TRADITIONAL AFRICAN SOCIETIES AND THE COMING OF THE EUROPEANS
Temple Chima Ubochi
Monday, February 11, 2008
Happiness belongs to the self-sufficient (Aristotle) the Colonies . . . are yet babes that cannot live
without sucking the breasts of their mother-Cities. .. .(James Harrington)
One is easily fooled by that which one loves.(Moliere)
During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. (George Orwell)
Though thy face is glossed with specious art thou retainest the cunning fox beneath thy vapid breast.
The smooth speeches of the wicked are full of treachery. (Phaedrus)
He carries a stone in one hand, and offers bread with the other. (Plautus)
With one hand he put a penny in the urn of poverty, and with the other took a shilling out. (Robert Pollok)
They fool me to the top of my bent.--I will come by and by. (William Shakespeare)
Before the advent of colonialism, Traditional African Societies were self sufficient; there was no out-of-hand wants, needs and nobody went hungry. The societies then were communalistic in outlook; nobody was left on his or her own. The societies produced enough food and gave enough services to its citizens. Each one of them then (society) took care of and maintained its territory as it deemed fit. One of the things obtained in Traditional African Societies and in fact still obtainable in a few communities uptill now was/is: When a mother has no garri ( for instance) to prepare for her family, she will borrow some cups of garri from another woman in the village, which she will repay when she processes her cassava into garri. The women used to have thrift (a savings and loan association) where they contributed money according to their abilities; from there, every one of them having financial problem can borrow money. The contribution is shared at the end of a period and each woman gets according to her contribution. There was also trade by barter; where a woman exchanges her farm produce for other food items and vice versa. Age Grades and Peer Groups were prevalent in Traditional African Societies and helped their members whenever the need arose; they helped their members in building houses, turn-by-turn farming, serving guests whenever one of their own had a marriage or any other ceremonies, they helped in chastising and correcting their wayward member(s), in fact their roles then can´t be overemphasised.
These made life much easier then than what is obtainable now.
The coming of the Europeans changed all that. First, came the so-called missionaries as a prelude to colonialism. Bismarck put it succinctly clear by saying that "the missionaries preceded the colonialists" and that the missionaries came with the Bible in their left hands and exploited the people with their right hands. The missionaries were fraudulent in their attitudes, deceitful in their preaching, they stole in the name of God; it didn't take Africans long to discover they exploitative tendencies, but, not until the damages had been done.
The Europeans said that they came to civilise the "bush people" and to convert the "heathens"; that they brought Enlightenment and Christianity to hitherto backward people. That was a stupid saying from the Europeans. What the Europeans brought about whether through slavery, missionary enterprises or colonialism were mainly pains to the Africans, Africans were never "backward" before the advent of the Europeans, in fact, African societies were better organised than the European societies prior to the advent of the Europeans to Africa. The African societies were almost crime-free as any body caught committing crime was ostracised and that shame served as a deterrent to would be crime-committers. The African gods were then very powerful, in that they never wasted time in striking any offender dead; the gods used then thunder as one of the agents of death to evil doers, the society was then cleansed of evil, people were saying the truth knowing fully well that they wpuld incur the wrath of the gods when they became economical with the truth. Now, the African gods are no longer powerful like before, in fact the Europeans came and stole some of the African gods and artefacts with the connivance of some Africans who helped them neutralise the powers of those gods before they took them away. Go to museums in New York, London, Berlin, Paris etc, you will see some of those stolen gods and artefacts in the form of wooden carvings or sculptures.
The Africans gods are no longer powerful as they were, bad people have weakened the hitherto vengeful African gods; in those olden days, the gods were appeased with goats, fowls and most of the sacrifices to them were made with these animals and they worked well for the good of the societies, but, now as people have gotten greedy, so have some of the gods too; goats and fowls are no longer being accepted by them as sacrificial animals. Those gods are now being appeased only with human blood and human beings are being used for sacrifices and rituals and the gods have allowed the evil ones to hold the societies to ransom. "Civilization" led the people that are supposed to serve the gods to abandon them and Traditional African cultures like masquerade and Age grade initiation ceremonies are almost extinct, save for the few communities that seldom hold them. Having said the above, let me make it very clear that there is only one omnipotent, omnipresence and omniscience God that supersedes all other gods.
Think of the physical and psychological damages the slave trade wrought on African and Africans; slavery took an estimated 30 million Africans (mostly the best) away from the continent and that was when the underdevelopment of Africa started, because, those that Africa was robbed of, were the strongest and the most intelligent. When the slave trade was abolished, the Europeans decided to continue enslaving the Africans through other means. Then came colonialism, then the hitherto existing African societies that were self-sufficient and well organised, lost all that. The colonialists created townships and cities and people were forced to leave the rural life they knew too well and were happy with, for the unknown and uncertain township life, to work for the colonial masters. The African people started losing their identity and self respect. The life in townships brought hardship to those that were forced to move into them, in that they were forced to be "on their own" without relations to help carry-on the burden of life.
