Saturday, January 13, 2007
Ghana @ 50 –
The Cultural Dimensions
“While other people are going to the moon, we spend our time dancing and drumming as if dancing was the only aspect of culture worth maintaining”.
- The Late Prof. P.A.V. Ansah
“That is why today we (Africans) find it convenient not only to listen to funk, rap and all kinds of foreign music but also in order to enjoy it; you have to buy the jeans that go with it and a kind of coca-cola in your right hand and a beef burger in your left hand”
- Faisal Helwani
By: Kwame Gyasi
Tel: 027 – 7588256
HE GHANAIAN TIMES of Monday, January 8, 2007 reported on page 4 as follows: “The Chairman of the National Commission on Culture, (Prof. George Hagan) was only to chair a lecture at the 58th annual New Year School on Saturday, but he ended up facing a barrage of questions on what the Commission is doing at a time when the country’s cultural values and norms are perceived to be crumbling under the onslaught of foreign culture. Responding to the questions, Prof. George Hagan said that safeguarding societal norms and values was the responsibility of all and did not rest only with state institutions…”
My first reaction when I read the report was to congratulate the participants for their concern about the possible mutilation of our culture this year by our failure to look at culture beyond the narrow confines of drumming and dancing. Among some of the important events penciled in for Ghana @ 50 is the influx of very important personalities (VIPs) and not so very important personalities or poor innocent victims (VIPs) who are expected to visit this country to sample our culture. If state protocol is anything to go by, the VIPs will be met at the airport by young girls and boys, slightly clad in local attire and bare-footed dancing to thumping music provided by young men, equally clad in local attire, beating the drums with such gusto as to make the antics of two male fowls preparing to do battle over a she chicken a child’s play. The VIPs will undoubtedly fly in wearing open necked shirts (because of the hot weather) while the local dignitaries welcoming them will be in full western suits.
These VIPs will be whisked off in some of the most expensive sedans ever produced anywhere in the world from where they will be cloistered in an accommodation designed and constructed for the temperate climates, furnished with furniture from Iran, rugs from Saudi Arabia and curtains from Dubai. They will be given a guided tour of the Cape Coast and Elmina Castles to give them a perfect understanding of the inhuman treatment meted out by the white man to the black man. The role played by the black man in acting as the slave raider will not be mentioned. The tour will also emphasis how the most able-bodied and resourceful part of the population was taken away and thus disseminating the country with dire consequence for the country’s rapid development.
We shall conveniently forget to mention that our own people exchanged our precious minerals for worthless bottles of schnapps and cheap ammunitions to help perpetrate the slave trade. The VIPs will be served champagne from England and wine from Spain all in specially moulded glasses from France, canned beer from Gemany, roasted and grilled chicken imported from the Scandinavians, rice from Thailand served in stew made from tomato puree imported from Italy, rice from Australia all served in imported China wares. The VIPs will eat on tables covered with table cloth made out of our precious national cloth, the kente.
The VIPs who can make the time will be driven to the Achimota Gulf Course to relax their joints among the elite of the society. The intellectually inclined will be given a tour of Legon campus with the caveat to screen the old outmoded library books at the various libraries from their plying eyes. The Ghana Academic of Arts and Science may hold a special colloquium on the slave route project to whet the appetites of the VIPs for the durbar to be hosted by some traditional kings sitting in state in the splendour of gold ornaments and colorful umbrellas. There shall also be a play, possible Shakespeare’s Qthello and not one on Yaa Asantewaa, the Lost Fisherman or The Blinkards.
As a parting gift the VIPs are likely to be taken to Aburi Botanical Gardens to let them realize that there are few good things their ancestors left behind despite the scars of the slave trade and a detour made to the craft village close by for them to buy some carvings to take home. All things being equal, such a scene is likely to give the august VIPs the only contact with our culture and thereby give them an attenuated understanding of our culture. I have refused to mention the part our print and electronic media are likely to play in this cultural pollution. I have also left out the constant apologies to be offered by the MCs at the start of all functions for the late start of the ceremonies. I cannot visualize the part Prof. Hagan’s Commission will play in the whole show bearing in mind the show string budget it commands.
The picture of our culture I have sketched which is likely to greet our visitors both VIPs and PIVs to Ghana @ 50 should make people like the late Prof. Ansah, the late Most Rev. Emeritus Prof. Kwesi A. Dickson, and the late Dr. Ephraim Amu, all distinguished cultural citizens, turn in their graves if indeed that should be the type of culture this nation is going to depict during the Ghana @ 50.
