None but Africans can define themselves

African culture, religion and traditional practices have been altered significantly as a result of colonial rule. Colonial rulers interfered with the African way of life and worship. Africans were largely considered primitive. There was an unsolicited and desperate need for intruders in Africa to want to “modernise” Africans and indoctrinate them into a European way of life, thinking and worship. African cultures were gradually impoverished through neglect and deliberate suppression by colonial hooligans. There are some today who regard Euro-centricism as a measure of social advancement and modernity. Conversely, African values and principles are frowned upon.

The rise of African nationalism heralded campaigns by Africans to guard against external influences on their way of life. Culture is what defines society. A dilution of culture ordinarily means the loss of identity and uniqueness as a people. African culture is what defines Africans and distinguishes their humanity to others of different cultures.

A clear distinction needs to be drawn between “culture” and “tradition” as the two do not mean one and the same thing, though interconnected. Culture primarily refers to the value system and shared attitudes that characterise a group of people or society, their human expression and the way in which they perceive and interpret the nature of the world around them.

African cultural practices have a particular meaning that speaks to the values we embrace as Africans. The content and meaning of culture as projected through certain practices should never change nor be compromised but the tradition through which such cultural meaning or values find expression does evolve. Tradition is fluid. Tradition ensures continuity of culture and its transmission from one generation to the next and with each generation certain traditional practices which are considered archaic and irrelevant will ordinarily be abandoned.

With each generational change comes a new form of cultural expression, often to the horror of cultural extremists who are stuck on archaic practices that have not adapted to changing social circumstances. The cultural meaning remains the same even though the traditional practice may have been altered through the succession of generations.

To make a practical example of the above, let us look at the cultural practice of paying lobola. This is a traditional custom aimed at uniting two families together, those of the groom-to-be and bride-to-be. This is a form of expression of gratitude by the groom-to-be’s parents to their family for having presented them with a wonderful and beautiful future daughter-in-law while the groom-to-be communicates to his future parents-in-law that he is capable of supporting and taking care of their daughter.

Traditional lobola payment was in the form of cattle because in olden days, before the emergence of plastic money, cattle were the primary source of wealth. However, the dictates of modern times have rendered cattle as payment irrelevant to the extent that African families who have embraced social advancements and adapted accordingly would accept cash instead. Perhaps in future plastic money would also be an acceptable form of exchange between the two families. Despite these changes in traditional practices, the cultural significance of lobola has not changed. It remains the same.

Africans fully understand what informed their traditional practices and the meaning and relevance of such practices. That there may be so-called Westernised Africans who reject African culture in favour of Western values and religion, does not mean that African culture has no relevance and meaning.

African culture is reflected in music, food, art, language, jewellery, among other things. These are part of the distinguishing features among cultures of the world. There can be no universality among such salient features of culture. Their meaning and origins are not entirely understood by those on the outside, but are nevertheless beguiled by them. They are who we are and what makes us the people others can identify among the rest.

The contentious question, made contentious by emotional fragilities of some, is “who is an African?” Black people are Africans. Africans are black people. The significant meaning of the term “African” refers to racial identity of black people and goes beyond the sentimentality of geographical location of others of different races who appropriate the description to themselves. An African is defined by the culture described above. Being of a different race to Africans and embracing such African culture affords one a sense of belonging to that society in which one exists, but does not change the racial identity of a person of European descent, for example.

A person of European descent born and bred in Africa will ordinarily have a sense of belonging to Africa by claiming roots in the continent. However, such belonging by accident of birth does not make one an African in the true meaning of who an African is. That Africa is the cradle of humanity and therefore we are all Africans becomes an absurd proposition since the rest of the world does not refer to themselves as Africans. To use the term “African” in reference to one’s geographical location is of no consequence or meaning. It becomes a mere description that carries no weight and is futile. It becomes a convenient narrative by some to distance themselves from the unflattering history of slavery, colonialism and apartheid repression. There seems to exist an irrational notion that unity can be forged through revising history for social expediency.

