The Path Back To Our Roots

By Jacob Otieno

African culture, is a culture of togetherness, respect, peace, strong work ethics and love. It is in every definition a beautiful culture, unfortunately every generation kills it bit by bit. In the Traditional African Society our ancestors upheld many values, principles and virtues, which the average youth today has brand-ed “old fashioned”.


But who is to blame? Us! Yes, you and I are to blame, and not the influence of the Western world. We foolishly and blindly pick whatever is thrown our way without firstly evaluating them to see if it will have a negative of positive impact on our culture.


I’m not trying to completely disregard western culture. Western culture has got a lot to offer, both positive and negative.


Dr. Mahathir Mohamad former Prime Minister of Malaysia recognized that western cultures provided developing countries with both advantages and disadvantages, the key was embracing the positives. During the 2012 UST Neo-Centennial Lecture in Philippines, Mahathir warned that the developing world was experiencing a “collapse of values” because of the liberal democracy being promoted by the West. However, noted that democracy principally provides an “easy way” to change governments—no revolution, no civil wars, no Arab spring. The wishes of the people changes or maintain governments through their votes.

The problem is that when the door opens up to the good, the bad and ugly also gets in...

In Kenya, western education has played a major role in developing its economy, increasing food production, improving life expectancy, and making most of our country accessible. The cool phones, computers and all forms of technology, are all thanks to the foreigners.


However, the problem comes in when we fail to sieve through what they send our way. We seem to grab everything headed our way, be it good or bad. It is true that change is inevitable and part and parcel of life, but change has to be positive to be worth it.


Certainly African civilization has really got a great deal to learn from the more technologically and industrially advanced western civilization.


The problem is that when the door opens up to the good, the bad and ugly also gets in. A classic example is the subject of language. Many a time Kenyan youths shun vernacular speaking in public. For crying out loud, vernacular is our mother tongue, the same language that our fathers and forefathers spoke. Not the foreign languages being adopted by Africans living abroad. Kenyans of the colonial era took up English because of the need to communicate with their masters and bargain for independence, which they fortunately acquired. Now with our regained independence, after 55 years of being independent, some people still consider English as a tribute of honour, shunning our very own as shaming!


Disrespect has crept into our society and has become the order of the day. Not so long ago young people would proudly give up their seat to an elderly person in a matatu (poda-poda or minibus), today we see them struggling, and we look the other way.


A mother asks her daughter to help peel the potatoes, and what she gets is “Come-on mum, I just did my nails” or a grandmother asks for a glass of water, only to be told “Don’t you know where it is?” The Gwere people of Uganda have a proverb that says “Eibega tirikira mutwe” (The shoulder can never grow taller than the head.) This proverb indicates that, the elders are always wiser that the young. Elders should be recognized and respected.


In traditional African Societies, elders had power to curse and bless. As a result they could not use their words haphazardly, and the power of their word was taken seriously. Western culture especially the entertainment industry has undeniably had the biggest impact on us.


Violent movies have sort of legitimized violence in our society, and rap and rock music has done the same for sex, drugs and crime. What we fail to understand is that these things are supposed to be taken at face value, but instead we try hard to emulate our entertainment “role models”.


Our fascination with what doesn’t belong to us is decimating our traditional African culture and values.


Western culture seems like some kind of hurricane that is rapidly eroding our cultural values, principles and virtues. A culture that is eating away at our social fabric. Those before us fought to keep and preserve our culture, yet we warmly welcome what they worked against. We expelled political colonization but we now naively embrace social colonization. Let us be the change we want to see in the world today. Let’s instill these values in our children while they are still young.


A Swahili saying goes; “Samaki mkunje angali mbichi” (bend a fish while it is still fresh/wet). Let’s teach and mould our children while they are still young, let’s address and change circumstances before it’s too late. For a change it would be kind of cool to see African youths in their designer jeans and T-shirts, acting African and not trying to imitate a music commercial gimmick like Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber. So if I don’t meet you on the way back to my roots, I hope I find you there.

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