Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The Hawaiian good luck sign

About ten years ago I was driving in Dar es Salaam with one of my nieces seated in the passenger seat next to me when a daladala commuter bus driver overtook us and immediately swerved in front of us and parked on the roadside to pick passengers.

Only my reflex action prevented an otherwise serious accident that, although would not have been life-threatening, could have caused some injury and extensive damage to both vehicles.

I was incensed but even as I drew next to his car and asked my niece to pull down her window so that I could speak to the rogue driver I was conscious of my niece's presence and managed to suppress any urge to say something which would embarrass me for the remainder of my life. Before I spoke, she said, "Uncle, please don't pick a fight."

He spoke first when he noticed I had stopped at his side. Aware that he had driven recklessly, he meekly said to me, "I am extremely sorry mzee" [which translates into "old man", but is also an honorific title for a man]. I was so enraged that I cannot remember whether I pointed out to him that he did not deserve to be driving on the road. I recall that I did not say any unpleasant word.

What I managed to suppress eventually came out by way of a sign that is known in some places as the Hawaiian good luck sign. In an incident in the late sixties in which an American naval vessel was captured by the North Koreans while negotiations were being carried out for the release of the Americans, the Koreans assembled the prisoners for a photograph that was released to the international press. In the photograph the captors were seen holding up their arms with raised fists turned inwards except for their middle fingers sticking into the air. When asked by the Koreans what the sign meant, the Americans said that it was the Hawaiian good luck sign. When the Koreans eventually found out that the sign was one of the most internationally recognized symbols of insult, an extra dose of beatings was ordered on the Americans.

With exceptional politeness I told the rogue driver, "that's okay" and the next moment my left arm shot upwards with what has also been called the one finger salute. I could very well have gotten in legal trouble for flashing an indecent sign against the driver even though I was provoked, but I believe there is an excuse I could have used in my defense. I had clearly resolved not to make a fool of myself in front of my niece, but I would like to believe I was provoked into a state of emotion that overtook my senses and control of my movements. In law it is called automatism.

There is a tragic example in Tanzania of a former Tanzanian politician who experienced a similar incident in which the driver of the daladala was shot and killed and the politician eventually charged for the driver's murder. The politician died before the case was concluded. I do not and will not condone the killing of the driver, but I certainly have experienced how such an incident could occur.

As I drove off after the incident I recall how embarrassed I became for my inability to suppress my emotions in the presence of my niece.

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1 comment:

Howard said...

If the sign that you are referring to is the "reversed Winston Churchill" V sign, I am (not very reliably) informed that the origin of this was with the English archers who fought with Henry V against the French at Agincourt in 1415 AD. The French were in the nasty habit of cutting enemy archers prsoners' 2nd & 3rd fingers off (which would severely hamper their ability to pull a bow - to say the least! In order to taunt the French before the battle, the English archers put their two drawing fingers up, to show the French that they were still able to exact some damage!