On Culture

This orig­i­nally appeared on mis​ter​agye​man​.blogspot​.com on September 10, 2014.

I wore a very nice shirt on Friday. Everybody kept telling me. They didn’t say “You look nice” just “Nice shirt!” (One notices the dif­fer­ence after the third or fourth instance.) I wore this unchar­ac­ter­is­ti­cally styl­ish shirt because every week on this day, we’re sup­posed to wear our cul­ture. Our cul­ture is colour­ful; our cul­ture is dapper; and our cul­ture is best expressed by Dutch tex­tile print­ing technology. 

Let’s con­sider cul­ture for a bit.

My friend asked yes­ter­day where Stonehenge was. It fea­tured a bit in the back­drop of Thor 2 – but there was a naked sci­en­tist in the fore­ground, so I under­stand why he missed it. Was it Scottish or Irish, he asked. I thought about that, and I real­ized I might have made that assump­tion too. I know William Wallace and I see the Riverdance, but you never sus­pect that the English have ances­tors beyond Shakespeare. Matter of fact, when you hear about the Stonehenge, you hear of pre­cise engi­neer­ing and pro­found inge­nu­ity, not human sac­ri­fice and naked sci­en­tist ancestors. 

‘The Asantewaa-Boadicea Connection’. In an Political Troll phase about a year ago, I posted this frag­ment on my Timeline and waited for the mob to come. Nobody noticed. So now I’ll spell it out.

Boadicea was a queen of the Iceni. When her hus­band died, the Romans claimed their king­dom. She chal­lenged this, and they took offence. They flogged her, and she took offence. So she went after them and slew a great many. Then the Romans sent rein­force­ments, and she died, pos­si­bly by her own hand.

Yaa Asantewaa was a queen mother of the Ejisu. The British signed an accord with the Asante nation, which included her tribe. Then they went and impris­oned the Asante king and his nobles. Then they asked for the Golden Stool. (It’s not just a chair. It’s a golden chair, with juju in it.) So she took offence, and went and slew a great many. Then the British sent rein­force­ments, and she ended up in the Seychelles, which wasn’t so nice back then.

It’s an inter­est­ing image. Britons in blue war paint, resist­ing the civ­i­liz­ing effect of the modern Romans. But I digress. We see more of Irish and Scottish tra­di­tion than the English, was my point. Because civ­i­liza­tion now has a look of its own. Civilization wears dark suits, and speaks one of six or seven major lan­guages. So what hap­pens when civ­i­liza­tion hits the tribe?

People talk about people from the West trying to look exotic by wear­ing beads and tie-die. Now I see people around me wear­ing beads and tie-die, but I’m told that this time it’s pride in our cul­ture. Was beads a thing before this cen­tury? Especially on guys. Because I’ve been won­der­ing if it wasn’t just a thing for fes­ti­vals orig­i­nally- and even then, pos­si­bly for just nobles. Which would make the modern guy in his Afro-chic outfit as pimp as a guy in a crown and ermine cloak.

Just a thought.

We’re having this dis­cus­sion as a cul­ture now, because we’re sat­is­fied enough with our civ­i­liza­tion that we’re now won­der­ing about our iden­tity. In Nkrumah’s mid­night speech, he said, “…we are going to create our own African per­son­al­ity and iden­tity.” Thing is, weren’t we Africans already? We had been for a few mil­len­nia – no? – with­out the bor­ders and flags and con­sti­tu­tions. But we decided that the best way to jus­tify our­selves to the West was to beat them at their own game, earn their recog­ni­tion. So we had the flags and coats of arms; writ­ers’ con­gresses and art schools- all fig­ur­ing out how to strad­dle the line between tra­di­tion and civ­i­liza­tion. African sounds for instru­ments of the West, tran­scrip­tions of oral tra­di­tions in English and French. As a by-prod­uct of the work to unite such a diverse con­ti­nent, we’ve dis­tilled our common icon into a useful short­hand, a sort of recipe for African-ness. A few beads, a little kente, an ele­phant sil­hou­et­ted by the set­ting sun… just add hot water.

“A tiger does­n’t pro­claim its tiger­ness; it jumps on its prey.” I don’t often quote Soyinka, but this sounds very deep; Horatio might take his glasses off to say this. Question: what hap­pens when the tiger wakes up with a black-and-white colour scheme, and an appetite for grass? Should the tiger fight the hunger?