Influence of Modern Technology On African Tradition
By Chukwuemeka Chukwuebuka
The basic thing to do in approaching this paper is to first establish a working understanding of the word tradition. This is one word that has been subjected to various interpretations by various scholars and in various fields of human life.
In archaeology, the term tradition is a set of cultures or industries which appear to develop on from one another over a period of time – Handler and Innekin(1984).
Tradition in Biology according to Fragaszy (2003), is defined as a behavioral practice that is relatively enduring (i.e. is performed repeatedly over a period of time), that is shared among two or more members of a group, that depends in parts on socially aided learning for its generation in new practitioners and has been called a precursor to culture in the anthropological sense.
Sociology sees tradition as a social construct used to contrast past with the present as a form of rationality used to justify a certain course of action.
According to Wikipedia .com, the word tradition itself derives from the latin “tradere” literally meaning to transmit, to hand over, to give for safe keeping. Giddens (2003), in his work titled Runaway World: how globalization is reshaping our lives traces the origin to the context of Roman Law, where it referred to the laws of inheritance. Property that passed from one generation to another was supposed to be given in trust-the inheritor had obligations to protect and nurture it.
Tradition, in essence, is a belief or behavior passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or significant with origin in the past.
The idea of tradition is that practices are passed down from ancient generations to contemporary times as a link between the past and the present.
In his work Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Beliefs, Customs, Tales, Music and Arts, vol.1 (1997), Thomas Green views tradition as a set of cultural ideals regarded as a coherent unit in which past ideals influence the present patterns of behavior in the group. He says it is a recognized set of present practices with origins in the past or a set of practices created in the past that are purposefully maintained by the group in the present.
Thomas Green further informs that tradition is something passed down from one generation to the next, generally by informal means, with little or no change in the transmission of that item or in the item that is transmitted.
Africa no doubt is a land of traditions. The world’s second largest continent-spanning both the northern and southern hemisphere with 54 independent countries and over 3000 diverse tribes, Africa is surely a handful to study. Laboring from the colonization and consequent denigration over a period of 300 years, Africa still holds out to the rest of humanity a wide range of fascinating traditions that make it Africa that it is.
From the colorful wedding ceremonies of the Ndebele people of South Africa to the spitting practice of the Maasai people of Kenya, the breathtaking healing dance of the san people of Botswana, Africa surely is a marvel to the world.
Over the years technological advances have permeated all spheres of human existence altering and in some cases completely changing these practices. In some instances, technological advances have helped to push these traditional practices to the doorsteps of the rest of the world. This is the crux of the matter in this paper. How has technological advances altered, destroyed or enhanced as the case may be the traditions inherent in Africa?
AHAJIOKU FESTIVAL: Africa is largely an agrarian society. The family in Africa has a lot of traditional practices attached to it. The “ahajioku” festival of the Igbo race in eastern Nigeria is a referral point. It is a celebration of the god responsible for yam production. Africa has seen subsistent family to commercial agricultural due to the impact of technology. She developed her own crude infrastructure for that purpose and today we have hi-tech equipments deployed to the production, processing and distribution of agricultural products. The “ahajioku “festival in itself is a global brand.
Tourist, historians and filmmakers all around the world have taken more than a passing interest in the festival. In fact, “Ahajioku” festival has an annual lecture series attached to it. The coverage and documentation of the festival using technology has ensured that the tradition has survived down to the present generation.
THE HEALING DANCE: The healing dances among the San people of South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Angola is another attraction in Africa. The Vimbuza healing dance of the Tumbuka people in northern Malawi till this present time has remained a spectacle to the world.
In 2008 the Vimbuza healing dance was inscribed on the representative list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity which was originally proclaimed in 2005 by UNESCO see http://ichi.unesco.org /en/Rl/vimbuza-healing-dance-0058.
In a documentary produced by Ton Van der lee for “Spirits of Africa” series in 2012, the San (Bushman) spiritual ceremony is described as a healing trance dance. The traditional healer dances for hours until he gets into a trance, leaves the body to connect to the spirit world. He is empowered and upon his return to the physical realm, he heals people around the fire with the power he has received .www.spiritsofafrica.com and http://www.tonvanderlee.nl. Digital technology has so certainly transformed traditions in Africa by making it accessible to the world.
