Editor’s note: This article by His Royal Highness Chitimukulu of the Bemba people (“Henry Kanyanta Sosala”) provides important reflections on tribe, tribalism and culture. The article is reproduced from Lusaka Times.
A tribe is a political, social and economic unit; it’s like a social class in Europe in which people find their polyglot neighbours in times of distress and helpers in times of need. A tribe offered sanctuary in the old days of tribal wars. A tribe is exclusive and the only way to win acceptance is to be born into a particular tribe. This means that the people of one tribe are united by common citizenship; common language; common racial harmony and common tribal codes, most of which stretch back into pre-history but also by common bloodlines i.e., the blood of the tribe.
On the other hand, while the immigrant can acquire the general abstract status of Zambian citizenship which can even later be renounced, it is not possible for such an immigrant to become Lamba, Tonga, Lozi or Mambwe. The only way to be one of these is to be born into such a tribe.
Reverend James Massey wrote:
‘’There is something to be said for human groupings. There are strengths in common tradition and common culture, which make a people one culture. Each group has ‘intelligible actions’ which grow out of its own tradition and those meanings have an inner significance from which strength for life can be derived. Each human grouping has had distinctives not available elsewhere in just the same way. All human groupings have distinctives that they should preserve, distinctives which give ‘meaning’ to the group as its members review their ‘story’ in the drama of life.’’ ( Concerning Christian Unity p.55) (emphasis mine)
Any human society of whatever level requires organization and speaking of “organization,” I refer to the pattern of observable regularities of behavior by reference to which people are seen to order their social relationships among themselves. And this was how traditional leadership was birthed. Traditional authority refers to power that are associated with and emanate from the institution of chieftaincy. In African societies, traditional rulers derive their authority from customs and traditions that have existed since time immemorial. Traditional rulers are custodians and repositories of traditional customs and cultural heritage.
In fact traditional leadership is inherently political. This is born out of history, custom and practice because before the present mode of governments in Africa, traditional kingship was the sole government. And each chiefdom was a “state” on its own under a traditional government with its own local language. And to this effect traditional rulers used to collect tax in the form of ivory, venison or forced labour in order to meet the charge of services tribal governments could provide such as defence against enemies.
In his book, The Mukuni Royal Dynasty’s Short History, His Majesty Senior Chief Mukuni XIX quoted Gyekye (1996) on page 10:
‘’The Chief of the African state is traditionally both the political and religious head. The taboos relating to his conduct and mannerism are all intended to remind him and his subjects and others that the position he occupies is sacred. The stool (throne) he occupies is believed to be an ancestral stool. This belief is the source of the great dignity, respect and veneration with which he is always treated.’’ (ibid. p. 40)
Incidentally, students of society regard politics and sociology as cognate disciplines. Clearly, a science of society cannot ignore the political context and the political theorist cannot ignore social problems and possibilities. Ideas and truths must be linked to purpose otherwise they are useless and sterile. It is therefore not difficult to see how this has furthered the links between political science and sociology, especially in the ameliorative roles.
Every tribe had its own indigenous form of purposeful education. And as defined in the natural and broadcast sense, education encompasses a conscious attempt to help people live in their society and to participate fully and effectively in its organization in order to ensure its continued existence.
The curriculum of indigenous African education is the whole culture – the whole life of the society. Life is education and education is life, as sanctioned by society.
In fact to learn in traditional societies was to become an active participant in the everyday activities of one’s community. The emphasis was on the acquisition of the common domain of knowledge. One of its greatest values, from the point of view of learning, lay in being able to bring individuals face to face with the realities of the social and physical necessities of life. The emphasis was on the acquisition of the common domain of knowledge. In short: school was society and society was school. Such an education was achieved through a variety of realistic pedagogical situations, whether the goal was to master family hereditary skills and knowledge (as in the case of herbal medicine) or that of a highly skilled trade (as in the case of blacksmithing) or perhaps that of training for leadership (usually involving young men of the royal families). In situations in which both socio-moral and techno-occupational education took place as during the period of ritual initiations, particularly pubertal initiations.
In 1932, Orde-Brown sadly wrote:
‘’A disquieting feature of compounds of all kinds is the large juvenile population without occupation or control. Children and adolescents of all ages throng the vicinity, finding amusements as they can and devoid of training or teaching. In native villages this would not be the case, since almost all the tribes have very definite arrangements for training the young people according to their ideas.’’
