Use of the left hand: Between Myths, misconceptions and reality
Are you averse to accepting or making payments with the left hand because of your cultural or religious beliefs? Do you have a left-handed child or relative that is being forced to switch to the right hand while performing tasks due to such beliefs? OMIKO AWA in this report explores the myths and misconceptions surrounding the use of the left hand and the scientific position on the matter that will enable you to take the right decision at any given circumstance.
“Carry your bad luck commot for here, you yeye woman wey dey come buy something this early momo with left hand…,” a petty trader yelled at a customer who touched her wares with her left hand. The customer actually wanted to buy an item from her; her only ‘sin’ was that she stretched out her left hand, which is natural to her, to pay her so she could pick item. It took the intervention of good spirited Nigerians to save the seller and the customer from engaging in a fisticuff that morning. In the end, the customer left the place disappointed and angry for being insulted for doing ‘no wrong’.
Many southpaws in the country had at one time or the other suffered a similar fate, as many communities across the country give cultural and spiritual interpretations that are usually negative to the dexterous use of the left hand. Given such negative perceptions, many parents often try to force their children, who show signs of being southpaws at an early age, to use their right hands to carry out their daily activities. In most cases, such children ended up being either ambidextrous (using both hands to carry out any task including writing) or mix-handed (using a particular hand to carry out certain tasks).
A southpaw and mother of four children, Mrs. Yewande Popoola, who had the experience from her parents, said they didn’t care about how she struggled to achieve given tasks by forcefully using her right hand.
Popoola observed that many parents still do the same till date.
“All they care about is to make the left-handed child achieve what they want using the right hand at the expense of his/her mental and emotional feelings,” she said. She disclosed that the situation made her to be ambidextrous, adding that Yoruba people see the use of the left hand as a form of disrespect.
“This includes using it to greet, hand over anything to someone or collect an item from people, eat or even point at an object in public. It is a taboo for anyone to point, gesture or give direction to his/her family house with the left hand. Such a person would be regarded as a bastard (Omo ale),” she explained.
According to her, the only situation that could exempt one from being ridiculed for using his/her left hand to perform certain tasks is when it is a common knowledge that such a person has no right hand or has a withered right hand.
Other ethnic groups in the country also have some form of discrimination against southpaws. A culture advocate, Dr. Ajulichukwu Udensi, said the negative perceptions about the use of the left hand is worse among the Igbo where one must not pick anything shared during a village meeting with the left hand unless such a person is a member of a particular cult group. He added that if such happens, the individual would be seriously fined or might even be ostracised.
“Punishments like this could send someone to his/her early grave. So, to avoid it, people have to struggle to use their right hands and comply,” Udensi explained. He regretted that despite the level of education and civilisation in the country, the use of the left hand at social gatherings was still being regarded as a sign of gross disrespect.
Udensi explained that this could be because the left hand is commonly used to carry out activities majorly considered to be impure and irritating.
“This includes the wiping or washing of the buttocks after defecating, picking of dirty objects, among others. It is for this reason that the hand is believed to be socially unclean and unacceptable to be used for day-to-day activities such as handshake, collecting and giving of money, among others, in the traditional setting,” he added.
An Hausa artifact vendor, Ahmed Alhaji Ahmed, told The Guardian that his culture sees the left hand not only as dirty but also as the hand Satan uses, hence they discourage people from using it to perform tasks right from childhood.
According to research carried out in May 2009 by Johnson W. David et al of the National Library of Medicine, United States of America, left-handedness has nothing to do with evil or disease, but a condition majorly caused by genetics. The scientists disclosed that hand preference develops before birth and becomes more obvious during early childhood and throughout one’s life. They noted that hand preference has to do with the developmental differences between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, stating that the right hemisphere controls movement on the left side of the body including the hand, while the left hemisphere controls movement on the right side of the body. The researchers disclosed that left-handed people are not sub-human or pixies, adding that even though they are known to excel in athletics, they are just as normal as any human being that uses the right hand to do more tasks.
The study showed that cross-dominance, also known as mixed-handedness, occurs when a person favours the use of one hand for certain tasks and the opposite hand for other things. It noted that people in this group might write with their right hands and do every other thing with their left hands and vice versa.
It also revealed that left-handed people have been known to have the ability to think outside the box and this has made it easy for them to solve problems both in and outside the school system. The research noted that it is imperative for parents who have left-handed children to build their confidence with good association.