MAASAI TRADITIONS: The Maasai people of East Africa are known to be an enduring tradition. Their love for bright colours and extensive ornamentation mark them out among other tribes. They are known to be very brave warriors and nomads. Karen Blixen describes the Maasai people in these words “A Maasai warrior is a fine sight. Those young men have, to the utmost extent, that particular form of intelligence which we call chic; daring and wildly fantastical as they seem, they are still unswervingly true to their own nature, and to an immanent ideal. Their style is not an assumed manner, nor an imitation of a foreign perfection; it has grown from the inside, and is an expression of the race and its history, and their weapons and finery are as much a part of their being as are a stag’s antlers.”http://maasaiwilderness.org/maasai/
Diane McCarthy (2013) writes “For centuries, the lush national parks of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania have been called home by the Maasai, one of Africa’s most culturally distinct tribes. Being traditional pastoralists with a nomadic bent, the Maasai have used the sprawling grasslands and forested slopes of the Serengeti National Park, Tsavo National Park and Mkomazi Game Reserve as a grazing ground for their cattle, which provide them with the milk, meat and blood they need to survive.”
In recent times however, the natural endowments of the Maasai people, their rich traditional heritage are being threatened. This is occasioned by the influx of foreigners and other business interests. To forestall the extinction of the rich Maasai traditions, a Maasai elder and activist, Martin Saning’o Kariongi started a campaign for his people to embrace technology and modernization.
Kariongi began to think of ways to create opportunities for community economic empowerment around 2000 when he noticed that despite the whole struggle for land rights and human rights of the Maasai people, poverty is growing and so many young people were rushing into cities.
Kariongi’s first idea for self-sustainability was to turn the resources available to the Maasai — their animals and abundant milk into an opportunity to create wealth for his people.
Working in partnership with a Dutch NGO dedicated to promoting sustainable development in rural regions of the developing world, Kariongi launched a company and established five small milk processing units in five locations around the Maasai plains. From milking the herds to processing the milk and producing the dairy products, the business is run entirely by women. The units can process up to 2,000 liters a day, making cheese, yoghurt, butter and ghee-Daren (2013).
Today, according to Kariongi in his interview with the CNN, the company has grown to include many arms, from an energy and water firm, to a media house producing broadcasts tailored for the Maasai, to a community ranch that helps improve access to quality breeds.
“We have created facilities here — the radio station, the milk processing plant, the energy and water company, the internet, the library — all these facilities to bring modern life to people, so they don’t have to rush to towns,” says Kariongi. “When we lost our sons and daughters, rushed into towns, our women going to towns, then our lands will become empty and we might end up in an extinction.”
He adds: “Culture is not static; culture is dynamic, it grows; it’s like a fire — In order for the fire to keep on burning and giving light and heat, somebody has to be putting new firewood. And the culture is like that — so generations come and go, and each generation puts its own firewood on the fire and the fire is the culture.” https://edition.cnn.com/2013/07/26/world/africa/tribal-elder-modernizing-the-maasai/index.html.
FUNERAL RITES: Burial/funeral rite is one of the enduring ancient traditions in Africa. It is believed that a decent funeral rite grants the deceased a peaceful passage into the great beyond and entitles the deceased his rightful place among his ancestors. Different African societies have funeral traditions that are peculiar to them but the aim remains the same.
In Egypt for instance bodies were mummified and kept. In the primitive era, mummification was carried out by putting bodies into pits in the desert to dehydrate them and leave the bodies in their natural condition. The challenge of the era was that wild animals were eating up such bodies. The tradition was modified to the practice of using bandages instead of drying in the hot pits of the desert. http://www.ancientegypt.co.uk/mummies/home.html. Today, Egyptian mummies have not just become subjects of study, it has spread across the world and modern technology has been brought into the process.
