What you need to know:
- Films like Black Panther are aimed at changing our perception and encouraging us to appreciate our African roots.
- Many people find Western cultures more attractive, and this has been linked to the fact that Africans know little about their own culture.
BY COLLINS KARIUKI
Times have changed. Slaves are no longer shackled in chains, they roam free. They won’t be found crying or moping in protest of mistreatment, but you may find them laughing at one another for speaking a foreign language improperly. They no longer get shipped forcefully out of their motherland, they stay home, but earnestly seek to unlearn their forefathers’ ways and adopt foreign cultures.
They no longer teach their children about social values, but you'll find them proudly reciting foreign histories to their young ones. Nobody canes them for refusing to learn the white man's tongue, because they speak it so fluently, yet they can't even speak their native languages. What does the current generation think about this way of life that has been equated to modern day slavery?
King'ori Gitahi, 34
“I think we, as Africans, are more gullible than other people in the world. Look at our uptake of religion. It is believed that Christianity was introduced in India by the apostles of Jesus, yet Christian Indians account for only two per cent of India’s population. In Africa, the gospel arrived about 100 years ago and almost everyone professes the Christian faith.
Even Muslims were easily converted from other African religions. Somehow, Africans never protected nor retained their cultures.
“White South Africans are yet to start taking up African names despite having stayed there for close to 500 years. They have not even taken the names of African greats such as Mandela, Sankara and Nkrumah, yet native South Africans swallowed everything from their colonisers, hook, line, and sinker,” says King’ori.
His journey of embracing his African identity started immediately he finished his secondary school studies. In the gap year before he joined college, King’ori read a lot of African literature, which made him begin questioning everything, including his English name.
“My mother named me Benson, which literally means the son of Ben, even though none of my parents is called Ben. I am the son of Gitahi. For me, reclaiming my African roots starts with embracing my African names. That is why I dropped the name Benson,” he says.
King’ori believes that Africans have been deceived for so long and as a result, they have embraced other people’s cultures and neglected their own in the name of modernity.
“We frown upon our own practices and we associate everything good with the West. Author Chinua Achebe advised us that the white man is like hot porridge and should be taken from the edges of the bowl, but we never heeded this advice. I have really struggled to shed the mentality of black inferiority. I now question everything I read to ensure that I am not falling for the old tricks. I am even critical of our education system because it was developed by foreigners,” he says.
King’ori has since named his son Gitahi Gitahi.
“In my culture, a child’s names are determined long before it is born. When my three-year-old son bears a son, it will be named after me, and his daughter will be named after his mother. So how is it that our English names are referred to as our first names?” he poses.
When it comes to preservation of African culture, Gitahi quotes Ngugi wa Thiong'o who wrote: “If you know all the languages of the world but you do not know your mother tongue, that is mental enslavement. But if you know the language of your culture and add all these other languages, that is empowerment.”
“In a society where few proudly speak their mother tongues and where the ability to speak foreign languages is taken as a measure of intelligence, our indigenous languages may become extinct in the next 100 years, just like other languages such as the Suba, Elmoro and Omotik which have now died.
“Parents should teach their children the local languages. The best way of doing this is to ensure that no foreign languages are spoken at home. If the parents cannot speak their mother tongue, they can learn.”
Kingsley Taabu, 22
“A lot of things make you African, but your culture and identity are the roots that connect you to the motherland,” opines Kingsley Taabu, a law student at The University of Nairobi.
He runs a blog titled Make Africa Great Again and there, he lays bare his passion for African history and culture. His articles include stories of how the Egyptians built the pyramids, which to him was the epitome of African civilisation. He is on a mission to teach Africans about their history so that they can reclaim their past glory.
“When you look at the history of different African communities such as the Kush, Kemet and the Songhai people, all you see is greatness. Did you know that Africans could already perform C-Section surgeries before colonisation? We were quite advanced in all sectors, but look at us now. Our leaders failed to protect our identity and foreigners had an easy time destroy it and erasing our history,” he says.
Kingsley recently started researching on African spirituality and the decolonisation agenda, and he has never looked back.
“Colonisation has never ended. Neo colonialists control our minds and that is dangerous. Look at our school curriculum.
Why do we learn so much about other people’s history at the expense of our own? This only propagates the idea that our history is inferior, or that we don’t have a history,” he says and adds that ignorance may be to blame for this unfortunate situation.
“We have been assimilated into the white man’s culture and we have nothing to go back to because our history and identity has been eroded. We find the white man’s culture more attractive because we know very little about ours, and also because it is trendy to follow foreign practices. That should stop,” Kingsley says.
Even though the 22-year old is not fluent in his mother tongue, he is keeping his identity alive by reading African content, consuming African food, wearing traditional attire and listening to African music. He even denounced the Christian religion, and he hopes to acquire true African spirituality.
“Religion is supposed to help us achieve spirituality, but Christianity didn’t do that for me. The religion has despised and demonised our African culture, including our use of voodoo. Many do not understand voodoo but they claim it is evil. Why? Because a Christian somewhere called it evil.
Christianity has also been used to justify atrocities such as holy killings, slavery and colonisation. Also, they romanticise suffering and that is just terrible. Wake up and fight for yourself. Do not wait for a miracle or turn your cheek to be slapped again!” he says.
Kingsley happily notes that Africans are slowly reclaiming their culture.
“Films like Black Panther and Black is King are changing our perception and encouraging us to appreciate ourselves more. Culture gives us identity. Once we embrace our identity, we will be on our way to greatness.”
Jacinta Wakesho, 21
Black is the first thing that comes to Jacinta’s mind whenever she comes across the word “African”. She believes that Africans are beautiful, complex, colourful, diverse, rich and strong.
Jacinta is a student at Strathmore University and when she is not in class, she will be found cooking, running her family’s business or designing Africa-inspired clothing. Designing African attire is her way of tapping into her African heritage.
“My dressing usually stands out because I never leave the house without wearing something artistically African, be it jewellery, fabric or even hairstyle. I come from a family that has a penchant for fashion and it rubbed off on me. However, I decided to focus on African fabric and prints,” she says.
Jacinta’s passion for African fashion has encouraged her to learn the origins of different African fabrics, and in the process learn about Africa. Even her cooking and the décor in her house screams Africa, and she addresses elders the traditional way.
Even though more people are starting to embrace their African culture and identity, Jacinta acknowledges that there are many stumbling blocks.
“It costs an arm and a leg to get good Kitenge clothes, to attend African themed concerts or to purchase African art. If we can make African products available and affordable, we can rival the likes of Gucii or Dolce and Gabbana, and more people will start appreciating African products,” she says.
“This is a very defining moment for us as young African millennials. Our culture is being eroded. From the language we speak, our dress codes, lifestyles and even the food we eat…none of these things identify us as Africans. We are just imitating other people’s cultures and losing our heritage in the process. Most of us rarely visit our rural homes let alone relating closely with our grandparents. At this rate, it is only a matter of time before we become black Europeans,” she says.
According to her, we all have a role to play, and it starts right at home, by ensuring that our children can communicate effectively in mother tongue. If you are an adult, he says, it is your duty to learn your native tongue.
“Africans are lacking in self-confidence and self-appreciation. We have been made to think we are a lesser race, hence we always feel inferior and view other cultures as being better than ours. We need to break away from that mentality. Once we do, Africa will reach its true potential.”