The New Times (Kigali)

29 January 2013

Rwanda: Preserve Oral Literature Through the Pen

opinion

RENOWNED NIGERIAN novelist, Chinua Achebe once lamented thus "what was the right emphasis yesterday may not quite right today, so we must be agile and flexible and imaginative". As such, there should be a growing sense of concern, especially by African scholars, about the future of our orally transmitted knowledge in the face of increasing technological evolution and socio-economic upheavals.

Whereas in the past, cultural values and tradition mores were passed on from one generation to another through stories told around fireplaces in the evenings, this option seems not to be possible given the dynamics of our lifestyles today.

At this rate, we are losing our cultural heritage, cultural values and history than anybody could imagine. Whereas in the past, cultural values and tradition mores were passed on from one generation to another through stories told around fireplaces in the evenings, this option seems not to be possible given the dynamics of our lifestyles today. Apart from the 'busy factor' where parents hardly find time to interact with their children, the technological fall-offs have made it hard for the children to interact with their parents to learn from them.

As such, it is not surprising that our young children will be busy watching movies, playing video games to mention, but a few during their free time. The biggest irony is that these movies are built on the culture values and traditions of the western world, which we embrace unconsciously at the expense of our own; as such our youngsters want to walk like Will Smith, to dress like Tiger Woods, and so forth. As such, everything African is regarded as uncivilised and backward.

Given the above scenario and today's realities where both parents and teachers have little time to teach morals and values to the young generation, there should be a deliberate policy by the government through the institutions concerned to support Rwandan authors to preserve our oral literature through books. This would be in line with one of the aspirations of the Ministry of Eduucation's, Education Sector policy, which is: "to inculcate in children and sensitize them to the importance of environment, hygiene and health and protection against HIV/AIDS (Education sector policy, 2003).

On top of folktales and proverbs, other themes to write about should be integrated carefully and information put in books to teach our children some of the social challenges that they meet today. For example, in Rwanda, our creative writing should focus on themes that help our children to promote unity and reconciliation, environmental issues, HIV and AIDS, equitable education, promote human rights, implications of drug abuse, assertion of women's rights, gender parity, and prevention of child mortality through immunization, among others.

Although this approach might offer limited coverage when we consider the extent of problems we have in our society today, it is imperative to understand that today's multiple challenges require the adoption of integrative strategies and using creative works/writing would be one of the most effective options especially among the school children.

From the above arguments, there is a strong need for the government and civil society organisations to develop a deliberate policy to promote creative writing focused on specific themes like the ones cited above.

Reading materials should be consciously generated to influence the character of our children today and the nature of adults they will be tomorrow. These works could be designed in such a way that readers will develop life and personal skills from reading such materials/books.

Accordingly, creative writing will not only play a vital role in preserving and promoting our culture for posterity, but also help in addressing social challenges that the Rwandan society faces today, thereby preparing them to become better and responsible citizens.

Again, since the ministry of Education and that of Youth and Culture are charged with preserving our cultural mores and traditions, they should take the lead in promoting creative writing. In my view, creative writing is one of the most effective ways of preserving our culture. Otherwise, we shall leave it in the dustbin as a result of the resultant generational gaps and in the end; we shall be a lost people.

The author is an educationist, author and publisher.

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