Culture is the totality of the way of life of a group of people that has been developed, shaped and practiced over the years. The development of these cultural norms and practices are shaped by the environment and the needs of the people. Over the years as societies develop and modernize, these cultural practices undergo changes to reflect the changing times to better serve the needs of the people. This means that culture is not stagnant. It is constantly undergoing evolutions based on the changes in the environment in which it exist.
Within the cultural mosaic are various customs and traditions that regulate the lives of the citizens in the particular society. Just as the larger cultural mosaic undergoes constant changes and evolutions so should the micro customs and traditions. If they remain stagnant, they actually hinder society's development.
Many societies have, within them, different ethnic groups that practice different cultures and traditions. And Ghana is no exception. Ghana has over ten major ethnic groups who have very distinct cultures. These cultures abound with various customs and traditions that are rich, colorful and exciting. These have shaped the lives of its members over the years. As mentioned earlier, some of these cultures have been adapting to the changing times and the evolutions of Ghanaian society. However there are some of these ethnic groups who cling to certain aspects of their cultures that have no place in modern-day society=s development. Many of the chiefs and elders of these ethnic groups who are described as the custodians of their groups' customs and traditions are still steeped in the medieval times, oblivious to the fast-paced changes that are shaping modern society's development.
A few examples will suffice here: Within the customs of many ethnic groups are certain taboos that the group=s members are required to adhere to. But some of these taboos are totally at variance with modern-day development. For example, residents in certain parts of the country are forbidden from performing certain activities on designated days like going to work in the fields and farms.
In growing up in my holy village, I remember that residents were forbidden from going to the farm and the main river that encircled the town on Tuesdays. The rational behind this myth was that the gods and spirits of the main river that feeds the town perform their rituals on Tuesdays to bless the land, its people and their crops. Therefore they needed the peace and quiet on Tuesdays to be able to meditate and perform their rituals. No-one was allowed to cross that river on Tuesdays except those with special exceptions: These were the Palm Wine Tappers who were required to service their palm trees everyday and people coming to the town specifically to market their produce. The myth was that if anyone not holding a special exemption dared to cross the river to go to the bush, some bad omen will befall that person. Everyone in the village adhered strictly to this customary decree and society moved on. I believe many towns, villages and ethnic groups in Ghana have similar or different myths and taboos that regulate their lives.
Much as these myths and taboos were needed at some point in our society's development to regulate life, many of them have outlived their usefulness due to urbanization and the trend of modern development. Some were necessary when societies were small and life was very simple. But times have changed. The modern world is moving at the speed of sound and all societies need to adapt to catch up to develop. We can no longer afford to cling firmly unto every custom, tradition, myth and taboo claiming that they were cultural practices bequeathed to us by our ancestors even if they stifle development and civilization. Let=s look at a few examples in Ghana:
The Ga ethnic group that inhabit the land that covers Ghana=s capital Region celebrate an annual festival known as [email protected] which I am told means Ahooting at [email protected] This ethnic group celebrates this festival of bumper harvest in commemoration of a time when the society emerged from long periods of drought and hunger. As part of preparations to celebrate this festival, the Ga Mantse, the Paramount Chief of the Ga-Dangbe Traditional Area decrees at the beginning of the festivals in June every year, a total ban on drumming and noise making. No-one is allowed to drum or make noise to disturb the gods of the land, whom I believe, will be seriously mediating at this time of the year and need some peace and quiet for their job. Maybe this myth and its attendant decree was necessary many years ago when the Ga-Dangbe society was very small.
Today, the district hosts the National capital where brisk commercial activities involving all kinds of drumming and noise making take place. And there is the mushrooming of all kinds of religious groups whose mode of worship involve drumming, dancing and screaming. There is evidence that a lot of friction and clashes have taken place between some commercial and business establishments, churches and representatives from the Ga -Dangbe Traditional Council who insists on the strict adherence to a whole month total ban on drumming and noise-making.
In the Akyem Traditional Area in the Eastern Region, a land mass that covers nearly twenty per cent of Ghana=s total land mass, the month of July is celebrated as the Yam Festival. During the whole month of July, a total ban is placed on drumming, funeral celebrations and anything that involve digging the soil. And this is stopping economic and social activities for a whole month of a society=s life!! This year, the Akyem Abuakwa Traditional Council again decreed a ban on funerals and other celebrations for the whole of July. During this period, no-one was allowed to bury the dead or celebrate funerals. The Traditional Council again decreed that the first weekend in August was also going to be used to sprinkle mashed yam to the ancestors and the ban on funerals and celebrations continued. The following weekend, the weekend of August 13, 2005 was also labeled as Akwasidae, the day of the gods, and again the ban on funerals and digging and other celebrations continued. Here you have a Traditional Council halting people=s lives for six solid weeks to appease some imaginary gods or ancestors!!
This is totally counter-productive and has no place in the life of a modern nation's development.
In the Ashanti Region, a ban is also placed on funerals during the [email protected] which occurs every forty days during the year. And anytime a member of the Asante Royal Family dies, a ban is placed on the burial of the dead and celebration of all funerals until the royal is buried. This means that life in the whole Asante Kingdom also representing about twenty percent of the country=s landmass is brought to a standstill when a royal passes away.
And there is this Paramount Chief in my traditional area who holds court every weekend during which every judgement he passes is accompanied by the slaughter of sheep as part of the fine for the guilty party. You could count at least ten to twenty sheep that are sentenced to death every weekend when my dear Chief holds court. We could go on and on with countless number of examples from different parts of the country on these myths and taboos that are at variance with modern society=s needs, aspirations and development.
I have the greatest respect for our Ghanaian traditional institutions. I love our culture and its various traditions and customs. But I humbly submit that some of the customs and traditions are outmoded and have no place in modern-day society. Our traditional rulers must conform to the modern trend of society=s development and do away with those customs and traditions that stand in the way of society's development. They must embrace modernization and abolish all those outmoded customary practices that actually belong to the middle ages. If this is not done, many of our traditional areas will remain backward and under-developed for so many generations to come. At the same time they also become a hindrance to other people=s businesses that contribute to the general development of the country. Michael Baffoe Montreal, Canada Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.
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