Are the olden African ways really just modern ways?

It is often argued that culture plays an important role in defining who and what we are, and so many still resort to the old ways of their ancestors, but are the ways we resort to really the ways of our first ancestors? If not, then why do we need to stick to these way?


While it is important to not forget the past and not forget where we come from, it should also be remembered that today, even the most traditional and deep rooted Africans, may not know where exactly they come from. From a historians point of view, there is no concrete evidence of the customs of the cultures of old which still play a role in today’s African society. All that is known and all that is done is based on one of the most unreliable sources there is: word of mouth.


Most of that which we know about the various cultures in South Africa is what has been passed down from generation to generation verbally. The knowledge of that which is supposedly the old ways is basically the echo of someone who comes from a previous and older generation, and that is the way it has been for over two hundred years. Who is to say that over the years, cultural knowledge hasn’t changed and being altered to suit the generation currently holding the knowledge. One way to display the unreliability of  verbal accounts is through a game of broken telephone. The message uttered at the beginning of the game is seldom the exact same as what is spoken at the end of the game. The conclusion we get from the example of the broken telephone, is that there is a chance that as modern Africans, what we call our old and cultural ways may not necessarily be our old and cultural ways, but rather a more modernised version, or possibly even the complete opposite.


Once again referring to the game of broken telephone, the conclusion we can arrive at is that basically, as modern Africans, we live our lives according to the final message spoken, which has changed and differs from the original, but for some reason, we as people blind ourselves and are convinced that it is the original.


A newer generation always seems to have different ideas from that of the previous. Let us just pretend that the verbal history and stories, cultural rites and beliefs passed down are accurate, the fact is no two generations are the same. A younger one will have new ideas and probably a “less closed-minded” ideology, certain cultural beliefs would contradict that of certain members of the generation, and thus they would probably not be passed down, so is this part of that cultures history not dead if less and less people pass it down.


Culture is an ever changing thing, yet many refuse to see that. From a personal point of view, there are a number of things I as an individual will not be passing down to my kids, simply because I don’t believe them. Would it not be hypocritical to want future generations to know and believe something that I am against.


Can it not be said that perhaps, our culture and where we come from is forgotten. This does not necessarily mean that our culture is dead however. Culture is something that we create and live out. Whether it be a system of morals and beliefs, we as a generation need to open our minds. The fact is, there is no point in resorting to the old to appease ancestors or to stay true to your culture, because we don’t know the old ways.


  1. Good analysis. I think culture keeps the most important and (eventually) tosses out the least important. So the beginning might be far from the end; and that will in turn be the beginning.

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