Give a dog a bad name and hang it

01st November 2016
Social Beat


By Keletso Thobega -

My cousins once had a Tswana breed dog called Fire. This dog had the confidence of a German shepherd but was the size of a Bolognese.

Fire was also a nuisance. He took off with visitors’ shoes, habitually pulled clothes from the laundry line and gave the kids from the neighbourhood a workout by chasing them down the street after school. I recall how Fire once chased some hapless man down the street; he screamed and tried to run away but he was no match for Fire, who paced up to him.

My cousin came from behind shouting, ‘Fire! Fire!’ The man (perhaps accepting defeat) threw himself to the ground, cowering. But Fire just licked his face. That was Fire for you; there was never a dull moment when that silly bitch was around. In retrospect, I think Fire was just a nice playful dog but since she was given a fiery name, everyone expected her to live up to it, but that dog never bit anyone.

The tendrils of labelling stretch deeper into life than many of us care to realise or admit. Sometimes a name doesn’t seem to mean much but at other times it can be catastrophic particularly when stereotypically fitted into a ‘type’ or an ‘expectation’, most often, when it is negative.  This is psychologically rooted and the name carries the connotation it has. This has been the recurring argument when residents of Block 7 petitioned to change the name of their residential area from Ditimamodimo to Peolwane. Regardless of the fact that “it is just a name,” it has a strange negative understanding. Some names are informal and describe an immediate situation. They are given to humour or mock but are often said with affection. It is like nicknames; people call each other after a situation, based on appearance (setsumpe, Tally or shorty etc) or what someone likes (eg mma-dinamuni, rramatapole etc).

Take for example the location in Jwaneng called samaphaleche. It is not an official name but many people use it because it is relatable. It can be a confusing name to fathom but once you visit the place, you will instantly understand why; the matchbox houses are tiny that you would indeed be forgiven for sleeping on your bag of maize meal. Some of the names in our society are quite vulgar and prove that our use of language is quite different. For example, there are lands situated near Boatle, along the Gaborone-Lobatse road. Just ask someone what these lands are called.

Some elders from the lands apparently insist that the meaning behind the name is not vulgar as many may think. In the township of Woodhall in Lobatse, there is a location called HHP. I never thought much of the name before until this one time when an elderly man stopped the taxi I was in and exclaimed, ‘Dumelang! Ke ya ko Huhula panty…’ I cringed. Huhula what? I thought I had not heard him correctly and slowly turned to the driver who registering my evident shock and disbelief, burst into fits of laughter.

It turns out that HHP is an abbreviation for Huhula panty. I will not recount what I was told when I asked about this strange name. Ironically, HHP is a seedy township even more notorious than Peleng. It is also widely believed that people from there are an ill bred lot who swear like sailors and drink like pirates. Of course this is not entirely true because I know a many decent, well-behaved and responsible folk from there, but the name makes people conjure strange images, that’s for sure!

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