Chairman Mao Tse-tung wrote:
‘’The specific content of patriotism is determined by historic conditions.’’ (Selected Works Vol. II).
In this respect, Mark Gayn wrote:
‘’When, in consternation, the Maoists discovered that yesterday’s peasants __ and especially the peasant’s sons __ have become changed breed, the leaders began to demand that the new urbanites return to the country to rediscover its virtues and its pattern of thought.’’ (Mao Tse-tung Reassessed p. 99)
Simeo Siame in his article Who Owns Zambia? wrote:
’’In 1965, when I landed at Lusaka airstrip, I and the rest of the people of Zambia whom I found then were bubbling with self-confidence and self-assertion. You would never have hesitated to declare just who owned Zambia then. The question simply never arose, since ownership was as distinct as the break of dawn. Alas, this fervent spirit of ownership appears to have evaporated. We have a generation of Zambians who do not even know their country. They have no passion for it…… A Zambian can no longer identify himself or herself to what Zambia was in twenty to forty years ago. Most of our people have no history.
‘’Before I put my pen to paper to raise this subject in this article, I went on to the Lusaka street and asked fellow pedestrians the question: “Who own this country?’ One said in Chibemba: ‘Ni bamwisa’ (foreigners). The other said, ‘Ni bamwenye’ (Asians). And one respondent answering in English said, ‘It’s foreigners and HIPC.”((Sunday Post 30th April 2006).
Professor Mubanga Kashoki in Factors of Language in Zambia wrote:
‘’In Zambia, polities such as those of the Lozi and the Bemba to give only two examples were very much akin to the contemporary notion of ‘nation.’ These polities included members drawn from various ethnic communities. These polities, in other words, incorporated, absorbed or assimilated members from various ethnic communities within the context of empire or of ‘nation’.’’
Many years ago, I read about some slave-making ants of the Amazon in South America. Hundreds of these ants periodically swarm out of their nest to capture neighbouring colonies of weaker ants. After destroying resisting defenders, they carry off cocoons containing the larvae of worker ants. When these ‘’captured children’’ hatch, they assume that they are part of the family and launch into the tasks they were born to do. They never realize that they are forced-labour victims of the enemy.
And deducing from above, I was amazed about the trickery of Lozi imperialism from a letter by a British South African Company official based at Mwenga in the Kafue Hook to the Administrator of Mashonaland dated 21st April 1901:
“The whole of the Hook of the Kafue is inhabited by Abaluba, Amalamba, Amankuni and Abaiyila (which is what the Abatshukulumbwi call themselves), who in many places live together in the same kraals and who intermarry. All these people are without any form of organized government and each man is practically a law unto himself provided he does not outrage public opinion. The authority of the chiefs is very slight indeed.
‘’The Barotsi claim as stated in Major Harding’s letter appears to be founded as follows:
Formerly Barotsi impis were in the habit of raiding this country for slaves and cattle. I am informed by various chiefs about here, Umtanti, Monatshianda etc., that when some of the captured children grew up, being in some cases the children of the chiefs, they were often allowed to return to their homes, and through having lived with the Barotsi, adopted their manner of dress and some customs and being more intelligent from contact with a superior race, naturally influenced their fellow countrymen in the same direction.
‘’This is the case at Monatshiboba’s, whose Barotsi name is Sikoweto; Sonkomola’s and Siampela’s. These chiefs who have been brought up among the Barotsi are doubtless well disposed towards them and being impressed by the difference between the strength of the Barotsi nation and their own wretched communities always counsel submission to and compliance with Barotsi demands, if they are unable to evade them by cunning.”
The role of a chief continues to be extremely challenging since the colonial era to-date, because he occupies an integral position within the authority structure of society: in one set of relations, he is a tribal leader and in another set of relations, he is in the hierarchy of the government administration.
In fact during the colonial rule the chiefdoms were run on semi-autonomous basis as today’s local governments. The main objective of the indirect rule was the recognition of Native Authorities to help Africans enhance the role of their own traditional institutions in governance.
