By Henry Kanyanta Sosala
Consequences of Cultural Genocide
Culture which I like to refer to within the current African context as “the effort to try to find one’s real self.’” It has been rightly said, ‘’Anyone who has a quarrel with the past, loses the present and risks to lose the future as well.’’ It has also been said that a motorist who does not use his/her mirror to look behind will one day make a fatal accident. Life involves our growing upwards and downwards like a tree, which is able to stretch out its branches to the sky because it also sends its roots into the nourishing earth. Man or tree with no proper roots will fall.
Scientific truths were made explicit a mere five hundred years ago, and mostly with the works of Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, Isaac Newton etc., in whatever manner our ancestors viewed the world prior to that, it was not through scientific lens. And because we are now so scientific, it is very difficult for us to understand that other ways of seeing things do exist. In fact great myths and religious stories were mostly moral in their content, rather than descriptive. Thus, they did not concern themselves with what the world was, as a scientist might have it, but with how a human being should act. Those who lived during the distant times in which the foundational epics of our culture emerged were much more concerned with the actions that dictated survival and with interpreting the world in a manner commensurate with that goal than with anything approximating what we now understand as objective truth. But before the dawn of the scientific worldview, reality was construed differently. Being was understood as something more akin to story or drama. That story or drama was lived, subjective experience, as it manifested itself moment to moment in the consciousness of every living person. It is such things experienced personally that are more fundamental elements of human life from the archaic, dramatic perspective, and they are not easily reducible to the detached and objective even to the modern reductionist and materialist mind.
Reverend James Earl Massey wrote: ‘’There is something to be said for human groupings. There are strengths in common tradition and a common culture, which make a people one culture. Each group has ‘intelligible actions’ which grow out of its own tradition and those meanings have an inner significance from which strength for life can be derived. Each human grouping has had distinctive not available elsewhere in just the same way. All human groupings have distinctive that they should preserve, distinctive which give meaning to the group as its members review their ‘story’ in the drama of life.’’ (Emphasis mine). And it is therefore within our cultures wherein lie the solutions that can help us to effectively fight the challenges of early marriages etc.
The idea that different societies had different rules and morals was known to the ancient world too. Aristotle argued that though specific rules, laws and customs differed from place to place, what does not differ is that in all places human beings, by their nature, have a proclivity to make rules, laws and customs. He concluded that all human beings, by some kind of biological endowment, so ineradicably concerned with morality that they create a structure of laws and rules wherever they are. Aristotle concluded: ’’That human life can be free of moral concerns is a fantasy.’’
It is, however, interesting to compare this realization with the white man’s response towards African culture. European ‘’superiority’’ during colonization was seen as absolute, quite unself-consciously, without any sense of shame or guilty. The rationale was that what Europe had to offer was regarded without question as being better than anything it replaced. And in this respect, the Church too, was a child of the times and therefore the colonizers as well as the missionaries were unable to conceive that foreign peoples could live in a cultural civilization that was different from theirs. In other words, there was only one perfect culture, naturally, Western culture, while all other ways of thinking and living had to be guided by this one superior model.
Many years ago, as a student of deviant political behaviour, I was determined to find out how South African churches wrestled with their conscience to justify religious apartheid. In the South African Hansard of May 1959, I found a statement of how a Honourable Member in the South African Parliament played with words: ‘’When reference is made to God the Father or to the Brotherhood of man or to unity in Christ, it is meant in a spiritual sense. The spiritual sense has nothing to do with being together in a physical sense in specified buildings. It does not mean that people can only have a unity in Christ if they worship together in the same room or in the same church building.’’
Indeed every tribe had its own indigenous form of purposeful education. And as defined in the natural and broadcast sense, education encompasses a conscious attempt to help people live in their society and to participate fully and effectively in its organization in order to ensure its continued existence. The curriculum of indigenous African education is the whole culture – the whole life of the society. Life is education and education is life, as sanctioned by society.
