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Are African Cultural Values Still Valued?

The issue of what is good and what is bad (morality) and by extension, value, are existentially central to any society. Value is an ethical concept that has a lot to say about people’s culture, philosophy, attitude, identity, mentality, social peace, progress and development, etc. It also shapes and directs the thinking of a people, their object and modes of thought and whence the thinking takes place. It is an important factor in human affairs; in that, it modifies an individual on how to lead a good life for his own benefit and that of the society.

Africans have various moral and societal values meant to regulate interpersonal relationship and to perpetuate the entire community. These are standards or norms to be observed. These are meant for social cohesion and smooth running of the community. They are to prevent members of the community from becoming rebellious and thereby endanger the welfare of the society. Some of these cultural values include the value of the sacredness of human life, value of the dignity of human labor and creativity, value of religion and the sacred, value of family and kinship, value of community and complementarity, value of self-reliance, value of good relation. These values are those axiological principles that form the foundation of social living and social ordering in traditional African society, and they are aggregation of ethics, sociopolitical and economic values and aesthetic. The way a society makes progress and promotes coexistence is linked to these values that they uphold.

In the hierarchy of African values, the sacredness of human life is the utmost important. The respect and dignity accorded human life cannot be over-emphasized. In the African mind, human life has an ultimate worth because it is intrinsically related to the Creator of life (God). The value of life draws its meaning from God the creator of life. Traditional African believes that God creates life and as such, it is the duty of man to preserve and protect this divine gift. This is why suicide and murder are viewed as a serious abomination against the people, the “gods” of the land and the ancestors. The value of life is so engraved in the psychic of the African people that they maintain that their dead relatives still interact with the living which allows every family to call their ancestors in time of need, celebration and peace. Since human life is paramount to the African people, the welfare and well-being of man are at the center of all societal thoughts and actions. In other words, man is valued above every other possession.

Religion permeates every facet of African life. Africans carry their religion everywhere they go. They carry their religion to the parliament and state house if they find themselves in government or politics. This is why in traditional African society, there is no atheist. Africans give a religious interpretation and meaning to everything that happened to them. This entails that all the African does or say and permit is impregnated with a vision of the divine and all natural reality is explainable in relation to the supernatural. The value of religion is the fundamental value that gives meaning to other moral values. This is why African moral imperatives are fully grounded on African religious beliefs. Religion in African worldview is the custodian and enforcer of morality in African society.

The Africans highly appreciate hard work. Even the indolent also acknowledges that hard work is a value that engenders positive influence in the family and communal circles. The hardworking African makes persistent efforts regardless of failures and setbacks. The value of hard work is appreciated as work was regarded as a cure for poverty. In view of the importance attached to hard work, the modern craze for money, most especially among the youth, is contrary to African value.

In Africa, the value placed on the family cannot be over-emphasized, it is the primary unit of the social life of the community. Its cohesion is a sine qua non for the unity of the community. As fundamental as the family is, it has social and moral values. The concept of family as persons who co-exists with others gives rise to collective responsibility, interdependence and social living which is an important aspect of African socio-religious life. In traditional African society, people help one another without demanding immediate or an exact equivalent remuneration. Everyone is mindful that each person has something to contribute to the general welfare of the society. Hence, Africans due to their ontological makeup are people who show mass solidarity in the support of individual members of the community who may be suffering from one calamity or the other.

Generally, African values guide the selection or evaluation of our behaviors. The value system is anchored on communalism, collectivism, involvement, participation, joint rewards and performance.[1] Value for the traditional African is care for the neighbour, observance of live-and-let-live principle in life and then compliance to the traditional institution – say – respect for agriculture and its products, detest for damage of neighbour’s properties because all these are considered to promote the dignity of the human person. African culture has a moral code that forbids doing harm to a relative, a kinsman, a foreigner and a stranger. African culture is embedded in strong moral considerations. It has a system of various beliefs and customs which every individual ought to keep in order to live long and to avoid bringing curses on them and others.

It is unfortunate that in the contemporary African society in general and Nigeria in particular, most of these values are considered archaic mostly by the young generations. The concept of value in the past is no more the same today as the Nigerian of today is now carried away as a result of modernization cum globalization life style. In this kind of life style, the Nigerian has been brain-washed to term his/her traditional life an archaic one and consequently advised to leave it and queue in the Western-motivated life of the exploitation of the fellow, materialism and individualism. The process of cultural diffusion, that is, the spread of culture traits from one society into another through cultural contact[2] has not been properly sifted and digested by the young people.

We live in a world where the youth pursue fashions and values that are alien to Africa‘s normative customs. Some of these youth condemn African traditional values as archaic, demonic, timid and of no relevance in the present dispensation. In a bid to appear civilized or modern, some youth find themselves entrapped in a world of confusion. For example, a greater number of youth perceive African traditional values to be inferior compared to foreign values. The craze for western values also resulted to the adoption of strange criminal behaviors such as scam, hate speeches, kidnappings, terrorism, fraud, corruption, youth restiveness, drug abuse, cultism and conflicts among the youth.

