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Opinions of Monday, 26 November 2007

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

Culture: Are We The Only Ones With A Culture?

All you have to do is introduce an idea based on commonsense and our so-called endangered culture becomes the default caviling for ditching the idea. A scary deliriousness erupts explosively, if and when, the idea emanates from the west in particular, or outside mainstream Ghanaian culture in general. Some of these self-conferred righteous cultural purists are excessively anal. We?ve never been shy to beg for handouts from the very western cultures that some so despise. Isn?t it funny, that, proponents of righteous cultural purity, firmly plant their roots in the very culture they warn us against? If it is that bad, why are these jejune protagonists making a living in the west? Why do our politicians love the west? You either make do with the culture that makes you feed yourself, family and relatives, help change it, or ship out and live in the culture that you herald. No culture on this earth is perfect and without blemish. Not even our much vaunted Ghanaian culture! So what is this noise about culture this and culture that? Are we the only ones with a culture? Are we the only ones with a sense of history? What have we achieved with our ?rich?culture, given the mess that we continuously deal with? What?

These cultures, outside ours, must be doing something right to be able to feed their people and still have some to give to beggars like us. Have we stopped to observe why it is that these so tagged ?uncultured infidels? can feed themselves and feed flaming paupers like us? Wouldn?t it be a great lesson if we can humbly and wisely learn a thing or two from them? It is one thing to dislike someone?s culture but purely another to admit that they are good at what they do. As far as I am concerned, besides all the tangible and intangible benefits of culture, it must fulfill the basic functions of providing food, shelter and clothing adequately, as well as, help build wealth. Any culture that fails to do the latter has serious shortcomings. If these so called foreign cultures are so despicable, why have we even modeled our constitution on them? Why not carve out a constitution based on our past experience, current challenges and future utopian aspirations? Aha! The cognitive miser are at it again! We are high on gold plated rhetoric but low on delivery and that is why some of these cultural purists should be dismissed with acidified scorn.

My idea of culture is not centered on still traditions, earth shattering drumming, energetic dancing and tall rituals. Though I welcome the latter, I seek new frontiers in tandem. Culture, just as a way of asserting pride, when people continue to die of the simplest diseases and starve unnecessarily, is moronic to say the least. We can do better and must not tolerate this ruse or canard that addles mediocrity. There is never a cultural vacuum in the life or a group or an individual. The death (endings) of a particular culture, automatically results in the birth (new beginnings) of another. You may not like the new culture but it is there. A trained anthropologist or behaviorist will unearth or disinter the succeeding culture in a heartbeat. This in effect, means that, we will never be without culture. I mean, be it evolving or established. This whole fear is about doing away with an old culture that favors a privileged few and ushering in a new one in the interest of the collective whole. Of course, those benefiting from the current arrangement do not want to see change. They stand in the way of progress and must be confronted at all cost. The issue here is that, the fear mongers dread the sprouting of a new culture that will marginalize them and lay to waste, their fatuous assertions, designed to instill fear, promote tribe, and pillar ruinous stagnation.

Interestingly, some of the shrieking, if not carping, voices about the need to protect our so called elusive ?pure culture? have fled their villages, abandoned their chiefs, denounced their families, escaped their country and now sojourn in the very cultures they hate. Maybe we ought to round up these folks and not just send them back, but sentence them to life under their trifling chiefs. Wouldn?t the latter be a nice illuminating experiment? What if, the cultures that they seek solace in, were as inward looking and resistance to change as our culture? Will they find jobs and buy property in such? These folks are so prosperous in these alien cultures to an extent that the folks that they?ve condemned to chieftaincy would rather they become chiefs in their villages instead of the current lazy and self seeking bums that sadly pass as chiefs. Wow! Why are Ghanaians fleeing in millions if we have such a wonderful time under our lazy and clueless chiefs? If you doubt the latter assertion, put a ship at Tema Harbor and announce that people can leave Ghana to the west. Lets see how many will flee the land that they really love but must abandon to live like human beings. Do the reverse in the USA or Britain for parity. I am sure the results will make by point.

Isn?t it amazing that one can walk right out of Bukom, hop on a plane, go to America and buy land if they can afford it? How come the people in American don?t worry about what tribe that individual hails from? Do they understand something about progress and business that we don?t? What if these outside cultures pursued purity and therefore kept everyone else out? Will these outside cultures be as dynamic as they are? Fault America for all its miscues but God forbid that you deny its sustainability and vibrancy due to its embraces of other cultural practices that works and promote progress. Even parts of our culture has warm embrace in America. Think Kente for a minute! Look what inclusiveness has done for the British premier soccer league! Its probably the best soccer league in the world. Why can?t we pick on the fact that a dynamic and embracing culture is a vibrant and progressive one? These peddlers of everything culture have perfected the fine art of invoking culture at every fit and turn, just to stir incendiary emotions in unsuspecting folks, fight meaningful change proposals, and dull the issues. It is as if, we are the only ones with a culture. I believe now is the time to take these agents of doom on and set the record straight. Since culture impacts the way we live our lives, it is time we animate the culture of hope, aided by change and kill the culture of fear, aimed at stagnation and keeping our people in perpetual mental lockdown.