In fact to learn in traditional societies was to become an active participant in the everyday activities of one’s community. The emphasis was on the acquisition of the common domain of knowledge. One of its greatest values, from the point of view of learning, lay in being able to bring individuals face to face with the realities of the social and physical necessities of life. The emphasis was on the acquisition of the common domain of knowledge. In short: school was society and society was school. Such an education was achieved through a variety of realistic pedagogical situations, whether the goal was to master family hereditary skills and knowledge (as in the case of herbal medicine) or that of a highly skilled trade (as in the case of blacksmithing) or perhaps that of training for leadership (usually involving young men of the royal families). Here it was well noted in traditional education that man does not develop himself in a vacuum, in isolation from his society and his environment; and he certainly cannot be developed by others. Man’s consciousness is developed in the process of doing things.
And to let you clearly understand what follows, let me quote Lord Macaulay’s speech to the British Parliament on 2nd February, 1835: ‘’I have travelled across the length and breadth of Africa and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such caliber, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage and therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, if the Africans think that all that is foreign is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want, a truly dominated nation.’’
I think I have to make something very clear from Lord Macaulay’s statement to which many people can be skeptical: ‘’I have travelled across the length and breadth of Africa and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values…..’’ And to the contrary, Africa today a continent of beggars! And is Africa free of thieves?
Begging and thefts were minimized during the ancient times because the extended family system constitutes a social security scheme which has the advantage of following the natural pattern of personal relationships rather the current nucleus or exclusive family system which confines relationships only to the immediate family members. However, the inclusiveness of the traditional society does not restrict the title ‘’father’’ to my male parent. I can also address my father’s brothers as ‘’father.’’ And I can call my mother’s sisters ‘’mother’’ also. And only my father’s sisters would I address as ‘’aunt’’ and my mother’s brothers as ‘’uncle.’’ My ‘’brothers’’ would include not only the male children of my father but also certain cousins.
These are not just courtesy titles and with the title ’’father’’ goes all the responsibility of parenthood and in return all my ‘’fathers’’ receive my filial devotion. And hence no child in a traditional society can be orphaned. And should his literal parents die, other ‘’fathers and mothers’’ immediately resume the responsibility for the upbringing of such children. By the same token, no old person is likely to end his days outside the family circle. If his own offsprings cannot take care of him, then the other ‘’children’’ will accept the duty and responsibility.
Why did Lord Macaulay insist on destroying our cultures? This is because culture can be seen as a wide-ranging, comprehensive and multi-dimensional reality. It embraces everything that man makes use of. And in this respect, Barel wrote: ‘’One manages capital in order to increase it; one manages cultural heritage in order to pass it on, since it influences not only the economy, but a larger area which includes family, politics, social consensus and conflict.’’
Sishuwa Sishuwa in a paper: Chinese Confucius Institute and the Cultural War in Africa wrote: ‘’Culture is the invisible thread that ties people together or separates them…….. the effectiveness control of the world; that is to truly control a people, one must influence the cultural habits, language and belief system of a people _____ that is why they have established Alliance Francaise, British Council, American Cultural Centre etc. All imperialisms recognize that it must empty Africans of their independent human essence if it is to thrive and defeat existing patterns of social practices that inform the locals’ knowledge and understanding of the world; how they engage in that environment and how they re-create and interact with it through customs, moral norms, laws, beliefs, art or other forms of cultural expressions.’’
Maurice Makumba wrote in his book Introduction to African Philosophy: ‘’Anyone will admit that political and social life must be in spired by a culture and unless that culture is solidly grounded in the heart of any given people, the quest for a responsible political system is just a mirage. This is because a political system is supposed to respond to the needs and values of society, but when those needs and values risk to hang between two cultures, the resultant political structure will attempt to respond to both ways and only cause more disintegration. African political philosophy should take a more positive approach to the contemporary situation and turn what appears like a culture clash into a bleeding ground for a double-edged political philosophy; one that seeks a dynamic cultural retrieval that is, integrating traditional values with the exploits of modern man and woman in the realm of human freedom and development. We need seasoned African values for such a venture.’’
