When I was still a very young child, I had great passion for exploration – a trait that has only seemed to grow stronger over the years.
Each morning, the lullabies of the morning birds sounded sweeter than my little warm bed. I then kicked my blanket and dashed outside to watch birds of different colors and sizes fly up and down on the swaying branches. I listened to the leaves rustle and the river opposite our garden flow down the valley.
There I stretched my head to get a good view of the green lands outside. Afterwards, I would scream “My homeland, you were beautifully made." I would then spend the rest of the day up and down chasing after birds and playing with little glittering frog eggs.
As time went on, I realized that many trees had been cut down and our little beautiful river had dried too. We experienced longer dry seasons and barely had rain. I can remember very well the days I would quietly sit down around the fire place, listening to my mother tell us various stories. Some of these stories were full of magic, providence, and fantasies and were mostly highly educative.
At the end of each story, my mother always smiled and said that this was our culture. Our culture demanded us to avoid doing certain bad things. For example, each individual belonged to a certain clan which had a taboo. If one’s taboo was an animal – as was often the case, it was forbidden to kill or eat that animal. There were stories of people who were forbidden from eating elephants, buffaloes, and antelopes among others. If one violated the taboo, it was believed that he or she would either die or face terrible misfortune. Hence no one dared breaking those rules.
For these reasons, many animals were preserved, and sometimes cherished. The same logic created incentives for preserving forests, as individuals may have hesitated to destroy habitats of the animals that they felt connected to.
When I recently asked a friend about whether culture added value to our environment, she paused, cleared her throat and said, “Well, I do not know much about culture but I know that indeed there were many benefits that culture rendered to the environment.” She noted, as an example, that her culture prohibited the use of parts of coral tree, locally known as “Omuko” for firewood. “I remember every time my father sent me to collect firewood in the small forest. He would carefully observe each piece of wood that I brought home. If there was a branch from the coral tree, I always had to take it back.” We were told that if we used such branches, we would not have sons-in-laws in future – a terrifying prospect for any of us.
Today, almost no one observes these aspects of African culture. Many people copy western culture because when the white man came to Africa, he preached civilization and called our cultures barbaric. Our elders who heard the preachings turned against their own culture.
Look at the global warming that is affecting many African countries. Uganda is among the East African countries which have recently faced terrible droughts in recent times. When I asked my other friend the very same question I had earlier asked my other friend, he shook his head. This friend told me that many Africans are literate but it’s been of no good use. He added that, in many schools, learners are taught the importance of forests and environmental conservation but none of these learners put their knowledge into practice. He said that if our elders allowed us to copy western culture and let our own to die out, maybe then we should properly utilize the modern education we currently receive to conserve our environment. He concluded saying that, culture only added value to our environment where people were pragmatic.
Finally, to my fellow countrymen, let’s go back to our roots. Let us be proud of our African culture as we celebrate with joy its fruits.