Americanmuso: The (Politically Incorrect) Naming Culture of Burkina Faso

American’s are staunch supporters of political correctness. For example, it probably wouldn’t be acceptable for a stranger to make fun of a dark skinned person for not being able to show up in a picture taken in a dark space if the flash isn’t on-especially not in public. Chances are if this did happen, that stranger wouldn’t be able to get far before getting a piece of the victims mind.

Race jokes? Unacceptable.
Fat jokes? Nope.
Rape jokes? You better run for the hills.

po·lit·i·cal·ly cor·rect
pəˌlidək(ə)lē kəˈrekt/
adjective: politically correct; adjective: politically incorrect; adjective: incorrect
  1. exhibiting (or failing to exhibit) political correctness.
    “it is not politically correct to laugh at speech impediments”
    synonyms: unoffensive, nondiscriminatory, unbiased, neutral, appropriate, nonpartisan;

    “the true meaning may be clouded by his politically correct language”
    antonyms: offensive

    Defined by google search

That being said. There are plenty places in this world where that staunch political correctness (PC) has no home, and as an American that can often be…jarring.

Burkina Faso is a prime example of where you aren’t going to find people who are as PC as a people prefer in the United States, and instead you’ll find that people are prone to describing and naming others for exactly how they look or what they do.

People aren’t always “Awa,” and “Ahmed,” but”The old woman,” and ” The fat boy.”

There are entire swaths of people in my host community who’s names are completely unknown to me.  This is 100% due to the fact that no one has every called them by their proper name, so I don’t either. Instead I find myself calling one of my favorite older women in village, “my old woman,” like my neighbors do or calling the owner of the store down the road the, “little store owner.”

People of status are also typically called by their working title. For example, the headmaster of the school is called, “Mr. Headmaster,” and the chief of police being called, “Chief.”

This “name calling,” is also often turned on me. I have been called, “Americanmuso,” “American woman,” “Tubabumuso,” “Foreign woman,” and “Black American woman,” in lieu of my name.

And though this might seem a little odd to outsiders, it ends up being much easier to go with the naming system flow than asking the person for their given name, remembering it, calling them by it, and then having everyone have no idea who you’re talking about because they don’t know that person’s given name anyway.

Physical Descriptions
Not only can your position become your name here but your physical description can also become a topic of conversation. People are completely comfortable telling you exactly what they think of your physical form, whether you want to hear it or not.

As someone who has raised in a PC country, it has taken some effort to get used to being told I’m “getting fat,” and that I “need to lose weight because men don’t like it,” by casual friends, or being asked, why my “face has become covered in acne recently,” by my French teacher.

I’ve witnessed an young girl with albinism being told she should use a bleaching cream to even out her skin tone, and a boy being told he was too fat to be good at soccer, and everything in between.

However, though comments and names like these can be seen as harmful to those of us from other cultures, it’s important to realize that to the locals this is a completely normal, unoffensive, politically correct, and sometimes funny, occurrence.

To me, its just become a little quirk about Burkina to accept.







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