Covid-19 Should be a Wake-up Call to Shift our Cultural Inclinations.
Covid-19 has redefined all we took to be culturally acceptable. Photo Courtesy of WHO Africa.
The last few weeks have been very though. Today it is even tougher as shall be tomorrow and partly the days to come before things can normalize. A joke has been going around castigating the Luhya community about the washing hands when it is not even meal time. And it stops at that.
In the Novel, ‘A man of the People’ by Chinua Achebe, the coming of the white man to Umuofia comes at a cost. The residents of this ‘town’ as the Umuofia Progressive Union referred to it have to change a few cultures. One of it was to do with washing hands using soap.
People don’t take it rightly as a good gesture for good sanitation. To them washing hands after eating good food like chicken means one won’t eat another chicken any time soon. So they are caught in between buying the new culture and sticking to their old tradition.
As a matter of fact, Okonkwo, the main character in the novel commits suicide at the end of the tale because he finds himself in conflict with finding a middle ground between what he holds so dear to him; tradition and the new culture of the white man infused with his religion. He ends up doing a taboo, something unexpected of a man with two titles already to himself.
I couldn’t find a scenario befitting this story besides the Covid-19 virus that has left damages across the globe wherever it has visited. It began as a tale story to us Kenyans and we decided to sit and wait till it came before we could face it head on.
Just like our fathers, we sat watching – like them – as they waited to see if the fangs of the white man were strong enough to sedate them with their machetes and fire sticks. It was too late when they discovered that the white man was ‘superior’ just like his fire stick that smoked.
So Covid-19 came silently, testing the grounds until it found the landing ground was ready and in wait. We were caught pants down. And because we can’t walk to the market square with our pants down, we quickly pulled them up forgetting that they had stretched and tampered with the waist size. We nevertheless decided to hold to it to cover up the shame.
Part of it was to encourage our people to start washing their hands. Sanitize them and keep safe distances between themselves. And that is where the problem came in. We were never born to do these things. They are anti-African. We have our code of conduct and we vowed on the chests of our forefathers to keep them to the last generation. Big mistake.
Truth be said, most of us have made more enemies in this period than ever. You walk around and your closest friends stretch their hands to you and you remind them there is a viral outbreak. They don’t want to hear that. Those Covid-19 viruses are for the white people and to us; satisfaction is out of a great handshake. Big mistake again.
Then we started keeping distance. People were looking at us like we had dropped from mars. They could give you that look that asks you, “Bro, do I look as if I bite like a snake or do I smell like a he goat.” You remind them that there is a disease outbreak that demands that we all keep safe distances. They remind you that the disease is far away. Big mistake again.
And then it knocked home. The doors opened and we now saw the sense. It wasn’t a white man disease alone for when it came, it even came for our own. We were then warned to keep distance and avoid contact with other people even those close to us. We closed our ears. It is anti-African to do such a thing. We were very wrong. Very wrong again.
Then a directive was given that we stay at home. Did we? How do we survive if we stay at home? Can you imagine staying at home from morning till evening while the children are around and think everything will be okay? No. An African man has to get out and talk with other men. They have to go to some place somewhere and take a few sips of the Lions tears called all manner of names from munyeke to maji.
Mind you it is no ordinary water. Others had to meet and play a few games to pass time. When passengers were ordered to sit in proper distances for safety, we did so during the day and when it got to evening, we broke the code because we are in Africa and we have our way of life.
To this far, we may acknowledge or not that our mindsets and cultures can sometimes mean our destruction. Those ‘small’ things we hold dearly in our hearts as part of culture could mean our death especially when we get too deeply intertwined to them to a level where letting go looks like death itself to us. We have to rethink.
In Achebe’s A Man of The People, the people of Abame tried to hold dearly to their tradition against a backdrop of negotiations with the white man and that brought to a massive death of the residents. Tradition cost them their warriors.
Should we carelessly ride in the cultural identity we so much hold to as people, we may find ourselves facing death like the people of Abame. Let us be sober and vigilant in the fight against Covid-19.
Let us wash our hands always. Let us sanitize them. Let us keep social distancing as is advised and finally let us pray like never before. We may say prayers can do nothing, instead we need science, but don’t forget where the science is from. Only from the source can we get healing of the land.