The world constantly changes, but not all change is good. One of the central issues in the African Diaspora involves intergenerational relations and whether modern African families provide adequate support and care to their elders. How a people treat the helpless, elders, women, and children speaks volumes about their culture and moral character.
Respect for elders is a core cultural value in Africa. In most African traditional societies, elders played important roles in providing guidance to the family and community. The traditions, laws and initiation ceremonies were entrusted to the elderly. Likewise, in all major religions in the world, it is a virtue for the youth to respect parents and elders because it’s essential for building and maintaining a strong society. Respect is shown through obedience, deferential behavior, and in providing goods and labor.
In Africa in the early twenty-first century, respect remains a strong cultural value, and families are deeply concerned for their older members. However, the ability of families to provide for elders has diminished in recent years due to widespread poverty, labor migration, and the competing needs of children and aging parents. Technology has also adversely impacted our personal interactions with our older family members. The formal educational system and the advent of social media have diminished their roles as social guides. Furthermore, elders have lost control over cultural resources as the youth pursue wealth, prestige and power based on the influence of Western culture.
Our elders are the purveyors of culture who pass it on to the newer generations. As we enjoy the fruits of their labor, it is our duty to repay them by not only listening to them, caring for them and following their example, but by maintaining our customs, values, and traditions. This is the greatest honor we can bestow on our elders.