Wednesday, 27 October 2021, kakahu kainga

This year, the term 'mufti day' came under the lens of New Zealand schools. From my school days, I always thought that 'mufti' was an odd word for us to use for the freedom of being able to wear jeans to school. The term had connotations of army life and more, of British imperial army life in India. Uncle had been an army man, and my Aunt was born into an army family stationed in India prior to WW2 (and prior to partition), so I knew that the word meant off-duty civvy - civilian - dress. There was also a flavour in the term of looking down a very long nose at those who wear mufti: there were implications being a bit infra dig, of low standards, of being louche, or having 'gone native' (Cambridge Dictionary, 2021). 

The great Michael Quinion wrote an explanation of the term mufti (1999a):

"off-duty civilian clothes of the military man, or [...] anybody who usually wears some sort of uniform, was originally a joke among officers in the British Indian Army, and is first recorded early in the nineteenth century. It’s usually said to come from Mufti, the title of a Muslim legal expert who is empowered to give rulings on religious law. The story is told in Yule and Burnell’s Hobson-Jobson of 1886 that the word was “perhaps originally applied to the attire of dressing-gown, smoking-cap, and slippers, which was like the Oriental dress of the Mufti”. I assume that officers wore this garb while relaxing in the mess."

Turning to Yule and Burnell's Hobson-Jobson (1886) which Mr Quinion cited (NB: 'Hobson-Jobson' is an old term for Anglicisation, or words taken from the base language into another with changes in pronunciation to better fit the borrowing language; Lambert, 2018), I found that the authors said:

"A slang phrase in the army, for 'plain clothes.' No doubt it is taken in some way from [..."an expounder of the Mahommedan Law, the utterer of the fatwa"], but the transition is a little obscure" (Yule & Burnell, 1886, p. [826], 827).

There was no mention dressing gowns or skull caps. This quite surprised me, as Mr Quinion is usually EXACT in his quotations. In fact the quote was an addendum in square brackets to the Cooke (1903) edition of Yule and Burnell (1886), which is now accepted as the second edition. The addendum says:

"[It was perhaps originally applied to the attire of dressing-gown, smoking-cap, and slippers, which was like the Oriental dress of the Mufti who was familiar in Europe from his appearance in Moliere's Bourgeois Gentilhomme. Compare the French en Pekin.]" (p. 593).

There is an element of the languid gentleman in the term. Further, in another entry, Mr Quinion refers indirectly to mufti, discussing some illustrations (1999b):

"...from a London publication, The Day’s Doings of 20 May 1871, that showed Frederick William Park, a well-known homosexual of the period whose 'campish undertakings' with Ernest Boulton in the Burlington Arcade in 1870 had landed them both in court [...] captioned 'Park in mufti'". 

What makes this such an interesting entry is that the other illustration was called 'Park in drag', forming the first entry in print of this cross-dressing term. The implication of louche-ness with the term 'mufti' is obviously an old connection. That by wearing mufti one is not quite a pukka sahib. 

So it was with great interest that I noted media discussion earlier this year about whether the term 'mufti' remained appropriate for 'casual Friday' wear at schools (Forsyth, 2021). The writer reported that a local Muslim cleric had explained that we do not pronounce the term correctly (moofti), that it is a term of legal respect (akin to a Supreme Court judge; Quinion, 1999a; Yule & Burnell, 1886; Cooke, 1903), and that perhaps we could reconsider its use (Forsyth, 2021), as has happened elsewhere in the old British colonies (Pickles, 2020). I think this is an excellent initiative. 

The result has been that a Whakatane school has renamed the day, 'home clothes' or kakahu kainga (Forsyth, 2021). What a great idea. Let us put to bed the idea that wearing native dress is dodgy, that the British Empire is still a thing, and that wearing a uniform does anything other than try to make us look the same.

We will dwell no more on mufti day, but embrace kakahu kainga; and I think that is entirely appropriate.



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