Thursday, 21 May 2009

The way I see it

I think that the mind of the present day African is affected and influenced by so many diverging factors, that many of us are unable to work out exactly what our place is in the world. Those of my parents' generation grew up in Africa at a time when most of Africa (and certainly Nigeria where my parents were), was subjugated to Europe, such that the aspiration of the African at that time, was to strive to become as European as possible, since this was what was presented to them as the ideal. My father in all the years that I knew him, loved his tea, a passion which he acquired through his association with the British expats with whom he had worked very closely in the many years that he served in the then colonial government of Nigeria. His passion for tea was only matched by my mother's love of fine bone china. Both of them had been sent by the colonial government to Britain during the 1950's, where they lived for some years. Looking back now, I can clearly see that the interior of the home in which I grew up in the 1970s, was an imitation of the typical English suburban home of the 1960's, complete with lace curtains. And of course my mother's treasured porcelain, teapots were her favorite, of all shapes and sizes, none of which I remember ever being used.

But as hard as my parents tried to Europeanise, they always were African. And unlike me and my siblings who grew up speaking English as a first language, (which itself I suspect was deliberate on my parents' part), they spoke the indigenous language to each other. And it wasn't just the language. My parents exposed us to our true history and culture too. They took us during the school holidays to the ancestral village, where they had managed to build a house during the years when my father still worked for the colonial government. That house too was equipped with gear that Mum and Dad had repatriated from the UK, furniture, refrigerator, gas cooker and the ever present ornate china of which Mum was so fond. And while in the village, they would make sure that we interacted with the people there, joined our respective age-groups and participated in the age-group activities. The outcome of this was that we became exposed to a completely different worldview from that to which we were accustomed, living in Lagos the big city.

Back in Lagos, my education was Western. At school I learned science, art, Western music and how to play Western musical instruments. For leisure my brother and I would read books by Enid Blyton and such other European children's stories. Walt Disney productions, comic books and TV cartoons were a staple.

Together with this westernisation however, came the indigenous folklore at the ancestral village, those stories about the spirit world and the animal kingdom, the wisdom and cunning of the tortoise and the sacred nature of adagba, the revered python. These were the same folk-tales that even our great grandparents had heard as children. But then, added to all of this was also that very strict religious instruction in the Christian religion, as so happened by chance, since this could just as easily have been the Islamic religion. This was a hodgepodge of information to assimilate as a child and and it is undeniable that that there has been a lasting impact on my mind with regards to finding a true identity.

I am African, but do I really think like an African should? I could ask the same question of many other Africans. The clergy of the Anglican Church in Africa are keen to inform us that homosexuality is un-African. But they seem blind to the fact that the Anglican Church itself originates from somewhere other than Africa. Most of the arguments against homosexuality that are heard in Africa today are supported with references to the Bible. But tell me, what is African about the Bible? What have we done with our African identity? Traditional dress for men in the part of Nigeria where my ancestors came from, is comprised of a top hat from the Victorian era, or a bowler hat for the more trendy types. The top half of the man's body is adorned with a Victorian Englishman's nightshirt, traditionally decorated on the front with jewelry or coral beads. The bottom half is covered with a cloth that I can only describe as Madras cloth , which my mind tells me was introduced to my people from the Indian sub-continent by the early European traders. So that today, when a man is fully dressed in his "traditional dress", almost every item of his clothing is from somewhere outside Africa. Including his shoes!

What has happened to us? Where is our true identity?


Naughty feeling said...

Stunned. I am gonna have to rethink some facts that i have come to assimilate and accept as part of my culture. But all in all your parent pretty much determines what you get to accept as your culture.

Anengiyefa said...

Hi Naughty Feeling, the way I see it, the average African today living in an urban area in Africa, is unsure what his culture is. Many of us don't know whether we are truly Africans in the way that our ancestors were, or whether we are a mock version of the 19th century European, since our attitudes and religious beliefs appear to mimic that period of Europe's history.

laBiscuitnapper said...

That's why I've made a huge effort to start writing our family/local history down and to learn Igbo properly.

There is still an overwhelming desire to emulate the West amongst my age mates in Nigeria. Whilst I don't think we should go back to 18th century customs or anything, I do think we should try and learn more about what our culture was like, so that we can build up on it with our unique heritage intact, and move forwards. Part of the reason why the clergy can talk such bs about things like gay people and women in 'traditional' culture is because people don't know what our traditional culture was actually like, so they believe them. That's why I try and support the odinani movement. Not because I think we need the old religion or the old ways - pah! - but just so that we will not be taken for fools any longer as so many - from the European to the Evangelist - have tried, and indeed succeeded, to do.