Daily Archives: August 1, 2006

On Throwing Away The Trappings of Colonization

We are not African, and not European…

Dr. Nicolette Bethel from Bahamas makes a few points on her blog with her piece On What Culture Isn’t. A few paragraphs from this excellent read…

So what is the solution? Well, I’ll tell you what it’s not. It isn’t reacting in a wholesale fashion to colonization by throwing away everything we imagine to be the trappings of that experience. The blackest of us is not African, and the whitest of us is not European. The Bahamas has been cooking up different cultures since at least 1492, and those five hundred years have created an interesting and special stew. It’s a stew in which classical music has been simmering — and developing — side by side with the vocal harmonies, the call-and-response patterns, and the polyrhythms of Africa. It’s a stew in which the dances of the aristocracy have married the drums and the footwork of the servants. It’s a stew where the straw arts of the Native Americans converse with the basketry of the Africans and the headwear of the Europeans, and where the oral arts of us all have pulled from Haiti and the USA as well as England and Africa.

The answer doesn’t lie in claiming everything that appears “African” either, for nowhere is everything entirely good. When Chinua Achebe wrote his classic novel, Things Fall Apart, his purpose was to criticize both the English and the Ibo people of Nigeria. He condemned the English colonizers’ destruction of traditional Ibo society while at the same time criticizing those bits of Ibo culture that he regarded as wrong — the killing of twins, for example, the treatment of women, certain punishments given to wrongdoers. Today, African women are speaking out about age-old traditions as well, from female circumcision to the deplorable habit of fathers and grandfathers to take their female relatives’ virginity.

What culture is requires serious study, requires the recognition, naming, and celebration of all that is good about us. And so we need to focus our eyes inwards, for the habit of looking beyond our shores for things that are “good” is a colonial one. Not until we can name our strengths and address our weaknesses will we know what culture is; but in the meantime, we need to make sure we know what culture isn’t.

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