Endangered Identity By Alhassan Ismail Mustapha
Few weeks ago I had an argument with a friend. Basically the argument revolved around borrowed institutions and ideologies, my astute friend maintained that the world has become a global village that cannot do without borrowing, be it ideologically or institutionally. He buttressed his point by making examples of developed countries in Europe and America as merely coping from each other not without hard work of course. On the other hand I maintained that borrowing obviously has come to stay but we had a choice to borrow cautiously. Why one may ask? I would tell you; even when Pablo Picasso said “Good artists copy,” he added “great artists steal.”
As a developing country, Over time we have become too comfortable adopting as it is called as opposed to the actual fact of borrowing that it is, we have become intellectually lazy to not only search for indigenous solutions to our local problems. We have even become overwhelmingly lazy to develop the solutions we copy. Little wonder why we are not great artists as Picasso would have preferred. From education, architecture, to policy development and every facet concerning our lives, we have failed to observe one of the scared truths of nature; not all men are the same. And as such not every problem is the same, thus if you copy solutions from other climes have it at the back of your mind that those solutions were developed to address problems peculiar to that particular socio cultural sphere, If you are lucky it works for you if not, you develop such models and implement achievable models to improve such solutions in accordance to the scope of your own environment.
No don’t get me wrong I am not opposed to modernization, globalization, civilization or any other vocabulary the dictionary permits you to justify copying or adopting as it permits our ego. What I am opposed to is that fact that we have chosen to ignore the blessings of God, to abandon our collective creativity, to overlook our talents. We have chosen laziness over hard work. We have chosen copying over creating. And this entreats to all of us; policy maker, common man, fashion designer, musician, intellectual or elite. We are all guilty of this sacrilege against posterity.
It is indeed better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation. But we would be foolish not to at least steal glances from the models from the west, improve on them and develop them in accordance to our problems. Indigenous knowledge takes many forms reflecting the culture and geographic location as well as historic influences introduced from outside forces.
Yes societies evolve, and change is the only constant phenomenon in life. Yet societies before our very own eyes have evolved not forgetting who they are; particular examples include the Samoan island located in the South West Pacific where indigenous cultural knowledge held by Samoan elders about housing and climate, have been applied to the design and construction practices of Samoan indigenous housing in order to inform the development of safer, accessible, resilient, and sustainable housing.
Another example would be the traditional malay houses which have improved environmental sustainability in Malaysia through the use of indigenous knowledge and practices. The traditional Malay house is one of the richest components of Malaysia’s cultural heritage. Designed and built by the villagers themselves, it manifests the creative and aesthetic skills of the Malays. This is a near-perfect house form which is appropriate to local climatic conditions and expresses the way of life of its inhabitants. The house is extremely well designed to suit the warm and humid Malaysian climate and for the multifunctional use of space. Its design is also flexible as it caters to the widely different needs of the users and it has an addition system which allows the house to be extended to meet the growing needs of each family.
Others include; Promotion of indigenous systems of medicine in India, the setting up of centralized gene banks in which traditional rice varieties and cultivars are maintained under special conditions in south East Asia as against the high yielding species from without. The planting of vetiver grass and other indigenous plants which invariably cleans up toxic waste and prevent erosion and other natural disasters in dozens of countries. What some scholars would like to call pemaculture, reflecting the use of indigenous science in solving contemporary problems. Amongst many other examples from taxation, advancements in science, architecture, arts. You just name it.
Lord Bryon was probably referring to us when he said “The best prophet of the future is the past.”Imagine the advancements we would have made, the grounds we would break, if we study the past for glories that laid embedded in it. Today the world’s languages are disappearing at a rate even faster than that of biological diversity, with more than half of the world’s seven thousand predicted to disappear in the next ninety years. Vast majority disappearing of course are Indigenous. What are we doing about this? We need to reaffirm the need for our indigenous languages to be spoken, so we don’t wake up and our languages are oblivious, so we don’t wake up and the entirety of our continent has been anglicized.
What are you without your name? What would you be with another man’s name? What are you without an identity? Think about these questions critically, and then you would see the need for us to reeducate ourselves and rethink if need be also reset our modus operandi, we must uphold our identity or go the way of the dinosaurs.
If we must copy, we can copy, but at least let us copy properly not forgetting who we are. I leave you with words of Sheikh Anta Diop; “Intellectuals ought to study the past not for the pleasure they find in so doing, but to derive lessons from it.”
Alhassan Ismail Mustapha is a trained archaeologist and a freelance writer. You can follow him on @The_mustyhassan