In 1936, the new policy of indirect rule found expression in a series of important Ordinances such as the Native Courts Ordinance and the Native Authority Ordinance. The Ordinances permitted Native Treasuries to be set up. The Native authorities could raise some funds from court fees and fines, bicycles, dogs, fire arms and game licences. In addition, the government agreed to pay to the various treasuries 10 per cent of the native (or poll tax) collected either inside or outside the district from Africans belonging to the tribe.
The effectiveness and efficiency of the Native Authorities can best be drawn from a protest circular by the African National Congress (ANC) dated 28th February 1958 and which in part read:”….Africans also want to know why thousands of pounds (British sterling) from Native Authorities should be lent to Government and Building Societies at very low interest rates when there is need for those Authorities to use the money.”
But since out of the seventy-three tribes only twelve Native Authorities were created, how were the Native Authorities identified? Let me cite one example: M.V. Brelsford in Tribes of Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) wrote:
“The term Tonga has a very wide meaning linguistically.” E. Colson in Seven Tribes of British Central Africa put Tonga, We, Totela and Lenje in one division, while Moffat Thomson in Memorandum of the Native Tribes and Tribal Areas of North-Eastern Rhodesia in addition he brought in the Toka, who, he said, “if not members of the Tonga tribe, are so closely allied that they can be regarded as such.” He also said of the Lundwe of Namwala that they are half-Tonga and half-Ila, that the Sala are an off-shoot of the Ila and that the Lumbu who now occupy western Ila country were probably of Luyi origin. He also classed a group of immigrant Goba in the Zambezi valley around the Kafue confluence as Tonga-speaking as well as the Soli of Lusaka District. The Ila-Tonga group then appears to comprise of about twelve tribes all speaking closely allied dialects. The Tonga existed within one political unit, the Plateau Tonga Native Authority.
‘’Tribalism’’ and ‘’Tribe’’
There are two concepts to the word ‘’tribalism,’’ i.e., positive and negative. More scholarly investigations of the concepts of ‘’tribalism’’ have preferred to concentrate on the problem of what constitutes the fundamental changes alleged to have been accomplished by ‘’tribalism.’’
‘’Tribalism’’ on the negative side, is to approach reality in such a way that steps are taken to disadvantage other tribes in order to give privilege to one’s own tribe. It is the allocation of duties and privileges on the basis of membership of a specific tribe. It is a retrogressive cancer in development and it paves a way for national disintegration.
The strong manifestation and perpetuation of ‘’tribalism’’ in most cases is the creation of politicians who manipulate it as stepping stones to gain political power. During a lecture at the South African university, former South African President, Thabo Mbeki said that when the ANC was formed 102 years ago, part of the mandate was to ‘’bury the demon of ‘tribalism’. But it is still raising its head.’’ He described ‘’tribalism’’ as a ‘’home-boy’’ phenomenon and is a tool that is deliberately used by politicians who conspire in one language to manipulate some and reward others. ‘’When a minister comes from a certain region, so will be the officials in that department. And this is one of the challenges we need to address.’’
Professor Mubanga Kashoki wrote:
‘’I believe that in our diversity despite its problems lies our national strength, greatness and riches, but only if we recognize diversity as national asset and consciously encourage its positive exploitation. I believe also that so far, in our preoccupation with the negative manifestations of ethnic particularism, referred to in Africa as tribalism, we have tended to give greater weight to the negative aspects of our diversity at the expense of it’s more positive attributes. Nobody would deny the dangers that are inherent in diversity particularly in a society where negative attitudes are assiduously cultivated and consciously built into political philosophy. Zambia is an example of a society where as religion, so to speak, has quite consciously been evolved and elaborated against diversity.’’
On the other hand, though many towns are both extremely heterogeneous and polyglot, so that in some cases personal associations sometimes tend to take place on the basis of a cultural and linguistic affinity, since different languages of the region create barriers to intercourse across tribal lines and this also reinforce tribal solidarity. It sometimes helps a visitor to locate relatives, especially on the copper-belt where the local lingua franca is Chibemba, people sometimes tend to ask the visitor for the tribe of the person he is looking for and this leads the enquiry through tribe channel of a tribe which generally helps the visitor to locate his relatives much faster.
