‘Sorry for Left’: Ghanaian Culture and the Left-Handed



There is a little quirk about Ghanaian culture that has been boggling my mind for a while now, the apparent aversion to the left hand and anything to do with it. This has in the past spawned an unintended discriminatory practice which in my opinion is not right.

We believe the left hand to be unclean, thus should never be used in any social engagement. Thus you cannot greet another person with your left hand, you cannot eat bare handed with your left, and most importantly, you cannot hand anyone anything with your left hand!

This bias of course, has its roots in cultural, religious, and ethnic history. Alternatively, it might be a practice unintentionally picked up from our colonial masters, like most practices we indulge in today. Left-handed bias has been a thing in most cultures worldwide at one point in time or another, the difference being they have moved on whilst we remain stuck in this mentality.

At some points in the past it was so bad left handed kids were forced to ‘defect’ to their right hand. This certainly induces some psychological abuse such as feeling that left handed people are no good to society.

To this day the left hand remains a taboo object. When you are forced to hand someone something with the left, such as when you are eating, you have to attach the right hand in a ridiculous gesture and mumble ‘sorry for left’. For Christ’s sake, that’s not even correct grammar, yet it’s a constant presence in any Ghanaian’s English vocabulary.

For a country with a myriad of problems we certainly seem to have an obsession with elevating the trivial. Anyone who flaunts this unwritten rule of society stands to be labelled at best as disrespectful, at worst a burden to society.

To date I have never gotten a more satisfactory explanations to my enquiries other than ‘it’s unclean’. I fail to grasp the special circumstance that makes the left more unclean than the right.

Ultimately it’s a part of our society I can’t change, but I can rail against it all the same. It makes little sense as a practice, and unwittingly attaches a certain stigma against the southpaw inclined.

Imagine being a left hander, for whom the most natural thing is doing things with your left hand. However via our culture, you have to go against all natural instincts when dealing in a social situation, and you might end up using your weaker hand even more than the dominant one.

And that, ultimately, is a big shame. No one should be forced so much to do things, no matter how trivial, that rail so much against their natural instincts. There is a case to be made for mental abuse nestled in there somewhere.


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