It’s cool to be a ‘leftie’, Obama and Clinton are

Wednesday August 12 2009

U.S. President Barack Obama. He is also left-handed. Photo/REUTERS

U.S. President Barack Obama. He is also left-handed. Photo/REUTERS 

By JOY WANJA

Mr Robert Mwema, 33, would love to play the guitar, but he can’t because he is left-handed and most guitars are made with right-handed people in mind.

He has learnt to live with the stares he receives whenever he performs daily chores like writing. But he is luckier than his father, who was often punished in school for writing with his left hand until he had to learn to use both hands. Now, his father is ambidextrous.

Engineer disappointed

As the world celebrates the World Left-Handed Day, the engineer is however disappointed at the lack of left-hand user equipment and furniture like arm rests in lecture rooms.

Though the society has accepted “lefties”, Mr Mwema says it has been a long journey. “I stand out in public,” says Mr Mwema, a water treatment engineer at Davis & Shirtliff in Nairobi.

Myths abound about the trait. Some communities believed that ill spirits lived in the left hand, so encouraged a left-handed child to abandon using it and shift to the right hand.

Children who attempted to perform tasks with the left hand were punished, with parents opting for bizarre ways like tying the child’s hand behind his or her back, splashing hot pepper on it, or burning the hand to discourage its use.

In other African societies, the left-handed child would be thrown into the river or fed to hyenas in the forest to ward off curses it would bring to the family.

In school, the left hand has earned users a scolding and knocking of pupils’ knuckles, though the practice is dying out. Indeed, sinistrality — the mastered use of the left hand — should never be discouraged in children, nor conversion to right-handedness be forced, experts advise.

Instead, parents, teachers and guardians should motivate children to develop the skill and provide the right equipment to accommodate them.

Famous “lefties” include US president Barack Obama, last US presidential Republican candidate John McCain, former vice president Al Gore and top politician Bob Dole. And so are entertainers Whoopie Goldberg, Angelina Jolie, Nicole Kidman and musician Phil Collins.

Four of the last five American presidents — Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton — were left-handed. Fidel Castro, too is left-handed, as was Julius Caesar.

Kenya’s Finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta, TV personality Louis Otieno, Kenya Human Rights Commission’s Muthoni Wanyeki, musician Redsan, Nation writer Peter Leftie Mutibo and NTV reporters Gladys Mutiso, Alex Mwangi and Misiko Andere join the list of people with left hand dexterity.

At least 1 in 4 Apollo astronauts to the moon were in this minority that makes up 3 per cent of the world population.

In sports, left-handers are known to excel in tennis, baseball, and swimming. Left-handed soccer stars include Brazilian Romario, Legendary Argentinean Diego Maradona and Terry Baker. Others include football player and actor O J Simpson.

The left wing is mostly played by lefties who are known to tactfully play against unsuspecting right-footed players. And football coaches are now pushing for players to master the tactical use of both feet, saying over-reliance on one foot keeps them focused on the ball when dealing with an opponent.

The Left-Handers Club was formed in 1990 to promote research into left-hand use items.

Worldwide, the Left-Handers Club is encouraging 70,000 members to create a Lefty Zone at their homes or offices, where all tasks are conducted with the left hand — an interesting experience for right-handed friends and family.

Lefties cannot identify their left hand promptly and hesitate briefly before replying. A random request to Mr Mweme to identify his left hand was met with hesitation as he quickly grasped a pen to find out which it was before he replied.

Try it out today on a left-hander.