By Lincoln Barcon, Graphic Designer
It is an indisputable fact that no society can exist without a culture, knowing that culture is the way of life of a people. Therefore, every society, no matter of its size or population must exist with certain cultural values and norms. Liberia, being a part of the member of the globe, is not exempted from this practice. Because of the importance of culture, it rare to see a society without culture, as this can be likened to a ship without as compass.
Regrettably, one is of concern to many is the failure of societies to carry on those cultural practices that were left by their forefathers. Culture, is one of the one of the dynamic features that make up the Liberian societies/communities. However, it is sad to note that not much attention is being paid to this aspect of the country by citizens, traditional leaders and the Government especially the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism.
The role of culture in our society today has been damaged because to what I refer to as the forgetfulness of the past and the neglect of our cultural heritage. The purpose for which other African countries around us still maintain their cultural values is because they respect and obey their culture or way of life of their ancestors.
Before I go further to discuss the issue of culture and national identities in our society today let us know what culture and national identity is.
As I said initially, every society or Country has its own culture and national identity that distinguishes it from other societies. Again, when we speak of the term culture, we simply want to examine the way and manner people do things in every given society. How do Liberians eat? How do they marry? How do they bury the dead? The answers to these questions make up the Liberian Culture.
According to my research culture is defined as the language, beliefs, values, and norms that combine to make up the way of life of any society. The term civilization is similar, but not the same as culture. Civilization is used mostly to refer to the advanced way of life and the things that improve a society. Civilization is therefore, an improved form of Culture. Culture, on the other hand, is any way of live; whether simple or complex.
According to research conducted National Identity is a person’s identity and sense of belonging to one state or to one nation, a feeling one shares with a group of people, regardless of one’s citizenship status. “Yoonmi Lee sees national identity in psychological terms as “an awareness of difference” – “a feeling and recognition of ‘we’ and ‘they'”.
Features that are common to all the ethnic groups in Africa with attention on Liberia that are to bind the people together have been destroyed by the infusion of the Western culture (Civilization). For example; female genital mutilation, in Liberia the Poro and Sande bushes and other practices like festivals, during which traditional leaders settle disputes and tribal conflicts amongst citizens and groups in a particular area. The lack of these practices can be attributed to the level of high indiscipline and deviant behavior in the country today is posing a serious threat to our societies.
One of the things that make every culture homogeneous is the practice of chieftaincy. There should be chiefs in almost every community in Liberia because they are the traditional leaders in the various communities. The belief in chieftaincy institutions distinguishes Africa from other European Countries. Liberia being an African country pays less attention to the issue of chieftaincy institutions which has resulted to local communities being ruled on friendship basis not on the issue of tradition.
Almost all the communities in Ghana, Nigeria and other African countries (excluding Liberia) for example celebrate festivals because festivals also form a core aspect of every culture. The issue of festivals attracts people from far and near and serve as a focal point of unity. They are also occasions for communing with the gods, planning development projects, settlement of chieftaincy, clan, family or interpersonal disputes. More importantly, during such occasion, each tribe celebrates a festival to portray the culture of their people and to teach the youth the need to preserve their cultural heritage.
Traditional music and dance also form a feature of the Liberia Culture. Music and dance project the cultural identity and heritage of Liberia. Indigenous musical instruments, such as xylophones, drums, flutes, horns, pipes etc. are used on such occasion as festivals such as, out-dooring or christening of child, installation of chiefs, funeral, marriage ceremonies and etc.
Traditional music is used in messages of congratulations, welcome, criticisms, and expressions of sorrow and sympathy. Drumming often goes with popular dances like the Bassa Dance, Gio Dance, Krahn dance and so forth. This identical portion of culture called the drumming and dancing is no longer practiced in our society today owing to western infusion that has brought about acculturation.
Our Shared Values
There are certain qualities that show the character, identity and the values of every Liberian. Liberians are noted for their kindness and sympathy, which make them unique. We need to investigate these values of the Liberian. Let us first define the term “value”. The term values refer to the standards or ideas which most people hold to be good or bad. In other words, values are the things that the individual or the society cherishes in life and are considered desirable. The trait associated with every Liberian is the gesture of hospitality, especially to strangers. Liberians are known to be friendly people particularly to strangers. A Liberian will never deny a stranger water, food and shelter once he or she provides them. This is indeed, a good incentive for the attraction of foreign tourists.
Many believe that Liberians respect authority, law, God, the disabled and the aging. Respect for other people’s rights of movement, freedom of speech, life etc. is a virtue of every Liberian. Normally, the Liberian child is given severe corporal punishment for being rude to an elderly person. Disobedience is considered immoral in the Liberian society.
On religion, there is a widespread belief in the existence of a Supreme Being in almost all the communities in Liberia. This Supreme Being is regarded as the creator of the universe, and the provider and sustainer of life. The presence of God, (and the gods), is expressed through prayers, libation and the calling upon God in periods of trouble.
Many people still believe Liberians are people who are tolerant, which mean upholding a virtue that makes up the Liberian society. But today tolerance in this context refers to patience, long suffering and the willingness to respect other people’s views and rights. This quality of tolerance is the result of the peace which the country is presently enjoying. On the economic front, Liberians are noted for having a spirit of tolerance for any policy, whether harsh or not, in so far as they hope to derive some satisfaction at a later period.
How to preserve the Liberian cultural heritage
When we talk about culture heritage we will refer to the various artifacts, dresses, oral traditions, norms, beliefs, music and dance of the various ethnic groups of Liberia. Some of the methods to preserve our cultural heritage include the following:
The best way of preserving cultural heritage is to encourage it study at all levels in the society. Traditional leaders should be made to teach the youths the community’s indigenous culture. The national government needs to encourage historians to document the history and indigenous culture of the country’s forefathers for students and the public to study.
The promotion of Liberian cultural heritage would go a long way to preserve it. Culture festivals, such as the fire festival and harvest festival need to be supported and sponsored by the government and non-governmental organizations. The importance of these celebrations is that they help to imprint the Liberian culture in the minds of both the present and future generation. The youth in the various educational institutions can also organize cultural festivals and displays during anniversaries, entertainment and on important occasions.
There is no gainsaying that the chiefs are the epitome of Liberian culture, and therefore have an important role to play as far as the preservation of Liberia’s cultural heritage is concerned. One means by which traditional rulers can preserve their indigenous culture is through the celebration of festivals. Festivals are occasions for recollecting the past life of a community, revering the ancestors, and re-living of the cultural heritage of the people. It is the role of chiefs to project and transmit these cultural values to the youth.
In addition, for any community to be able to preserve its culture, its people must have pride in their culture. However, if western culture is appreciated more than the indigenous ones, the cultural heritage of the country would undoubtedly go into oblivion. Hence, it is important that, the press and opinion leaders in the country intensify the drive to project the country’s rich cultural heritage, in order for the public to accept them.
The education on the cultural heritage of Liberia must go hand in hand with excursions. Encouragement should be given to the youth in particular, to visit historical places of interest in order to acquaint themselves with the rich culture of the country.
Let me close by saying that all in all, the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, and the ministry of Internal Affairs has crucial roles to play in this aspect of preserving the country’s culture and also observing those festivals that tend to remind future leaders of the importance of these events to ensure that the cultural values and norms of the society are not abandoned.
Least to speak of whether or not Liberia have any national dress code in the case of other African countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea and etc.
Special thanks to my Boss Atty Philip N. Wesseh, Managing Editor of the INQUIRER Newspaper for his editorial consultancy to this work.