By Hilary Odion Evbayiro
Thursday, March 4, 2010.
People have always referred to Africa as the “dark” continent. Whatever that means, it is true that Africans, especially our leaders and some of the educated ones, are every bit culpable for the mindless denigration and put down of our culture. From slavery, man’s unparalleled evil against man, to the ineffable denunciation of the African culture today, it is evident that we are responsible, in no small measure, for the persecution of Africa and our culture. As unthinkable as it sounds, it is quite palpable, and tragically so, that some of us are inured by our western education to view our customs and traditions as barbaric.
Without any doubt, the western education has influenced and programmed us into embracing the cultural elements, whether good or bad, of the west that we have imbibed through the indoctrinating study of the western civilization, history, astronomy, anthropology, philosophy, medicine, etc.
Considering the overwhelming frenzy with which we seek the western ways of life while jettisoning our own, one wonders whether the white people’s ability to prevail over us when they first entered Africa was the result of their ingenuity or our congenital naiveté and unwholesome appetence for exotic things. Right from the unwelcome advent of the white people into Africa , we have been victims of the west’s conspiracy and brainwashing. We were taught and bamboozled into thinking of everything indigenous to us as inferior and to admire those things that come from the white people.
Sadly enough, we still do this by our actions and deeds till this very day. As disheartening as it is, it is unbearably devastating to even think that we like to deprecate and spurn some of our highly cherished customs and traditions in the name of civilization, which some of our supposedly educated people have pitifully equated to technological advancement.
It is incontrovertible that our culture has been on the receiving end of contempt and irreverence of the world. For many years, we have absorbed the tormenting humiliations in the hands of the west with uncomforting stoicism. How long are we going to endure, remain mute, and accept whatever they throw at us? How long are we going to remain placid and taciturn in the wake and face of these riotous provocations? Is it not time we open our eyes and put a halt to the west’s inordinate claim to intellectual and cultural supremacy? Is it not time we start prodding every right-thinking and conscientious African into thinking and fashioning ways to liberate our people from cultural captivity in the hands of the west?
While the objective here is not to provide an exhaustive account on any particular aspect of our culture that has been beleaguered and decried by the overly prejudiced west, it is however to sound a wakening gong, with the hope of reverberating what is already known to most people, anent the west’s influence in the pernicious degradation of Africa and our culture.
We cannot detach ourselves from our root just to be considered educated or civilized. Our culture is not inferior, and our customs and traditions are not about evil or cruelty. They are not about “voodoo” or whatever the west thinks of “black magic.” They are about mankind and the natural order of things. The only reason we think our culture is backward is because we have been duped into believing that they are primitive. Our major handicap is that we think we have all the answers to our difficulties with our western education and technology, rather than finding indigenous solutions to the many problems besetting us.
Most of us cannot accept the bitter truth that we lack the cultured understanding of what we are as a people, yet we always want to decry the culture that we know little or nothing about. Many of us command advanced knowledge of the other people in the world, their history, and culture but do not know anything about our indigenous ways of life. How can we continue to downgrade our own culture when we do not know anything about it in the first place?
In view of our wonted proclivity to scorn our culture after acquiring the western education, it will not be a discourtesy toward any educated African to query whether the education we acquired is to enrich our thinking or to make us think that we are nigher to being western. In fact, most of us have forgotten who we are because we are lost in the pages of textbooks and confused by the various teachings and knowledge of the foreign culture that we have imbibed through the mindless indoctrination of the western education. It is no surprise that some of our educated lots see themselves as being closer to the whites in the dubious hierarchy of human and intellectual superiority.
Truly, to be educated in the western way is good. The science, medicine, technology, and the rest are astounding. It is one thing to be educated in the western way and still know what one is and where one is from, but it is another to acquire the western education and completely forget about the essence and totality of the behavior patterns and belief systems of our forefathers. The later, sans any doubt, is a deceitful kind of education. It is a shame, and will continue to be so for many years, that we have not been able to put our much-professed and celebrated western education into practical use for the benefit of our people. All we know how to do is to partake in the sadistic revelry and senseless assault on our very own culture and ways of life.
There is nothing wrong about knowing and appreciating how we do things indigenously, rather than committing our culture to the abyss of wretched obsoletism. I agonized for days and, as a matter of fact, am still agonizing in a sense, after reading Nigerian Tony Momoh’s scintillating piece, “21st century Africa,” in which he wrote that “we have been told about our inferiority, about God's order that we should fetch water and hew wood for mankind.” The western education has all along been anti-African culture. The education we acquired imbued in us the intractable penchant to venerate those things that are western, while causing us to detest the ways of life of our forefathers. This is exactly what our western education has done to us. In short, our western education is so tendentious that it makes us to regard our culture with condescending attitude.
How valuable is our western education in terms of maintaining our cultural balance and harmony with our past? Of what worth is the education that does not tell us anything about who we are? Of what value is the education that tries to transform us into what we are not and can never become? Of what value is the education that distorts our past and tends to truncate our future? Of what value is the education that forbids us from knowing how to do things the way our fathers did? Of what value is the education that condemns us to the meanest rung in the dubious hierarchy of human and intellectual superiority?