According to Afonja Ilori, a Yoruba traditional healer, the left hand is considered as the “hand of peace” (Owo Alaafia) because of its spiritual import.
Ilori noted that for the novice, the left hand is a curse and would turn down handshakes from someone that stretches out a left hand, reject money given with a left hand, among other activities, but in spiritual matters the left hand is used for many things.
“Do you know that some spiritual medicines or concoctions are perfected by using the left hand? Do you also know that one has to handle some charms with the left hand for it to work and at the same time destroy some also by merely touching it with the left hand? People need to know that the left hand is a hand of the spirit and this could be the reason many people avoid its use,” he said.
However, an Islamic scholar, Malam Abdul-Lateef Bello of Anuoluwapo Central Mosque, Idimu, disclosed that Islam frowns at people eating with their left hands because it is considered unclean, as it is the hand mostly used for tidying oneself after using the toilet. He noted that the right hand is a hand of honour, adding that the Hadith that talks about personal hygiene made it clear.
Highlighting countries that consider the use of left hand as a taboo, he mentioned Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Nepal, among other Arab nations, saying these countries based their belief on the Hadith and the event that happened during the time of the Prophet Mohammed (SAW), where Abdullah reported what Allah’s Messenger said: “Do not eat with your left hand, for the Satan eats with the left hand.”
Bello, however, pointed out that Islam is not against left-handed people, as they can use their left hands to write or do other things, but they should not use it to eat and drink, adding that the right hand is preferred, especially as it is regarded as the hand of honour.
On his part, the Rev. Nmecha Meschack of the Lamb of God Church, Lagos, quoting Exodus 15:6 and Psalm 118:16, said the Christian religion pays much attention to the right hand because it is considered the hand of honour, favour and power, adding that when Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, the Bible records that he sits at the right hand side of God. “He did this because the right hand side of God is a glorious side, which implies that the human right hand should be glorified over the left hand,” he added.
Meschack revealed that despite this preference for the right hand, the left hand is a medley of the good and the evil, noting that while God’s left hand is called hand of judgment with Archangel Gabriel sitting there, those that fall out of God’s favour are also sent to be on the left hand side of God, as described in the Parable of the Sheep and Goats.
According to the cleric, sheep represent the righteous, while goats stand for stubbornness and unrighteous. Making reference to the Christian Holy Communion, the Pentecostal cleric said the presiding priest gives out the communion bread and wine with the right-hand and the communicant accepts them with their right hands too. He disclosed that the Bible uses the right-hand as a symbol of strength and honour.
To a culture researcher, Dr. Kinsley Ihenacho, the myth of the left hand being evil is an age long tale.
“It started with some mystics saying that the witches, wizards and elves make use of the left hand in all their activities and therefore man using it would amount to imitation of these deities. This belief grew like wildfire to the extent that it became part of African folklore and culture,” he said.
Ihenacho noted that based on the fear this belief evoked on the people, some cult groups leverage it to showcase their machismo and oppress non-initiates.
“This unreasonable belief, however, gained ground when during the pre-colonial era, clerics of the two foreign religions — Christian and Islam — began to tell their converts that left-handedness is satanic,” he added.
A Godian chief priest, Nze Ifezieokwu Chukwuma Obimdike, disclosed that the left hand is synonymous with evil, adding that using it to serve people or the gods is flagrant disrespect and must not be allowed.
Obimdike, however, revealed that members of some cult groups use the left hand to do virtually everything in public, saying this does not mean it is permissible for all.
A member of the Ekpe masquerade in Abia State, Godwin Akalazue, disclosed that the left hand is the hand of the gods, fortune and wisdom, which is why elders tell younger ones to certain information they pass to them in their left hands.
“The left hand is a potpourri of spiritual fortunes; it is a treasure trove and cartogram of the beholder. Most traditionalists would prefer you keep it sacred, so that it will remain inviolate,” he said.
According to him, his cult group uses the left hand in public to showcase power and differentiate members from non-initiates, who are most times referred to as women because they are lily-livered.
Way to go
A sociologist, Opeyemi Olawale Owosibo, noted that the prejudice held against left-handed people is not proper, saying it is also not ideal to force such individuals to use their right hands simply because society does not approve the use of the left hand.
Stressing that everyone has a natural propensity for either left or right-handedness, he concurred that the use of a particular hand is determined by genetics and brain dominance, adding that it is important to respect and support an individual’s natural inclination, whether it is right or left-handedness.