Africans have in the past over-extended and compromised themselves in the pursuit of harmonious co-existence with others. Africans in South Africa have walked an extra mile since 1994 to extend a hand of reconciliation. This hand of reconciliation has often has been shunned by those who are historical offenders and who should be in the forefront of forging unity and reconciliation with those they have offended and wronged in the past. There has always existed a dismissive attitude against those Africans who are unapologetic about who they are and what being African means. There are some who feel threatened by African nationalism and perhaps see the collective pride among Africans as a threat to their privilege. The glaring difference in the culture of Africans and pseudo-Africans is the Afro-centric and Euro-centric nature of each. One cannot claim lineage with Africans when what defines who she/he is not rooted in Africa. We must reject this sort of cultural or racial arbitrage.

Africans need to reclaim their identity, religion and culture, and discard many of those which were imposed on them, by embracing Afrocentricism as the essential element of the African renaissance as popularised by the former President Thabo Mbeki.

Mbeki remarked: “an essential and necessary element of the African renaissance is that we all must take it as our task to encourage she [Africa] who carries this leaden weight to rebel, to assert the principality of her humanity — the fact that she, in the first instance, is not a beast of burden, but a human and African being.”

We cannot allow as Africans our identity to become easily dispensable for social expediency and to assuage irrational fears of some. Africans almost had their identity reduced to nothingness during the era of colonial thuggery. It cannot be that when Africans have liberated themselves from such historical thuggery and asserted their identity, they can today be blackmailed into watering down what defines them and who they are for the sake of inclusivity and accommodation of others.

Africans must reclaim and defend their identity, lest we revert to colonial days when the task of defining ourselves was the burden of others.

(First published in


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4 responses to “None but Africans can define themselves

  • Amanda Risi

    Do you seriously think modern ‘Africans’ can do without their TV’s – a Western invention? Oh, and without cellphones?

    Do you seriously think ‘Africans’ really want to regain an identity, return to living off the land, living without electricity, without toilets, without boats, in buildings of only one storey spreading millions across the land, destroying trees for firewood…. all this rejection of technologies ‘Africans’ now love… do you think all will simply restart from where they would be without technologies developed by people mainly of European descent?

    Imagine, if you will, a young boy in Africa….. Malawi actually…

    “Starting at 14, rather than accept his fate, William started borrowing books from a small community lending library located at his former primary school. He borrowed an 8th grade American textbook called Using Energy, which depicted wind turbines on its cover. He decided to build a windmill to power his family’s home and obviate the need for kerosene, which provided only smoky, flickering, distant and expensive light after dark. First he built a prototype using a radio motor, then his initial 5-meter windmill out of a broken bicycle, tractor fan blade, old shock absorber, and blue gum trees. After hooking the windmill to a car battery for storage, William was able to power four light bulbs and charge neighbors’ mobile phones.”

    See how the influence of one small reading book has changed this community…

    This American book had pictures of a windmill in it that William was able to use to build his own and enhance the lives of those in his family and his village…

    It seems to me that however much you argue for Africanism and retaining African identity….. that you only wish to do this without having to face losing all the useful technologies that were and continue to be introduced here.

    I’m not ‘colonial’ in the sense you describe. Generalisation is not a good way to measure the good or the bad or the ugly of either Africans, Europeans or any other people on this good earth.

    What you describe above is more akin to racism and seperatism – neither of these indefensible human attitudes will prove to be lasting when it comes to the point where we have to defend our Earth from further degradation and find ways to sustainably exist on this planet. It’s like small talk before the big bang.

    • Maxamed Ibrahim (@masaafur)

      to the writer of the article; Its hard for me to imagine an African culture because Africa is so diverse. There other thing is that we need to include the Berbers of North Africa (who not look black) and even the Arabs. Really whether they like it or not they are Africans.

      to the commenter; I do not think this is racism. I don’t think Europeans have every really understood what they have done in the past, nor have they really regretted. They rather say ‘sorry about that. lets move on’. But you can’t move on because the entire structure & wealth of society has been redefined. Now you have to redistribute, redefine your culture, and at the same time integrate into this increasingly global world with a weaker sense of identity.

