Patriarchy is the parasite that African culture must rid itself of in order to survive

The most dangerous thing is many Africans’ inability to separate African culture from systems that oppress the freedoms of African women. It is this inability to see a future where African culture isn’t tinged with patriarchal undertones that is the biggest threat to the Black Consciousness Movement. It is necessary that we disassemble what it means to be African and take a closer look at what customs are merely window dressing and which things define our culture. My hope is to bring an understanding of patriarchy, African culture and the need to separate the two.

Patriarchy has been defined as a gendered power system. It is a network of social, political and economic relationships through which men dominate and control female labour, reproduction and sexuality as well as define women’s status, privileges and rights in a society. It is a successful system because those that gain this privilege are often unaware of it and therefore inadvertently perpetuate the ill treatment of the people in this society whose suffering is the fulcrum upon which this society turns. It is also believed that this social system has managed to survive for so long because its chief psychological weapon is its universality as well as its longevity.

It is difficult for many people to imagine a time when this system did not exist. It is even more difficult for people to imagine a future minus patriarchy. But that has to change. A complete overhaul of our mentalities when it comes to African culture must take place if there is any hope for the Black Consciousness Movement in this century.

But what is African Culture and how is it in danger?

The definition of African culture used here is the one given by Bantu Biko himself in his essay, Some African Cultural Concepts, 1971. In it, he describes various traits that he believes–and I concur—to be common to all Bantu Africans, namely, a close connection with nature, a natural tendency to form group-friendships as age-mates rather than the Western tendency for intimacy to only involve two people, a viewing of people as people rather than the Western tendency to view others as “agents for some particular function either to one’s advantage or disadvantage.” These are all primary elements of African culture that Biko believed to have survived colonial rule and that he believed would live forever in the spirit of all Africans.

But I struggle to imagine that he could foresee what would happen with the arrival of ‘freedom’ in South Africa. Nor could he foresee what would happen with the arrival of commercialised mass media to the world. With the disappearance of the ‘tangible enemy’ –the oppressor that all Africans could rally together to destroy—came the appearance of the subliminal coloniser—the Western corporations using all kinds of media to sell Western concepts and values to African people. This has put African culture as I have just described it in danger.

As technology advances and Western media digs its claws deeper into the global psyche the African person is losing the tools he needs to save his culture. More than that, he is losing his understanding of his culture. This is most frightening because it is illogical to expect a people to fight for something they cannot understand.

If we aim to revive the Black Consciousness Movement to its full pre-‘94 glory we need to understand that it is imperative to rally the people around the goal of preserving African culture in its purest form. I believe that the spirit of solidarity and togetherness that the culture is built around is the key to achieving the goal that all Black Liberation movements have–which is to pry African Resources from the hands of colonisers back into the hands of our people. Without a clear understanding of African culture coupled with a realistic assessment of the obstacles standing between the African and his own resources we cannot expect to do this.

The danger we are facing now is that many people associate African culture with ‘stone-age thinking’ and as a result feel absolutely little need to keep it alive. When one’s understanding of their own culture comes from the coloniser’s media to supplement an education created by said coloniser it is unsurprising that an over-simplified and heavily biased image of that culture deters one from digging deeper into it’s ‘true meaning.’

The longer we allow ourselves to retain a way of thinking that puts our entire culture in a negative light the further we will wander away from all its amazing philosophies. You see this every day in many Africans associating their own cultures with all things ‘back-wards’ and ‘simple-minded’ as though the West has claimed some sort of trade-mark on ‘progress.’ This is precisely how cultures die. If the people that were ‘supposed’ to carry it on believe it to be dark and old-fashioned they doom it to the past. This is what makes Biko’s definition of African Culture is so crucial at this point in African history. In this definition the concerned observer can note the ‘flexibility’ it allows interpreters and practioners of the culture. Knowing the core of a people’s culture allows one to dissemble it and truly understand which things matter and which things don’t.

Having a greater understanding of African culture allows one to see that the customs built around the spirit of Botho can be changed and sculpted over time to accommodate the changing environment. When one accepts this, one can then begin to redefine one’s understanding of one’s self; which is at the core of all cultural concepts—self-understanding.

We cannot unite around a culture that we perceive to be dark and backwards. And we certainly cannot unite around a culture that we perceive to be oppressive to us on a personal level. This is why it is important to separate oppressive systems from African culture.

The most threatening thing to the sustenance of African culture and subsequently the forwarding of the Black Consciousness Movement is Patriarchy. As I said, it is difficult for people to rally around preserving a culture they feel to be oppressive. And the longer we refuse to think of African culture without patriarchy the longer ‘modern’ African women will feel that the culture is not worth preserving. And this is the danger. It is our responsibility as Pan-Africanists, Black Liberation Advocates and members of the Black Consciousness Movement to fight for equality in African culture. How can we expect women to fight whole-heartedly for the perseverance of African culture if they continue to feel marginalised by its many, many sexist practices? It is imperative that we dig deeper into our culture and recognise that patriarchy is an aspect of it that is deterring a huge part of the movements mentioned above from investing itself fully in the protection of our culture.

It is important that we say to all Africans, “our culture is not about loin-cloths, mud-huts, hunting or farming; it’s not about public beatings or maize-meal; being African is not about paying bogadi (lobola) or going for initiation ceremonies in remote mountains. Being African is about thinking, feeling and living as a community—keeping up the spirit of Botho. That’s all. Everything else is simply trimmings.”