In 2011, NBC News reported that Researchers have turned a former British taxi driver into an Egyptian-style mummy, with television cameras tracking every step in the process. The procedure was chronicled in a documentary titled “Mummifying Alan: Egypt’s Last Secret,” and shown on Britain’s Channel 4 television. The show’s producers chronicled the months-long procedure of preserving the body of Alan Billis, a 61-year-old retired taxi driver from Torquay in Devon, applying the techniques that the ancient Egyptians used on Tutankhamun. (Tutankhamun was and Egyptian Pharaoh who ruled for approximately 10 years from around 1336-1327 BCE. In November 1922, Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon discovered Tutankhamun’s near-intact tomb in the Valley of the Kings. The king’s mummified body was found surrounded by precious grave goods, in his golden coffin, after his burial chamber was officially opened on 17 February 1923 in the presence of Egyptologists and government officials) https://www.historyextra.com/period/ancient-egypt/8-things-you-probably-didnt-know-about-tutankhamun/. Billis, who earned the nickname “Tutan-Alan,” was terminally ill with cancer when he volunteered to undergo the procedure.
Experts work on the mummified leg of former taxi driver Alan Billis.
A TV documentary has chronicled the mummification procedure,
which uses the recipe developed in Egypt during the time of the pharaohs.
According to NBC news, the main scientist behind the experiment was Stephen Buckley, a chemist and research fellow at Britain’s York University. For years, Buckley has been studying the preservation techniques that the Egyptians used during the 18th Dynasty. Alongside archaeologist Jo Fletcher, Buckley analyzed tissue samples from mummified bodies and finally put his findings to the test on Billis’ body at Sheffield’s Medico-Legal Center.
During his studies, Buckley used a gas chromatograph, mass spectrometer and other instruments to identify the materials that were used by the priests in Tutankhamun’s day, including beeswax, oils and resins. He went on to conduct a series of experiments using more than 200 pigs’ legs as a substitute for human flesh. Buckley even rigged up a research shed where he could re-create the desert conditions present in ancient Egypt.
When Billis died, a medical team removed most of his organs — including his lungs and intestines — through a 4-inch incision on the left side of his body. The cavity was then sterilized and padded with linen. Buckley went against the traditional wisdom that the Egyptians removed the brain of the deceased through the nose. He acknowledged that the procedure was often used, but noted that around half of the 18th Dynasty royal mummies retained their brains. In some cases, the shrunken remnants of the brain can still be seen in skull X-rays.
After the removal of the organs, the body’s moisture content was removed using a caustic salt from the region, called natron, which was described by Greek historian Herodotus in 450 B.C. — 800 years after the 18th Dynasty. The scientists immersed the corpse in a salt bath for more than a month to draw out the water. To protect the skin from the harsh salt, it was covered in a layer of oils.
Alan Billis and his wife Jan sit at home in Torquay in 2010. Alan died of
cancer since this picture was taken and was turned into an Egyptian-style
mummy for a scientific experiment (and a TV documentary).
The body was then wrapped in linen, protecting it from light and insects. After three months of drying, the process was judged to be complete. “The skin itself has this leathery appearance which indicates that he has become mummified all over,” said forensic pathologist Peter Vanezis, who was part of the team behind the experiment. “It makes me very confident that his tissues have been mummified correctly and in a very successful manner.” http://www.nbcnews.com/id/44945609/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/british-taxi-driver-mummified-egypts-pharaohs/#.XNnuh-VKjIV.
This is the best of ancient practice reinvented with the best of modern technology.
From the foregoing therefore, it is evidently clear that technological advances have exerted tremendous influence on the traditional practices of Africa. Much of such influence is positive. Modern technology has been used to document and preserve much of Africa’s rich traditional practices. The internet especially has guaranteed that people all over the world have access to the remotest and most primitive practices of the African continent. A lot of traditional festivals of the African people are streamed live on the internet on various platforms.
Again, the finesse and format of the various contents delivered to people across the world. Advances in picture and video formats have greatly improved the quality of contents as packaged and distributed across the world. Technological advances have further refined some of the ancient practices of Africa. Like the mummification cited above, it is evident that the experiment carried out on Tutan-Alan has pushed the practice to a whole new level. After Allan, I can imagine that a good number of people across the globe may pick interest on this ancient practice of Africa. This is the finest of technological sciences bringing to live an ancient practice and raising it to a whole new level. Once again, the world has affirmed that Africa is truly the cradle of civilization.
On the other hand however, one may fear that modern technology has demystified Africa’s hidden secrets. The ritualistic part behind most of Africa’s traditional practices may have been lost to modern technology. Everything in Africa is attributed to the gods but today, technology has given access to the behind the scene undercurrents even to non-initiates. As a result, some of those practices are losing the awe around them.
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