There is an interesting conversation I saw on Facebook today. It is about the mockery and hostility between Africans of various cultural backgrounds, and towards Africans who do not quite fit the stereotype of what a “real” African is. Specifically, Africans with a diaspora background.
The question of which African culture will accept you is an interesting one. What is more interesting, in my opinion, is the inevitable change that all cultures in this world experience over time. Consider for example pre-colonial Africa. That is Africa before there was a Nigeria, or a Ghana or an Egypt as we know them today. The delineation between Africans back then was quite different from what we have today. There was no such thing as a Nigerian, before the British arrived in the region. Even the Yoruba ethnic group at the time, did not see itself as a homogeneous group. No, they were about 16 distinct Yoruba kingdoms formed around city states in that region. Think, the Spartan city state in with is now Greece.
The point is, everything cultural is ever-changing. No matter how hard people try to cling to “true Nigerianness”, or “true Rwandanness”, or “true Africanness”, these are nothing but constantly morphing concepts. And these changes occur from generation to generation. The Senegalese of today, are different Senegalese compared to the era of the parents, their grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on.
Every culture that exists today, had a starting point, and has an ending point. What is left of the Roman Empire today? Italy. But Italians themselves were only a small part of the Empire. Sicilians in the South of Italy were a distinct culture. That’s all Italy now.
I think people underestimate, or are completely oblivious of the impact that globalization and the Internet have on cultures and traditions. The fact that we no longer have to embark on a sea-voyage of several months just to get from Rwanda to the UK has many very real consequences on culture. Even the fact that we can “see” and interact with the UK from anywhere in the world, just by opening our web browsers. The influences that various cultures have on each other today are much more direct, much more intense, and much more immediate than ever before in human history.
Every generation of Africans is the beginning of the next chapter in human history. Especially, Africans with a strong non-African influence in their backgrounds and perspectives. All these African accents are not static. Even the so-called Nigerian accent, varies quite widely within Nigeria. The Nigerian accent of a Yoruba is very very different for the Nigerian accent of a Hausa. Listen to Pres. Buhari’s speeches for a stereotypical Nigerian Hausa accent , and the speeches of former Pres. Obasanjo for a stereotypical Yoruba accent. Both their accents are somewhat old school and distinctive of the era they went to school in. But that’s the point, isn’t it? Accents, a part of language, change over time.
Trying or wanting to fit in with existing cultures, groups, norms etc., undermines our understanding that we are products of cultural evolution. We can’t fight it, neither can anyone else. So instead of trying to shape yesterday, let’s try to shape tomorrow. I for one rather like not quite fitting in anywhere, yet seeing more and more people in the same situation and realizing we are growing the next step. Something new. 🙂
Image credits: Namibia/Himba – License: Creative Commons CC0. Ancient African map – License: Creative Commons CC0 1.0