A photo worth a 1000 thoughts
By Captain Mahmood Al Mahmood
The photograph on yesterday’s DT front page of French PM Emmanuel Macron sitting suited and booted with traditionally dressed Managalas people in fur and frond costumes and feathered headdresses brings to mind the famous quip by Mahatma Gandhi.
When he returned to India and saw the crushing poverty in which the British had kept his countrymen, Gandhi announced that he would reduce his essential wardrobe to just a piece of unstitched, handspun cloth around his waist (called a ‘dhoti’, I believe) and a smaller, similar cloth draped over his shoulders for more formal occasions.
It was dressed in such minimal clothes that the charismatic leader of India’s freedom struggle sallied forth to meet King George V at Buckingham Palace in 1931. A reporter asked if he felt that his clothes and bare chest and legs were appropriate for the meeting, and Gandhi famously quipped, "Do not worry about my clothes. The King has enough clothes on for both of us." Clothing can convey a powerful statement without a single word being uttered.
Traditional and national clothes are also a symbol of cultural identity, and often, attempts to prevent their use are a throwback to colonial mindsets and power politics. For instance, attempts to ban the hijab for women are a statement of Islamophobia, just like attempts to get Sikhs to abandon their turban, which is a headdress mandated by their holy scriptures.
Coming back to the DT photo of Macron in the South Pacific, the whole stance of the French President reeks of Western power and condescension; in most Eastern and tribal cultures, showing the soles of the feet in public would be considered disrespectful, for instance.
The tour is supposed to woo people in the many South Pacific island nations to share their rich mineral deposits and natural resources with France. Considering that France needs them to ramp up its faltering economy, one would have thought Macron’s signals would have been more calibrated. Truly, a photo can be worth a thousand thoughts!