In Politics in an Urban African Community, A.L. Epstein, who carried out a research on the copper-belt wrote that the concept of ‘’tribe’’ has two distinct points of reference,
‘’On the one hand, its application is intra-tribe and refers to the persistence of, or continued attachment to tribal customs. On the other hand, it refers to the persistence of loyalties and values, which stem from a particular form of social organization, and which operate today within a social system much wider than a tribe. These aspects must be carefully distinguished since it is clear that there may ‘revolutionary changes in custom’ while the tribe itself remains an important category of interaction within a wider social system. It is in the second sense that I speak of ‘tribe’ on the copper-belt.’’
And on ‘’tribalism’’ within the urban social system, Epstein wrote:
‘’….in its common connotation ’tribalism’ tends to become a unitary concept, and carries the implicit assumption that, because the evidence points to the persistence in the towns of strong tribal loyalties, those loyalties will operate with the same strength over the total field of social relations in which the urban African is involved.’’
K.A. Busia in the Report on A Social Survey of Sekondi-Takoradi noted that
“loyalty to the tribe and home village remains strong even among those who have lived in towns for many years. One result of this is that very few of the large population manifest civic loyalty or responsibility for the new towns in which they make their living.”
Professor P.B. Harris in Studies in African Politics wrote:
’…many liberal writers in the West have tended to underestimate the persistence of tribal factors in the new Africa. While it would be incorrect to say that tribal organization is the only form of social organization in Africa, it would be wrong to suggest that tribes have disappeared, or will disappear in the near future to give rise to trans-tribe nation-states. The tragic events in Nigeria/Biafra war in 1968 have shown the persistence of tribal loyalties in a dramatic and terrifying way. Tribes are ‘in’ and tribes are ‘out’. This is evident in Kenya, Ghana and in Zambia……..but without doubt even the most sophisticated graduate from the London School of Economics or the Sandhurst officer returns to the bosom of his tribe when he returns to Africa…’’
(The Nigerian/Biafra war referred to was when the Ibo, one of Nigeria’s progressive and industrious tribes broke away to create their own state of Biafra on account of persecutions. And Zambia was among the African countries that recognized the state of Biafra).
Professor Vincent Harris referred to a widely held view that tribal power in Africa is on the way out and he asks whether the assumption is valid:
‘’We may be misled, if we mistake revolutionary changes in tribal customs for decay. The potency of resurgent tribal power should not be underestimated, on the contrary its dynamic power should be harnessed to the task of national building.’’ (Tribalism in Africa: Journal of African Administration pp 17-20).
An English man Walter Begehat is quoted in Studies in African Politics:
“Royalty (tradition) is government in which the attention is concentrated in one person doing interesting actions. A Republic (politics) is government in which that attention is divided between many, who are doing interesting actions. Accordingly, so long as the human heart is strong and human reason weak, Royalty (tradition) will be strong because it appeals to diffused feelings and Republic (politics) weak because it appeals to understanding.”
A British journalist Hugo Young wrote:
“A referendum in Britain on the monarch would produce a strong endorsement in an age when elected politicians are more unpopular than ever.” (Newsweek 8th August 2002). Mr. Owen Sichone wrote: “In recent surveys of public opinion in rural South Africa, it came as a surprise to many to find chiefs who were denounced as puppets of apartheid only a few years ago are today more popular than the democratically elected party officials who rule the country. The reasons are simple and I am sure many Zambians will have no difficulty sympathizing with their South African counterparts. First of all, they say ‘the nkosi is always here.’ Second, ‘he is suffering with us.’ In short, he does not zoom by in a BMW like young democrats who disappear into the world of business credit card shopping. These are the credentials of our traditional leaders, they are closer to the people than any other political institution..” (The Post 25th October 2002).
It is of vital importance to understand how various societies came under colonial rule and the actions and reactions of both the European empire-builders and the tribal societies regarding the intrusion. The Bemba saw European intrusion in general as a threat to their present way of life which was largely based on conquest and plunder. And on the other hand, European reaction was total rejection, which was based on negative intelligence reports by missionaries and passed on to the colonialists (Andrew Roberts in A History of the Bemba p. 288) and Madam Eileen Bigland in The Lake of Royal Crocodiles pp. 106-9)
And what actually every governing authority from the colonial era to-date wants is to sort out what is generally referred to as ‘’Bemba arrogance.’’ For example, in the African Weekly newspaper of 14th December 1955, an article titled ‘’Motion to Restrict Politicians Opposed’’ reads:
‘’A motion demanding that African politicians should get permission from the chief before holding a meeting in any chief’s area was heavily defeated at a meeting of the Bemba Ilamfya Council. ‘Ilamfya’ Council of which ‘Inchenje’ was its Executive is composed of Bemba chiefs and meets once or twice a year to take decisions on important matters concerning the political, social and economic life of Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) Africans, particularly the Bemba people.
