Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Biggest Lie

The spirit of the world is all about getting things, owning things, possessing things, and we have carried this attitude of consumerism into our relationships, into the very heart of our personal lives. We have come to think that people can belong to us, that we can own someone. And, just as with things, we get angry when the people we 'love' fail to minister to our needs or get broken or stolen from us.
You see, the biggest lie--a very common one these days--is when someone says 'I love you'. No doubt millions say these words every day. What they invariably mean is, 'I want you to be mine. I like the look of you and have decided that i want you to be around to make me happy forever.' That is what most people mean when they say 'I love you'. And this is the biggest lie.

We have come to think that people can belong to us, that we can own someone.

We collect girlfriends, boyfriends, wives and husbands the way we collect cellphones or washing machines or houses or cars. And when they fail to live up to our expectations we get frustrated and angry. And the desire for possession when angry results in husbands beating their wives, girlfriends killing their boyfriends, and anything that has legs and can move being raped. Rapes, yes, for it's all about possession. Everyone's on the lookout for collecting someone new. 

One of the commonest greetings here in Swaziland (and echoed around the world) is 'Sisi, I'm proposing love'. That it isn't love becomes immediately apparent when the child, woman, gogo or donkey doesn't immediately consent to the man's request. 

And when we get tired of our girlfriends, boyfriends, wives and husbands we trade them in for newer models--makhwapheni style. 

Yet the worst of it is that our 'I love you' collecting habit doesn't make us happy but rather enlarges our fear. You see, the moment we get something new we worry that someone might steal it from us. A friend of mine recently tried an old number he had on his phone, the number of a lady he'd once dated. He dialled the number and a male voice answered. He asked for the lady and received a gruff, 'She's not here'. Then a few moments later that same man with the gruff voice phoned him back, aggressive and loud, with a host of questions as if he was the police officer in charge of a criminal investigation: 'How did you get this number? Who gave you this number? What do want with this woman? Who are you?' and so on. Once a man has said, 'I love you', and you have said, 'I love you too', he is terrified that once you are out of his sight you might be saying 'I love you too' to somebody else.

This isn't love. and it never was. A couple say 'I love you' to each other and then believe that they own each other and deny each other any freedom in a desperate bid to secure the happiness that they themselves so desperately crave. The world's values are sick and the world's love is already as stiff as a carcass. No-one can ever own another person--we call this slavery, not love--and no-one should even try.

The secret to relationships is not possession but freedom. Real love is always wanting the best, the highest good, for someone. That doesn't mean ownership, but the opposite--it means being able to let someone go. If you really love her, then you'll set her free to follow her own path. If she chooses you, that's great; but if she chooses someone else, then that's her choice. The truth is that the highest best for the other person might not include you. If she wants to spend time with you today, then thank God for that, for it's a blessing; but if she doesn't want to be with you tomorrow, then thank God for that too, for she's following her own path.

Are you looking for Mr Right? You will never find him. Mr Right is always Mr Wrong if you're looking for someone to become part of your collection. But if you're able to let someone go, then--even if it hurts for a while--you'll learn to be content and when you say 'I love you', you'll mean it and won't be caught telling the biggest lie.

[Originally published in the Times of Swaziland SUNDAY, September 24th, 2006.]

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Poor Reader, Poor Thinker

It's like this: people who don't read can't think well. Consequently they're clumsy in expressing their thoughts, but they can feel. Most often they feel anger  and frustration. These are powerful emotions which constantly  percolate and burst to the surface in outbursts that are mostly violent eruptions of invective or physical violence.

Is it surprising that this is so? Not at all. We're first and foremost emotional beings who feel before we think. You know the expression, gut feeling? That happens to be true. We have some neurons in our stomachs (not just in our brains), so when we feel fear, for example, our stomachs register that discomfort before our brains awake to the danger.

But there's more. When we read a book, our brains don't differentiate between fact and fiction. If the book's hero falls in love, then so do we. If Mr Nasty is really nasty, then we hate him with all our being. Words can help us analyse what we feel--after the event--but words in the first instance trigger emotions.

