The power that is in a name

Sunday September 22 2019



The power that is in a name

The power that is in a name 

By Stella Riunga

I remember becoming weak with laughter the first time I read of the ‘night-soil man’ in a certain Chinua Achebe novel. This is the man who, in the wee hours of the morning, would collect household faeces in the poorer areas where there were no flush toilets or sewerage systems. There is nothing funny about systemic poverty, of course, but that name captured my imagination.
Where I work, we have a variety of suppliers. For some of them, rather than addressing them by their names, we use the names of whatever products they’re selling. We have the banana-man (who is so thin I wonder why he does not partake of his own offerings), the newspaper-man, the chapatti-lady and so on. By the way, we boycotted the chapatti lady because her chapattis were thick enough to use as the foundation of a small building somewhere. You would need the digestive juices of a python to digest her brand of chapattis, but anyway! That is neither here nor there.
In my parents’ home area, there is a trader who operated at the shopping centre where we would board taxis to get home. He hawked hot, fresh sausages in a little tin contraption that kept them piping hot. The funniest thing is that he closely resembled…well, there is no delicate way to put this one of his own sausages. He had a short, stocky body topped by a small head. Thus the sausage man became the living embodiment of his product. Remember the chapatti lady I told you about? You would not be shocked to find out that she had thick, strong arms and legs and a strong build…just like her indigestible chapattis. Then of course we have the taxi drivers and conductors who have developed corrugated, weather-beaten faces, similar to the outer bodies of their aged vehicles.
Think about the maize-man or maize-lady at that corner with teeth like the seeds of a young maize cob, small and far apart, or the sweet-potato roaster sporting the protruding belly characteristic of those tasty tubers. Is it merely coincidence? Is it? There is surely power in a name!

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