The history of Africa and humanity in general is full of traditions and customs that were once treated as true and unchanging. But with every generation, acculturation happens and what was once held as true and unchanging becomes obsolete and backward. Shockingly, we love to think that whatever we inherited must be upheld and African tradition, no matter how poorly scripted, must prevail. This is often a result of an extension of respecting the dead. In African culture, the dead are not to be insulted or ridiculed. The dead have ears and the words and predicaments of the living penetrate the core of the afterlife.
We treasure the old house that our ancestor built. Even though it blocks the passage of the city’s sewage, causing flooding under rain, woe betides anyone that dares to alter his memory. The belief that our forefathers were perfect and wiser has made us to embrace their traditions and cultures which we consider to be perfect. Many Africans fall into that perfection complex even though they may not know or want to admit it.
The generation that will come after us will also try to protect some of the things we did and instituted even though some of them will be of no relevance. The wayward son is the son that questions the cultures of his ancestors while the good son adores and sprinkles it with water. Perfect things do not try to get better or experience any change to become better. In our case, we’ve contacted higher intelligence and damned some cultures and traditions but still speak of a certain unchanging African culture and tradition. Confused?
We have embraced things that are in conflict with the cultures and traditions of our forefathers but still want to talk about respect for their cultures and traditions. We have embraced foreign religions which contradict what our ancestors practised but still hold onto other portions claiming that we are defending the African tradition. Our relationship to these African cultures and traditions we claim to defend is sweet-bitter — an oxymoron of moronic proportion.
This African tradition and culture we speak of, we buried, and the ones we try to defend today have outlived their relevance. African culture is not a state of stupidity or retrogression. African culture should not be greater than common sense. When we hear that Bride Price is a trade of a human and should not be promoted, some of us say that it is our culture and must be continued just because it is our culture. This is a problem.
A culture that gives the impression that people are bought and traded, a culture that establishes ownership rights in the mind of a husband over his wife, a culture that reduces human bonding to things money can buy shouldn’t be the culture of a people. The defence for these cultures comes from the infallibility we got from our ancestors. Our ancestors are always right and anyone who dares talk about any weakness on their part is weak in the head.
Our ancestors were simply mortals like us who created systems for their days but we have made immortal these systems they created. The principles they lived by had a lot to do with their level of intellectual and moral awareness. Errors flowed from them just like errors flow in us today. They didn’t get everything right and they failed just like us. Death doesn’t and shouldn’t make an untruth a truth.
African tradition is not just the tradition of dead Africans. It is also the tradition of the Africans who are alive. It shouldn’t just be something the dead created in their time of existence but should also be something the people living in Africa create today. A history of African cultures and traditions should show a history of similar tribes and nations exhibiting different traditions and cultures at different times.
Why is the male child more important than the female child? This is another erroneous legacy of our ancestors that we must do away with. This practise must have begun when farming and activities that rely on physical strength for achieving daily needs were prevalent. It would have been logical to pay more attention to the engine room of the house just as it is logical today to show more respect and reward to those at the top echelon of companies and industries for their greater work. Where physical strength was priority, it was logical to guard those who had it more than the weak ones.
Things have changed today. The age of reason, intelligence and imagination over physical strength and muscles, is born. Intelligence now gets things done today. We’ve got something better now. Hanging on the past will be refusing to move forward. Today, the strong people work for the intelligent ones. The smarter people get the physically strong people to do the hard work.
A man and his wife populate their home with kids they can’t feed just because they are looking for a male child. There is absolutely nothing wrong in looking for a male child but looking for a male child because culture said it is not progressive. We are not beasts or zombies but creatures of reason. We are not insulting our ancestors by refusing to follow in their footsteps but making our own footsteps and living our lives. Africa shouldn’t be a continent of foolish people, but a continent of people ready for progress.
There was a time heads had to accompany dead kings for easy passage to the other world. There was a time the blood of girls, who were virgins, purified the land and cleansed it of every form of barrenness and famine. There was a time when twins were killed because it was believed they were evil and carried the seed of discord in them. There was a time a king could dream about you at night planning treachery and the next day his guards would take you six feet down for planning murder in his majesty’s dream. There was a time our women had to stay indoors because the big masquerade passing by could inflict them with barrenness. There was a time we poured libations to gods before gulping down a drop of palm wine. There was a time we sacrificed plants and livestock for gods so that our harvest would be bounty. Some of these are still happening.
When contradicting voices speak of respecting African tradition, which of these traditions are they asking us to respect? When they say that African culture must be promoted, is the culture of burying a king with virgin heads included? When they talk of respecting the works of our ancestors, how do we treat the killing of twins? When they say respect the African traditional institution, which African traditional institution should we respect?
Commonsense is the answer and it is opposite to stupidity. African tradition is not stupidity, rather, whatever makes sense should be made African culture today. I will not respect it because my forefathers did it but because it makes sense. I refuse to respect it because my forefathers thought it was the only way, but because it makes sense. That is what African tradition and culture should be based on. Stupidity and blind followership never saved anyone.
By Rey Alaetuo
The author is a conscious Poet and health care professional living in Lagos, Nigeria
(Abridged. Courtesy: Mortal Poet).