You see, we begin learning language whilst still in our mother's womb. Language and thought begin together and need each other. They are locked together in an intricate dance, a woven fabric of being. This is no doubt why meditation on words and sounds is one of the most basic techniques in ancient tantric texts. [Tantra means woven fabric.]

Apart from being a writer, I'm also a mentor, teacher, and editor. Over the years I've discovered that mostly people are unable to express themselves clearly because they can't think clearly. That's why, when I teach writing, I tell would-be writers that they must write the last sentence of their essay, article, story or book before they begin writing the beginning. My audience often baulks at this, throwing up metaphorical (sometimes actual) hands in despair. But there's logic in language. There's such an intimate connection between beginnings and endings that if you develop the skill you can often predict what will happen in the future. That's not prophecy, just an ability to connect the dots.

Of course, each different language has its own different logic. English is linear and full of bipolar constructs, but not all languages are. In English we like to begin with a statement of intent, a topic sentence. Thus Americans are often thought to be rude, insensitive, overly direct and blunt. In siSwati (the language of Swaziland) the important statement often comes last. Arabic thought tends to move in a circular, roundabout way, and so on. When you use a language you effectively put on a pair of glasses through which you view the world. The language helps you to see, but it also channels what you see. The Chinese have many words for rice; the Eskimos many words for snow; Swazis have many words for meat; and in older Afrikaans dictionaries the word for 'gentleman' was witman, i.e., white man.

Martin Luther King in a sermon based on Mathew 10:16 said that we each need a tough mind and a tender heart:
Let us consider, first, the need for a tough mind, characterized by incisive thinking, realistic appraisal, and decisive judgment.  The tough mind is sharp and penetrating, breaking through the crust of legends and myths and sifting the true from the false. 
Quite so. Reading is one the few ways to develop a tough mind. The rage, the anger, the frustration of life can be tempered. Grow also a tender heart. Read, people, read!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


I'm well into my publishing projects now. Last month I released a new novel, Temangwane, my fifth book, and it's doing well both locally and also is on Amazon. That book was finished in 2003 and revised only slightly. Now I'm getting my 2004 novel, Coming Home, ready for publication.

Publication means 3 formats these days: a local print copy, an Amazon CreateSpace copy, and an epub/mobi edition.

Amazon is great, but it doesn't at the moment serve the needs of Africa because packing and postage can easily cost more than the book itself. There's still much to do to kickstart an African reading revival...

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Shakin' The Reed

Wena weluhlanga. You of the reed.

In 1926 Jelly Roll Morton released a single called Black Bottom Stomp (he had originally called it Queen of Spades). It was a jazz dance and a hot record of its time, so popular that it was covered by other early Jazz legends in one form or another. When, a decade later, jazz had moved into the snazzy windy city clubs the dance was resurrected under the new title of  Shakin' the African. The dance was synonymous with excitement, energy, and vitality.

I was reminded of these earlier dances by media coverage of this year's Umhlanga, the national Reed Dance, an event that many city dwellers now seem to regard as mainly for tourists. I'm sure that isn't so, although the ceremony's origins are so shrouded in the mists of time that there are many who see the annual ritual as an anachronism, an odd, out-of-place happening in this high-tech mobile-phone and computer age.
   Yet the event's central metaphor is still striking. In contrast to the Judeo-Christian myth that people were fashioned from clay (cf the potter's wheel, 'dust-to-dust' and 'ashes-to-ashes'), Swazi cosmology has it that the first people were shaped from reeds.
   This connection of people with reeds was once engagingly made by a preacher in a service I attended. He gave no impression that he knew of the Swazi creation story, but instead argued that 'reeds' was an accurate description of the unconverted, since reeds are hollow and are easily swayed by the wind. The image was an ideal one for the preacher, allowing him plenty of scope to elaborate on those whose lives are 'empty' and 'wavering', without purpose and direction. Never once during that longish sermon did my attention to it waver.
   I have another view of those reeds however. I think if you look at a bed of reeds moving in the wind you can easily imagine them to be dancing, and I think that's an apt image for life itself. The reeds are animated, alive because they have movement. Death, after all, is supremely seen as a stillness. Life can be viewed as a kind of dance: a sometimes noisy, crazy, careering one, but still a dance.
   This interpretation, I believe, enriches phrases like wena weluhlanga, and supports the Reed Dance's prominence on the national calendar.
It's another instance of discovering the constellations of meaning behind what we say and do. Often familiarity and repetition blur and obscure meanings. For example, many people believe that English names have no meanings, whereas Swazi names do. Everyone knows why an Ntombifuthi is so named, but what about a Kenneth? The truth is that English names do have meanings but they've been forgotten over the course of time and need someone to take the effort to find out what they mean. The same applies to annual events like uMhlanga. It is certainly a colourful event and, yes, it does attract visitors from other countries, but if we allow it--and other events like it--to become merely a vivid event, a spectacle, a showy entertainment for the media age, then everyone will ultimately be the loser. By watching the swaying, jostling, singing girls at the Reed Dance and imagining them as that amazing thing, a bed of living reeds, we can deepen our understanding of ourselves, and perhaps regain something of the wonder of life itself.

