, you will find many of a certain age who are able to use both their hands to write. This is because when they were younger, they were probably forced to write with their right hands, yet they were naturally left-handed,” Mbezi adds.
As far as the Muslim faith is concerned, Sheikh Harun Abudullah says there are some similarities to Christianity as far as the reaction to left-handedness is concerned.
“If a child exhibits preference for his left hand at a young age, we encourage the parents to train them to use their right hand. If after training the child still continues to use their left hand, then leave them. They did not choose to be that way, it is how Allah has created them. We do not believe anything bad or evil is attached to any child who uses their left hand,” the Sheik affirms.
Exactly how this training is effected varies with each household. In some cases, a child may be smacked or forced to stop using their left hand.
Speaking under anonymity, one such mother reveals, “I did not allow my child left-handed child to use his left hand to eat or greet. That is our culture.”