The end of the Liberian civil war brought the promotion and teaching of the country’s cultural practices almost to a standstill, greatly exposing today’s generation to the influences of foreign cultural norms, whether positive or negative.
The issue of cohabitation, popular in western countries, is on a rise in Liberia. It is not uncommon to hear the young denigrating our cultural norms; ignoring and calling them old-fashioned.
Many of the young people of today do not, or cannot speak their various local languages; they don’t know their family history or take keen interest in learning their country’s folklores or literatures.
But while some level of blame should be laid at the feet of the youth, the older generation bears the greatest responsibility because they are not placing much emphasis on teaching their children their culture, but expect them to learn it by force.
They should understand that in the days of their youth their parents never forgot or relented teaching them their culture, which started with them teaching the kids their language and family and clan history. This was followed by the kids being taught to imitate those who displayed characters that were necessary for life lessons, a practice which became a vital tool that helped them overcome many difficulties and challenges as they grow in strength.
Dr. Joshua Giddings, professor of music at Cuttington University, put it like this: “Culture is a socially transmitted knowledge and behavioral patterns shared by some group of people; so it means that culture is learned from the other members of one’s society. In other words, present-day generations live mainly on the cultural knowledge passed onto them by previous generations.
“Culture includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, laws, customs, as well as other abilities and habits that a man or woman acquires as a member of his or her society while growing up as a child. Culture gives us the necessary skills to survive in our societies; it is the foundation for our social life, and affects our views of the world around us.
“While there is still time on the side of the older generation, with some of them still alive, it is now time that the young generation are taught their culture. Culture is not passed down through race or biological means; it is learned,” said Dr. Giddings.
Culture is indeed not biologically inherited, but rather learned from parents, who bear the greatest responsibility to transfer it, if they want the moral values and other aspects of their family’s history, clan and tradition to survive.
Now let us look at other foreign nationals that live in Liberia like the Fula, they teach their children their cultural practices, norms and values and in return the children follow suit. As they get older, the kids are sent to Guinea to learn their family history, folklore and the like.
These people know that if they want their culture to survive it will only happen by passing it down through the generations, by teaching their children, not waiting on government to draft a policy.
The Fula people’s culture is so pervasive that even when it comes to marriage they compel their children to do a traditional wedding – which shows that the key to their survival as people is based on the perpetuation of their culture.
But not just the Fulas, consider how renowned Nigerian celebrities like Peter and Paul and Chinedu Ikedieze performed their traditional marriages first before doing the ‘western’ version – again, this tells you that they respect and appreciate their culture, because they were taught at young age to do so.
So, what’s wrong with our elders or parents? The answer is simply that they lack interest in their own cultural practices. One thing every member of the older generation needs to understand is that if they fail to teach Liberian culture to the youths of today, things will get worse than they presently are.
“No human society will survive unless its members effectively nurture and enculturate their children. So not only at home can we teach our children Liberian culture, but begin teaching some of the major Liberian languages in schools (besides English) as it is done in Ghana and Nigeria; this will also help.
“Culture changes with time, but its root must be present to make it distinct from others. Old and new ideas must merge to satisfy the needs of the present time or generation. It does not mean that it should not be taught neither practiced.
“Our universities should establish departments of African Studies where African arts, music, dance and drama can become viable degree programs to encourage students who want to major in those areas.
“I say, yes, it is possible for a culture rebirth in Liberia because I see signs that if the older generation places emphasis on the need of a cultural renaissance in Liberia, the youth will follow suit. Today traditional marriage is taking root among many Liberians because the Liberian government has legalized traditional marriage, making it equal with western marriage. If we of the older generation place emphasis on the use of our own African wearing (clothes), the youth are bound to follow suit,” says Dr. Giddings.
It is my prayer that the older generation place emphasis on teaching Liberian culture, not wait for government to first draft a policy.