When Cultures Intertwine – The African Way


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As a culture changes, so does the language. Historically, early Christians in colonial Kenya spearheaded the condemnation of female circumcision. The missionaries converted the Africans into the new faith, and the new converts reaffirmed and preached the stand of the church on the circumcision rite. Suffice it to say that, although the rite persists in some communities, it has been dealt a deathblow by modernity. Indeed, some medical perspectives claim that the rite is pernicious and a danger in childbirth. Once rendered obsolete, language seals off the issue by dropping some terms related to the value.

The two words are no longer politically correct and are therefore avoided. When it came to describing an uncircumcised girl, he could not utter the term. In other languages that do not have this rite, there are no two terms to discriminate between young female persons. For instance, in Dholuo and Luhya, the terms nyako and o mukhana suffice to describe a young female person.

In a word, a cultural shift entails some linguistic adjustments, and words can disappear from a language altogether as a result of a change in culture. Languages are no exception. A language can appear, mostly from a contact with other languages, blossom, then wither and die altogether. The French language was born out of Popular Latin in the 9th century.

Why do languages die? We shall not attempt a detailed rejoinder here, but it can be argued that when a civilization disintegrates, so does its language since language is the medium that purveys the values of that civilization. The result of a collapse of a civilization is the death of a language.

The Greek and Roman civilizations are a case in point. The argument is that for a language to be alive and vibrant, the culture of the people it represents has to be alive and vibrant as well.

Part 1: What Is Culture and How Does It Affect Our Daily Lives?

As the culture evolves through time and space, so does the language. Language change Technically speaking, a language is made up of several parts of speech. These include grammatical words such as prepositions, articles, tenses, moods, plurals, etc; and lexical words entailing nouns, verbs, adverbs and adjectives. The latter category is also termed by pragmatists as constituting conceptual terms, i. Upon hearing a lexical item, one can associate it with a concept.

Conversely, the former category of words does not create concepts, but rather indicate how we should relate the concepts between them. In other words, they give us instructions on how to manipulate concepts. Language change primarily concerns conceptual terms. As we learn new ideas or concepts, we require a word to describe them. We rarely meet new grammatical words, so change here is minimal, if any.

Some illustrations are in order at this juncture.

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In religion, the Judeo-Christian world-view, introduced by Christianity and Islam, was factored in linguistically by African cultures. In the latter picture things are black or white, evil or good. In politics, concepts like democracy, voting, capitalism, nationhood, citizens and many others impinge on language.

African languages have had to adjust to accommodate these new concepts in the political domain. Words like demokrasia, kupiga kura, ubepari, raia or mwananchi have been coined to take into account new political realities or cultures. In the domain of generating and harnessing economic wealth, new economic systems demand a change in the language. Words like Marxism, socialism, communism, and many others, had to be coined to describe new concepts and ideas. The world has changed drastically since my first family reunion experience. Since then, all the elders in my family have died, and now I am at the head of a company of new elders.

Our responses to uninformed comments from younger men and women in our family are less sympathetic; we are more critical of their stewardship of the cultural treasures of wisdom and racial pride bequeathed by our ancestors. Technological advances, such as the Internet, and increased access to education have brought both greater expectations and deeper disappointments. My first family reunion experience is emblematic of a tradition that emerged with increased frequency throughout the United States and is now shifting in some key ways.

The world has rapidly changed for African Americans and the responsibility of education is now the charge of men and women who grew up in different times. As part of a new generation of elders, I am finding it extremely difficult to stand in the shoes of my parents and grandparents. That first family reunion was organized around the death of senior relatives who had lived long and productive lives; the family came together in an attempt to preserve history and inhale the strength and power of our ancestors. In recent years, however, our family reunions have become memorials for both the old and the young; we now come together to pay homage to the memories of our parents and our children.

At times it has felt as though my generation stands on a slowly melting iceberg, floating on a sea of unrealized aspirations of the very old and the very young. Death wields its impact, dissolving pieces of the foundation of the African American family, taking the old through illness and the young through violence or drugs.

Although my family reunions continue, they happen less frequently. The nostalgia that inspired family reunions has been transformed by melancholy and anger at the betrayal of the trust of our ancestors by a country still undecided about our humanity. Holding the baton passed from my parents and grandparents, I long for the esteem they enjoyed from us, the quiet attention and reverence they earned simply because they survived the hazards of a racist society.

