riting the Struggle – Our condemned cultures 2

In his 1959 paper delivered at the Congress of Black African Writers, FRANTZ FANON talks about how the absence of national cultures also affects the struggle for liberation in Africa and how the few countries and peoples who cling onto remnants of their culture are made redundant by disinterest and non-participation of the majority. This, writes WONDER GUCHU, still affects Africa and the African today
Culture is like glue that keeps a people together. That is why Chinese, Koreans and even Americans have strong sense of nationality than most of us in Africa.
Apart from gluing a people together regardless of their ethnicity, culture also engenders a sense of pride such that all peoples feel unsafe once their country is under threat.
Take the USA, for example, injury to one is regarded an injury to all. But in Africa, opposition parties would rather take a different opinion to that of the ruling party just for the sake of being the opposition. There is no national pride in policies which benefit the very people African opposition parties claim to represent.
In fact, Frantz Fanon argues, in his 1959 paper delivered at the Congress of Black African Writers and included in his book, the “Wretched of the Earth”, that colonial domination “disrupt in spectacular fashion the cultural life of a conquered people”.
“This cultural obliteration is made possible by the negation of national reality, by new legal relations introduced by the occupying power, by the banishment of the natives and their customs to outlying districts by colonial society, by expropriation, and by the systematic enslaving of men and women,” he writes.
Fanon also says where people should be dynamic in pushing for national issues and changes; the absence of culture makes it impossible for them to do so as an entity. In other words, where the natives think they would have made strides in development and progress the fact would be that they had not gotten anywhere.
“The immediate, palpable and obvious interest of such leaps ahead is nil. But if we follow up the consequences to the very end we see that preparations are being thus made to brush the cobwebs off national consciousness to question oppression and to open up the struggle for freedom,” he explains.
Once a people adopts another people’s culture just like what most of us in Africa have done, it becomes unimportant to fight for freedom because we would have become part of what we want to fight against.
In the event that there are people who still pursue some culture, Fanon says such actions will become just ‘a set of automatic habits, some traditions of dress and a few broken-down institutions’.
This is apparent in Swaziland, for example, where dress still remains the core of a culture that has long been gone. It can also be seen in Namibia where the Herero in particular maintain a distinct dress code which has everything to do with the former colonial master. Even the Zulu in South Africa maintain a dress code and a few cultural traits that benefit just a few people within the society. These are just cores which, according to Fanon, are “remnants of culture” with no “real creativity and no overflowing life”.
He says such clinging to a “culture which is becoming more and more shrivelled up, inert and empty” withers away ‘the reality of the nation and the death-pangs of the national culture are linked to each other in mutual dependences’.
“After a century of colonial domination we find a culture which is rigid in the extreme, or rather what we find are the dregs of culture, its mineral strata.
“Little movement can be discerned in such remnants of culture; there is no real creativity and no overflowing life. The poverty of the people, national oppression and the inhibition of culture are one and the same thing.”
But, Fanon, adds, such negation of national culture contributes to aggression, “The negation of the native's culture, the contempt for any manifestation of culture whether active or emotional and the placing outside the pale of all specialised branches of organisation contribute to breed aggressive patterns of conduct in the native.” Still because of lack of a national culture, such aggression is “poorly differentiated, anarchic and ineffective”. The African intelligentsia, according to Fanon, resorted to literature in an effort to address the absence of national cultures.

• Next week, the column discusses how African literature became a symbol of protest and an instrument for fostering national cultures.


February 2013
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