Black culture creates a long-lasting social structure through tradition.
NOTE: This is Part 5 of a 12-part series that defines the core elements of Black culture.
Everything in the universe is structured because all things function according to laws. For a culture to thrive, it, too, must be based on universal laws. Culture provides a structure for the development of a people, and this structure is replicated over centuries through learned behavior, beginning at a very young age. Culture is passed on from one generation to the next through the socialization process:
The child just grows into and within the cultural heritage of his people. He imbibes it. Culture, in traditional society, is not taught; it is caught. The child observes, imbibes and mimics the action of his elders and siblings. He watches the naming ceremonies, religious services, marriage rituals, funeral obsequies. He witnesses the coronation of a king or chief,
the annual yam festival, the annual dance and acrobatic displays of guilds and age groups or his relations in the activities. The child in a traditional society cannot escape his cultural and physical environments.
(Fafunwa, A.B. 1974. History of Education in Nigeria)
Children are unstructured. An essential requirement of raising children properly is to give them structure. Without structure, a child’s behavior can become wild and harm others within the social group. Similarly, there’s a rebel within your spirit called the human being that wants to be free of structure. Immaturity is often demonstrated as a rebellion against structure. Being born into a culture that understands the purpose of life will curb rebellious behavior and aid you in your journey toward fulfilling that purpose.
You have come to earth to learn how to develop your divinity. The path to divinity is cultivating peace through the challenge of poverty or illness or injustice or temptation, etc. God didn’t make a mistake when God created you, and it’s your job to construct a good life for yourself and your family. To do that, you must adhere to a tradition that your ancestors created for you. Traditions provide structure for social groups and aid in defining and reinforcing the values and code of conduct of its members.
What happens when traditions break down? Let’s examine the concept of the family. For thousands of years, the family has been the nucleus of all societies. Establishing and maintaining family units is universal and fundamental to the development of a community and a culture. What makes family so important? It’s the best approach to survival!! A child has two parents to ensure its safety and security, plus siblings, grandparents and cousins – all of whom share in the responsibility of raising a child so he or she can mature into an adult to replicate this cycle of life. That’s how nature works. However, if the family structure breaks down (i.e., single-parent households, children disrespecting their elders, promiscuity, etc.), it reduces the capacity of a people to survive.
For most of us, the importance of family was never explained in this manner. That’s why culture
is vital to the re-development of Black people – to reinforce the significance, values and purpose of what we have come to earth to achieve. All of this must be accomplished within the context of a family unit. Our former slave masters and colonists understood this as they imposed and continue to deploy a variety of “divide and conquer” tactics to destroy our family structures.
The most powerful principle of social organization is the concept of “family” derived from blood-relationship, which is characterized by kinship affinity, loyalties and obligations of relatives. This regulates social behavior and attitudes and orders social interaction through groupings of families we call, “community.” The community sets normative patterns to maintain this harmony. The African believes that his life is intertwined with his/her community. African people recognize there is no past and future – only the now. We can only reside in the present. Evidence of how we relate to time is ancestral communication. We don’t die; instead, we travel to another plane of existence, and we can communicate with the “dead.” Likewise, we seek to live forever so we are not forgotten by our future family, i.e., so they, too, can invoke us for wisdom and guidance.
Life is a continuum – you’re formed and re-formed through a series of incarnations within a family. Of course, Westerners don’t acknowledge the concept of reincarnation, so they see no point in trying to change. “Seize the day,” they say, because “tomorrow you die.” This is why we can’t model our lives after Westerners because they have yet to learn what life is all about.
By the way, you just don’t grow as an individual, you also grow as a group. You need a group to support your spiritual growth and you have a responsibility to uplift your entire group, your race, your family, and your spiritual community.
Spiritual philosophy begins with the understanding of the meaning of life, before and after death, which could only be proven through communications with the deceased. The most important thing about understanding your ancestors is culture. By striving to live within your tradition, you will attract ancestors to mutually assist you in advancing the family or group in its spiritual evolution.
The significance of tradition in providing structure can be more clearly viewed from an individual basis. All people have a set of natural urges that must be fulfilled. For instance, there’s an urge to procreate, but that sexual energy needs to be controlled in the proper way. Since culture and tradition establish social norms, the urge to procreate should be regulated appropriately. Likewise, we all have a natural urge to experience joy, and these pursuits must also be regulated to ensure the well-being of society.
What happens when someone isn’t properly cultivated? Simply put, the resulting behaviors of any people in this predicament tend towards decadence – violence, drinking, drugs, indiscriminate sex, materialism, etc. We experience a devaluation of our role in society which manifests on a personal level as a lack self-esteem, self-confidence and self-worth. For Black people, what most often occurs is we assume someone else’s culture and/or adopt the behaviors of a perceived culture established by the colonizer. For instance, there’s a popular notion that Black men don’t take care of their children, and this idea is reinforced within some of us as we assume this characterization.
Black people’s worldview is fundamentally the same all over the planet. There are numerous universal African cultural traditions, to name a few:
• Religion forms the basis of the community
• Ancestral veneration
• Rituals; libation
• Respect for elders
• Rites of passage
• Extended family
There remain vestiges of our traditional ways of life throughout the Diaspora, despite two thousand years of insidious acculturation. The “soul” of our people continues to flow in our veins. In fact, Black people continue to be major influencers of culture in the world. A modern example is the vast influence of our musical expressions on nearly all other cultures. Black people also serve as moral authorities; we are acknowledged for forgiving our transgressors.
Black people have the responsibility to solve a huge problem in the world – curbing violence. Violence leads to the breakdown of social order. Wars and conflicts consume scarce resources which could be used to improve education, health services, social protection, and infrastructure needed for development. Thus, the link between peace and development cannot be denied. There is a need to reinforce the role that culture can play in enabling communities to resolve their disputes and to strengthen the ties that bind them together.
Peace is not just the absence of violence, but also the presence of social solidarity. To re-establish social solidarity in violence-prone communities, we must revive cultural attitudes and values that have been proven to foster an environment within which peace can flourish. In fact, African traditional cultures can help in promoting peace among societies and facilitate the global cooperation necessary to reduce war, conflict, and violence in all its forms.
The greatest gift we can give to ourselves and to the world is to reconnect to our past. To recapture the totality of our greatness, we must return to the days of old by reviving our culture, religions, customs, and traditions. Essentially, to be Black is to live in accordance with the culture and traditions of our ancient ancestors.