Our African heritage

Our African heritage

THIS past week Africa marked Africa Day, a day in which all people of African descent gather and converge in some field of gold or green to worship or celebrate their Africanness.
It is quite an interesting event, from the beautiful colours of the raiment to the ear-tingling melodies from the different parts of the continent, this serves as the day on which all can display their customs and traditions as is practised in the different parts of Africa.

I watched the spectacle, and what comes to mind is how much of our Africanness we really put into practice.
From the point of view of the individual to that of the community and up to that of the state, the question of heritage needs to be approached in a manner more focused than it seems to be treated these days. After all, what does it help to be African for one day of the 365¼ days of the year and to be something else for the rest of the year?
I know there is a need to remember, but I also hold the simple opinion that what is practised on the day should not be merely done only on the day; it should become a practice upheld through the 12 months of the Gregorian calendar.

Wearing the blanket for one day and posing for pictures to be uploaded to the social media does not make one African, it merely leaves one as a poser, lacking in some of the basic and salient characteristics of African cultural heritage. One sat down and watched the interviews on television as different figures spoke of their Africanness.
There were quite a number of issues raised in terms of the definition of the term Africanness, leading one to asking simply: what is it to be African? The Thabo Mbeki ‘I am an African’ address uncovers what it is to be an African from the individual’s point of view.

The relationships between the different tribes and the land, the essence of who we are in terms of the rivers and the streams and the valleys and the mountains that make the landscape of the continent that birthed our forebears who in turn gave birth to us is explored in this address. The question however remains: do we really understand what he means?
Do we go on to live it in the everyday, or, is our African heritage merely an entity we use only when it is convenient to do so? Heritage is not something to be worn as a bangle or bracelet that can be taken off to suit the occasion.

It is a permanent fixture that we keep on ourselves at all times, kind of like the isiphandla (goatskin bracelet) the Ama-Zulu make sure to wear at all time and to renew as soon as the old goatskin is frayed by time and age.  Heritage Day should thus serve to renew who we are, to teach us to remember who we really are with regard to the customs and the traditions and the cultural heritage which they embody.

Sometimes there are events in the life of the individual that remind such an individual who they exactly are in terms of their origins as part of the human race. Being is not seen in the adoption of new and foreign cultures, being simply means that one is able to stick to the core tenets that ensure the continuity of the family or the community.
That certain customs and traditions have somehow been erased is due to the simple fact that they were not properly managed, in fact certain core customs were removed simply due to the issue of newly-found fascination with the customs and the traditions that in the beginning belonged to other cultures.

It takes very little to erase a custom or a tradition from our being, and far often the lure is with the natural fascination or human tendency to engage with what is unfamiliar we term as curiosity.
It is true that the novel may at first seem the most sensible, but common sense should serve to tell the individual that they cannot sacrifice their being for the sake of the new. The claim that the colonist is to wholly blame for the current mess is a weak defence, for the truth is the African chose to leave the loincloth for the pantaloons, and the cowhide for the cloth.

Days like Heritage Day serve to remind us how we can return, why we should return to the origins, and what we can do to get there. For the truth is that close analysis reveals a worrying trend: we are being forgotten as a continent faster than one thought possible. We are doing the forgetting ourselves, and we shall be blamed when our children do not know who they are in the future.
A recent study I undertook reveals just how dire the situation is in terms of garnering the cultural heritage of this country in terms of the literature that raised many an individual.

We have had many authors, from Ntate Mangoaela, to Ntate Khaketla, ‘Me Masechele, Ntate Matšela, Ntate Ntsane, Ntate DCT Bereng and others whose bodies of work have been sacrificed for new kinds of writing without having been fully explored and understood despite their possessing tremendous wealth as vessels of cultural knowledge, heritage, and being.
That the fascination is with the new kind of author who is ‘trending’ may just mean that at the end of the day, we may not have anything to remember, and the reality is that we need to remember.
Rememory serves to readjust the ethos of not only the individual but it also serves to renew those vital points of connection between individuals in a community.

This reconnection is similar to the synapses that connect nerves without which the functioning of the body ceases to exist as different organs of the body begin to lose their sense and end up atrophied or catatonic.  This is what will happen if there is no effort to reconnect communities on the continent through mutual celebration of the core customs of each community.
It may be seen as a futile display, but the truth is that it serves to remind us who we really are as Africans of varied cultures. It is said that the elephant herd remembers the death of their fallen comrade and on their long migrations will remember to stop at the spot where the bones of such a member lie.

