Opinion: Is the African culture really dead?

by Olaniyan Israel


Young men and women now treat their cultural ways of dressing with utmost disdain. They probably share the view that it is local and parochial.

“Our culture is dead” says the Yoruba boy who probably prefers a shirt, trousers and a tie to his native ‘aso-oke’. The Igbo girl who still tolerates culture says “it is changing”. The Hausa boy who spends a month in USA, and afterwards all he ever wants to become is a Hausa-American. Funny you might think! But then, how interestingly sad this has become. If the African youths, who are the so called leaders of tomorrow, see our culture as extinct, then I bet you- in a matter of decades, our culture might as well be dead, if not buried already! This piece seeks to bring to light the various shortcomings of the African youths in relation to the near contemptuous treatment they accord their cultural heritage, by depicting the Nigerian youth as a character example.

Going through primary and secondary school, one description of the concept, Culture has remained vehemently vivid in my memory and will remain ever still– ‘Culture is the way of life of a society, nation or ethnic group’, my teachers would say. However, one cannot help but doubt the logic and veracity of this description after a close scrutiny of the Nigerian situation. Our seemingly hopeless situation is made worse by the pervading and saturating effect of westernisation.

Culture is one of the most important concepts that both personally and generally affect all. In the real sense, it is supposed to be relative and peculiar as it distinguishes one human group from the other. There is therefore no gainsaying the fact that culture is adaptive and flexible. However, the extent of this adaptability and flexibility is what differentiate one culture from the other. It is that thin line which separates one society from the other. It is supposed to be stable, enduring and long-lasting. The Nigerian situation ultimately speaks the otherwise.

The average Nigerian youth whether Igbo, Yoruba, Ijaw or even Hausa has now adopted for all intents and purposes, the English Language as their Lingua Franca; even to the detriment of their local dialects. It is even sadder that nowadays, parents are even the ones encouraging this. In their quest to westernise their children, they forget their roots. Their various local dialects are left to lie fallow like waste lands. It would be shocking to note that majority of children born in the 21st Century finds it hard to speak their local dialects. Not to mention the few in the older generation. Culture is not a genetic trait; it is learned or better still, socially inherited. When parents have now refused to speak their local dialects, or to even take time to teach their children, how else would they learn it?

It was certainly not a lie when Williams Shakespeare observed far back in the 16th Century that ‘Fashion wears out more apparel than the man.’ The Nigerian culture as regards clothing is often deemed as traditional and old-fashioned by the youths. This came as a result of the unholy advent of westernisation. Since then, it is sad to note that very few things have gotten better and a lot taken a turn for the worse. Various cultural hairstyles have now gone into compulsory extinction. What we have now is a total departure from our cultural heritage. Very few ladies do these hairstyles anymore and the few who even do them are mostly ashamed of showcasing it.

Young men and women now treat their cultural ways of dressing with utmost disdain. They probably share the view that it is local and parochial. Jeans, suits, T-shirts now permeate our streets. Hardly will you see a young boy put on his native attire, except where he is coerced to do so. When they even do, it is usually tailored to look like a shirt and pant trousers, that one would be forced to ask- Why not sew a tie to match?

Culture dictates the beliefs, values and morals of a particular society. The Nigerian culture, even with the different ethnic and tribal groups still favours a very high standard of morality. Children are trained to know this very early in their childhood. This also has not only changed, it is almost extinct. Westernisation has obviously robbed some of their senses. Children now talk back at their parents. Some have even gone farther to the extent of threatening to beat up their parents, no thanks to the western culture.

The chastity of a lady and her virtues has long been thrown into the dust bin. Moral decadence is on an all-time increase, and most likely would continue on that trend. Morality they say is culture-influenced. It is nationally sectional and internationally relative, but not universal. A vast majority of the Nigerian youths have abandoned our beliefs, values and morals for westernisation. For instance, some ladies feel they are not pretty enough until they expose virtually their entire breast for all to see. How pathetic! What happened to chastity? What has happened to virtuousness?

It’s amazing how delicious a bowl of eba’ and ‘egusi’ with goat meat can be. Yet some find it difficult, or are even ashamed of their local meals. They probably cannot order this in eateries. Instead they prefer fried rice, ice creams, salad, snacks etc. if the youths are ashamed of their heritage, if they can’t be the vanguard for the promotion of our culture. Tell me, who will sell Nigeria to the world? Who will publicise our continental heritage?

At this juncture, it would be necessary to state that the Nigerian culture also has its eccentricities. However, we should not forget this- it is our culture. It is our way of life. No matter how we try to hide or run from it, it will remain ours. It is that which defines us. Most importantly, it is that which makes us unique. Even at the height of the western condescension on our cultural heritage, I have not failed to notice their interest and peculiar enthusiasm to understand our culture. Or why else would they leave their lands to sojourn among us. Why would the Yoruba culture be a course of study in American Universities?

Let us embrace our culture. It is not possible to be ashamed of who you are, because it is who you are! With the way things are going, the Nigerian society is becoming increasingly westernised at the expense of our culture. The youths are obviously lost in the malicious labyrinth and cul-de-sac of westernisation. The adults are not any better than we are. It is certain we are all headed for a crash, if something urgent is not done to remedy this situation.

If five out every ten Nigerian child finds it difficult to speak, or cannot even speak any of their local dialects, then we are in trouble. If this trend continues, in a matter of decades our dialects would be on the verge of dying. They would have become ‘endangered species’ on the threshold of a total extinction. Or better-still would be dead and will have become an interesting historical monument displayed in museums and exhibition halls for ancient dialects. Then, one should not find it hard to concur with the Yoruba boy on the first visit to his home town, dressed in a three piece suit that indeed, OUR CULTURE IS DEAD.


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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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