SO WHERE IS MY CULTURE?

By Tayo Farai

BRITISH EMPIRE AND EUROPEANS

Picture Depicting contact between Europeans and the Benin Empire

Cultures will naturally disperse. The world is a dynamic scene of cultural, technological and ideological interchange. This is not only true of our contemporary lifestyle but of history itself. Cultural exchange has been an integral part of human civilisation. Africa is no exception.

With Africa however, there is a mist or veil of colonialism which subtly, and in some cases brazenly distorts one’s view of African history and culture. It is a tragedy, this. I cannot even begin to fathom the extent of the damage, the seeds sown by some imperialist agents so many years ago have germinated and grown into the very fabric of our minds.

Of course we are products of western education, without which we would remain ignorant in today’s world. However, let us think outside the colonialism box. We might then perceive western education as the “invention” of the west, brought and benevolently bestowed upon us by the west. After all, they continually made it a point of labelling us “savages” as a result of their limited exposure to the African culture. We don’t hear or read of the accounts of proper interaction with African kingdoms by these western immigrants all those years ago, as often as we hear of their incidental contacts with a few isolated tribes.

Yes, the education thing. Simply tracing the origins of western civilisation from the little I know reveals a gradual cultural migration from the east through the Egyptian, Persian, Greek and Roman empires among many others. We hear of Plato, Socrates and all other lauded names of yore. We read about the scientific, artistic and technological achievements of these great people. Then we continue to follow the “progress” of civilisation through the west. From Leonardo da Vinci to Galileo. From the fabled King Arthur to Isaac Newton. From the establishment of Parliament to the industrial revolution. We are presented with a linear timeline of a specific history. But where is our own timeline as Africans in the midst of all this? Slavery? Colonialism? Wait a minute! How can Africa be an isolated continent?

Throughout the ages of civilisation, it is simply ridiculous to think that apart from the pyramids of Egypt, very little more is known of the timeline of Africa’s history. Like I said, the world has always been a dynamic scene of cultural, technological and ideological interchange. Several empires existed in Africa. Art, culture and technology was as vibrant as anywhere else in the world. The great wall of Benin, Sungbo’s Eredo; all great examples of a rich and glorious past. Do check them out. I certainly will!

Education is an integral pillar of any civilisation. As civilisation changed, forms of education followed suit. Obviously we know of wars and the expansion of empires. Some cultures were able to dominate others, thus imposing their systems on the subjugated. It is natural throughout human history. The educational system we have today is the product of centuries of cultural migration and interchange spanning several civilisations throughout history. It is not simply a linear progression through the west. The world is at a state of civilisation as opposed to being at some point on a western defined linear timescale.

It is unfortunate that the account of history we see today is through the veil of western imperialism. It is only natural that contemporary education has spread the world over. In Africa, it obviously came along with western culture. And all its baggage. Don’t get me wrong, every culture has its positive and negative aspects. I just don’t want us to be deceived into thinking we have been “saved” or “liberated” by the west. Absolute rubbish! What pains me most is the callous destruction and plundering of our artefacts those years ago by these so called liberators due to nothing other than selfish interest. Case in point (among several others), the Benin expedition.

Let us discard the notion that modern infrastructure was benevolently bestowed on us by colonialists, as if it was some gracious western gift. We built our infrastructure like everybody else. Unfortunately we are constantly painted a picture through which Africa is perceived to be at the receiving end of charitable technology. The African continent, like the American continent, like the European continent, like the Asian continent comprises individual nations and entities of hardworking people who continue to contribute and share knowledge for the advancement of humanity.

So where is my culture? Cultures will naturally disperse and mingle with other cultures. The world is dynamic. It is a beautiful thing. The English etiquette, Indian food, Chinese proverbs are all reflections of the creativity and rich history of the human spirit. We live in a world where social interaction is at our finger tips. My generation is of the post-colonial Nigeria. We are young and educated. As we explore the world and its ways, we imbibe different cultures and habits. I implore us to continually explore our own culture and history. For by so doing, we explore ourselves.

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