Writing the Struggle – Culture defines a people’s history

Amilca Cabral’s speech points at what Chinua Achebe said about Africa being at a cultural crossroads largely because there is a denial by most people on the continent of their beliefs and norms.
Cabral argues that by denying these tenets of culture, the African also denies his history because ‘culture is the vigorous manifestation on the ideological or idealist plane of the physical and historical reality of the society’.
In simple terms, he says once a people discards their culture, they also end up with no history because history is a sum total of cultural activities of a people.
Generally, a people, which adopts or adapts to a foreign culture, allows itself to be easily dominated and abused.
He writes: “Culture is simultaneously the fruit of a people’s history and a determinant of history, by the positive or negative influence which it exerts on the evolution of relationships between man and his environment, among men or groups of men within a society, as well as among different societies.”
Furthermore, he says: “Ignorance of this fact may explain the failure of several attempts at foreign domination ‑ as well as the failure of some international liberation movements.”
According to Cabral, foreign domination is impossible without “the negation of the historical process of the dominated people by means of violently usurping the free operation of the process of development of the productive forces”, which means the relationship between “man and nature, between man and his environment. Relationships and type of relationships among the individual or collective components of a society”.
“To speak of these is to speak of history, but it is also to speak of culture,” Cabral further argues. “Whatever may be the ideological or idealistic characteristics of cultural expression, culture is an essential element of the history of a people.
“Culture is, perhaps, the product of this history just as the flower is the product of a plant. Like history, or because it is history, culture has as its material base the level of the productive forces and the mode of production.
“Culture plunges its roots into the physical reality of the environmental humus in which it develops, and it reflects the organic nature of the society, which may be more or less influenced by external factors.
“History allows us to know the nature and extent of the imbalance and conflicts (economic, political and social) which characterise the evolution of a society; culture allows us to know the dynamic syntheses which have been developed and established by social conscience to resolve these conflicts at each stage of its evolution, in the search for survival and progress,” he explained.
Background this to some scenarios in Africa today and you will find that leaders who stick to their cultural beliefs are regarded as backward.
One case in point is the gay issue which has caused so much suffering yet in African culture such practice is not encouraged.
Most constitutions, which do not recognise gay rights, are considered unfriendly while leaders who speak against homosexuality have borne the brunt of bad labelling.
It’s even worse when any African country that does not recognise gay rights is punished by having whatever funding withdrawn. Malawi suffered for arresting a gay couple using an old legislation enacted by the British during the colonial period. Today, we have several civic organisations and leaders who advocate for the legalisation of homosexuality in defiance of the African culture. And this is just one way African culture is being subdued and in the process history is distorted.
Another fine example is how people dress. Very few countries on the continent can boastfully show pride in national dress. The majority have adopted Western mode of dress, which, in most cases, is being abused.
So while we may pride ourselves for fighting to be free, in essence Africa still has a long struggle to make its people love themselves and keep those positive elements of their culture alive. By so doing, they will also keep history alive.
Cabral argues: “A reconversion of minds ‑ of mental set ‑ is thus indispensable to the true integration of people into the liberation movement. Such reconversion ‑ re-Africanisation, in our case ‑ may take place before the struggle, but it is completed only during the course of the struggle, through daily contact with the popular masses in the communion of sacrifice required by the struggle.”

February 2013
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