[* an earlier version of this article was previously published in the Times Sunday newspaper*]

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The lie of romantic love


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Sgt Pepper's Alternate Expanded Radio London Club Band

deviantart by SavoyLemon
I made myself a Christmas diversion:

Sgt Pepper’s Alternate Expanded Radio London Club Band

1. Alternate: the first two tracks recorded during the Sgt Pepper’s sessions were Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane but they were selected as a double-A side single and therefore, following EMI’s principle of not including singles on Beatles albums, never made it onto the album. George Martin apparently said, “I wonder what the album would have been if those two corkers had been included”, so I had the idea to include them. That, naturally, raised the question of what to replace. The obvious choice for me was Paul’s ‘granny song’, When I'm Sixty-Four  which wasn’t written for Pepper (he’d been playing it since the Cavern days) and George’s misfit song, Within You Without You  (which is clearly not a rock song).
2. Expanded: since Beatles albums usually have at least one Harrison song, I felt I should  include the song George actually intended for Pepper, (It's Only) A Northern Song which was recorded at that time but vetoed by Martin as ‘not up to standard’.
3. Radio London: in 1967, the ‘pirate’ radio station radio London ( 'Big L') had 16 million listeners and was given an exclusive 8-day preview window of Sgt Pepper’s. When later that year the British government brought in legislation to end the pirates, Big L was closed down at 3pm on 14th August 1967. The last song the station played was Pepper’s A Day In The Life. That historical moment is recreated here by adding the broadcast ending.


1. Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
2. With A Little Help From My Friends
3. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
4. Getting Better
5. Fixing A Hole
6. She's Leaving Home
7. Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!
8. Strawberry Fields Forever
9. (It's Only) A Northern Song
10. Penny Lane
11. Lovely Rita
12. Good Morning Good Morning
13. Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)
14. A Day In The Life
15. 14th August 1967 (Big L Closedown)

The mix sounds great to my ears and I was intending to share it with you on mixcloud but apparently more than three songs from one artist aren't allowed. However, there's nothing to stop you creating your own version.

Consider this mix as a fan’s tribute.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Karma Chameleon

THIS MORNING I witnessed a death. I was driving home, out of town and into the country. As a novelist I naturally notice things and ahead of me on the road, moving slowly--very slowly--swivel-eyed and hesitating step-by-step, was a young chameleon. I took care to avoid him and drove up to my gate. Whilst I waited for the gardener to open the gate I looked back at the chameleon, still on its hazardous journey across the road. I thought, My heart's with you guy, but I don't think you'll make it. Immediately, a kombi hurtled down that stretch of road, its driver oblivious to the tiny creature; amazingly it missed the chameleon. But the car following quickly behind didn't and the creature was spun into the air and landed, inert, on the road. And then a truck rushed along and squashed it flat. And I was thinking, that's a life lesson right there, isn't it? One moment you're here; the next moment you're gone. For that chameleon, the struggle is over; for us the daily struggles go on: but also the joys, the triumphs and ephemeral achievements of what all of us call life.

c Kenneth Rowley 2015