Rich Mnisi Presents JAMES: An examination of Western names in African and Indigenous cultures.
A name is more than just a moniker; it is a rite of passage that announces your arrival into the world. Whether meaningful or not, names reflect your identity, cultural lineage and religious background. The naming process within African and Indigenous communities carries a significant amount of weight and mystique that embraces meaning and context, regardless of whether those names are personified or literal. The process of naming an unborn child is taken very seriously in African cultures and communities. Embedded in community and spirituality, names in African and Indigenous cultures play a crucial role in how individuals are recognised by their ancestors and communities, which defines the child’s purpose in life.
Though African names are still very much prevalent today, the arrival and adaptation of Western cultures have certainly changed and influenced various social, political, religious and cultural systems in African and Indigenous communities. With this, some African and Indigenous people have adopted Western and Christian names. To many, these Western and Christian names symbolised superiority, and to others, these names were a symbol of change and hope for a better future.
In a country like South Africa, built on decades of racism, oppression, inequality, and segregation, Indigenous communities’ acceptance and adoption of Western names were intended to pass down a new set of dreams, hopes, and acceptance to their children. In doing so, Black parents adopted these names intending to set a new precedent for opportunity.
Reiterating the significance of Western names in Black communities, South African contemporary designer Rich Mnisi has introduced his latest F/W 2022 collection titled JAMES: The First Working Man.
Founded in 2015, Rich Mnisi uses his craft to explore various narratives of his unique Tsonga heritage and culture. His bold designs are inspired by sources outside the realms of fashion and include influences from nature, art, music and film.
Given South Africa’s tragic history with Apartheid, JAMES examines the evolution of naming processes within African and Indigenous cultures and emphasises why Black parents choose English names instead of African names.
Committed to the art of storytelling, JAMES poignantly reminds us how Black parents are willing to do anything and everything to make sure that their children live life with ease, even if that means losing important parts of their cultures, identity and history. Accompanied by a fashion film, JAMES reflects on how the lack of equality and opportunity in Apartheid aided in using English names amongst African communities, leading to a new and positive set of futures for many Black people.
“In a time in South Africa’s past when so few options were available to them, Black parents from various backgrounds chose English names that represented a new set of futures. They hoped to pass down, more than their dreams, the opportunity to rise above discrimination and pursue them”, Rich Mnisi says.
Named after Rich’s grandfather, the fashion film merges digital graphics and real-life takes consisting of four capsules that explore the possibilities of life: Precious, Ambition, Desire and Promise. Appearing on a compass, different names meticulously illustrate how our names reflect our cultural identity and destiny.
Precious sees men mining for what may seem like a precious mineral resource, gold.
Ambition highlights the human ability to strive for the best by consistently working hard.
Desire reflects the human urge to want money, power and success.
Promise is the beacon of hope that many Africans possess; hope for a better future and easier life.
With these four capsules, JAMES is made up of Rich Mnisi’s signature silhouettes infused with strikingly bold colours and prints varied with textures of lace, nylon and knitted mohair.
As an interpretation of life, JAMES sets a new tone and allows us to appreciate the efforts of our parents, who do anything and everything in their power to make our lives easier.
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