The herd remembers to pause for a while and to observe a moment of silence as they touch the bones with their trunks before they head into the open savannah towards the intended point of migration. This behaviour is shared by the human communities, as we remember to gather for funerals and observe a moment of silence as one of us is interned into the confines of the grave. We remember to gather for funerals for comfort and I believe that we should remember to gather too for the sake of mirth and merriment as is done on Heritage Day or in the Africa Month.
After all, even those mournful giants of the open savannah remember to get high on the ripe marula fruit and go on a spree, inebriated by the fermented fruits of the marula tree.

There is a natural need to remember, the cause of which is not known, but as I previously hinted it could be just as simple as the stimulation of common points of interest in between the individuals and the communities of the world. We need to remember who we are in the contrast of others who share similar attributes and living spaces.
Africa is our home, and it is necessary to remember that all of us are one, even if it is just for a single month in a busy year.

This past weekend I attended the funeral of Morena Theko David Bereng in Rothe and Their Majesties the king and queen were present to comfort the nation that has lost a figure whose close relatives and associates noted as ‘the cream of the crop,’ and a man honoured and respected by his subjects.
I did not go there simply because a member of the royal family was being buried, but I went to the funeral because somehow, time and experience have taught me how small and close as a nation we are.
I am currently engaged in an extensive study of the original literature of Lesotho, and his namesake and relative, David Cranmer Theko Bereng wrote Lithothokiso tsa Moshoeshoe, le tse ling a collection of poetry published in 1931 by Morija Sesuto Book Depot a publishing house that was a powerhouse back in the day.
The poetry is the most beautiful and the story behind its author is the most brilliant. The question is simply why I only got to know of such a poet only when I was past middle-age. The answer is that in the quest to acquire things political, the Basotho have somehow managed to forget some of the core elements that give our Bosotho its authentic value.

We are a monarchical society, and ignoring that the king is the head of state is sheer delusion, for politics are as fickle as morning mist fading with each passing era as figures lobby for the highest seat in government.
I am of the old school that believes in the worth of kings and my king never disappoints me in this aspect. We gathered together to rest one of our rulers’ bones as the elephant herd does, as we rightly should.

Heritage teaches us that we are because they were, and that we could not be here if they did not come to be in this world. Various learned arguments may posit that the old need to be done away to give space to the new, and my argument is simple; do the new have experience, that is, are we familiar enough with them to put them to effective use?
Many a time, the new have proven hard to deal with, tossing us in the storms of time like little boats lost in a storm at sea. Africa has had so many visions that by now we should have been far in terms of economic development and social welfare, but we lag far behind simply because we fail to connect the new with the old.

Instead of establishing ways of how an old development plan can be merged with existing developments, the tendency is to totally erase the old plan and in its place put a new one which we have a little understanding of and which hurls us into endless arguments trying to read its manuals and understanding their contents.
The old should be merged with the new, not that the old should be done away with to give the new space to freely move.

Freedom has a meaning only if it has restrictions that mark its breadth otherwise it becomes a stampede that bears bitter results after it is settled.
The old were never wrong, and they knew far better than we did for they had to deal with more with little in terms of tools and knowledge.
We should learn to cherish their memory and stop being entranced by our own visages as is taught by those gurus of the social media and their ideas of ‘selfies’.

It is simply put narcissistic to consider ourselves more beautiful, smarter, and wiser than the gathered wisdoms of the land and the continent on which we live.
Narcissus spent most of his days gazing in the image of his own face in the waters of a stream, his beauty became his curse, for then he could do nothing else other than gaze at himself in the waters.

Lesotho is known for its abundance in terms of water and other natural resources, but more time is spent self-praising the kingdom than is spent on establishing how that wealth can benefit the masses.  How we became that proud of what we have that has little visible or tangible benefit vexes my understanding, but I guess it is time we considered the wealth of the land part of our heritage.

It should be a heritage we honour enough to see it benefit our children and their children. As the customs and the traditions of our forebears benefited the community in terms of the maintenance of social harmony and the assurance of progress, so should the fruits of the land achieve the same.
Heritage is, the understanding of the past to know who we are in terms of our potential to reach the future.
I saw this watching His Majesty walk the path to the final resting place of a fallen royal, and I followed in his step as he does in the words of his grandfather (our grandfather) Moshoeshoe as is written by DCT Bereng:

The nation, children to the King,

The children, nation to the King;

Fortune, wisdom, the mind of the King.

He is the first point of our heritage.

By: Tšepiso S Mothibi

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