Our education and sojourning in the west are only good and meaningful as long as they do not cause us to forget and abandon our ways of life. Our education and sojourning in the west are only good as long as they do not make us to commit our culture and traditions into abject irrelevance. Our education and sojourning in the west are only good as long as they do not make us to start legislating against certain parts or elements of our heritage. Our education and sojourning in the west are only good as long as they make us to cherish our customs and traditions. Our education and sojourning in the west are only good as long as they make us to respect and appreciate our own culture.
As Potter Ajayi rightly put it in his essay, “Reflection of a people,” (NigerianGuardian, August 20 or 21, 2001), “we have a very rich and vibrant culture, and our forefathers attached great importance to our culture for us to see them degenerate to nothing now.” There is no refuting the fact that we are a generation of people who have been indoctrinated against the cultural values of our forefathers. We have completely giving up our cultural life style, which reflects the true ideas and philosophy of the African life.
Today, we want to live the life and world of other people, abandoning the overall essence of what our concept of life and living are and what they are supposed to be. We now want to see ourselves in likeness of aliens who do not value us more than they value the laboratory monkeys and the other intelligent apes.
We must not divorce ourselves from our culture and ways of life just because we are enchanted by the western democracy, which is not exactly democratic by every measure of it. While we can enrich our culture and society with those elements of the western culture that are not anti-Africa, we must not allow our over distended fascination with the western life style to continue to enslave us. We need to be the true Africans that we are. We must free ourselves from the detestable cultural domination and subjugation of the west. We must not only be free physically, but also mentally and culturally.
To be free, we must first of all untangle ourselves from all forms of cultural fetters inhibiting us. It is then, and then only, can we totally begin to think of ways to liberate ourselves from the subtle cultural imperialism. If we know what we are and believe in what we are, maybe, we will better able to solve our problems. We must eschew feigning to be what we are not and can never become. We cannot and will never be westerners. To think or believe otherwise is to engage in nurturing self-delusion of a moronic grandeur.
We cannot continue to copy and transplant the western culture into our system, thereby neglecting our own culture. We need something indigenous. Those who make our laws and formulate our economic and education policies ought to know that they have to be tailored to our indigenous needs. We want economic and education strategies and policies that can help transform our society and culture for effective growth and development, and not the ones that will make us more subservient and powerless. We want economic and education strategies and policies that will propel our overall development and social well-being, and not the ones that will continue to commit our customs and traditions into utter neglect and desuetude.
It is very sad, and detrimentally so, that we have continued to run from what we are. How far are we going to run? When are we going to become the white that we desperately want to become? Let’s put it plain and simple – we can neither become Europeans nor Americans, no matter how hard we may try. We are Africans and should strive to remain what we are. That is the bottom line. With globalization advancingly consuming the world, Africa and its people might lose out in the global scheme of things if we do not, as a matter of profound exigency, start to embrace our culture and use to our advantage in the global market. It is irrefutably true that we are endowed with vast richness and heterogeneity in our cultural make-up, but how can we cash in on it and use it to our advantage if we continue to long for the boisterously lousy life style of the west?
Our culture is the product of our human creativity, imaginative contrivance, and overall concept of life and the living God. It is uniquely and endemically ours and should be our enthrallment. We cannot engage in acts that denigrate our ways of life and expect other people to treat us with respect. Our crippling lack of understanding of who we are, our culture, and history is indisputably responsible for the turmoil and social quandary besetting us in Nigeria and in most of the other African countries today. To boot, it is the same reason our various ethnic groups have not been able to live together in peace and harmony.
While it is necessary to sue for peace and accept people of different cultures, it is necessary to realize that the time has come for us to go back to our root. We must not continue to see ourselves in the image and shadows of Americans and Europeans. Our focus and concern should be how we can liberate our minds from the manacles of cultural captivity and mental slavery, which have become the west’s new puissant weapons of control and colonialism against the African people.
It is wrong, and perhaps treacherously so, for anyone to attempt to judge our culture by the western standards. We stand to gain to know more about the ways and life of our forefathers. We stand to gain to understand, protect, and preserve our culture. Considering what is happening to us, which is further aggravated by our demented yen for the western materials, it will be quite apodictic to assert that African culture, if serious care is not taken, is faced with an impending future disaster, the consequence of which will be very bad for us and our posterity. Impending
In peroration, we, African people, need to understand that our culture is not inferior. As we have come to realize, there are certain parts of our culture and practices that we must re-evaluate and consequently modify. However, such cultural re-evaluation and ultimate modification, if at all necessary, should not imbue in us any unrestrained impudence to always condemn what is inherently ours, while unblushingly accepting every known aspect of the undisciplined western culture.
There are many ways our system and society can be made better by upgrading our cultural heritage, but prescribing a change by engaging in cultural transplantation, which is distantly at variance with the cultural designs of our forefathers, is certainly not the right way to go. We cannot sheepishly follow and adhere to a one-sided way of thinking that was carefully crafted to subjugate us.
For more than forty years since we attain independence in Nigeria, we still buy into and relish delight in the cultural imperialism against which we must prosecute our complete freedom. We cannot afford further loss of our identities. We must protect and preserve our culture. Otherwise, our ways of life and the overall essence of what makes us inherently unique are at the brink of permanent obliteration.
Hilary Odion Evbayiro is a Nigerian writer and commentator based in the United States.