‘’Our Chitimukulu correspondent states that some Government officials who attended the meeting expressed opinion in favour of the motion and pointed out that Native Authorities in other areas have made rules and regulations to control such meetings. It is not intended to stop political meetings, but the chief should know what is being discussed.
‘’ The Bemba representatives opposed this motion on the ground that European politicians are permitted to hold meetings in any part of the colony, without permission from the Government.’’
The consequences can be drawn from the Northern News newspaper of 19th May 1959: ‘’The Government inquiry was looking into allegations that Chitimukulu was violating Bemba lore and customs. The African National Congress sent a strong worded note to the Government in protest.’’
And that is why in concluding his book, Andrew Roberts noted:
‘’colonial rule brought far-reaching economic and social changes which were not, for the most part, to the advantage of the Bemba as a group. But for this reason, it was of great importance that their pre-colonial system of chieftainship should have been preserved. And yet amid the upheavals of the twentieth century, the Bemba have retained a sense of corporate continuity and communal pride through the survival of their political structure, a living testimony of their imperial past.’’
And consequently, the Bemba as a tribe have historically been subjected to all kinds of devastations by various groups and individuals who want to destroy us politically, economically, spiritually and culturally.
The Power of Culture
As already stated, in African societies, traditional rulers derive their authority from customs and traditions that have existed since time immemorial. Traditional rulers are custodians and repositories of traditional customs and cultural heritage.
It has been rightly said, ‘’Anyone who has a quarrel with the past, loses the present and risks to lose the future as well.’’ A motorist who does not use the mirror to look back will eventually make a fatal accident. Life involves our growing upwards and downwards like a tree, which is able to stretch out its branches to the sky because it also sends its roots into the nourishing earth. Man or tree with no proper roots will fall.
What is culture?
How do we define culture? Culture is a very complex and highly structured wide-ranging, comprehensive and multi-dimensional reality. It is that complex-whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.
Hence the concept of culture arises in order to describe what is specific to man in relation to nature, and to refer to differences between human groups. However, culture is dynamic, dialectical and collective. Another of its characteristic is change. This can come from within a society or from outside. Cultures adapt themselves by arranging and borrowing cultural features from the social milieu of neighbouring people. In fact through attending traditional ceremonies of various tribes, Bemba chiefs have made great changes and enriched their culture.
A Catholic Bishop, Vicente Carlos Kiaziku of Angola in his book, Culture and Inculturation: A Bantu Viewpoint wrote:
‘’Culture creates us, but we create our own culture through our interaction with our physical and social environment. Culture is a dynamic reality, continually taken up with the problems of existence that one seeks to resolve by recourse to models. Each culture is in a process in which there is a tension between what was and what will be; it is imbued with a particular dynamism that seeks an ever more complete level of humanity; it is obliged in turn to be in harmony with the ‘anthropology’ or view of man that inspires it.
‘’Culture is a social phenomenon, both because everything that man creates is inherited through social relations and conditioning, and because habits of a cultural nature are group habits. And there is a circular causality in the relationship between culture and the individuals who make it up. The process of adaptation is an endless cycle, based on his inculturation into the pre-existing models of the group.’’
Culture deals with clear understanding of SELf which is intertwined with identity and a sense of self-esteem. Though cultural identity is not fixed, but nevertheless it springs from factual and historical formation. It is essential that our cultural heritage awakens us to a new level of consciousness emerging through the lens of consciousness that makes available to us ‘’new power” containing information value to re-mould our minds and re-direct our lives within. And without this information emerging through the lens of consciousness to find our way, we tend to become “hang up” with everything or anyone supposing to help us. In fact when we abandon our cultural heritage for the so-called “civilized cultures,” we destroy our own life-foundation and split our personality which leads to schizophrenia.
St. Augustine in De Ordine wrote:
“Self-knowledge is the result of inner unity.” He compared human nature to a circle. Unity for him means “to be at the centre, from which every part of circumference is equidistant. The further from the centre one wanders towards the circumference, the less united and the poorer one becomes. That is, poverty is seen as a test of the quality of one’s overall existence.”
