FORGIVENESS AND CHILD UPBRINGING: AN APPLICATION OF AFRICAN TRADITIONAL ORATURE
A paper presented at the 3rd global conference on forgiveness oxford college England
17th july 2010
BONIFACE NKEM ANUSIEM
University of Abuja, Nigeria.
Every aspect of human life is significantly shaped during childhood. This stage in human development is extraordinarily receptive to the values that are obtainable in the immediate social environment. Modern psychologists generally agree that the impressions of early childhood play a decisive role in the process of maturation into adulthood. Albert Bandura (1977) in his Social Learning Theory established that children learn more by imitating what goes on around them, especially what they see adults do. The early stage in human development is thus very fecund for the scaffolding of important socio-cultural, moral and religious values.
Forgiveness as a benevolent virtue can be nurtured, expressed, shared and taught from childhood. This happens when the socializing environment provides the necessary grounds for it to be planted and groomed. Significantly this virtue is not a product of scholastic curriculum, but a derivation from affective and effective psycho- social and religious relationships within a community.
This paper explores the importance of forgiveness in the process of child upbringing. This outlook is motivated by the conviction that childhood learning has a lot to contribute to adulthood formation. To address this important issue, the paper adopts the African traditional learning process. This is the informal form of education which integrates every member of the community from infancy using what most African scholars (especially Pio Zirimu) denote as African traditional Orature. This oral transmission of narratives and customs from older generations to successive ones is done through folktales, folksongs, proverbs, parables and other symbolic verbal forms.
Attentive to the foregoing it becomes the preoccupation of this work to establish how the virtue of forgiveness can be integrated in the process of child upbringing using African traditional Orature as a pedagogical tool. The paper draws strength from African cultural studies and research to propose a more reliable way of inculcating the virtues of forgiveness from childhood using symbolic verbal elements that resonates with the recipients.
The importance of child upbringing need not generate much debate. This is specifically based on the fact that a lot of things that come up in adulthood are fecundated during the time of the development of the child. Albert Bandura in his social learning theory demonstrated in broad lines that children learn by consciously imitating the sounds and sights that they come in contact with in their socializing environment1. It could thus be rightly asserted that a greater percentage of childhood education is undertaken by the socializing environment where child upbringing takes place. Our contemporary media saturated society lends credence to this fact.
Life in Africa is traditionally a community life. Individualism is non-existent; in fact to be is to be identified with a particular community. The community as the custodian of the individual is also an institution of non-formal learning. When a child is born he/she is born into the community not into a given family or the other. The community starts immediately to scaffold the child’s upbringing with some basic values. This is notably done using the traditional method of teaching by means of words and other symbolic art forms.
This paper explores how forgiveness can be incorporated in the process of child upbringing using the African traditional orature as a learning tool. In view of advancing an ingenious presentation, the paper undertakes some explication to set out the landscape and scope of most of the important terms like forgiveness, child upbringing and orature. It further sets out to make in-depth study on how the African traditional orature can assist in the pedagogy of forgiveness within the context of child upbringing.
2.0 The Concept of Forgiveness In African Cosmology
The concept of forgiveness in Africa is better understood from the point of view of its importance. Generally forgiveness is seen as an action that succeeds an incidence of transgression. Based on the continuous link between the human and the divine in African cosmology, forgiveness is viewed as an indispensable condition for peace in the community. This later is important because every activity by human beings is evaluated in the spiritual realm. For Uzodimma Nwala (1985) “there is no sharp line separating the two. The spirits are involved in the day to day affairs of men.”2
Forgiveness is necessary for the realization of social harmony in the community; for the African it is at the service of solidarity and fellow-feeling. Using the South African concept of Ubuntu, Desmond Tutu describes the intrinsic network that connects individuals amounting to a unified whole. In his outlook a person is a person through other persons. One’s humanity is defined by identifying with, and participating in the affairs of the community. In a more elaborate elucidation Tutu writes:
Social harmony is for us the Summum Bonum, the greatest good. Anything that subverts, that undermines this sought after good is to be avoided like the plague. Anger, resentment, lust for revenge, even success through aggressive competitiveness are corrosive of this good. To forgive is not just altruistic; it is the best form of self interest. What dehumanizes you inexorably dehumanizes me.3
Desmond Tutu’s position discloses the fact that Africans situate the life and destiny of the community within the context of moral disposition of the individuals that make up the community. In view of this forgiveness becomes an indispensable reconstructive arsenal and viable antiseptic to the mortal injury of transgression.
