Tuck in your shirt

By Rev. Fr. Eva Chuma Nnamene

Our caption this week is taken from one of the dress code instructions you may hear on the assembly ground of any school: "tuck in your shirt", "button up your shirt", "buckle your sandals" and so on. Any of such dress code instructions calls students to dress properly; and to dress smartly. In my seminary days, Father Polycarp Opara CMF of blessed memory would say "be careful on how you dress, how you walk ... because before you speak, you have spoken".

He pointed out to us that our dressing says a lot about ourselves. Our comportment writes volumes about who we are. We are using this caption to introduce us to our segment of discussion for the forthcoming couple of weeks. From our scriptural perspective, God created the universe, and eventually asked man to name all the creatures He gave life. And man named all the creatures that God created.

But in terms of man's creativity and ability to respond to his existential necessities, when man made for himself clothes from leaves, he displayed his ingenuity and technological ability. After Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, they became aware of their nakedness; a situation they never realized prior to their eating of the fruit; and as such, when they realized their nakedness, they made move to cover up themselves with leaves. "Necessity", they say, "is the mother of inventions".

Because they learnt they were naked, they made themselves clothes to cover their nudity. From their experience we see the primary purpose of clothes which is to cover nudity. When God confronted them, they were ashamed to meet Him whom they previously sought with all their enthusiasm. Sanctity is repulsive to sin. Then, in sympathy, God provided them with better clothes than their leaves which barely covered their genitals.

God made clothes from animal skins (Genesis 3: 21) and clothed them. Subsequently, mankind has had different kinds of clothes ranging from leather materials (copied from God's clothes for man) to wools, cottons, and so many other fabrics. To understand dressing properly is to situate it precisely where it belongs, namely, as part of man's cultural evolution.

Culture, itself, according Edward Tylor, "is that complex whole which includes knowledge, beliefs, arts, morals, law, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by [a human] as a member of society". In other words, the types of dresses we put on, how we put them on, and when we put them on evolved from man's cultural journey on earth.

Addressing a large gathering of Igbo people on Friday 12th December 2014, the Catholic Bishop of Nsukka Diocese, Most Rev. Godfrey Igwebuike Onah said that culture came as a gift from God to mankind since God made man the apex of His creation. As such, man got the onus of sustaining the world, and thus, man became a cultural being, and thus his engagement to sustain culture is itself, according to Bishop Onah, the birth of culture.

As Igbos from our cultural milieu prior to the advent of western civilization, we had our generally accepted ways of dressing: men wore loin cloths "iwa ogodo"; and women wore "jigida". But with the ingression of western civilization, those attires were changed to trousers, shirts, gowns, skates and blouses. All these new wears came as cultural influences from the west.

And now different models of these new attires have dominated our dressing over the years. Today, if we are talking about our dressing codes, it is about how we put on these western influenced clothes. Even these western influenced clothes have changed over the years. However, the questions have remained: how have we worn these clothes, have they really served the primary purpose of dressing which is to cover nakedness? Subsequent editions of this reflection will be looking at those questions.

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