Culture month: Celebrating being African

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MOST people in Africa have alienated themselves culturally due to neo-colonialism, Western religion and the influence of globalisation. 

The culture of a people is what defines theem in the family of humanity.

Our culture defines us.

Sadly, many now view African cultural practices and traditions as backward, adopting Western orientation and attitudes in their day-to-day affairs  — be it in dressing, customs or lifestyle.

By aping and adopting Western behaviours, many Africans are losing lifesaving systems that have, in the past, served the continent well.

Culture, as it is usually understood, entails a totality of traits and characters that are peculiar to a people to the extent that it marks them out from other peoples or societies. These peculiar traits go on to include the people’s language, dressing, music, work, arts, religion and dancing, among others. It also goes on to include a people’s social norms, taboos and values. 

However, it is important to note that despite the ‘fading’ of some cultural practices, Africa remains culturally rich, with a variety of ethnic groups still upholding different traditions, beliefs and customs.

Religion in African societies is the fulcrum around which every activity revolves. Hence religious values are not toyed with. African traditional religion, wherever it is practiced, has some defining characteristics. For instance, it possesses the concept of a Supreme Being which is invisible and indigenous. It holds a belief in the existence of the human soul and the soul does not die with the body. African traditional religion also has the belief that good and bad spirits do exist and that these spirits are what make communication with the Supreme Being possible. Above all, it holds a moral sense of justice and truth and the knowledge of the existence of good and evil.

In other words, one can say that different ethnic groups in Africa have managed to brand themselves through culture as an important aspect of identity.

From San healing dances to Xhosa initiations, Hamar bull jumping to Bodi beauty pageants, there’s no shortage of incredible traditions sure to inspire wonder across Africa.

Many of these groups have managed to preserve their ancestral traditions which have become attractions boosting cultural heritage and tourism.

Despite various ethnic nationalities with their different languages, modes of dressing, eating, dancing and even greeting habits, Africans do share some dominant traits in their belief systems and have similar values that mark them out from other peoples of the world. 

For example, a Nigerian culture would be closer to, say, a Tanzanian culture on certain cultural parameters than it would be to the Oriental culture of the Eastern world, or the Western culture of Europe. 

It is true that culture is universal and that each local or regional manifestation of it is unique. This element of uniqueness in every culture is often described as cultural variation and these variations are what is being celebrated in culture month. 

The cultures of traditional African societies, together with their value systems and beliefs, are close, even though they vary slightly from one to another. 

The question is: Are we successfully passing cultural practices to the new generation?

Some practices are desirable and worth passing on while others, like female genital mutilation, virginity testing as well as child and early marriages, among others, have been regarded as harmful as well as discriminatory.

Due to globalisation and the spread of religion, such as Christianity, some practices have been denounced and regarded unfit for human interaction.

In most societies, ethnic groups have continued to embrace their traditions and customs which have served as blueprints for relationships. 

This has provided a platform for Africans to use dance, song, folklore and other forms of art in embracing diversity in social life.

It is the existence of such diversity, even in Zimbabwe, that has contributed to the month of May being celebrated as culture month.

Despite having different ethnic groups, that include the Shona, Ndebele, Kalanga, Tonga, Doma, Shangaan,Venda and Xhosa, among others, Zimbabwe has  shown how some cultural practices are important, relevant and meaningful to the whole  country.

The National Arts Council of Zimbabwe (NACZ) has themed this year’s culture month, which runs from May 1-31: ‘Promoting Cultural Diversity, Unity and Peace’.

According to NACZ, the culture month theme is part of efforts of bringing about social cohesion and integration through the arts and culture and enhancing the growth of the creative and cultural industries in line with the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1) and Vision 2030. 

NACZ, together with various stakeholders, make use of the month of May to preserve and celebrate certain traditions that not only tell a story of people but define them. 

African culture is embedded in strong moral considerations and it has a system of various beliefs as well as customs that are not only unique but tell a powerful story.

“The NACZ is already at an advanced stage of planning the commemorations that will provide an opportunity to showcase, strengthen and promote the diversity of the Zimbabwean culture encompassing both the indigenous and contemporary traits,” said NACZ.

As an organisation that is at the forefront of upholding and celebrating culture, NACZ is encouraging different stakeholders, practitioners and the general public to be part of the 2023 Culture Month commemorations by participating in, and initiating, events to celebrate Zimbabwean Cultural Diversity, Unity and Peace.

“Culture Month 2023 is coming at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has been successfully contained, with the environment becoming friendlier for big events; hence stakeholders are called upon to craft events designed to attract physical participation in large numbers to showcase Zimbabwean cultural diversity.”

It is also important to note that Culture Month commemorations are an extension of World Day of Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development which is celebrated on May 21, a day set aside by UNESCO in the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity in 2001. 

NACZ, therefore, expanded the day to encompass a whole month designed to promote, commemorate and celebrate Zimbabwe’s diverse cultures. 

Tangible aspects of culture include languages, stories, dress, sculptures , archaeological  sites and monuments among others provides the foundation to understand the intangible cultural heritage such as values, ideas, social practices, rituals and traditional craftsmanship.

A constant reminder of both tangible and intangible cultural aspects should continue to be emphasised in African countries to prevent cultural imperialism and erosion.

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