Lets get this straight, we are not the only people on the face this earth with a culture. Everywhere under the sun, people have their own unique culture. Some cultures may be subtle to the undiscerning eye. Other cultures are more explicit. Whatever it is, others have culture just as we do. So, why is it that when faced with challenges, the first act is to talk about our culture? What really does commonsense change proposals have to do with culture? When you are dealing with an American, for example, and a challenge comes up, his or her instinct is not to invoke culture as a first act. Rather, the focus is on what works and how best to get it done. Yes, what works! And before you run off moaning about this example, note that these are the same people that we beg from day in day out. Talk to some Ghanaians about change and all you hear is how chieftaincy is the soul of our country and why we should not fish in the sacred Birim river on Wednesdays. Bloody hell! Are we not the same ones that allow those with modern fishing equipment to fish in our waters everyday for a paltry fee? Why don?t we extend these outdated taboos to them? How is this frosty attitude of ours helping us to make the necessary changes? How is it helping us to progress instead of the hibernating in survival mode? There are some who simply defy, fight and reject anything they consider ?unafrican?, even if the proposed change can help or make a significant difference. Even as they starch this attitude and addle their braying language, they continue to enjoy the finest frills, curtsey the erroneously called uncultured folks. Beware of these hypocrites and snake oil peddlers! The tug is between survival and progress! What is your pick?

My friends, what is the use of culture if all it does is make you survive or live as a pauper? It is especially troubling that in this day and age, where everyone borrows and steals from other cultures, some fake and confused cultural purist are pursuing a wild goose chase. Cultural purity is purely a figment of warped imagination. It is not practical in this day and age and must be dismissed with the putrid scorn that it deserves. What will persist and persevere, is any aspect of any culture, that works and brings tangible value to the people. So, and for example, women will wear blues jeans so long as it serves as durable and fashionable clothing. The same way the chiefs will pick Schnapps over Akpeteshie gleefully. This effort, aimed at promoting some kind of imagined cultural purity, is misguided, condescending and menacing. It must be halted in anyway possible. Indeed, if the ?invoke our culture? movement is allowed to persist, as it has in the past, we trudge precariously toward perpetual stagnation and arrant deprivation. The argument has to be made that, maintaining the status quo does not augment this struggle of ours. Our efforts ought to be aimed at changing the poisonous status quo, instead of cementing it. By progress, I am not looking at just material progress but also, mental progress. We have to change completely the way we look at things. The first port of call is to pin down the agents of cultural doom and send them into oblivion.

It bears repeating, the obvious but often ignored notion that culture is dynamic. As we speak, sardines, corned beef, tea, white bread, cake, Mercedes Benz and suits are as much a legitimate part of our culture as koobi, kenkey, totobi, ampesi and akple. These people who invoke cultural purity at every turn are perhaps the most avid consumers of all things western. If culture translates into the adoption of time tested practices that work in dealing with challenges facing a group, why is it such a crime to introduce changes that has the potential to work better without being tagged an Afropean? We?ve accept the drinking class over the calabash but don?t have the moxie to accept universal adult suffrage over cloak and dagger chieftaincy practices? As the much hated but right on cue Darwin noted, those that persevere are the amenable ones. Holding on to culture for the mere reason that your great grand father invented it, is a very dangerous proposal. Especially, at a time when people are dying of malaria while witchcraft takes a beating. For me, culture must work and be tangibly valuable. It must be practical and effective as well. It can?t be all about frills!!

Folks, let us be thankful for what our ancestors did to bring us to this point. However, we must not settle for just that. Each generation must strive to be better than the one before it. Our ancestors will be just as proud, if not titillated, should they return to see that we are living a life of dignity and progress as opposed to a life of degradation and doom. Their efforts represents progress for their time and it now our turn to make progress for the next generation by building on what they left. If it requires phasing out some of what they left to give way to better systems, lets do it. That enduring value of believing that tomorrow holds a better future must not elude us. The life of a human being is relatively short. Why should one be sentenced to a life of wretchedness and depraved human conditions? Why should we accept poverty in the name of culture and all the crap they tell us?

A visit to our countryside tells a jarring tale that deserves critical attention. We cannot continue the wicked policy of maintaining a culture that devours its people. It makes no sense to put our people under a perpetual culture of suffering. They say we should go back to our roots. Which roots I might ask? The roots of disease and inter tribal fighting? The roots of spending months to hunt when we can make a kill with a single bullet in a nano-second? The roots of no schools? The roots of trading human beings for gun powder and cheap drinks? The gems that shine from our roots will persist effortlessly. They?ll persist because they work and obviously make sense. I think it borders on defeatism to ask anyone to go back to his or her roots in search of outdates practices. We?ve come a long way and we are not turning back. We can reflect on our past to guide our sashay forward. But we must never go back to the past of ritual murders and incurable diseases.

The next time someone tells you that your culture will die if you make surgical changes, tell them to take a long hike on a short plank. Better still, call them a bald faced lair. Those parts of our culture and traditions that work to animate progress, we must keep at all cost. Those parts that continue to weigh on our progressive efforts, we must exorcise for good. There is nothing to fear but fear itself my brothers and sisters. We risk no perish but position ourselves to gain if we muster the courage to make the critical changes that will drag our society forward. Stop caviling! This mental slavery must come to a screeching end. Emancipate yourself from mental slavery! No one can do it but yourself.

NB: I don?t give them hell, I just tell the truth and they think it is hell.? By Harry Truman

Nii Lantey Okunka Bannerman (Also known of the Double edge sword)

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.