The Law of Generation states:
“We are all linked to previous generations behind us. Our ancestors are in our genes, in our bones, in our marrow, in our physiological and emotional make-up. We, in turn, will be written into the children who come after us.”
In this respect, the immutable truth is that cultural heritage cannot be magicked away. It will live for many a day and be a continual source of weariness and frustration. It is something that can be blocked and thwarted, but cannot be got rid of. Even the western aristocratic education system can never drown cultural heritage, because while logic can convince one’s reasoning, it cannot, however, overcome the inertia of dualism thinking. Intellect may comprehend the oneness of things, but thinking will still continue in dualism.
Y. Barel wrote:
‘’One manages capital in order to increase it; one manages cultural heritage in order to pass it on, since it influences not only the economy, but a larger area which includes family, politics, social consensus and conflict.’’ (Adult Education and Development: Germany Adult Education Association No. 30, March 1988).
It is so unfortunate that in the so-called ‘’cultivated circles’’ it is wrongly believed that cultural heritage is derived from one’s education and conscious approximation to the western living standards. This I suppose is on account of the fact that education opens so many doors and it is therefore so easy to regard it as a universal passkey which can fit any lock.
A British social worker, Tarq Modood, working among immigrants said:
‘’Equality is not to hide or apologize for one’s origins, family or community, but expecting others to respect them and adapt public attitudes so that the heritage they represent is encouraged rather than contemptuously expected to wither away.’’ (Newsweek 15th December 1997).
Dr. Kenneth Kaunda has penetrating insight:
“It is primarily through the evolution of genuine culture that a people discover their national identity which many people would regard as irrelevant to national development…..Educational institutions, too, tend to be strictly utilitarian in scope, turning out streams of technical, professional and scientific people required in central areas of national building, yet the nation that lacks a firm cultural structure is jelly-built and though people have title deeds to the property and the key to the front door in their pockets, they are still homeless. (A Humanist in Africa p.74) (emphasis mine)
Why is it so?
It’s because culture operates as a balancing force within the personality. It compensates the one-sidedness of a person’s thoughts, aims and attitudes. Psychologists say that about 10,000 thoughts go through a human mind in one day and hence the uncultured African compound intellectuals allow all sorts of impressions to enter their minds unconsciously and as a result, they are controlled by words, foreign knowledge and cunning powers-that-be that feed their lines as they rob their power of creative individuality. The absence of cultural heritage tampers with the knowledge of SELF. In this scenario, what lacks is not intellect or artificial accumulated book knowledge per se, but understanding of SELF or the ability to relate to one’s whole being to the rest of the universe. It is important that students as the intelligentsia of our society must remain connected to their social and cultural roots. The people must develop consciousness of their proud being; of their equality with everyone else and of their capacity to make history.
Booker T. Washington (1856- 1915), the first national spokesperson for the Black Americans wrote:
“……notwithstanding the cruelty and moral wrong of slavery, the millions of Negroes inhabiting this country, who themselves or whose ancestors went through the school of American slavery, are in a stronger and more hopeful conditions, intellectually, morally and religiously, than is true of an equal number of Black people in any other portion of the globe.” (Up From Slavery pp. 11-15)./strong>
On the other hand, Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton made this noteworthy observation on the “power of culture”: “Black power is entirely an healthy development, encouraging the Negro to escape from defeatism and passivity instilled by centuries of exploitation by the white man…..However, the extent to which Black Americans can and do to trace their roots to Africa, to that extent only will they be able to be more effective on the political scene and not cave in whenever the ‘man’ barks..” (Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America pp. 44/49).
The BBC Focus on Africa magazine of July-September, 2009 in an article titled ‘’Black America Back to its Roots,’’ reported that many prominent African Americans are finding their way “home.” In 2005, the popular American talk show host, Miss Oprah Winfrey underwent some deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing, since she wanted to know where her ancestors who were taken as slaves to the USA had come from. “I am Zulu,” Winfrey declared in Johannesburg.
