It has been the trend of early writers to position African values and traditions as being inferior or less developed than the western values of colonial interlopers. Often this was done to offer some form of validation of the conquering of Africa by white interests (Kom 149). Many African writers, however, have begun taking a direction concerning African tradition and viewpoints that combines a reverence for old African traditions with favorable comparison of those traditions against the value systems of the colonial European powers. In the past several decades African writers have begun to embrace the goals of the Black Studies movement(Osha 175). Traditional African values are given this status to make Blacks aware of their past and also to to point out that the traditional African view of the world may have more merit than Eurocentric views. Traditional African views hold that African perspectives honor the community instead of focusing attention on the individual.
African religious tradition is one viewpoint that African writers have been pointing to as having important relevance. Chinua Achebe relies heavily on traditional African religious beliefs in her novel, “Things Fall Apart”. It is religion which holds the Ibo people together in the face of incursions by white missionaries. It is religion which helps direct the lives of the people to act in a just manner. It is religion which puts man in a respectful position toward nature. However, a striking comparison between African religious beliefs and Christianity is shown in a passage of the book which not only negates the white viewpoints of African religions as being inferior and barbaric, but also suggests that some aspects of Christianity may not be as wholesome as whites would like to believe.
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In this passage, a wise man of the village named Akunna was having a discussion comparing the two religions with Mr. Brown, a white missionary. During the conversation, Akunna clearly points out that his religion does indeed have a supreme God, Chukwu, just as Christianity does and that the many minor Gods are just messengers through which the people can communicate with Chukwu. Point by point, Akunna points out the fallacy of white beliefs about African religions. In the end, Akunna makes a very strong point about the ego of the white man. When Mr. Brown relates that no one need fear God by doing His will, Akunna replies by saying who can know Chukwu’s will because he is too great to be known (by man). Akunna seems to be displaying considerably more wisdom than the missionary by accepting a tenet of all faiths that God is supreme while Mr. Brown is suggesting that man can be the equal of god (Achebe 179-181).
Another viewpoint that is expressed by African writers about traditional African views concerns the sense of community and how the individual is a part of something greater than himself. There are numerous examples of this that can be found in class readings, however, one that is particularly poignant is shown Cheikh Hamidou Kane’s novel, “Ambiguous Adventure”. In this book, the sense of belonging to nature and community and being part of a greater good is demonstrated by the fool. This is compared against the solitude of individualism as portrayed by Samba by what he learns in the foreign school, the indecision that arises from it and the barriers that the whites put between themselves and nature.
The fool arrives back in the village after having been to the west and seen its many unusual and mysterious ways. He is mystified by rapid pace of life, the dominance of machines, and how man is separated from nature by highways which are forbidden for man to enter and by shoes which people wear to insulate themselves from the earth. He clearly prefers being closer to the earth now that he is home and he, along with the old teacher show their revulsion for people who would have places in their own land where they are not allowed to enter (Kane 88-93).
The fool eventually becomes the permanent companion to the old religious teacher. He sees the village being torn apart by the new values of the white man and wants desperately for everyone to hold on to their traditional Islamic beliefs and be one community again. He can do nothing though, so he stays with the teacher until his death. When Samba returns and knowing that he was once so much a part of the religious tradition, the fool goes to him in hopes that he will heed the words of the teacher and lead the people back to their rightful ways. Samba, however, wants no part of the fool’s religious talk. Although he knows the old ways, his education in the west has given him a sense of doubt and taken him out of the group. He is an individual, not part of either world and he deliberately shuts the fool out of his life (Kane 171-174).
In this particular case, the virtue of African beliefs are seen only in the fool. He alone, seems to understand the value of community of men, ancestors, spirits, and the earth. In his simple way he is happy and more than anything else, he is decisive. This is contrasted to Samba’s morose ways. When he left the village for school, he had the same sense of community and tradition. After having received his education, he no longer seems to enjoy life. He is isolated from the community, from his ancestors, from nature, and from his religion. He is indecisive and for that he winds up paying with his life.
Although the received traditions in both of these books eventually come to dominate the views of traditional Africans, that does not mean that those old traditions have no merit. They were lost because of the superior technological ability of the white man and the illusory benefits being offered by white values of individualism (Osha 178). By bringing back these traditions, by showing them to the world, and explaining how they have greater meaning to Africans than do the imported values of an alien culture, Black writers can help Africans all over the world regain an important part of their world that was lost when whites scattered them all over the world in bonds of slavery and attempted to forever eliminate a view and a voice that has meaning for the great majority of the world’s population.
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