2.1 Forgiveness as a Ritual Process in Africa
There is need to establish here that every aspect of life in African thought and culture is directly linked to the divine presence in the community in question. Generally understood the African cosmology presents a dualism of existence; the human world and the spirit world. The two worlds are inter-penetrating and inseparable though distinguishable. In line with the preceding thought, forgiveness in the African context presents a reconstruction of the vertical and horizontal lines of relationships. Attentive to this fact, it demands a rigorous ritual process which serves both as a deterrent and well as the actual panacea to the transgression in question. The following are the formal ritual process of forgiveness in Africa:
a) Acceptance of guilt.
b) Repentance: Deep-reaching inner sorrow and detestation of transgression.
c) Reparation: Restitution and appeasing of the divine and human realities in the community.
d) Reconciliation: Making amends and mending broken ties with the divine and human beings.
3.0 Child Upbringing In African Socio-Cultural Context
Child upbringing generally refers to the gradual integration of individuals into the society. In Africa child upbringing is a task that involves not only the nuclear family, but also the extended family and the community as a whole.
The community thus serves as an educational institution with extensive and effective social, cultural, economic, and religious curriculum. The community sees the child as an asset of the community in whom it maintains a stake. Attentive to this, every member of the community becomes a potential teacher of the child. The community actually takes the responsibility of care and upbringing of all children. It is a cohesive unit which ideally provides social, cultural, economic and psychological security in the developmental framework of the children.
The community defines the social and moral norms and safeguards both material and spiritual customs and traditions. It also provides a variety of role models preparing the way for adulthood. Within this inclusive African community, children occupy a central place and are brought up in close family groups. The social and cultural development of the child is undertaken and shared by members of the community. Attentive to this community based pedagogical disposition, the Igbos of Southeast Nigeria would say: “otu onye anaghi azu nwa” (child upbringing is not a responsibility of one person).
Generally the idea of child upbringing in African socio-cultural context is a community initiative and action. Hence the African child has many mothers and fathers. From infancy the community leads the child to develop a strong sense of social responsibility, solid moral base as well as fitting economic and religious foundation.
4.0 African Traditional Orature: Meaning and Scope.
Orature refers to the body of values, narratives and customs that are transmitted through spoken words. The Ugandan scholars of East African School of Literary Criticism Pio Zirimu and Ngugi wa Thiong’o introduced the term to replace what has been known as African oral tradition or African oral literature. African traditional orature tells us of the total body of oral discourse, styles and traditions of Africa people including their visual arts.4 Africans make use of orature to embody and transmit those moral, ethical and aesthetic values which form their relationships and worldview. Beyond mere verbalization of past events, Ifemesia notes that African traditional orature involves:
A presentation of the ideals and values of society; of the ideological and spiritual patrimony handed down by the ancestors, whose memory the present generation cherishes and reveres.5
For Ngugi wa Thiong’o orature is not seen as a branch of literature but as a total aesthetic system, with performance and integration of art forms as two of its defining qualities. For him performance specifically distinguishes orature from literature.6
Authentic African educational system is non-formal and operates without written curriculum. The moonlight nights are the classrooms; the elders, age groups, peer association and family units form the members of the teaching staff with their creative memories serving as dictionaries, encyclopedias and textbooks. Furthermore the subjects of study include folktales, folklore, jokes, riddles, games, proverbs, traditional songs and other social and cultural activities. Significantly this form of education which is subsisting in most African societies today involves oral transmission, physical interaction, and visual education. This scenario aptly captures the pedagogical environment that plants and sustains African traditional orature.
5.0 African Traditional Orature at the Service of Pedagogy of Forgiveness in Child Upbringing.
1. Bandura, A. Social Learning Theory.Englewood Cliff. NJ. Prentice Hall. 1977.
2. Nwala, T.U. Igbo Philosophy. Literamed Publications Nigeria. 1985.
3. Tutu, D. No Future Without Forgiveness.Image books New York.2000. p.31
4. Ehusani, G. An Afro-Christian Vision “Ozovehe!” Towards A More Humanized
World. University Press of America.1991.p .121.
5. Ehusani, G.p.122.
6. Thiong’0 N. Penpoints,Gunpoints and Dreams:Towards A Critical Theory of
The Arts and The State in Africa. Clarendon press Oxford. 1998. p.17.
7. Bujo, B. Foundations Of An African Ethic: Beyond The Universal Claims Of
Western Morality. Pauline Publications Nairobi. 2003.
8. Turner, V. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. New York Aldine
9. David, B. African Genius: An Introduction to African Social and Cultural
History. The Atlantic Monthly Press. 1996. P.12.
You will seek God and you will find Him. This is according to His words (Jer. 29:13). I recommend you to God’s unfailing power and strength. May all your plans this week succeed in Jesus name. Amen. Fr. Bonnie has prayed for you.
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