The ongoing and maybe everlasting predicament of Africa is the attempts at preserving African culture and history whilst labouring to keep up with the speedily progressing modern western world. The African culture and its history are of utmost importance. The attempts by African leaders, scholars and public figures in the fight to keep African tradition alive is admirable.
But there is a problem; what do we keep and what do we let go?
One reason that creates a problem in doing this is the colonial introduction of a monotheistic religion with a professed ‘jealous God.’ Also the traditions and rituals brought down from the colonial intervention has syncretized into the African tradition. Africans have nearly forgotten the rituals of the precolonial era and the present culture is one filled with the remains of colonial presence. This creates an accusatory and derogatory view of any ritual or tradition deemed ‘ungodly’.
For example when I was in Year 5 of a Ghanaian Primary School I distinctly remember a picture in an Integrated Science textbook illustrating the merits of using fertiliser. On one side of the page, a farmer applying fertiliser to his corn crop; his corn was green and mature, the cobs larger than normal and ready for picking. However, on the other side of the page was a failed crop, dry, brown, drooping stalks of corn with no budding cob and the farmer sacrificing a fowl to save his farm.
Of course,sacrificing a fowl will never help in harvesting a greater yield, but portraying part of an African ritual in such a derogatory or ridiculing way cannot be healthy for preserving African culture. In a fight against an Eurocentric enforced identity on the African person, Africa’s problem is, it cannot adopt the ascetics of Gandhi and completely shun the wealth and commerce of westernisation thereby secluding ourselves in a traditional preservation.
Africa’s natural wealth of resources will never allow it out of the international age, one need to adapt and adopt to protect one’sself.
We cannot totally shun other influences in our culture, so what do we keep?
We cannot know what we can actively keep in a society rampantly adapting to modern western culture. I will not talk about what we should keep but I will say that all respect and reverence be given to the tenets of African culture and its vast history.
Becoming disdainful of traditional values is pandering to the Eurocentric view of Africa; and becoming the son who has finally learnt civilisation, another Ignosi the fawning black character of King Solomon’s Mines.
But I will talk about what we can consider to be a detriment in the progress of the African modernisation which endeavours to protect the identity. I will focus largely on education and the school system.
First and foremost, the moral value of hard work. A value which is dominant in the schooling system of Ghana and even though it seems an inherent African value is borne from the colonial remnants of a British private education system. This may seem absurd; attacking the value of hard work in Ghana.
But this has created an education system with boarding schools and extreme school life in which a student has to wake up at 5am (or earlier) in the morning, carry out multitude of chores, prepare him/herself for class, which normally starts at 7am (and one is fully expected to stay on top of his/her studies).
The notion that being able to do a great number of tasks and still keep up with ones studies is so highly viewed in Ghana as such,it is encouraged at home and at work. Would an atmosphere conducive for studying rather than building the character of a hard worker in an institution of education be more suitable?
Students not cohesive to the hard work environment will find that not only can they not keep up with their studies, but also be unable to live up to the expectation of constant work. The student who commutes from home also has to deal with his/her daily chores. Waking up early, arriving at school early and keeping up with his/her studies. The opening times of school being 7am and being expected to arrive at 6:30am and fulfil the domestic duties the school requires is all a hindrance to the education of the youth in Ghana.
The education system must not encourage elitism in the classrooms, the colonial tactic of ‘divide and conquer’ and creating an elite class of the native has also transcended into the classrooms. Another personal experience of this is when I was in my Physics classes in Koforidua Secondary Technical School, the teacher, after completing a lesson would ask those who understand to raise their hands. If 10 people or more would, he moves on to the next topic.
This was in a classroom of 40 people; he totally disregarded the other 30 who were not supposedly clever enough to comprehend whatever he was teaching at the go. I concede to the fact that this happens in many other countries and schools but the difference is it’s frowned upon in every other place but not in Africa. It seems most of us feel it is an encouragement for others to try harder and for those who are ‘quick on the uptake’ to keep it up.
It is rather destroying the drive in the less intelligent and fostering a sense of superiority in the few. This elitism results in a waste of education since it’s only being administered to a small percentage of students.The education of Africa would profit greatly if students were given personal help and proper encouragement instead of dismissing them as hopeless.
It is paradoxical to find that in Africa there is an appraisal of those successful without formal education,the likes of Apostle Kwadwo Asafo, when there is a provision for formal education and a dismissal of a large proportion of the student population.
Moving from the fields of education, a discussion of the general social values of African society is highly important. Changes in the sociocultural outlook of most of the African society is a priority.
The role of the female in African society is one which has been subject to much discrimination, oppression and subjugation. The dominant male role in Africa is also a value that has insidiously entered itself into the culture of the continent. The idea and practice of female being below the male is one introduced by colonialism carried through the hierarchical nature of Christianity.
Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart tells us how female priests and female traditional leaders were present in the precolonial societies which now make up Nigeria.
Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions shows how the submissive role of the woman is plastered and immovable from the minds of most African citizens.
Tambu’s fight for recognition of her intelligence, was met with opposition from not only her traditional father and submissive mother (who had accepted her role with meekness) but her influential uncle who even though having been taught in a somewhat egalitarian Britain could not fight against what he thought to be the traditional status of a woman in an African family.
A conscious effort to remove this idea from the people of Africa’s minds should be made. The act of being modern at work and reverting to a ‘wrong’ (I shall not call it backward since there are many examples of gender equality in the past in Africa and around the world) way of thinking the moment we are in our homes is despicable.
It is a lie to the social progress that has been already made by Africa and sadly a testament to the confusion the inhabitants feel towards their culture and the one forced upon them.
The African identity is of utmost importance, and in this fast paced world, being able to situate oneself, being able to tell oneself: ‘this is me and my history’ and being able to define oneself with knowledge gained solely by said self, is imperative to the social, cultural, political and historical survival of Africa.
Our identity must be established, but before we can do that, there has to be a rectification of many rituals and traditions being practiced in the continent; some of these traditions have been discussed but there are more.
The identification and reparation for these detrimental rituals should be carried out as soon as possible for if we don’t, Africa shall meet the fate of Okonkwo, Chinua Achebe’s tragic hero.
Stubborn to change, the inability to mould ourselves correctly to the quick pace of modernisation occurring around us will lead us to commit suicide, hang ourselves on a strong tree as immovable as our stubborn persistence and choke on the tightening noose of our past culture.