29 December 2012

Tanzania: Cultural Diversity, White Christmas in Summer!


When the former Zairean leader, Joseph Desire Mobutu, introduced his Authenticity Policy way back in the sixties he limited himself into changing of names to native ones.

Congo Leopoldville became Zaire while the capital became Kinshasa. Himself from Joseph Mobutu to Mobutu Seseseko Kuku Wa zabanga and the likes of Wamba dia Wamba, Nguza Kal Bond and so forth.

Yes, he was not short of admirers in that way hence the creation of names like Kiangiosekazi Wa Nyoka, Makwaia wa Kuhenga and several others you can think of. But in a more insight approach, Mwalimu Nyerere did it earlier soon after independence by creating a ministry of Youth and Culture with a sole purpose of overseeing the cultural upbringing of our youths and our country.

Mwalimu rightly believed that cultural values were the soul of the nation. A nation without its own culture is a silhouette of other nations. At the heart of it, was the national language, Kiswahili. He despised those boasting of being fluent in Queens English at the expense of their own language.

At that stage, some even went further changing their local names into seemingly foreign names such as John Kegyyir, John Bullet, Peter Haizes, Augustine Wellington Mabox, Charles Brown and so forth. That was about fifty years ago; are we right now able to be proud of our culture?

Do we have a national dress that practically identifies us as Tanzanians? Do our traditional values still portray our uniqueness as Tanzanians? I am afraid we are not yet there and the indications are not in sight! Indeed we are in a global village as orchestrated by the globalisation.

Look at our music, the so-called Bongo flavour and the rhumba music by several Congolese artists and those of Twanga Pepeta. Are you comfortable with them? Is it Tanzanian music or something borrowed from somewhere else?

Even the Taarab music which is traditionally considered as the oriental music with unique blend of the spice island of Zanzibar has completely lost its flavour due to commercialization. It is easy to identify the Western African Music such as P. Squire and some of our boys have already started to become copy cats of that Nigerian music.

Why can't we come up with 'mdumange' style like that one of Dushelele of Ali Kiba? Surely we could come with our own originality. Listen to music of Salif Keita, Manu Dibango, Mbilia Belle. These are world class artists known of their originality and their countries culturally well identified.

What a Christmas day that we had? Was it a winter or a white Christmas? This is the main contradiction of culture on the pretext of modern civilisation. At this juncture I am tempted to revisit the famous Uganda author, Okot p'Bitek with his Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol.

I wish if he were alive and see how East Africans were enjoying their Christmas festivity. He would, much to his chagrin see how we embody the western values and customs, extolling the virtues of European society. He wrote in his several poems that the European Christmas is in winter, where everything is covered with snow.

But African Christmas is in summer yet we buy Christmas Trees decorate them with glittering lights with cotton to look like European Christmas snowing. Would you buy the idea that, there are two commemorations of Christmases that is of July and December each year?

The Western World which apparently includes also Australia and New Zealand has different seasons of winter. While the traditional winter in Europe is in December then they have the Winter Christmas in December while New Zealand and Australia have their own July Winter Christmas just to make it coincide with the winter season.

To them, winter is part of the Christmas traditions. But in Africa, it is just copy and paste. Many had celebrated their winter solstice, while others celebrated with the frosts heavy snow on the slopes and enjoyed the season itself.

Did you have those features for your Christmas celebrations or you ended up in boozing! To African countries, Christmas coincides with the summer season making a befitting coincidence of the end of the year thus Summer Holidays affording families to move around to see their beloved ones.

Yes, our colleagues from the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro make better use of this season! They travel from afar to Kilimanjaro to be counted at home. It is during this time when the flamboyant flowers blossom, colouring the country with red flowers in most of the African countries. Do we need a European Christmas Tree to decorate our houses?

The flamboyant tree has the same qualities with those European Christmas Trees. Traditional colours of a European Christmas Tree are green and red. Red symbolises the blood of Jesus which was shed on cruxifiction while green symbolises eternal life and in particular evergreen tree which does not lose its leaves in the winter.

The flamboyant tree has all those qualities and is very much relevant to our geographical and climatic conditions. Why not drop the European Christmas Tree and go for our flamboyant tree?

After all, the modern Christmas tree tradition is believed to have begun from Germany in the 18th century though many believe that Martin Luther began the tradition in the 16th Century and from Germany it went to Great Britain during the reign of Queen Victoria.

By 1841 Christmas tree had become even more spread throughout Britain with more special decorations with lights and ornaments. This is a question of culture and has nothing to do with religious beliefs. Changing this European culture into more relevant African way of thinking could boost our African values.

We have done it once by changing prayers from the Latin language into Kiswahili and the solemnly Christian hymns into vibrant traditional ways of singing; why not Christmas trees and the likes? Have a prosperous New Year!

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