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On the Esoteric Tradition of Lawyers and Judges

Written by Eridwana

Being a lawyer is indeed a noble profession, no one should argue about this. It must be such a gargantuan task reeling off all those Latin words from your finger tips as proof that one is learned (hehehe).

However, having studied language for years, I know that most Latin words that have found themselves into English language came either through law or religion.

Noble profession or no noble profession, Latin was considered the language of learned men in the middle ages before William the Conqueror took over England and made French, his mother tongue, the language of the aristocracy.

Later, over the period that spans the 100 years war and Geoffrey Chaucer revolutionary use of the English language in his works, English would rise to supplant French.

Since most law edicts were adopted from Roman laws, most of the language were left unchanged and lawyers had to be familiar with the Latin language so as to quote them efficiently and in most cases to bamboozle those who do not understand the language.

While there has been a successful adoption of English in the literary arts and African writers (like Chaucer did for English language) have been able to bend and twist the English language to take a new shape so it can carry the weight of the African experiences, the law discipline (on the other hand) have been unable to modify our laws to suit the African milieu and society. We copied everything hook, line, and sinker, even down to the physical appearances of lawyers in Europe!

I can understand the inferiority complex of our lawyers and judges, the need to appear like European lawyers, wear black and white uniform to make them appear distinct and learned, I can understand. It is why Sly Cheney Cooker describes learned African men as “decorated Afro-Saxons” (black men trying to look white) in his poem “Freetown”, Ngugi wa Thiong’o also has a similar view. But what I cannot deal with is why after so many years of independence, we cannot do away with some of these things to accommodate those applicable to our society, why?

As a literature student, I had to study a lot of British and American literature especially as they relate to various epochs, it was in the course of this study that I discovered how many apparels came into being. I learnt for instance that high heel shoes were first worn by men, mostly belonging to the aristocratic class and the tight-fitted trousers that have become fashionable today among women today were first worn by men.

Do you know that it was men who first began wearing wigs? During the middle Renaissance era, wigs became fashionable among the aristocratic class because many were going bald and needed wigs to cover their baldness! I have seen pictures of King Charles, James, Dr Samuel Johnson, John Donne, John Milton, and King George all wearing various forms of these wigs. These men were all from the aristocratic class and most owned lands and were regarded as “lords” (landlords) under a feudal system operated in the then British isles.

As lords, they sat to judge cases among their subjects and since they were using wigs (to cover their baldness) it was naturally passed down to modern day judges and lawyers. From this, I believe you now know why judges are referred to as “My Lord”. Also, these lords were all men, so there was nothing like “My Lordress” for women so that when women became judges in a future time, the word “lord” became unisex in the courtroom and could be used to address both male and female judges.

Also, the clothes these aristocratic class mostly wore then were white underwear atop a black gown or long coat (I remember seeing some the English poets, Lord Gordon Byron, William Wordsworth and P. B. Shelley in similar apparels) This was also passed down to modern judges. Look at lawyers today and you will still notice that the gown and white underwear designs are vintage!

That carefully groomed wig our judges and lawyers wear on their heads are relics of colonialism (Britain gave us the law and also how we must dress while adjudicating that law!), the wig is how an European man hair appears, it is not African, the African man’s hair is curly and our continual use of that wig can only mean that we are ashamed of our race, heritage and identity as Africans, that we have learnt nothing about racial pride after many years of slavery, colonialism, and being “in-dependent!” It is like donning white wisdom atop a black man’s head because the black man has no sense hahaha!

Now, the question is: why is the tradition of using wigs and gowns so jealously guarded by our lawyers and judges? The answer is simple enough.

They want to look grand (learned), they want to appear different and esoteric, after all it is part of the reason why law is regarded a noble profession! Yet, they have failed to consider its psychological impact, the need to accommodate changes as times continues to change. They forget too soon that even Britain has thrown out the wigs to face the proper business of law. It is only in Africa that we value these things for the simple reason of pride!

And while I quite agree that people can often be judged by their appearance, I do not agree with any appearance that goes against that of a person’s creed, beliefs, religion, race, and identity.

My name is Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy and I am just a language historian while you are the lawyer here, if this bothers you, feel free to sue me!

About the author


Ridwan Adelaja is a news reporter and content curator on Quill Kastle. He has worked as a freelance reporter for NTA Ilorin, The Nation News and MC_REPORT in the past. He is a multiple award-winning Poet with a special interest in journalism.

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