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Standing firmly by the good in our culture

By Helen Ovbiagele

If you’re African, especially if you’re Nigerian, you’re born into one culture or the other, whether you’re conscious of that fact or not.  It is not put down in book form, but is passed on by our parents, and by the larger society.  There are things you just don’t do because of the culture you were born into.  Some of these have to do with moral values/ethics, sanitation, and deference to what rulers stand for.

Not so long ago when most elders were known for their uprightness, integrity and sense of responsibility, they were, along with the traditional rulers, the custodians of our culture, which in many  cases, had been in operation for decades.

Respect for parents, elders, and traditional rulers meant respect for those in authority too; an attitude which is very necessary for the good functioning of  any society.  Breakdown of law and order in the society starts with disobedience to  these people in our lives.

Still, there are several things I don’t like in our culture; the chief of all being cruel widowhood rites, disinheritance of  women, and disregard for the well-being of the girl child.

Thank God that there are NGOs all over the country/world, doing things to sensitize the various governments to bring about desired changes, and some governments are trying to comply.

If we’re able to upgrade the status of women, and empower them, they will contribute meaningfully to the good growth of the society as they raise well-adjusted citizens for the nation, in accordance with what’s worthy in our culture.

Civilization/democracy or not, we must uphold the good values in our culture, so that we can have a nation we can be proud of, to pass on to the young persons who are the future of our country.

It is sad that even though the concept of democracy and freedom is meant to improve the quality of the human life, if we allow the western world to make us lose what’s good in our culture, I’m afraid we shall sink into the mire of  moral decadence.

In some areas of life, as they claim they’re marketing/exporting democracy, they’re trying to wipe out certain aspects of our culture which brought us pride, respect, and made us stand out as special people

And what’s our present reaction to this maneouvering/ sometimes bullying?   We tremble and are afraid to take a firm stand on what we know is good in our culture.

I was impressed when I read on the internet the other week that Swaziland (an independent state within the South Africa enclave) ‘outlaws public smooching’.  The piece went thus: ‘Kissing in one town in the Kingdom of Swaziland could now land you in a bit of trouble.  Lovebirds locked in spasms of romance in the town of Siteki have been forewarned their amorous embrace may cost them a twelve dollar fine.’ ‘Public kissing that is to the extreme and causes other people to be uneasy will be covered by our by-laws.  It will be regarded to be public indecency,’ Town Clerk  Mzwandile Ndzinisa, told AFP. ‘A peck on a baby’s cheek doesn’t fall into this category, he added.

Swaziland, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarchy, already has tough public order laws.  Cities forbid indecencies like urinating in public, street vending and littering.  What is done in private should be done in private, not in public.  The law addresses public issues in public places, said Stembile Simelane.  Siteki resident Thembi Mdlovu agreed.  ‘Kissing in public is not practised in our culture.  I think we should respect our culture.’’

I thought it was brave of this tiny country to take a stand on a thing which is now considered very normal in the western countries, but which their own culture abhors.  Kissing is meant to show affection, and even in the western countries, it used to be a very decent thing in public, with pecks on the cheeks.  But gradually moral values began to take a dive there as permissiveness and outrageous behaviour became the order of the day; heavy petting on the streets, not minding that children and young persons of impressionable minds are looking on, is now common sight.  While some people may find the sight amusing, some are embarrassed that what’s supposed to take place in the privacy of your house, is now on display in public.  How do such people explain what’s going on to their little children, who might be fascinated and curious by the sight, and might be driven to start experimenting in sex much earlier than is healthy?

After reading the piece on Swaziland, I expected to see vile comments on the Yahoo notice board, condemning the country’s bylaws as primitive and repressive.  Surprise!  Surprise!  Most of the views I read supported the Swaziland stand on what their culture stands for, and lamented the ugly sight of  heavy petting which is allowed in public in their own countries in the western world.  Some saw such public display  as degrading and offensive to other citizens, and to romantic relationships.  I doubt if all those who expressed such views were old-fashioned fuddy duddy people in the departure lounge of life.

That means that there are people of all ages in that civilization who don’t approve of the moral decadence in their society.

We in this country don’t need to jettison what’s decent in our culture and embrace the filth in other people’s culture simply because we’re afraid of them.  Are we being colonized all over again?  On the day that I read the piece on the internet, there was a headline in one of our national daillies – ‘Britain to suspend aid to Nigeria over gay bill.’  Should this prospect make us tremble?   Even though this my article isn’t on that subject, and frankly I don’t care who marries who, I think the giant of  black Africa should stop quaking and dancing to the tunes of other countries.

If we’re truly an independent country, we should stand for what our conscience tells the majority of the people is good in our culture.

As for foreign financial aid, I don’t think our country would crumble if we don’t get a dime.  I don’t believe a country where a government worker can admit to misappropriating ‘only a few billion naira’  is poor.  If we suffer lack in Nigeria, it’s because we have selfish, greedy and irresponsibly dishonest people in positions they shouldn’t occupy.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.