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Saturday, 25 October 2014

THE DEATH OF THE TRIBE IN AFRICA



 I trace my lineage to the Bantu people who originally came from present day Niger Delta Basin. If I discount any reference to an Egyptian origin, I then share a similar history with millions of people around Africa, which is unfortunate since there is no sense of belonging that arises from this story.

Embu Dancers
Bushmen hunting

There is no Bantu culture that I know of. Maybe because it eroded long before the great migrations began centuries ago. What I know of is the tribal culture that I was born into. For this piece I wanted to investigate the idea of tribal identity since the human being is a social being that seeks to identify within a group of people.

When the word tribe is mentioned, a flood of archaic similes comes to mind. Mainly because the western culture that my generation has lactated on associates it with a bygone frozen past. You see men with spears, naked children, people living in caves and so forth. And guess what, people don't see a common human past, they see Africa, which is one of the last reference points for these mental pictures.

People will always strive to explain the world around them. And while the truth is always more available to those who fervently seek it, most people will settle for half-truths, mythology or plain misinformation. And this wasn’t limited to medieval Europe and their flat world. Today you and I walk around with beliefs, points of views and assertions about certain topics that are embarrassing at most. There is no one person who is a bastion of all knowledge.
 
The man with all the answers
When I was growing up my parents tried halfheartedly to inspire me to follow certain tribal rituals and learn a tribal language (my parents came from different tribes).  I believe it was a halfhearted attempt because my parents’ crop in the 80’s were educated, building careers and in certain instances living in communities that were not necessarily tribal due to rural-urban migration. The fortitude of the tribe to them had begun to lose its luster.

With the advent of economic migration, the “traditional” tribe as we knew it is slowly dying. Some tribes have already given up and many in my grandfather’s generation sigh hopelessly as they witness the destruction of tribal ties, rituals, culture and languages that took centuries to orient the identity of the tribe. Others have maintained a persistent wall of resistance like the Santhal,in India who marry within the tribe to maintain a tribal identity, and when there is evidence of cultural erosion, they result to violence to maintain some level of control and “sanity”. 

source: ledna.org Addis Ababa


Honor killing, rampant in the Middle East, North Africa and Western Asia, is a more severe form of violent reaction to the progressively eroding tribal culture that this part of the world has held to over centuries. It doesn't help when success is seen in the lives of people who are embracing capitalism and its associated western culture.

The Maasai of East Africa have managed to maintain their culture I believe partly due to the initiation process that young men go through together and their membership to an age-set for the entirety of their life. Another factor is their self-image, “Maasai reigned supreme, all powerful, confident of the status as God's chosen people, contemptuous of lesser beings. It is perhaps this very attitude which has kept them from entering the modem world" (Saibull1981:20).

Source: www.adamwoodhams.com Maasai men
Around the world this “healthy” self-image has allowed the Jewish nation to flourish in every sphere of society, Japan to advance through the 20th century to become highly industrialized and even 1930’s Germany to industrialize in preparation for a conquest of Europe.

But unlike the Jewish nation, which is at the forefront of the cultural movement, the Maasai are constantly under attack and their fortress wall is being rammed by the collective strength of global economic advancement.  The outlook by most indications is grim.

 As tribal elders, healers and so forth are coming to the end of their lives around the world, large amounts of knowledge locked up in their memories will spill into oblivion.  There is a treasure trove of knowledge in what humanity has used to survive for thousands of years that could potentially be lost in this single generation if it is not documented.  Knowledge in ecology that could save us in the future could be lost, flora and fauna that was used by healers that could potentially save humanity in the future, and so forth.

Language death is on the prowl and hundreds of languages are quickly dying around the world. It is estimated that by the end of the 21st century, 90% of languages will have died.  Is there benefit in homogeneity? Or will it stifle innovation and diversity? The Bible talks about a powerful people who collectively chose to achieve a goal, in building the Tower of Babel. Is this what we are going back to? Will this create world dominance and destroy any form of contrary thought.

Tower of Babel Rendition.

As far back as history notes political systems and such groupings have used the tribal sentiment to push their agenda across. In Africa, as in the rest of the world, leaders have been voted into power based on narrow tribal interests .

While globalization is changing these sentiments, I believe in the near future, the needs of a “traditional” tribe will not be as clear-cut as they were in the past.


The dynamics of a 21st century tribe, or what I call the ‘future tribe’ is one that is best explained by Seth Gordin . The Internet was supposed to homogenize the world by bringing us together, but with inter-connectivity, then comes the ability to ‘search’ (a powerful ability), connect and collaborate with people with similar interests.  And this is what social media is facilitating.  

The winning technology solution of the future is one which will connect people, affirm them and mimic the attributes and structures of a formidable existing traditional tribe despite ones location around the world. There is a lot that such solutions can learn from the Maasai and other tribes that have survived and even flourished despite globalization.

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