Second in a series of
The Devils' Annexe
The Cultures and Tribalism of Africa
Sidney & Shirley Robbins
‘A man genuinely in search of peace and happiness will know to understand the customs and beliefs of his fellow-man, so as to avoid causing him hurt. For in the degree that man brings happiness to others, so does he drink from the gourd of happiness.’
Extract from Tribe to Township - Dr Peter Becker.
Many of the ills of this blighted continent could have been averted if an early study had been made of the ingrained cultures of Africa. Unless one has some knowledge of their customs and cultures, it is impossible to understand the impact of these on its people.
The Cultures and Customs of Africa
We present a brief review of the general customs of many of the people of sub-Saharan Africa.
Tribal culture permeates every fabric of African society. It influences the family, the tribe, and it reaches to the core of the political system - the party and government. The paradoxes and misplaced loyalties, which at times may appear perplexing and even inexplicable to the Western mind, owe their origins to legacies of the ancient past.
It is a social structure that has its roots in the home, which was the hub of African society. It was based on the principles of strict rules of etiquette; the correct way to behave in front of elders and superiors; civility, cleanliness, self-respect, unselfishness and sexual propriety. But entrenched is the custom of 'lobola' which accounts for much of the burgeoning population. Learn its implications.
A subject that frequently exercises our minds is whether Christianity, and indeed democracy, has been a blessing or a curse to Africa? In fact, have European customs and culture, Western systems of government and the attitudes of missionaries – all of whom regarded the ways and customs of the black tribal people as primitive and barbaric – been a blessing to Africa?
We are convinced that many of the ills of this blighted continent could have been averted if an early study had been made of the ingrained cultures of Africa. Unless one has some knowledge of their customs and cultures, it is impossible to understand the impact of these on its people. If Western politicians, and indeed Church prelates, would take time off to study this concept, Africa might be spared much pain in the future. Understanding means respecting their culture; treating people with dignity; and most importantly, with empathy devoid of the sickly condescending attitudes that are all too common among many whites when dealing with black people.
Tribalism in contemporary Africa
If the causes of all the problems in Africa were to be reduced to one word, the vast majority of Africans, as well as non-Africans, would opt for ‘Colonialism’. Then they would blame its sibling, Neo-colonialism. However, a more accurate assessment of the causes of the problems in Africa could be reduced to one word, it would be ‘Tribalism’.
While African politicians fulminate against the effects of colonialism, the one subject that is meticulously avoided is the effect of tribalism in Africa. The fact is, that in other quarters, it is often cited as the biggest single obstacle in a continent searching for democracy, peace and development. Having stated this, one is left with an intractable situation. Should it be abolished?
Keith B Richburg, who was Africa bureau chief for the Washington Post in Nairobi from 1991 to 1994, wrote a best seller called ‘Out of Africa. A Black Man Confronts Africa.’ He wrote: ‘… the single biggest problem on a continent searching for democracy and development is tribalism. To blame Africa’s ills on tribalism is a cliché, to be sure. But like many clichés, this one has a basis in truth.’