Alex Haley, a Black American who authored the book Roots traced his ancestry through six generations _ slaves and freedmen, farmers and blacksmiths, lawyers and architects_ back to Africa. In fact Roots, is a study of continuities, of consequences, of how a people perpetuate themselves, how each generation helps to doom, or helps to liberate, the coming one.Black Americans know the value of what they do not have, while Africans do not know the value of what they possess. And the end result of pursuing the western culture to its end, results into one having a perverted mind. The best example of a perverted mind is when a person enters his room and switches on the light and immediately sees a snake with its dancing tongue somehow ready to strike. Then he rushes outside and shouts, ‘’snake…nowa..in my house.’’ And someone rushes into the house with a stick, but only to discover that the ‘’snake’’ was a belt and the ‘’dancing tongue’’ was the buckle. So that state of mind before the ‘’snake’’ was discovered to be a belt is the mental state in which people who abandon their own cultural heritage live and that was why D.L. Summer said, ‘’The conflict produces doubt and fogginess of mind, resulting in lack of balance and reasoning.’’
And the truth is that one of the great contributions to Africa’s non-development is largely due to the fact that an African has abandoned his own cultural heritage and thereby abandoning SELF. And by deliberately refusing to look at himself clearly, he ignores his true SELF; renouncing his individualism, freedom and personality. The African has therefore failed to see his real and true greatness and this actually means “we have lost our very selves.”
Xaviour Flores wrote of how ignoring cultural heritage has affected development in Africa:
“We must allude to the real and latent possibilities of the traditional sector which has not always been adequately studied or fully appreciated. Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to say that the whole concept of technical cooperation needs a radical revision. At present, the idea behind technical assistance is that new techniques should sweep all before them. This rationalist attitude may be theoretically sound, but in practice it comes up against unexpected obstacles. __ tradition, customs and superstition __ which are not purely negative in that they do not signify a blunt refusal to contemplate progress as we conceive it, but are on the contrary, highly significant positive attitudes… But these positive aspects have been overlooked and many organizations have foundered almost as they have been launched.” (Agricultural Organization and Economic and Social Development in Rural Areas p. 557).
And so the western initiated development programmes that are deliberately imposed upon docile Africans fail to transplant successfully in Africa just because no gardener would ordinarily transplant a fully grown tree to a new site. Rather, he would plant a sapling or a shoot and be content to bide his time until it grows to its full dimensions.
In the 1930s, the then Secretary for Native Affairs, R.S. Hudson, distressingly noted that ‘‘when an African became settled in town, he ultimately ceased to belong to his tribe and no longer fitted into the native authority system.’’ And David Punabantu wrote:
‘’Children were being born in towns without any knowledge or concept of village life. These children produced other children __ compound kids and their concept of development at that time was to follow the white man into shops. These compound kids then became compound adults and ended up, as street vendors, while others became street adults as seen today.’’ (The Post 24th November 2004)
And indeed we are now harvesting the consequences. The key statement from above is: ‘’…their concept of development was to follow the white man into shops.’’ The Chiluba regime which comprised politicians mostly from the urban areas introduced the science of liberation of the economy where we were promised the ageless ambition of social regeneration and ever ascending abundance. And from these triumphs would flow a more caring government and a greater individual liberty. However, this kind of economic philosophy which was being introduced in such extravagant metaphor is the ‘’compound’’ economy. This kind of economic philosophy is when a person in African locations loses his job, he then begins to sell his household goods until eventually he is driven into destitution and this is what has actually happened to this country.
On the other hand, according to the Report of the Technical Committee on Drafting the Zambian Constitution, Part V on Bill of Rights, Article 63: Language and Culture states in 63 (3): A person shall not be compelled to- (a) perform, observe, participate in, or be subjected to, any cultural practice or rite; or (b) form, join, contribute, maintain or pay allegiance to any cultural, traditional or linguistic association, organization, institution or entity.
It is general knowledge that no one forces the other to do what have been written above i.e., who goes overseas to force the tourists who flock to watch the famous and colourful Kuomboka ceremony? The question is the motive behind the inclusion of such in the Constitution and chiefs should carefully and particularly note: ‘’….NOT to maintain or pay allegiance to any cultural, traditional or linguistic institution..’’
Why is this?
Politicians have created a dangerous gambit and have put the institution of chieftainship on a slippery ground, wherein the uncultured compound intellectuals have since 1991 been trying to find ways to dilute and eventually abolish traditional ruler-ship in order to pave way for a strong working class that would be sociologically undefined, since there seems to be an uneasy balance between simple tribal affiliations and the so-called modernism. For example, there was no House of Chiefs during Chiluba’s ten years rule. The chiefs have been excluded from meaningful participation in socio-economic development of the country and consequently the role of chiefs in matters of national interest and development are not even defined.