      Culture little to do with technology. You can have culture with modern technology. I don’t understand what these two have to do with each other.

      and just to note I am Somali.

  • 911 ✡ ✈▌▌ (@elviswinehouse)

    Just as ‘Colonial rulers interfered with the African way of life and worship’. today African’s are interfering with the European way of life and worship. Mass non-White immigration into White nations is leading to the Genocide of the White race which stands at only 8-10 % of world population.

    White’s are being taxed and socially engineered to not have children and to mix sexually with non-Whites. This social engineering comes from the the Jew rulers of White societies who own and control all the Mass Media and advertising industries, along with the Banking, Financial, Government and Academic institutions. This Jewish Money Power is so huge and omnipresent that Whites can’t see it. Whites are ‘brainwashed’ not to see it.

    Jews are the common enemy of all non Jews. It was the Jewish money power that financed White colonial expansion into African. We must remind ourselves that Rothschild has been in control of the Central Bank of England since 1815. Jew Bankers have ruled England since then, not the King or Queen or Parliament who simply obey the orders of the Jew Money Power. We must remind ourselves that Jews financed and controlled the African Slave Trade. It was an exclusive Jewish monopoly. This is historical fact. See Louis Farrakan’s writings if you are in any doubt. We must remind ourselves that it was Jews who done 9/11, causing White Nations to attack Muslim Nations exactly as the Jews had planned.

    It is therefore important that Whites, Blacks, and Arabs support each other in the struggle against the Jew World Order. African Nationalists, White Nationalists and Arab Nationalists all have common goals which are mutually beneficial to each other. We all want the right to rule our own nations without the interference of the Jew money/war power. Solutions to our problems can come quickly once we defeat the global Money as Debt, Fractional Reserve Central Banking Power- the common enemy of all non- Jews.

  • Brett Sacks

    A very interesting post and I agree with a lot of what you say but would like to contribute my own opinion.

    There is definitely an African culture that harbours its own traditions and this culture is incomparable to that of a western culture. However, as you state, culture progresses and evolves. In the same way that most Africans still pay lebola, there are numerous other traditions that have been lost along the way or have changes significantly. The same way that African culture, as per a black African has evolved, so has the culture of a white African (a white born in Africa) – this has evolution is toward a white African culture; which can exist side by side with a black African culture. If I am to use myself as an example, being from German lineage, if I was to be instantly transported to Germany today, not only would I be lost with the language (completely), the German culture would seem completely foreign to me – as such, I do no consider myself German or European as I do not identify with said people.

    Then, what do I consider myself? Well, African. I do not claim to be the same African that you are because that is simply irrational, however, I am African in my own way – as many white Africans are. Before I expand on this, I will provide my rebuttal to your opinion.

    You state that it is the colour of your skin that affords you the true right of being called an African by stating: “Black people are Africans. Africans are black people”. However, I implore you to take an African from New York City and place him in a true African setting. According to you, this person is African – the same way that a person from European descent is not African. However, how much would this NY African have in common with the tradition and culture of the people around him? Probably zero – the same amount that I’d have in common with my German ancestry. So, can we still conclude that this black person from the USA is African and I am not?

    So, to continue, according to your logic, I am not African but according to my logic (as stated above), I am not European. Where does this leave me? Well, as far as I see it, being African or European is an identity. You describe the longing to the land and a feeling of having roots to Africa – for me this is enough. After how many generations of living in Africa may a white lineage be branded as African? Obviously my cultures and traditions will not align with yours but do your cultures and traditions align with a person from Nigeria? Or a Muslim from Morroco? Is one more African that the other?

    In conclusion, you speak of reconciliation. However, by you distancing yourself from me and further; by seperating yourself from me, you are not allowing a white person his identity as an African – as a person born in Africa, living in Africa, working for Africa and pulling in the same direction as fellow Africans it is niether the colour of my skin or variations of culture/traditions that will stop me from calling myself an African.


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