It is unfortunate that many educated Africans think they become more civilized by dismissing thousands of years of wisdom as mere superstition and ignoring our greatest moral achievements, better, however, to integrate the best of what we are now learning. They wrongly believe that their cultural heritage is derived from their education and conscious approximation to the western living standards. Indeed, education may appear to be the master-key capable of opening many doors in every area of life and hence the African intellectual regards his accumulated book knowledge as a universal pass-key. But why has his education absolutely and completely failed to decipher the current problem of early marriages, for instance! What is the value of education that is even incapable of dealing with our indigenous challenges?
But unfortunately 180 years later (i.e. 1832-2012), after Lord Macaulay’s statement, cultural genocide was endorsed in the foreign-drafted useless Constitution which I had strongly opposed and I was only supported by Professor Muna Ndulo, a US-based constitution lawyer. And according to the Report of the Technical Committee on Drafting the Zambian Constitution: ‘’Part V on Bill of Rights, Article 63: Language and Culture states in 63 (3): A person shall not be compelled to- (a) perform, observe, participate in, or be subjected to, any cultural practice or rite; or (b) form, join, contribute, maintain or pay allegiance to any cultural, traditional or linguistic association, organization, institution or entity.’’
It is general knowledge that no one forces anybody to do what have been stated above i.e., who goes overseas to force the tourists who flock to watch The Kuomboka ceremony? The question is the motive behind the inclusion of such in the Constitution which is actually in line with Lord Macaulay’s proposal and chiefs should carefully and particularly note: ‘’….NOT to maintain or pay allegiance to any cultural, traditional or linguistic institution..’’
Let me digress to question our intellectuals, if ever the African culture is useless, what then prompted Lord Macaulay to issue the above quoted warning in the British Parliament in 1832? In fact, it means they are merely hobbling themselves by pretending to be something they are not. It is a mask, but a strange one, for it mostly deceives the one wearing it. On the other hand, a British social worker, Tarq Modood working among immigrants said: ‘’Equality is not having to hide or apologize for one’s origins, family or community, but to expect others to respect them and adapt public attitudes and arrangements so that the heritage they represent is encouraged, rather than contemptuously expected to wither away.’’ (Newsweek 15th December 1997).
Dr. Kaunda has a penetrating insight: ‘’It is primarily through the evolution of a genuine culture that a people discover their identity which many of the people would regard as irrelevant to national development. Universities, too, tend to be strictly utilitarian in scope, turning out a stream of the technical, professional and scientific people required in the central areas of national building. Yet the nation which lacks a firm cultural substructure is jerry-built and though the people have title deeds to the property and the key to the front door in their pockets, they are still homeless.’’
The lack of cultural heritage has created great problems in the life of an educated African since culture embraces everything that man makes use of. The Law of Generation states: “We are all linked to previous generations behind us. Our ancestors are in our genes, in our bones, in our marrow, in our physiological and emotional make-up. We, in turn, will be written into the children who come after us.’’ And therefore the immutable truth is that cultural heritage cannot be magicked away. It will live for many a day and be a continual source of weariness and frustration. It is something that can be blocked and thwarted, but cannot be got rid off. Even the western aristocratic education can never drown cultural heritage, because while logic can convince one’s reasoning, it cannot, however, overcome the inertia of dualistic thinking. Intellect may comprehend the oneness of things, but thinking will still continue in dualism
Culture deals with clear understanding of SELF which is intertwined with identity and a sense of self-esteem. Though cultural identity is not fixed, but nevertheless it springs from factual and historical formations. It is therefore essential that our cultural heritage awakens us to a new level of consciousness that makes available to us ‘’new power’’ containing information value to re-mould our minds and re-direct our lives within and without this information emerging through the lens of consciousness to light our way, we tend to become ‘’hung up’’ with anything or anyone supposes to help us. In this scenario, what lacks is not intellect or artificial accumulated book knowledge per se, but understanding of SELF or the ability to relate to one’s whole being to the rest of the universe.
However, the unavoidable, but a sad reality is that when we abandon our cultural heritage for other ‘’civilized cultures,’’ we destroy our own life-foundation and we immediately split our personality which leads to schizophrenia and this destroys our potential for creativity. We can however, effectively parrot occidental ideas, but we, in fact, totally lack enterprising intellectualism and are always controlled by outside pressures. This is why many of our playboy intellectuals today who are automated like machines are diligent but not creative.
TO BE CONTINUED