How much do you know About African societies?



Yesterday, I promised to give you an insight into African societies in the areas mentioned in this post (Check it here). I said that it maybe has nothing to do with this blog’s theme, but remarked that this blog’s theme was not the ten commandments of God, meaning I can once in a while deviate from it without fearing an uproar or disapprobation.   

I had already said on this blog that I was a writer, teacher and had done business, all three areas useful for a blogger. What I hadn’t said is that I am also a sociologist; having obtained the French equivalent of the Master’s degree (maîtrise) at the university here with a major in Psycho-sociology of Communication.

Some of you, especially non-Africans, might have found it strange when I said yesterday I had “an appointment since three days ago to see my younger brother’s father-in-law yesterday Sunday 15 September 2013 at 10.30 concerning their recurrent conjugal problems, the last of which took them to the police (an anathema here but being encouraged by the Organizations defending women’s rights).”

Conjugal problems are often settled within the larger family, usually the spouses’ parents, aunts (who play central roles in marriages) and uncles. Since divorce is hardly encouraged here and African societies are controlled by men, this type of settlement is often viewed as inimical to women’s interests. Hardly is a man blamed in these circumstances, so the organizations for defence of woman’s rights have been carrying out campaigns encouraging women to resort to the law-enforcement agencies, including the courts.

But this butts against social resistance. Many people view it as an act of “high treason” for a woman to resort to the police, the NGOs or the courts to settle a matrimonial problem. A woman who goes that far is sure to face divorce. Right now my brother is under pressure to disown his wife because “she went that far.”  

This highlights difficulties of African societies since the coming of European colonialists in the 14th century. It is said that since that moment Africa and Africans have been thrust out of history. We were following our own historical evolution when the “advanced” Europeans came and catapulted our societies out of its traditional modes and thrust it into something totally different and often contradictory.

I often tell people here that while the European may be married only once (civil marriage) or twice (religious also), many Africans do so three times. I married my wife in the traditional way by first paying a dowry (contrary to international opinion, here this does not connote buying a woman but constitute a sort of a legal agreement binding the two families and recognizing the woman as a person of value; that’s why a woman married without dowry is considered a disgrace) consisting of cloths, drinks, a Bible and a sum of money. Then we got married “legally” at the Mayor’s office. The whole was crowned with a religious ceremony to give it “God’s grace”.

If you consider all sectors of life (names, culture, food, even thoughts, etc), the African navigates between two worlds, sometimes for our own good but often pulling us in different directions.

You saw in yesterday’s post that I was torn between my appointment with my brother’s father-in-law and my fellow teacher’s invitation to a get-together the same day at noon. Going to the old man was answering the traditional call of brotherhood (we are generally community-centred) and the party was for self-gratification (showing how individualism is taking a hold on our society). Have you ever wondered why, with all the socio-political and economic problems, Africa has far less suicide rate than western societies? The mentality of being an integral part of whole makes our extremely difficult life “bearable”.   

I also mentioned yesterday that our society was a talking one.  No doubt I said that “To my surprise, we finished the matter in about an hour.”

When I was being trained to write, one of the pieces of advice given us to be productive was to hang a “Don’t disturb” notice on our door when busy writing. This made me smile. It simply wouldn’t work here. I write my blog posts in the sitting room with my children watching TV (thank God, they keep the volume low), my wife receiving visitors (she had to remind people from time to time to keep their voices low so that I can work), people coming to see me (I keep my computer on and turn to it from time to time to let them go away but hardly do they do so and it’s considered impolite to cut short a visit to you!), and neighbours doing their own thing (which could be turning on their radio sets too loud, talking animatedly at the top of their voices, etc., etc.)

The weather being lenient here year-round, doors and windows are kept open all day long and closed only at night. It doesn’t even make sense to keep one’s doors closed here except if the room was air-conditioned rooms since the room will soon be stuffy. Sociologically, one keeping indoors will be considered an outcast or asocial. When a German friend first came to visit me here his first remark was why there were so many people outdoors! And Africans who have never been to the West do not understand that even next-door neighbours keep very much to themselves.   

I mentioned yesterday that I got to my friend’s house at 1 pm, an hour after the invitation time, but would you believe that I was the first guest to arrive! We refer to this as “African punctuality”! If you want people to be at a meeting at 3 pm, tell them it will start at 2 pm, and you would be lucky to see them even at 3 pm! No wonder, most of the guests for the party arrived between 3 and 4! And as usual, those who came late wondered why there was no more food and drink.

The party, as I told you yesterday, lasted up to 5 pm. There was a lot to eat and drink and varied music to dance to. One of my cultural shocks in Germany was to be invited by somebody to drink and I had to pay for my drink. This is unheard of here. But what made my eyes widen even more was to receive an invitation to a party where I was asked to bring my own food and drink. One of my most embarrassing moments in life was when I answered such an invitation in Germany empty handed. I came back home with an empty stomach and a parched throat. While here when you invite a dozen people, be sure to have thrice that number. Recently people are trying to avoid having hangers on at their parties by checking the invitation cards, but either they receive less than the people invited (who view carrying cards an insult) or get hangers on also, especially if one was rich.        

Another curtain I lifted on my type of African society yesterday was in this sentence: “As custom demands I had to give my family feedback on my mission (with my brother’s father-in-law) and I since this is a big group, I know this will take time. Under the circumstances, I can’t find the time to write today’s post.”

I called the members of my family for a meeting at my younger sister’s. Of course, people came when they fancied. The meeting began when we had about half of those expected. People came as we progressed and we constantly had to repeat what had already been said and it was not only late but also I was battered when the meeting ended. 

Yesterday, I had promised to give you an insight into African societies in the areas mentioned in that post. What should have been easy to write turned out otherwise. So many ideas scrambled to be put down! Selecting among them was painful but I had to in order to finish this “extraordinary” post.

This may not have anything to do with my blog’s theme, but I am happy to have opened a window on the society from which I come and in which I still live and in which I may die.

Man shall not live by bread alone. So if you need more details on what has been discussed here or on another aspect of my type of African society (wide variations exist from one African society to the other), don’t hesitate to ask. The pleasure shall be mine to fill you in.   

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