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The generation over which I now reign is a new creation. Respect for the wisdom of the elders has become tenuous at best among this modern generation of young men whose identities are shaped by misogynistic media, and young women who struggle to recover from the challenges presented by a society that could care much more deeply. African Americans would have been unable to endure the violence and exploitation of racism without a strong, cohesive family to provide guidance, education, support both emotional and financial , and safety.

Family reunions have served to stabilize the African American family as it struggles to survive amid rapidly changing and increasingly complex social conditions. The need for rituals that activate and use the wisdom of elders has never been greater. Survival for this generation of new elders has different meanings. These elders are charged with helping the young continue to exist in the face of new challenges.

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Whereas the elders of yesterday sought to affirm centuries-old African American values such as racial pride and dignity, we struggle to teach the young how to resist illusions of entitlement and redirect rage away from each other and toward systemic inefficiencies that crafted their disappointments and fueled their distrust. New elders in the African American community thrash about in an ocean of distorted truths.

We believed our ancestors when they told us hard work and education result in prosperity and justice. We believed our ancestors who said we should be willing to die for what we believed. Our children watched as we trusted and obeyed and were betrayed. It is now our task to somehow revive their trust in our ability to protect and empower them. This state of affairs means we must find ways to convince them to respect themselves and one another.


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  • African American Elders, Cultural Traditions, and the Family Reunion | American Society on Aging;
  • AFRICAN TRADITIONAL HEALERS: Cultural and religious beliefs intertwined in a holistic way;

They must somehow come to believe— really believe—that violence against one another is violence against the future of the race. We must somehow help them understand that drugs restrain creativity and destroy our ability to grow communities. As the new elders, we have been handed the responsibility to renew hope in the possibilities of our people. Hope for tomorrow and trust in the possibility of prosperous and productive futures hinge on events such as family reunions—happenings that engage those who have demonstrated how to survive amid and despite discrimination and institutional barriers.

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I often wonder if being an elder was as much of a burden for my ancestors as it is for me. Renee McCoy, Ph. King, D. Myerhoff, B. Ithaca, N. Neville, G. Retrieved April 30, Vargus, I. For details, click here. Share this page. Tags : Multicultural Aging Generations Education. By Renee McCoy Family reunions are important rituals that have long contributed to the survival, health, and endurance of African American families, helping to maintain cultural heritage even in uncertain and turbulent times.

Like this article? The Sanctity of the Pig While African American family reunions can be a forum for health promotion, I must present a significant occurrence that stands out and instructs my personal experience of this cultural event: the roasting and eating of a pig. Today, many meals in the Horn are still prepared in halal style meaning that they include no pork, no alcohol, and meat only from animals who have died on their own. Across Africa, couscous, sorghum, millet and rice were enjoyed as the bases of meals, or as porridges and sides.

Watermelon and okra are both native to Africa, and many believe that cucumbers are too. Beans were eaten in abundance everywhere, especially black-eyed peas, which were often pounded into a powder for tasty bean pastes seared as fritters. The majority of traditional African American foods came straight from the garden. Cabbage, okra, tomatoes, peppers, and greens were abundant, including dandelion, mustard, collards, and turnip greens. Pickling vegetables was a popular way to preserve food; pickled beets, radish, cabbage, carrots, and cucumbers were enjoyed—and the list goes on!

Approximately 23 million people of African descent live in the Caribbean. Coconut milk, breadfruit, callaloo, yams, plantains, annatto and pumpkins are all found in the Caribbean islands.

When Cultures Intertwine – The African Way When Cultures Intertwine – The African Way
When Cultures Intertwine – The African Way When Cultures Intertwine – The African Way
When Cultures Intertwine – The African Way When Cultures Intertwine – The African Way
When Cultures Intertwine – The African Way When Cultures Intertwine – The African Way
When Cultures Intertwine – The African Way When Cultures Intertwine – The African Way
When Cultures Intertwine – The African Way When Cultures Intertwine – The African Way
When Cultures Intertwine – The African Way When Cultures Intertwine – The African Way

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