Monday, November 05, 2007

Traditional African Culture Conflict With Noah's Shipwrecked Theories

Traditional African Culture Conflict With Noah's Shipwrecked Theories

This post is an attempt to address many issues with one swipe. As I debate with an individual who is an ideologue as well as a self proclaimed “Afro-Centrist” my recent viewing of the documentary “The Secret Pain” provides an excellent opportunity to shoot down the framework of his theories as a simple transposition of its application over to Africans places him in great conflict with his notions of being spiritually connected to his African Ancestry.

The documentary “The Secret Pain” that is now being shown on my favorite “progressive television” network, Link TV shows the journey of an African woman who now lives in Denmark. She travels back to Sierra Leon to address a situation that has troubled her all of her life – female circumcision. She says that the experience has damaged her both physically but also mentally.
The practice of “female circumcision” is rooted in TRADITIONAL AFRICAN CULTURE. We all know that when the Europeans colonized many of these places they put a stop to many traditional African cultural practices that they called “savagery”. So often we hear “African-Centrists……..who live comfortably in America” discus how they are in tune with traditional African culture and how the changes that were imposed on Africa has disconnected the African from his SPIRTUALITY. Their claim is that the violence and hard times that have settled upon the Africa of today, or at least several major parts of the continent is a direct result of the cultural cleansing that has taken place.

In this post I hope to place two major conflicting THEORIES into my friend’s face and thus force him to decide if he is a “LIBERAL” reformer as he claims to be or “CONSERVATIVE” curator of traditional African culture as he ALSO claims to be. If you get a chance to see “The Secret Pain” you will see that one can’t sit on the fence and claim to be both.

In watching “The Secret Pain” it is shown that the practice of female circumcision is a part of their cultural tradition. Young girls are taken to the kanta – the traditional compound where the act is performed on the females and where they go to heal. The “digba” – the female elders who perform this ceremony prepare for it by going into the bush to find the appropriate herbs that will be used to blunt the pain. One of the digba’s that was filmed was seen “asking permission” from the spirits of the plants for her to cut them. Over the years I have had conversations with many Black Americans who are self proclaimed “conscious” people. They frequently talk about how Western culture has disrespected the SPIRT of the Earth and the vegetation there in. This digba woman and her practice seems to fit right into their notions of spirituality.

One thing that did surprise me was the level of integration that the practice of circumcision had within the society. The females, hovering around the age of 16 were sent to stay at the “kanta” until their bodies healed from the traumatic operation that was performed upon them. During this time they are taught by the elder women on how to be good housewives. How to tend to the house, the children and the husband. They were seen singing and dancing. Where it not for the brutal (from my cultural perspective) operation that had been performed upon them I would give such a package of traditional cultural practices a thumbs up.

Here in lies the conflict that is presented to my friend. In being an “African cultural purist” on the one hand but an attacker of “conservatism” on the other he places himself in a mutually exclusive, ABSTRACT position that has no place in time or on this Earth beyond his mind that is full of theory. For if he indeed seeks to return us Africans who are spread out into the Diaspora back to our original cultural roots so that we might be made whole again then on this occasion he is indeed acting the part of the hated CONSERVATIVE as he enforces certain practices that don’t lend themselves to theoretical analysis and pontification.
All females who are circumcised take a vow not to talk about their experience to anyone. In fact only females that have been circumcised are allowed into the “kanta”. Any person who works to stop the practice of this tradition will come under serious attack and shunning by the other members of the society. I saw this as a form of cultural gravitational pull. Women who were originally reluctant to send their daughters to the ceremony were told that others would not purchase their food in the market nor could they purchase food from others. Once this was imposed upon them the hardship and cultural isolation that this produced were enough to get them to change their mind.

Though most of the traditional practices around female circumcision were executed by the women, behind all of this stood the village men who ultimately enforced all of these traditions. They were the “muscle” if you will. When the camera crew that accompanied the woman from Denmark got permission to enter the kanta but failed to get permission from the males, the men were riled up on the outside of the compound, waiting for them to exit. (Tradition says that they were not allowed to come into the kanta because they were men). The woman and her crew ended up paying the men money and talking to them. Ultimately they were calmed down.

At the same time modern culture had indeed impacted the traditional ceremony that is roughly akin to other “Womanhood/Manhood Ceremonies” in other cultures sans the female circumcision. The interviewer asked one of the digba’s “The girls today only spend 2 weeks in the kanta, it used to be longer. Why was it shortened?” To which the digba’s replied “We’ve gotten like the White man we’re always in a hurry”. Another digba replied “We used to be able to cultivate the Earth. Now we need money to buy rice. The digbas and families must be fed during the months. We all have to contribute during the initiation seaon. That’s why it takes only one or two weeks these days. Otherwise we’d be broke. ” Secondly was asked “The girls used to be much older before they were circumcised, why are they so young today”, to which was replied “Times have gotten hard. I have both younger and older daughters. I can’t afford to pay for initiations all of the time – so they come in the kanta at the same time. “ Another question “So where does the circumcision originate?” A quick reply “ We’ve told you that you mustn’t ask about that.” To which the interviewer replied “Relax. I am a circumcised woman myself.”

This above exchange must be analyzed. Whereas the average Afro-Centrist would say “see society’s modern pressures and monetization has corrupted the African traditional purity” they miss the mark with this analysis. The fact is that the modern pressures have only altered the time interval of the initiation process and the ages of the girls as they undergo the operation. This TRADIITON is still in conflict with the progressive Afro-Centric’s view that such a practice that is IMPOSED upon an otherwise free individual is suppressive. Thus we have a person seeking to “reach back” and “progress” at the same time. Which one is it – oh great Mandinka warrior?


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