The insatiable appetite for wealth and the inequalities brought about by the Europeans made the society to be un-caring again, different from what was obtained in Traditional African Societies. Now, a person would like to own the whole village or town so that others will be "worshipping" him. Now, everybody is just like an island, on his or her own; some people now are even happy when their neighbours are suffering or are having problems. Gone are the days of love, gone are the days of happiness the way we all once knew. The only thing that can emancipate us is to bring back the love and happiness we once shared or else we will continue losing our sense of direction and our humanness will continue diminishing. What good is a life without happiness, what good is wealth without satisfaction and peace of mind? The Europeans brought a useless style of living to Africa; what have suits, ties, women wearing trousers and frying their hairs in the name of perming etc got to do with enlightenment? African culture is being allowed to die, In Europe, you have the carnivals, they brought to us the churches, but, they are not attending their imposing churches, you see most of them in churches only during christmas services.
Some of us are displaying wealth in public glare, but, have failed to secretly visit the motherless babies homes, orphanages, homes for the less privileged, to make donations. Some of us are throwing food away into the dustbins after getting our stomachs filled to the brim, but, forgot that around us are people and most importantly, children that are going hungry for days that would have been grateful to get something to eat from us. At least, we can save the food we waste, cook as we can eat and give out the remaining to those around us not having anything to eat for days. Africans weren't so uncaring before.
The Igbo Organisation I belong to, the Nigeria Igbo Congress Bonn (www.nicbonn.org), made donations to some motherless babies homes in Anambra State last December (just a follow up to the ones we made not too long ago to motherless babies homes in Aba, Orlu and Awka and flood victims in Mozambique). We sent the gifts through our Chairman who went home then and according to him, he was told at one of the motherless babies' homes that the children there haven't eaten anything for almost a week because of no food. Come to think of it, children who are not more than six years of age going hungry for days in Nigeria where many people are conspicuously displaying wealth or money as if it is easier to lay hands on the Naira than to get "toilet paper". There is madness in the air in Nigeria. Some of us attend occasions and launching ceremonies to display our wealth so as to be the talk of the town, but, will not give a kobo to
those going to bed on empty stomachs.
Now the role of the community and the family in raising up a child has been compromised. What is obtained in Europe and America is that the state has taken over the role of the family and is not playing it well; because, the state can't be at every family at the same time and can't handle peculiar family's problems with a general solution. That informs the problems the European and American societies are having where a greater percentage of their youths are wayward and delinquent. In Traditional African Societies, every adult member of a village had the right to admonish a wayward kid anywhere and anytime without incurring the wrath of the parents; in fact there is a saying that "a child belongs to all and should be raised by all". But, in Europe and North America, kids have gone nuclear up to the extent of calling the Police for their parents whenever they are admonished for wrong behaviour(s); when a mother or a father flogs a child to correct him or her, the child in the western world has the right to call the police for the parents and they might lose the custody of that child, if that persists. Parents that correct their kid with a little smack on the buttock seem to love that child and don't want that kid to go astray (a corrective measure), but western societies see it differently. That has made parents to be relenting in the efforts to raise-up their children the way they want them to be and that's one of the reasons why the society is in decay. Few African societies (big cities) have started towing the western societies´ line in this regard.
In summary, African societies prior to the coming of the Europeans were such that rejoicing and sorrowing were shared things; when a member of a community or village had cause to rejoice, the whole village shared in his joy and when a member was in sorrow, the people shared in his pains also. The Europeans brought about the senseless pursuit of wealth now an in-thing in African societies and the classification of the people of a society into classes based on how much wealth each person has. What the Europeans did during the slave era was to decimate the African population by taking away millions of Africans. During colonialism, what they did was to cart away African natural resources to power their industrial revolution (using forced African free labour). The African resources stolen by trick by the Europeans are what helped developed their societies.
The European created artificial countries; they lumped together societies or people that had nothing in common (different cultures, religions or outlooks) and called them countries just for their selfish conveniences. That was how Nigeria and almost all the African countries were created and that's why we have been unable to function as a country. Prior to 1914, the northern and southern parts of what is today Nigeria had nothing in common, but, was amalgamated by the Brits without first of all working out how those different societies could live together peacefully. That blunder has been tormenting and haunting us till this minute. This makes it more imperative that a constitutional conference be called to discuss how Nigeria can move forward; at this point, there is no hope that Nigeria will make it through as a nation unless an urgent action(s) is being initiated to make all have a sense of belonging in it.
The colonialists instituted exploitation as a state policy and the post-colonial African leaders have been carrying it out till this day. When the colonialists gave false political independence (they withheld the economic independence) to the African countries they created, they initiated neo-colonialism; using the African heads of government and the multi-national corporations in exploiting the people for their selfish ends. That's why the Europeans have hands in choosing African leaders that will serve their interests, that's why the multi-national oil companies are only interested in exploration of oil and cart away the profits to their home countries without caring about the environmental hazards they are subjecting the people of the areas where oil is being explored, to. That's why African raw materials, such as palm oil and kernels, cocoa, groundnut etc are bought by the Europeans at give-away prices, they (Europeans) ship those products to their factories and bring them back to us as finished products at exorbitant prices. This is colonialism by other means. The African societies haven't been what they used to be since the European´ onslaught on them. Some of us would have loved the African societies as they were vis-à-vis what they are today