By : Ing. Yayah A. B. Conteh
Although Africa still languishes under the weight of poor leadership and governance inadequacies, the continent is endowed with rich traditional beliefs and cultural practices which have impacted on its existence and development throughout the ages.
Some of these traditional beliefs and cultural practices have been the envy of other people in more advanced civilisations.
I have always personally developed a hankering to discover, more profoundly, the traditional beliefs and cultural practices that unite us as Africans.
Some of us, perhaps, are too wrapped up in our illusory dreams and wild imaginings to take account of the rich traditional beliefs and cultural practices to which we are indissolubly bound.
We easily dismiss these beliefs off-handedly as trivial traits scarcely repaying any serious attention.
The dismissal of African culture is not uncommon with particularly those of our kind who have been opportuned to acquire some western-style education abroad.
Having assimilated certain foreign cultural ingredients in places of other lands and clime, we most often return home as total strangers only to frown upon the customs and traditions of the fatherland from where we had come, but thanks to some of Africa’s voluble oral traditions.
The immediate past of most of the customs and traditions of their people including their kith and kin would otherwise have been largely lost in antiquity.
The situation would have made it extremely difficult to have recorded historical facts and concepts for succeeding generations of enlightened historians, particularly the history of the period before the advent of colonialism.
In the family of humanity, the culture of a people is what distinguishes them out distinctly from other human societies.
In broader terms, culture, as it is normally understood, entails a totality of traits and characters that are peculiar to a people to the extent that it clearly distinguishes them from other peoples or societies.
Thus, culture includes other societal aspects: language, customs, values, norms, rules, dressing, music, work, arts, religion, dancing and so on.
These customs are passed either by communication or imitation from one generation to another.
Within Africa itself, expressions of culture are abundant such that large amounts of cultural diversity are found not only across different countries but also single countries.
It is quite significant to preserve our cultural heritage because it keeps our integrity as a people.
Traditions can be regarded as beliefs, customs or ways of doing something that has existed for a long time among a particular group of people- the sum total of culture in other words.
Several examples of such traditional and cultural beliefs and practices abound in Africa.
Take for example, the interconnecting link between the living and the dead.
Africans from time immemorial are accustomed to communicating with the ancestors as if they were alive and physically present, and could hear and decipher what was being communicated.
Thus, by invoking the spirits of the ancestors for some protection to be accorded, say, a relative in dire need of succor and well-being against the machinations and manipulations of evil forces, the living, by so doing, are not only treating the ancestors with decorum, but also with a deep feeling of affection and reverence as well.
The ancestors strongly believe that they could hear, feel, taste and participate in everything being undertaken by the living once they are granted an invitation by them.
This extraordinary belief in ancestral interconnection is so strongly embedded in the psyche and consciousness of Africans in general.
It is believed to act as a potent spiritual tranquiliser that instills a sense of optimism in them as a people and equally effective enough to produce instant positive results, even in a crisis of the most serious kind.
These ancestors were perceived as the last hope and source of physical and spiritual assistance.
Thus, one can appreciate how the lives of the living were interwoven with those of the dead. This practice still remains virtually the same in most parts of Africa.
The extended family system readily springs to mind in a discussion confined to African cultural beliefs and traditions.
Most people live in households that include not only the nuclear family (father, mother, and children) but also members of their extended family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, nephews, and nieces, cousins and others).
Regarded as a menace rather than a blessing by many, the extended family system in Africa is not without its attendant woes.
Largely considered as a system where the privileged few in a particular family are mandated by customs and traditions to render assistance either in cash or kind to the underprivileged lot within same family, it is as old as the system itself.
It is being frowned upon from time to time by succeeding generations of young men and women gradually breaking loose from the shackles of poverty and backwardness.
But, it is not as easy as is commonly imagined because its effects and consequences as experienced in our societies from time immemorial have roots that are deeply entrenched in our beings as Africans.
Escape from it would spell doom for many an African family into whose households can be found an appreciable proportion of totally destitute individuals who are forever seeking family succor and assistance for their existence and livelihood.
A young, vibrant and enlightened man today in some highly placed office or business venture who was educated by the sweat of his illiterate parents cannot easily relegate them to the dustbin of everlasting poverty and backwardness.
The educated elite or businessman is expected, by virtue of his exalted position, to render assistance to the illiterate, poor parents in a bid to change the livelihoods for the better.
This form of kindness is part of the beauty and magnificence of the extended family system.
It would be another story for the extended family system to completely phase out of black Africa just like that.
It might not be impossible, nonetheless, but for now, we need to give it a rethink!
Traditional African beliefs and cultural practices cannot be fully discussed without the subject of religion being highlighted.
Some religious and non-religious scholars alike have always claimed that all the races in the world that God created, the ‘African’ is said to be the most religious.
They even go further to assert that if it were only for the quantum of prayers offered from the lips of Africans, particularly from adherents of the two predominant denominations, Islam and Christianity, then the numerous challenges confronting black Africa, ranging from poor leadership, governance inadequacies to the lack of employment opportunities, would all be a thing of the past.
Who knows, God in His infinite wisdom, would have listened and responded to them all, but alas….!!
“The fulcrum around which everything seems to revolve in Africa”, say some religious scholars of high repute, “is religion.”
The scholars’ claim reinforces the conviction that religious values in Africa are not to be toyed with.
African traditional religion possesses the concept of a Supreme Being who is considered omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent too. He is invincible as well.
This is the defining characteristic of African religion wherever it is practised.
It unquestionably holds belief in the existence of the human soul and that this soul does not die with the body. It regenerates and resurfaces elsewhere in some unknown destination in the universe.
Above all, African traditional religion nurses the conviction that there exists good and bad spirits everywhere.
They similarly hold the belief that it is only due to the existence of these spirits that communication between humans and the Supreme Being is made possible.
Ing. Yayah A. B. Conteh is the Director of the Mechanical Services Department of the Sierra Leone Roads Authority.
Tel. Nos : 076640364 / 077718805.
E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org.