Toyi-toyi—the protest dance of South Africa.
I heard about it last week from an American friend who’s currently living in South Africa. He was responding to a frustrated post I wrote on Facebook about the lack of fervent, committed, regular protest in the U.S. in the face of daily assaults on justice, fairness, diplomacy, and common decency. Toyi-toyi—that’s the way South Africans protest, he said.
I looked it up.
Here’s how you toyi-toyi: you jog up and down, bringing your knees up high. You hold your left hand in front of you, as if bearing a shield. Your right hand carries an imaginary sword and pumps the air in time with your feet. And the words—the words are whatever you want them to be, but they will most certainly express the indignation that’s at the root of your complaint and a fierce demand for your rights. Here’s a video of a black South African teaching a white South African how to do it.
I watched this and a few other toyi-toyi videos for a while and I could hardly contain myself. For an hour or so, I was convinced that a dance like this was the way to get Americans engaged in fighting for our country. Toyi-toyi combines outrage, community spirit, a united voice, and energizing movement. You could stand on the Washington Mall toyi-
toyi’ing or you could jog down the street toward Congress together.
Of course, my focus for many years, expressed in the organization I founded, Radical Joy for Hard Times, and the subject of my new book (coming in September) is finding a way to express beauty and joy in hard times. Toyi-toyi is impassioned Movement moving forward. It confronts, but it also celebrates the power of people confronting together. It acknowledges the worst even as it mounts a determination not to succumb to that worst thing. I’d say it’s joyful. I wish we could do it here.
What I’m Reading
Eva Saulitis, Becoming Earth. Saulitis, a wildlife biologist who studied orcas in Alaska, started writing the essays in this book when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 at the age of 45. Three years later, as she chronicles in the essay called “When What I Most Feared Came to Pass,” the cancer returned—metastasized, terminal. This is no peppy, positive, pink-ribbon book. It is the grit of a woman who spent her life wading as deeply as she possibly could into the muck and froth and gale of the natural world and kept doing so as her body transformed. Her journey with cancer is instructed by her encounters with nature: a deer nibbling kelp, holes in trees, falling golden birch leaves, a crippled calf. From them she gleans the holes in her own life, she grabs a moment of vitality, she mourns the loss of her own hair. Saulitis died in 2016. This book is not depressing. It’s actually not even sad. It’s dark, but in the way deer bones in a wood are dark, the way fungus on a tree is dark. It’s gorgeous-dark.
A Savory Moment
Saturday morning. Woke up at 10 minutes till 6 to a gentle rain falling. I went downstairs and made myself a cup of tea and got back into bed. Andy still sleeping beside me, my book, the hot tea, the rain, the day so fresh and early I was absolved even of asking myself to start getting things accomplished. Bliss.