African leadership is equally enslaved and trapped by the craze for foreign values which thus had brought about socio-economic woes in the continent.[3] When once they assume office, African leaders and government begin to look outward Euro- centrically by embarking on foreign trips and sending their children to foreign schools and holidays abroad. All medical treatments would be carried out in foreign countries. They prefer continental dishes to African traditional dishes, and foreign suits and wears to native wears. Policies and programs are either adapted from foreign nations or foreign bodies. This Nigerian conception of value today has made the Nigerian politics “a private gamble and not a service for the nation, a theatre for competing selfish interests where the common good is often carted away as private property by individual politicians or groups.”[4]

The influence of social media on today’s youth cannot be overemphasized. It is notable that the media has both positive and negative influence on man and the society. Traditionally, the social media just like any other branch of media is a pathway for information dissemination, education and entertainment. Besides, it helps to mold human behavior and character, strengthening bonds and interaction amongst people of different races, cultures, backgrounds, families as well as transmission of ideas from one location to another.  However, the propagation of negative values among youth through the social media has become a source of worry. The social media sites, such as  Facebook, twitter, Google+, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, Flickr, Reddit, snap chat, WhatsApp, etc. influence youth either positively or negatively.

The presence of these media platforms in several African countries has aggravated the madness for alien norms and values and the subtle destruction of African traditional norms and values. The abuse of the social media is manifested in various ways, including the transmission and copying of wrong values, cultures, fashion and all manner of vices such as addictive behaviors among youth.[5] In recent times, youth have acquired negative values perpetrated by Hollywood, Nollywood and other imported alien cultures, culminating to outright neglect of the traditional norms and values known in Africa. The negative impact of social media have caused our youth to abandon their traditional values, ethos and ethics which hitherto guarantees peace, stability and harmonious relationship among the people. Because most youth are exposed to foreign values and lifestyles, and incapable of disengaging from the African traditional values, The African youth is trapped in a web with a divided mind, struggling to be relevant in a world with contradictory values.[6] For this reason, they lost touch of their true identity and ways of their culture and tradition.

Other trending values for the modern Nigerian-African which have corroded the cultural values include excessive love for money. This is not to deny the necessity of money in human life, but the fact remains that inordinate quest for money without the desire to work for it is questionable. “For the Nigerian, gain with little or no labour at all is ideal. He usually shuns creative labour which promises values other than material. His sole ambition is largely centered on being rich overnight.”[7] By this, the Nigerian value is now dominated by the principle of materialism and material-pragmatism, and the Nigerian-African, more of empirical or physical rather than ideal or spiritual. Ethical terms like social values, powers, authority, rights, importance, etc. are defined and determined in terms of material success and achievements, yet and as worst, with no work or labour for them. This explains why there are lots of terrifying and horrible experiences in the country and indeed continent, such as what is known as “Yahoo-Yahoo” or “Yahoo Plus.” This is a practice whereby people are scammed and some even go to the extent of money ritual.

The African sense of value has degenerated and derailed that there is a loss of the sense of truth, morality in leading others, promise-keeping, duty, justice, respecting human freedom and even right, among others. The immoral and evil practices that have become the trend in some African society today are contrary to the cultural values that are cherished and hold in high esteem. It is unfortunate that the principles of African communalism which is amply captured in the axiological principles of “I am because we are and since we are, therefore, I am” is no longer valued.

Africans need a psychological and physiological liberation. In doing this, they must draw lesson from the past when the society was ordered and the values are celebrated. Hence, all hands must be on deck in order to achieve a society that values human life, the other and common good. The family, especially, has obligatory roles to play towards inculcating right values on their wards. The first point of blame for the moral decadence of a child could be traced to the family. This is because the most common dimensions of child upbringing starts from the home. If the foundation is solid, it may be difficult for any external force to influence the child in negative ways. The family has the onerous task to develop their wards and teach them to understand and accept their own inherited culture and tradition which had been the attitudinal pattern of living of their forebears.

[1] Nyambegera, S. M., Sparrow, S. and Daniels, K., 2011. The Impact of Cultural Value Orientations on Individual HRM Preferences in Developing Countries: Lessons from Kenyan Organizations. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 11(4):639-663.

[2] Isokon, Brown Egbe, Archibong, Esther Patrick, Tiku, Oru Takim Tangban, Egbe Ebagu and Edet Anthony Francis, Negative Attitude of Youth towards African Traditional Values and Socio-Economic Implications for Nigeria, Global Journal of Social Sciences Vol. 21, 2022: 35-44.

[3] Obeten, U. B. and Isokon, B. E., 2020. Social Work Analysis of Death and Bereavement in the Socio-Economic Changes of the Family. Global Journal of Applied, Management and Social Sciences (GOJAMSS); Vol.18, P.154 – 159.

[4] Gabriel E. Idang, 2015. African Culture and Values. UNISA Phronimon Vol. 16(2): 101.

[5] Akram 1, W. and Kumar, R., 2018. A Study on Positive and Negative Effects of Social Media on Society. International Journal of Computer Sciences and Engineering, 5(10).

[6] Shabnoor, S. and Tajinder, S., 2016. Social Media its Impact with Positive and Negative Aspects IJCATR, 5(2): 71 – 75.

[7] Gabriel E. Idang, 2015. African Culture and Values. UNISA Phronimon Vol. 16(2): 102.