Since our existence as the oldest culture and civilization in the world, over thousands of years of gradual advancement, we have developed substantial knowledge of our terrain and its dangers. We have understood medicine, science, and technology to deal with our harsh environment, for example in science, the sausage tree “Kigelia Africana” is a highly poisonous tree, when unripe, yet we were able not only to use it as food, for cosmetic use but also to extract it for its medicinal purposes and there are so many other examples. African cultures are as rich and dynamic, as they are varied. We have a rich store house of oral history, tradition, customs, culture and languages to draw from, and this should provide the momentum for constructive integrative growth, development and change.
Historically, Africa on the whole, has no written chronicles of our own history and achievements, (except Ethiopia, Sudan or (Nubia in ancient times), and a few others, as well as Muslim north African countries), and our traditional buildings have either been destroyed or have crumbled with age example Great Zimbabwe, so we have no “physical reference points” to draw from and teach our children about. Sources come from mainly Arab and Portuguese travellers, who marvelled at the neat and orderly streets of the Calabari and the Oyo kingdoms amongst many others for example and through oral tradition.
This on a psychological level makes it hard for Africans “not to be swayed and overpowered by western or outside influences”. Western power is everywhere to see, in technology, buildings, in the language we communicate in and so on. Many of us even think in English and not our traditional tongues, showing the huge inroads of western culture. Our rich oral tradition is now dying out, as are our griots (oral poets) and customs.
Archaeological finds in Africa reveal a richness, genius and ancientness, which is highly sought after the world over. From the Nok, Iboukwu, Benin bronzes in Nigeria, West Africa to the Nubian Ta Seti of Sudan in the North and Swahili in the East. What can be done to reverse this, can we reverse it?
When the west colonized Africa, they brought their culture with them, their names, food, dress, language, ideas, values, attitudes amongst others. With the deliberate undermining of African achievement and accomplishments, Africans began to doubt their authenticity.
Other cultures have experienced domination/colonization, yet have made deliberate efforts at re- establishing or continuing with cultural development, or should I say at least harmonization? Countries like India and Indonesia are exporting their traditional medicines and making huge inroads, whilst hiding their home grown recipes. Income from traditional medicine is second only to its main export in Indonesia, for instance and India has successfully exported its Ayurveda medicine, making millions if not billions.
Africans have had traditional cures for malaria and so many other tropical illnesses/diseases for thousands of years, yet today, fails to develop them, why? For example, my father, whilst a child was cured from malaria using the traditional herb called “bambalishe”, a plant (I don’t know what its called in English) which is boiled and the vapours are inhaled, and it cures malaria within a few hours. He has never had malaria since. Also my grand- aunt told me about another plant where the leaves used to be placed in a corner of the room, and this killed the mosquitoes within the radius of the room.
Western corporations have patented and claimed ownership on thousands upon thousands of indigenous medicines, and sciences and knowledge bases, from communities all over the world and not just from Africa, claiming ownership of their uses. They will probably continue to do so.
Cheik Anta Diop, Marcus Garvey, Anthony Browder and many others tried to reverse this trend by documenting the achievements of Africans from a black or African perspective. They stated that the African needs to be taught in his indigenous traditions and cultures, to dismiss this, is to destroy the identity of the African. There needs to be dual educational system, taught in African languages, which should be carefully documented, updated and developed.
Little effort has been done in this regard so far. When an old person or traditional leader dies, the virtual equivalent of a whole library dies with him or her, because for the most part, their knowledge was never investigated or recorded. If we don’t value and take pride in our culture, why should others? We must be faithful to ourselves first, if we want respect from others too. People who have truly liberated their minds can never be held back or oppressed for very long.
We have made huge inroads in religion; yet the more religious we are, the more barbaric and inhuman we become. Rarely will you find a Nigerian businessman or pastor who doesn’t accept backhand deals and bribes. Yet whilst we romance with religion, the West, and Asia are taking over our technology, services, industries and others, in the new scramble for Africa. Our leaders can only regulate and direct, but its up to us as a people to bring about change and to hold our leaders accountable.
Our search for development must come from within, and must not be sought from external sources alone. Without it, we are running a race to the bottom of the development ladder. Will it be achieved in our life time?
Gloria Uzo Nweke
I studied Third World development studies at Birkbeck College University of London and went on to do a Certificate of Higher Education at Middlesex University. I am keenly interested in political affairs and how economic interests shape the world and how Africans to influence this dynamics