According to the Human Management and Business Development Consultant, forcing left-handed individuals to switch to their non-dominant hand could have detrimental effects on their physical comfort, dexterity and overall development.
He warned that such actions could lead to frustration, decrease in self-esteem and hinder academic performance in children. Owosibo noted that it is crucial to create an inclusive environment where individuals are encouraged to embrace their natural handedness and also for teachers, parents and society at large to celebrate diversity and support left-handed individuals by providing left-handed tools, adaptive equipment and proffering ergonomic solutions to make them excel in what they do.
Owosibo called on culture activists, opinion moulders and traditional rulers to promote inclusiveness and show understanding to left-handed people, saying this would not only validate the experiences of left-handed individuals, but also foster a culture of acceptance, diversity and respect for all individuals regardless of their handedness.
He said: “As a society, it is crucial to embrace diversity and promote inclusivity. Everyone should be treated with respect and dignity, regardless of their handedness or any other individual difference. By valuing and appreciating the diversity within our communities, we create a more inclusive and understanding society, where the unique qualities of all individuals can be celebrated.”
He also urged parents to begin to see forcing a left-handed child to switch to the right hand as a pure case of injustice that is based on misconception and must be stopped.
He said: “No hand is evil; no hand is more blessed. Life is now made easier by tools such as left hand friendly school supplies (pencils, grips, tri-tip crayons and scissors). For a parent whose child is interested in music as a hobby, left-handed guitars are now available. Thinking outside the box is a specialty of lefties, which translates well to problem solving at school and in society.
“Left-handed men and women have been known to have the ability to think outside the box and this has made it easy for them to solve problems both in school and in life situations. It is imperative for parents to build their kid’s confidence with good company. Remind your kid that some of the most powerful men and women that have ever lived and are living are left-handed. They include Ronald Regan, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. There are also many left-handed innovators, musicians, guitarists and athletes such as Jimi Hendrix, amongst others.”
For a former Chairman, Association Of Nigerian Private Medical Practitioners (ANPMP), Lagos State, Dr. Tunji Akintade, the society should allow left-handed people to grow because they are normal people with right brain dominance and trying to alter that might lead to catastrophic damage and slow mental growth. He added that it was high time the different ethnic groups across the country adjusted their cultures to accept left-handed people as normal people.
According to him, there is no known theory that says a right-handed person is brighter or better than the left-handed.
“Both are equal; the leftist should be accepted just like the right-handed person too,” he stressed.
Prof. Ayodeji Peter Ifegbesan of the Faculty of Education, Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ogun State, also stated that it is not only absurd but also culturally barbaric and socially unacceptable in this time and age for any individual or group of individuals to condemn or classify anyone as cursed on the basis of being left-handed.
He noted: “This is a trait he/she was born with and not learnt. Since no individual or parents have the power to decide if the child should be right or left-handed, it then behooves on us to jettison some of these cultural constructions that portray us as primitive people. Do you know that some of these left-handed individuals are usually brilliant? So, they should be treated equally. Or is anything wrong with one being left-handed? Which of the religious books ascribed a curse to them? The taboo is man-made and as such should be corrected by man.”
Taking the challenge to some teachers who sometimes try to make a child use his/her right hand, a senior tutor with Vivian Fowler Memorial College for Girls, Lagos, Oluwafolake Okechukwu, said the society should embrace the left-handed child just like the right-handed child, adding that such a child has every energy he/she needs to learn and grow while changing it may alter that positive energy.
The tutor cum counsellor described the ill-treatment occasionally meted out to left-handed people as embarrassing, adding that there should be cultural awareness on the issue “so that this discrimination will not inhibit some left-handed people, children inclusive, from being whom they are and obstructing them from exhibiting their natural traits for better performances in academics, industry and other spheres of life.”
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Charles Lorie French Academy, FESTAC, Lagos, Madam Onyeka Albert, also stated that once a left-handed person is not conditioned to switch to his/her right-hand from the child’s first week to year one, such a child should be allowed to use the left-hand because any forceful measures applied afterwards may affect the child’s learning abilities.
According to her, research has shown that if parents change the hand after two years, the child may likely be confused and lose interest in learning, adding that he/she may perform badly in school because he/she would be struggling to use the hand he/she is not used to.
She queried: “Why change the hand? A left-handed person is not a physically challenged person. In fact, there are people that enjoy eating with their left hand even when they are not left-handed. So, there is nothing wrong with it. It is just the conventional belief that the left-hand has some kind of mystery.”