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Of Pith Helmets and Sartorial Colonialism

Even though I own a straw-woven pith helmet/veil combo I’ve formerly used to rob my bee hives, Melania Trump’s haute couture loud statements during her recent Africa jaunt have prompted me to utter the words “Pith Helmet” repeatedly.

There is actually a musical cadence to repeating Pith Helmet, Pith Helmet, Pithhhhh.

Because the tongue is the most active speech articulator, the ejective phonemes, especially the fricative ones, are greatly affected by the tongue’s interaction with the upper and lower dental sound constructions. Thus the θ sound (as in the final th sound in tooth) is one of those unvoiced interdentals that carries much pith to it.

As a result of a hard head joggle, in July of this year I have had to have my central incisor extracted as a preparatory procedure for a tooth implant. A titanium pin was inserted, and bone augmentation tissue was packed around the pin so as to build a strong base onto which a crown will be seated.

Losing one’s frontal upper tooth/teeth requires new adaptations for articulating sibilant, fricative, and labiodental sounds, an endeavor that’s become a daily challenge.

This means that for a period of five months a flipper (a partial fake tooth) was provided to cover the large empty space atop the missing front tooth, a temporary cosmetic accouterment until a more permanent improvement will restore my face to its older self. However, because the flipper wires have a tendency to bite into my gum, I wear my phony tooth only when I go public. A retired person can avoid public interaction for extended periods of time.

Upon seeing Melania Trump on her Dark Continent safari excursion in Kenya (cheekily-clad with a pith helmet), a s—-hole country on her husband’s long list of s—hole countries, I was immediately reminded of colonialism and its ugly legacy in Africa, Asia, Latin America, New Zealand, and Australia, a legacy that lasted for centuries.

“How silly of her, look at that Pith Helmet,” I uttered to La Belle Femme. And, while Miss Melania strutted through Africa as though it was a fashion show catwalk in which she was the sole model, I couldn’t get the Pith Helmet image out of my mind.

I pondered the following: “What a pithy, pith-poor example, this trophy wife is setting for all the hungry and poor children in countries still suffering from the grief and pain of colonialism.”

And only because of the newly discovered thrust my tongue exerted on the wide gap between my upper teeth, for a whole week I delighted in uttering my disgust: “I am pithed off at this pith-poor choice of attire! I am pithed off… .”

As the European countries competed with each other in the 19th century race for colonial land and resource grabbing rivalries across Africa and Asia, the pith helmet became synonymous with colonialism, occupation, and exploitation. To keep their white skins from darkening and to avoid sunstroke, the Brits, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Netherlandish and German Imperial forces made good use of the pith helmets.

Furthermore, the early pseudoscientific phrenological research of Franz Gall helped establish the pith helmet not only as an elitist fashion statement, but it also alerted the racist Europeans (and later Americans) to the fear of having their brains fried and their crania sculpted to the shape and brain mass of the inferior Africans. And numerous European scientists dissected the brains of beheaded African nationals to prove the inferiority of the Negro race. Until recently, some of these severed heads were still held in storage bins in European museums.

Fur, cotton, tobacco fibers and a miscellany of materials were utilized in the sartorial crafting of pith helmets. The French Navy chose white for their sailors, the Germans brown for their foot soldiers, the Brits chose brown for their underlings and white for their top brass. For their designer pith helmets, the colonial diplomatic, consular and military corps chose fine linens, often lined with a horizontal white, red, black or blue stripe across the top of the slightly slanted front. Others chose to include hand-crafted clasps on their stripes. (Methinks Melania chose a black stripe). While the Germans affixed silver or gold glitzy contoured, pointed spikes to their pith helmets, the Italians and Brits (especially imperial forces in India) contoured their pith helmets to front and hind intersecting points. And the prissiest of them all were the Brits and Italians who added an array of plumes in mono or poly Chromes, much like showy peacocks and coquettish wild birds. Emulating their colonizers, the Vietcong wore pith helmets, choosing green, the color of their lush rice fields. Haila Selassie, Ethiopia’s Emperor par excellence, emulated his Eyetalian occupiers by occasionally wearing a pith Helmet.

Utilizing her earlier talents as a fashion model and in the vogue of a female Indiana Jones, Melania Trump ended her Dark Continent fashion catwalk in Cairo to an audience of four, the three Great Pyramids and the Sphinx. I must admit that for her Egyptian excursion she chose excellent fashion designers whose talents are reflected in eye-pleasing alta moda in which the diffusion of lines and colors made for a handsome spread.

During one of her interviews Melania stated that there was no evidence that her husband had affairs with a porn star and a Playboy Bunny. Unfortunately, there are 280 thousand dollars’-worth-of-payments evidence.

And finally, Melania’s last interview in full view of the Great Pyramids and the Sphynx brought to mind Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ozymandias, a poem whose perennial theme is as relevant to today’s pith poor leaders as it was for Cheops and Khufu. The British Empire, an empire that condescendingly bragged about the sun’s never setting on her dominions, is brexiting into nonentity. And the U.S., under current imperial rule, is falling into the abyss of Make America Hate Again and Again.

I met a traveller from an antique land,

Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;

And on the pedestal, these words appear:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

More articles by:

Raouf J. Halaby is a Professor Emeritus of English and Art. He is a writer, photographer, sculptor, an avid gardener, and a peace activist. halabys7181@outlook.com

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