Un-African

I’ve always described myself as proudly African and maintained that being African is a soul definition and inexplicable connection one felt to the continent- void of skin tone, hair texture and dialectical specifications. However, I’ve recently come to assess several cultural norms, habits and ways that one may consider particularly African. Indeed there are distinct cultural differences across various African countries, for instance having twins in East Africa is seen as a blessing, whereas in some parts of Nigeria they are seen as a curse and in ancient times newborn twins were rejected and even sacrificed at birth. However, there are also several shared beliefs across many African nations, that one may generally deem “being African”. Here are a few examples:
  • Treating a visitor as “king”, ensuring they are well taken care of and receive the best of everything the host can offer. This recently became a topic of discussion when two of my South African friends (also teaching in Korea), spent the night at an African American’s apartment and were casually offered the floor while the host comfortably collapsed on her bed- leaving them wide mouthed and in utter disbelief.
  • Treating elders with utmost respect, even if they occupy lowly societal or occupational positions.
  • Ubuntu- Umuntu, Ngumuntu, Ngabantu.. I do not need to delve too deeply into the meaning of this; however it is interesting to note that in several texts it has been described as “humanity, compassion, and goodness, regarded as fundamental to the way Africans approach life”. Whether, we as African’s truly embody this concept the way we should, is another article altogether.
In many ways I’ve carried these concepts with me wherever I find myself- its second nature! However, in other ways- perhaps not to the same extent as my parents would. Many African’s I know will give their visitor their beds in a heart beat (myself included), but may not always cook up a hearty meal for their guest when they return from work, particularly those who live alone. Rather, one may offer guests a few basic snacks and drinks and then take them to the nearest restaurant. At the same time, I’ve also been put to shame by my African friends, also in their twenties, who feel it’s taboo not to provide meals that are home-cooked and always slave over the stove in order to serve their guests. Does this make those of us who don’t find time to cook less hospitable, or even unAfrican in that department? Is there really even such a thing as “African behaviour” and culturally accepted norms in today’s modern lifestyle? Can we legitimately classify certain acts as being “un-African”? Or is “African” behaviour really just diverse and about the manner in which an individual chooses to blend the customs and practices they learnt within their home and direct communities, with their modern lifestyle. For a moment, while engaging with other particularly traditional expatriated Africans, I questioned whether I have started losing touch with basic ways that are fundamentally African. Perhaps there are a few things I needed to be reminded of in this fast paced society, simply because there are good gestures to exercise. However, I believe it is possible to fuse the traditions and norms we learned in our upbringing, with our current lifestyle.
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Feint & Margin

Feint & Margin is a weekly, online, Pan-African publication featuring writings and thoughts from Ordinary Africans who have Extraordinary minds. We represent the True Voice of the African Citizen.

2 thoughts on “Un-African

  • August 16, 2010 at 11:12 am
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    I agree that we are not as ‘African’ in terms of our upbringing, but at the same time progress is not necessarily a bad thing either. Polygamy can be considered African,(limited to men) and thankfully that is not an accepted principle by most African men anymore. Virginity tests of young maidens (ignoring males) is another example of something considered part of African culture. I think what is fundamental is that we treat each human being with respect. Whether we cook for them or house them for free or pay for their meal at a restaurant, it’s more about how you give of yourself to make someone feel at home in your home that matters most.

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