Africa Must Stop Apishly Copying The West

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Okot p’Bitek

[From The Arcvhives]

The following excerpt is from Okot p'Bitek's "Africa's Cultural Revolution

And African bishops and clergy continue to wear crimson robes and paper hats, to bless black congregations in Latin. The choirs in the churches in post-uhuru Africa continue singing meaningless holy songs. Has Christianity failed to inspire any poet to compose songs of praise to the Christian God? Or is the God of Christiandom deaf to prayers spoken in the African medium? 

Why do professor in African universities continue to wear medieval costumes? What pleasure do our black university teachers derive from sweating profusely during academic processions? Why should some students in your universities eat foods of a lower quality and drink water, when other students called “lecturers,” eat choice foods at the “High Table” and drink expensive wines? What do these Western ceremonies mean to post-uhuru Africa, which is, hopefully, dedicated to reconstructing African societies along African ways of thought? What have the high standards of African scholarship to do with the archaic costumes of a bygone age in western Europe?

The French and American revolutions swept away many social customs, including class distinctions indicated by the wig. But the African revolution which brought uhuru seems to have taken over entirely those costumes and mannerisms which, in feudal Europe, indicated a high place in society. The chairmen of our national council are called “Speakers”—and they do not speak much. These are usually elected representatives. Now, in the House of the people’s representatives, our speakers where the most un-African robes. When entering or leaving the Council Halls they are led by a man carrying a huge club called a “mace.” The Speakers put on black robes and big wigs, and where whites gloves. Those in the former British colonies dress exactly like the Speaker in the so-called “Mother of Parliaments,” in other words the National Council of Britain. But why is this? What do the Speaker’s robe and wig mean to the people of Africa? 

What is the symbolism and significance of the mace to the voters? The way the Members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons dress when the monarch of Britain is visiting their National Council reflects the culture and history of that nation. What have the nations of post-uhuru Africa to do with British culture and history? 

Come Christmas, and African leaders called mayors and aldermen and councillors put on their robes of office—gowns and fur caps identical to those worn by mayors, aldermen and councillors in Europe, and switch on the lights on the Christmas trees. In the height of the dry season, we plant these trees in the city square, and put cotton wool on them to remind us of the winter! And, to crown apemanship, a black Santa Clause dressed in a red robe and a white beard distributes gifts to little black children. What do these things mean to us?

A lawyer friend of mine was ordered by a judge to “dress properly” before he could appear for his client. The advocate was in a black suit, but that was not enough. He went back to his office and put on the black robe and the little white wig; little beads of sweat covered his face. And the judge in his frightening red robe and big wig now listened to the case. The three servants of the law looked so different than the peasant before the court. The black prosecutor, the black defense counsel and the black judge were all so strange and foreign and spoke such a foreign language that, that even when at the end of the trial the man was acquitted, he had not even begun to understand what the whole thing was about! Why must the servants of justice be so frightening to the very people they serve? Would the judgment be less just if our judges did not wear their red robes? 

The youths of Africa, like youths anywhere in the world, usually emulate their leaders. “Apemanship” in high places does not help in eradicating “apemanship” among the young; it does not encourage creativity among the youths. Let the black man use his creativity and initiative to reconstruct his own society and institutions in his own style! 

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