The notion that chieftainship is an indication of primitivity with its implication that civilization is the enemy of chieftainship, must be dismissed with the contempt it deserves because respecting chiefs must not depend upon how ignorant people are. Our advance in knowledge and political-craft should only mean a re-interpretation as well as proper understanding and empowering of chiefs as partners in the development of their communities since they have been quietly guiding the lives of their people at the delicate grass-root level on daily basis, and certainly not to disapprove of their existence in a modern society.
In June 2009 I was among the twenty-five successful applicants selected to present their papers in various disciplines at the National Curriculum Symposium whose aim was to change the school curriculum at all levels. Admittedly, I was completely out of place among the sophiscated academicians and I suppose most of them thought as they curiously took quick glances at me, ‘’why is this primitive villager among us?’’ The great problem is that it is strongly believed in the so-called ‘’cultivated circles’’ that chiefs cannot comprehend anything outside witchcraft practices. And this can be viewed as a conflict of generations. By and large, the tribal society has been gerontological and this means that the high status and political power have been the prerogative of the aged i.e., the knowledge of the soil; of the magic to protect oneself in high office against the manifestations of one’s rivals; of the esoteric mysteries of chieftaincy and of the village etc., came largely with advance of age. And so, this apparently means that the Institution of Chief is deemed by the sophiscatees to be monopolized by old-fashioned madalas totally immersed in the secrets and mysteries of their long-dead ancestors.
The theme of my paper was ‘’A Nation Without Culture is Dead.’’ However, after a rigorous presentation of our papers to different groups, I was finally asked to present my paper to the general assembly which included the then Education Minister, Honourable Professor Godfrey Lungwangwa and other dignitaries. And it was unanimously agreed that culture would be included in the curriculum at all levels of education.
Sierra Leone is the only African state that has included culture in its school curriculum. After slavery was abolished in America, some freed slaves returned to Sierra Leone and those people who had gone through the most cruel school of slavery knew the power of culture. The authorities then began studying the challenges of intercultural development in education, learning and training. And T. Forde said at the conference on:
‘’Conflict and Harmony Between Traditional and Western Education in Africa’’: ….the danger is that if the school-based pattern of education completely supersedes the more traditional forms of education, Sierra Leoneans stand to lose many valuable aspects of our cultural heritage. An urgent effort should be made to preserve as much of their cultural tradition as possible before they become completely extinct, either through indifference or disuse…..we need to carry out a good deal more research in order to comprehend the total spectrum of indigenous life and culture, in order to appreciate the conflicts which may arise when western influences impinge……thus, while accepting that there has been conflict between western and traditional forms of education in Sierra Leone, it is now the responsibility of Sierra Leonean educators, social scientists and anthropologists to discover a new approach to the whole process of education so as to ensure a more complete harmonization. The crucial question for Sierra Leone is how to bring about greater cohesion in the educative process.’’
We had hoped that a team of experts would travel to Sierra Leone and learn how they have managed to face the challenges and deal with these complicated issues. But we have just suddenly found that the Ministry of Education has introduced local languages without wide consultations among the stakeholders who are the citizens.
One of the greatest problems is that there is a distorted myth within the African political circles that equates politics with superior intelligence and therefore African politicians see themselves to be ‘’experts’’ in every sphere of life and ‘’geniuses’’ far above the collective intelligence of society. There is a firm conviction that the party in power has the embodiment of wisdom, insight, intellect and knowledge including mega-talents and multi-gifts specifically confined within its inner circle and never elsewhere.
Mr. Alexander Bwalya Chikwanda, then a cabinet minister in the UNIP government had identified this deadly fallacy:
‘’Let us not think we can take people for a ride all the time. What I am saying applies to the backbench and the frontbench alike. Let us all remember that we have no monopoly of wisdom or intelligence, just because we are Members of Parliament, Ministers, Members of the Central Committee, Prime Ministers, Secretary-Generals or Presidents.’’
The clear point here is that politicians in government have become insensitive to sensitive issues because ‘’negative tribalism’’ that is daily being propagated by politicians who want to gain political mileages within their particular tribes has brought about the philosophy of ‘’tribal revolution.’