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Protecting our cultural heritage

7 August 2017 at 22:03 | 1363 views

Opinion

By Dr Yahya Kalokoh, USA.

Turning And Turning In The Widening Gyre
The Falcon Cannot Hear The Falconer
Things Fall Apart, The Center Cannot Hold
Meer Anarchy Is Loosed Upon The World

----- W. B. Yeats: The Second Coming

I would like to invoke the memory of one of Africa’s greatest novelists, the late Chinua Achebe, in his best selling novel (used as a Literature text in many schools and universities around the world), Things Fall Apart.

In that novel, he referenced lines from W. B. Yeats’ poem, The Second Coming, to depict the upheavals created by European colonization of Africa, with specific reference to the Igbo society in Nigeria. He genially highlighted the effects of Western culture during the colonial period, the dissolution of social and cultural harmony, and shattering the unity of the clan. There are current historical parallels today based on actions taken by Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Social Welfare and Gender against one of our country’s traditional and cultural jewels, the female Bondo Secret Society.

In listening to Ambassador Dr. Haja Zainab Bangura some time ago on this issue, I do feel and share her concerns, though a male in that respect. I am at the same time appalled by the silence of the majority of our women folk, many of whom I believe were initiates and members of this society. It is a common belief for many Sierra Leoneans across gender lines that the practice of the Bondo Society is not only about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). In many ways, it involves preparing young females for adulthood, motherhood, and family life.

Women of conscience like Amb. Haja Zainab Hawa Bangura must speak up especially in light of actions taken by the current Minister, Dr. Sylvia Blyden, using security forces and forcefully removing would- be initiates from the Bondo Bush. It’s very appalling to see that happening, especially from someone who is not even a member and initiate of that society. This vigilante tactic must be a wake up call for other secret societies in our country. Currently it is the Bondo Society that is under assault.

Lessons from our colonial history and Chinua Achebe’s depiction, must serve as a wake up call. Who can predict which other secret society to be targeted next?
I am a Sierra Leonean male, both African and Western educated. Probably I should not be the one to highlight this issue. But my decision to invoke the moral conscience of our nation in this regard is to highlight the need to overcome complacency by the majority. Rain nor dey fodom na one man domot. I feel it is incumbent on us all to act when traditional societal values come under attacks, especially from people who contemptuously intervene with the main objective to destroy what others hold very dear. History has taught us that the silence of the majority, and their tacit acceptance of emerging threats to societal values and traditions usually lead to national disaster.
In our country’s efforts to fall in line with Western cultural dictates we must be careful not to disrupt or uproot cultural institutions and practices that define us as a people. The need for international assistance due to decades of failed leadership policies must not be used to overwhelmingly destroy our traditional and cultural heritage. Indigenous Sierra Leoneans, especially from the provinces must start taking a fresh look at this action. We are not of Western descent, even though we operate within such societies in our aspirations to improve our socio-economic circumstances. In the US for example, other races like Asians still practice and maintain their cultural beliefs and values, notwithstanding their exposure to Western norms. Why are some of us Africans ashamed of associating with our ethnicity and culture?

In efforts to correct our socio-economic imperfections, we must not aspire to become what we can never be wholesomely. Assimilation never worked wholesomely for our African French colonial subjects. We have an identity crisis that is undergoing a lot of transformation because of past failed leadership. But we must be careful on how much we have to give to become who we cannot become entirely.

Let us not forget that we cannot and should not aspire to be so Western, as if our African traditions and culture have no relevance on what defines us as a people. There are many of us who experience crisis of identity. But always remember that charity begins at home. There are many downsides in Western cultural beliefs and practices that are inimical to what defines us as a people. Let us be very careful on how we try to assimilate ourselves, at the expense of our cultural beliefs, values, and institutions.

Growing up, I was taught respect and honesty are epitomes of a healthy and cohesive society. These were not taught by governments, but by the family, the social units, shared cultural values, and from cultural societies. There was relative stability at many levels of society. Societal norms were observed, and there was harmony between constituents and communities. In our current dispositions, the craze to appear Western wholesomely has created unintended consequences even within our political discourse. Respect for parents, elders, and community has been thrown under the bus because of aspirations to follow dictates of Western culture at the expense of what used to bind us together.

Ambassador Dr Haja Zainab Bangura’s call for a rethink of the current official approach against one of our country’s cherished traditions and culture must be reviewed and embraced by us all, and especially the women folk in our midst. It’s about our posterity. Remember the dangers arising from complacency.
Finally, I would like to reminisce one powerful expressed sentiment in Things Fall Apart, which made a lasting impression in me even till this day, despite my ingrained Western orientations:

“The White man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion.
We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our
brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things
that held us together and we have fallen apart.”

― Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart

Editor’s Note: Here is a Digba dance in the north of Sierra Leone. The Digbas are the leaders of the Bondo (a secret society for females) in that part of the country

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