When I first saw the trailer for the movie, The Woman King, I knew it was not one to miss. I was mostly captivated by the female characters despite the proud factor of the movie set being in a neighbouring country, South Africa. As a woman and a feminist, I was drawn to the display of the ‘strength of a woman that was too familiar to my spirit; strength of an African woman, of a mother, that of my ancestors, my grandmothers who were the glue to the entire extended family. Not watching the movie would have been a great disservice to me. I was also very proud to see my boys as excited as I was to watch this phenomenal cast of women, and so, with no nudging or any form of bribery, they accompanied me when the movie premiered. By the time we walked out of the cinema 3 doors, we were all in agreement that it was a movie worth watching more than once.

Reminiscing of the good old days…
As happy and proud as I am of these women representing and displaying the best and undermined strength of womanhood, I couldn’t help but feel sad. I felt a pinch in my heart, a yearning for familial love, for unity, and togetherness. I reminisced about those good old days when my grandmothers were still alive; I am referring to my biological maternal grandmother and her sister. In comparison, they were oil and water, their personalities that is— I’m trying my best to be as polite as I can to their resting souls. To those who still don’t understand, let me simply say, one was an angel, the other not really. They got along very well. Best friends to be exact, they just had different personalities.

With the festive season here, I feel their absence more and long for their uniting strengths even more. They were the matriarchs, the heads of my family in an African culture with patriarchal traditions. A culture where the man makes all the decisions without being questioned. They went against that norm without shouting or displaying their power on a rooftop. No, they did it quietly. And my grandfather was also unlike most African men. He had no problem stepping back and allowing his wife to lead. He also did it quietly, in the privacy of their love without announcing to the world that he was the ‘head’ of the household.

Rotational festivities
Back in the day, when my grandmothers were still alive, the extended family feasted and celebrated together on Christmas day. They had an unspoken agreement where they rotated the festivities every year from one household to the other. When Christmas was spent in the older sister’s home, the New Year would be spent at the younger sister’s. And the following year they would rotate. These festive periods are one of the fondest memories of my childhood. Not only did we all get to see each other as relatives, but it was an opportunity for gift-giving and a moment of love sharing. Hugs and kisses were the norms in our family. Without question, one would go through the scattered groups of cousins, uncles, aunts, and grandparents and embrace them with a heartfelt, warm hug and kiss. Today, even with our broken family, this is the only tradition that we have so desperately clung to and kept alive. Despite the animosity there may be between two family members, when we meet, the norm remains a hug and a kiss. We can continue sulking or ignoring each other after the fake smile followed by the hug and kiss. Somehow these inherited gestures of love keep our identity or lineage of genetics alive.

Keeping the spirit alive
I walked out of the cinema after watching The Woman King thinking about this dynamic. It troubled my soul for a moment that we hardly see each other as an extended family unless it’s for a funeral. Even the power of a wedding to bring people together no longer exists. Sad how it is, but unfortunately it’s the void created by the departing of the matriarchs; the gorilla glue of generations. Despite my sadness, I do understand the many challenges of life today that contribute to the breakdown of families: money, nuclear family plans, and geographic locations. This however doesn’t change the fact that I miss celebrating the festive season like we did when the matriarchs were still alive, the women kings of my family. If they are still alive in your family, please give them a tighter hug, and a loving kiss during these Christmas festivities. Spin them around for a little delicate fox trot or waltz. Make them smile, make them laugh, and shower them with as much love as you can for if one day you have to spend a Christmas in their absence, you will realize how different it is without them. Enjoy the holidays with the matriarchs.