During the vacation of my second year at university, I paid a courtesy visit to one of my favourite paternal aunts.
Upon arriving, I found another beautiful female visitor (or so I thought) who had arrived before me and she had already been seated in the same sitting room where I was welcomed. As my aunt was still busy cooking (in a kitchen that is detached from the main house), it technically meant that the two visitors (strangers) were to remain stuck together for a while.
Thankfully, the food would soon be ready and the visitor and I were served. Most people will be familiar with that method of serving two people where the main food is put on one plate but both people are given separate bowels containing the sauce. Again, there I was, faced with the anxiety and nervousness of sharing food with a strange person of the opposite sex.
Inevitably, I spent more time talking to a stranger than I did to my aunt. Shortly after eating, I announced my intentions to return to school as it was getting late. As she was escorting me to the main road, my aunt suddenly asked: “How did the conversation with your “friend” go?”
Apparently, the person, who in my mind was a stranger, was presumed to be a “friend” of mine already! It was at this stage that I discovered that my meeting with a female stranger wasn’t just a coincidence. It was all purposefully pre-planned and staged.
My apathy towards the well-intentioned arrangements of my aunt is one revealing example of the cultural disconnection of several African elites, especially those living in urban areas. Although the cultural disconnection starts at an earlier stage, the signs are more vivid after one has joined a tertiary institution.
It is at that stage that most individuals tend to become more assertive and distinctive about whom they want to be, where they want to be and whom they want to be with. Paradoxically, it is at that same stage that many family members want to exert some more pressure on the individual with the intention of having some kind of influence on where, what and how the individual should live. And this includes the kind of marriage partner they should have.
Unfortunately, it seems that as a result of interacting with other schoolmates who are also mostly divorced from their cultural and traditional demands, the formally educated people form new ‘families’, ‘tribes’ and ‘clans’ to counteract the families, tribes and clans that gave them life.
This new family consists of people with the same interests, same likes, same dislikes, same fake makeup, same fake body parts, same slangs, same fake accents, vocabulary and diction that are commonly devoid of any proper grammar, syntax and meaningful sentences.
It is perhaps for this reason that the preparations for most ceremonies such as weddings of most urban elites are arranged within the cities and are attended mainly by the “new family and clan members”.
The original families which gave life to the individual are rarely consulted but are instead instructed on the specific dates, time and venue of the weddings. It is perhaps because of this kind of alienation that it is common for real aunties, parents and grandparents to boycott the weddings of their children.
Subsequently, aware of the fact that the real family members may boycott the weddings, the individuals are not without a backup plan. There is now a tendency to hire substitute family members including siblings, parents and grandparents who work as makeshift family members during most ceremonies. Suddenly, it is not surprising to attend a wedding where none of the guests is related to the bride or the groom!
Of course, I am not so deluded so as to hope for a complete revival of “African cultures”; instead, my intention is to echo Davidson Basil’s assertion (in The Black Man’s Burden) that while Africa cannot return to its past, there is still value in considering how some aspects of the African past can provide solutions to our current problems.
Obviously, the African traditions may not have answers to some modern challenges such as how to recover data when a smartphone crashes. Nonetheless, the core challenges facing Africa, such as famine, climate change, and socio-economic conflicts are not without an African precedence from which a solution or two can be borrowed.
The writer is a social worker in Alberta- Canada.