chapter  VIII
6 Pages

THE WHITEMAN AND RIS WEST AFRICAN UNDERSTUDY

IMITATION, it is said, is the sincerest form of flattery; hut, according to Jonathan Swift in his Cadcnus and Vanessa, "FLATTERY'S THE FOOD OF FOOLS." Histrionism is undoubtedly the special forte of the educated West African ; he is a copyist to the pitch of profane excellence. The Whiteman has his vices as well as his virtues, and sometimes the vices of his virtues. To follow him half-way therefore, is not, and cannot be the sincerest form of flattery. The average West African of the Mollusean Order, is a clever imitator of everything the Whiteman thinks, and does, and says, particularly in the outward appearance and observance. If he doffed his coat and went about in his shirt sleeves in broad daylight, by reason of our intolerable tropical heat, his Native understudy faithfully followed suit; if, in the cool of the evening, he discarded his headgear, the backboneless myrmidons did likewise. As he lands in the latest things in vogue, his echo takes full notes, and, in less than seven weeks, like a puppet or marionette he sports the identical style and fashion. Thanks to the letters C.O.D., facilities are afforded the young upstart to gratify his unworthy ambition. "What the Whiteman eats, he eats; what he drinks and smokes, he drinks and smokes, thereby securing what, in his deluded opinion, is considered the Hall-mark of respectability, civilization and refinement. If his lord and master holds a cigar in a peculiar manner, it is copied; his gait, mode of expression, his expletives, smiles, laughter and other mannerisms and peculiarities, are all taken in wholesale, and reproduced with the fidelity of an Edisonian Phonograph. These are the things the black wretch in his Boeotian ignorance and folly, regards as signs of perfect manhood–this thin veneer of polish–and there the lesson ends. The thoughtful, judicious and discreet Young African, naturally versed in the principles of Selection–who differentiates and discriminates between essentials and unessentials, who studiously rejects and selects, skips what does not concern him or does not correspond with his environments, who recognises limitations, and is independent of foreign ways, customs and manners, is accordingly ridiculed and reprobated as de trop and unclassed. He is a Hottentot or a Bushman who does not successfully compete with the Whiteman in his sartorial equipment. Of course Fine feathers make fine Birds, and the name of that unhappy cage of birds is Legion, thereby hangs a tale. Imitation reduced to fine Art is much to be deplored throughout West Africa. We have not a scintilla of admiration or respect for the giddy youth who affects high and immaculate collars and cuffs, kid gloves and pumps, without attempting to understand their significance and meaning. We despise the dressy dude, the fashionably garbed nondescript, and the living wardrobe after a certain class of foreign aristocrats in expensive habiliments, and regard them as of a piece with the whole Simian tribe, gibbering and chattering in our dense primeval forests.