The often accepted definition of culture by sociologists is that culture: “is the shared products of human society, both material and nonmaterial. Material culture consists of all the artifacts human beings create and give meanings to like houses and clothing; while nonmaterial culture consists of abstract human creations like language, beliefs, myths, customs and political systems. Culture has also been defined as: “That whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or social groups”.
The Rev. Prof. Dickson looked at culture as “the sum total of a whole range of aspects of all life and thought, beliefs, customs, music, art, language, philosophy, and various other products of human endeavour”. Culture defined as the relationship existing between people within a given community as well as between them and their environment. According to E. Schein and S.C. Schneider: “these relationships are based on a set of shared assumptions that develop over time to solve problems that people face both as social units and in their adaptation to physical environmental demands”.
One cannot talk about culture without examining the relationship of culture with language, education, technology, external influence, norms and values among others. Dickson observed: “It is clear that culture embraces all these fact of life which together give a people its distinctive character. One of the most important of these distinctive features is language”, Ian Robertson makes the point that: “language is the keystone of culture. Language is fundamental to society and culture; it permits the transmission of culture and the interpretation of reality. Without it, culture could not exist”.
One education, Dickson made the point: ‘Education is a process by which a peoples mind and character are developed through teaching. As far as education is concerned… it must form character, giving one the tools with which to make the whole of life a learning process. Education and culture are in a sense not so opposed”. On technology, Robertson asserts: “Cultural change is inevitable, and stems mainly from discovery, invention, and diffusion. Changes tend to be accepted into culture only if they are compatible with the existing norms and values. Changes in material culture are usually more readily accepted than changes in nonmaterial culture”.
Dickson again recognized the effect of external influence on culture when he stated: “Culture having to do with life as lived by flesh and blood, as it does, is not sealed off from external influences, so long as those influences are not such as to do damage to the basic tenets that characterize the culture and give it its authenticity and coherence, enabling one to live in full awareness of one’s obligations to society”.
Norms provide the reason for the countless patterns of social behaviour such as why women plait their hair and men cut their hair low. The usual answer you are likely to get when you ask why is: “Because it is right”, “Because that is the way it is done”, or simply “ought” to behave under particular circumstances in a particular society. Values on the other hand are socially shared ideas about what is good, right or desirable. The norms of a society are ultimately an expression of its values. For example, in a society where education is highly valued, its norms will ensure the provision of mass schooling and learning and in much the same way, in a society where accountability and honesty is valued, the legal system will be adequately resourced to work efficiently and independently.
The nature of culture is such that where people spend all their entire lives within the culture into which they are born and as such know practically nothing or very little about other ways of life, they see their own norms and values as inevitable rather than optional. This results in some people in every society having some sense of ethnocentrism – the tendency to judge other cultures by the standards of their own. The other side is that because factors such as education, technology and external influence all can have effect, positive or negative, on other people’s culture, the danger of a society diluting or losing its culture is very great. This unfortunately is the major problem facing underdeveloped African countries like Ghana. This explains why our educated people wear suits as a matter of course in this high temperature and highly humid weather.
Ghanaians do not possess the most powerful medium of transmitting our culture – national language. At independence the late Julius Nyerere made Swahili the national language of Tanganyika out of over 200 different dialects while recognizing English as the official language. That singular and courageous act is cited as one of the factors which has kept Tanzania apart from other African countries. Today Ghanaians cannot even decide the medium of expression to be used to teach primary school pupils.
Today the Ghanaian swears he/she is honest and will not commit a crime not because he is an Asante, Ewe, Ga, Ahanta, Dagbani of Frafra but because he is a Christian or a Muslim. Today there is no way of knowing whether James Victor Smith or Mohammed Bin Mamudu is a Ghanaian or a foreigner. What has happened to us to move away from the culture of zero tolerance for corruption which we treasured so much in the past and therefore the traditional setting coined the term sika fii (dirty money) to the situation today that the average Ghanaian’s tolerance towards corrupt and incompetent leadership allows people with such negative leadership traits to remain in power for very long time.
Rich culture deals with indigenous values and norms while permitting the positive elements of education, technology and foreign influence to positively effect those norms and values to bring development to the society. One year of Ghana @ 50 will pass and will officialdom ever remember one of the most culturally respected citizens this country has ever produced, Dr. Ephraim Amu of blessed memory. What should you expect when the entire political officialdom virtually boycotted most of the important functions at last year’s National Festival of Arts and Culture held at Wa despite the fact that there is supposed to be a whole ministry in charge of chieftaincy and cultural affairs.
The Spectator - Page 6