It is imperative that we stress that patriarchy was simply a system of customs that our ancestors believed would promote Botho and work in the best interests of our people as a whole. I believe that at some point it was for a good reason that many patriarchial practises were created. (Not all—just many.) An example is the practice of bogadi—when upon a couple’s engagement to marry the man offers livestock to the woman’s family as a means of showing gratitude to the woman’s family for having raised her to be a ‘fine woman.’ Looking at this practice now as a hardened feminist I cannot help but find myself repulsed by the out-right sexism that such a custom promotes. But my understanding of my culture makes it possible for me to imagine a time when such an idea may have seemed noble. I imagine that when our ancestors developed Bogadi they did so with the hope that sharing livestock across two families would promote unity in the community. I completely understand this.

But today, in a world where men and women have relatively equal opportunities in the workplace and some countries in Africa even have a higher number of educated women than men, this tradition is starting to seem slightly out of place. With women having equal earning power and with that a thirst for equality it is becoming more and more clear that we can no longer expect women to simply accept that African culture must be ‘saved’ in its present state. It must be looked at critically and customs that are oppressive to women discarded immediately. It is dangerous for Pan-Africanism, Black Consciousness or any other Black Liberation struggle to be something which feminists—arguably the most politically active women—shy away from in fear of persecution.

We must begin to look critically at the customs that perpetuate patriarchy in African culture. We cannot rest until we have a future in which no-one associates African culture with patriarchy. We must not rest until we have a future where no-one can say ‘feminism is un-African.’ A proper, universal and progressive understanding of our culture is the only way that this can be achieved.

Until we begin to see that patriarchy is a completely unnecessary aspect of African culture and that sexism has absolutely no place in liberation movements then we cannot expect any of those liberation movements to survive. How can we be comfortable with a situation where a woman feels that she cannot be both a feminist and a part of the Black Consciousness Movement?  How can it be helpful for African culture if I think in a way that dictates that if I want freedom as a woman then I must completely dissociate from my culture? We have to progress.

By dooming women to submissive roles we are dooming our culture to the past. We are dooming it to a swift and quiet death. I say this because, it is becoming clear to me that the factory that creates submissive women is no longer in full production. I’m guessing single-parent homes with women as the ‘head’ of the family are no longer interested in producing submissive women—nor do they know how to. And if the number of women that are comfortable with submission is declining then it follows that the number of women willing to uphold the patriarchal image of African culture will also decline.

This is why it is important that we remove patriarchy from our understanding of our culture. It is imperative. Until then, Patriarchy will act as the parasite that brings the Black Consciousness Movement to its knees.

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21 thoughts on “Patriarchy is the parasite that African culture must rid itself of in order to survive

  1. With a danger of appearing conceited I’m going quote myself because I don’t know who the original source is “Culture progress over time, that’s a given. In fact I once read that when a select few start behaving a certain way then they are usually called a “cult”.
    Then when the behaviour of that “cult” gets adopted it becomes known as ‘cult-ure’ “. I’m quoting myself from this blog post http://bit.ly/Hd8V5i which I believe you read. I also believe every aspect of culture was once NEW within that culture at some point so that puts further emphasis on why I agree with the gist of your piece. To progress culturally we should not be afraid of adopting new aspects.

    1. cult-ure, love that! I think we must distinguish between philosophy and culture. In each collective group of people (culture as you put it) you find different ways of thinking (philosophies), some good, some bad. there is nothing wrong with ‘borrowing’ different ways of thinking from different groupings. keeping the way you think ‘pure’is just not realistic in a globalised world. hearing what other people have to say and deciding whether you want to addopt that way of thinking or not, is healthy. the fact that you have an aversion in patriarchy is after all a result of hearing out other people’s opinions right? By the way, ‘black culture'(whatever that is supposed to mean), is not the only culture where patriarchy is a problem. the entire world is ridden by this ‘disease’, and all women should stand together against it. Forget about cultural groupings, and embrace free thinking!

  2. there is the Eurocentric tendency & attitude of trying to define in very simplistic terms, everything that it cannot understand, and boxing it into convenient one liner ‘concepts’. when people of other cultures attend formal indoctrination under the disguise of schooling, they are bombarded by these concepts about themselves and the most endemic confusion commences. this formal schooling also works to validate this confusion by offering certificates, diplomas & degrees, PHd’s (gadgets of influence?) and creates an indoctrinated, docile, intellectually & culturally allied african to further the colonial, political and cultural agenda of the west upon africa. hopefully, after the colonial violence, while the african spirit is battered, some form of discourse can be quickly invented to take white mischief & supremacy to the next level. it is a strategy that muddies the waters & creates all manner of red-herrings. this is racism taking a quasi-intellectual form. this is also the same discourse that refuses to see the imbalance in zimbabwe, and blindly calls for mugabe’s assassination. this is the same blindness that pretends to talk about artistic and other freedoms in matters brett murray. it is the same blindness that stays silent, or blames the dog (police?), but not the handler (Lonmin company?), when miners are mowed down by bullets in south africa, but talks about Zuma’s wives for years on end. yet they are silent on matters Berlusconi. they are silent on the violence & looting in the congo.
    because of this shifting value system, we place these “(mis)educated africans” (and europeans) in advisory, policy & strategic leadership positions, not knowing that they are marionettes on strings. the last time i checked, there is a south african singer, who in her stupor, told off anyone who dared question her skin lightening excesses. and she had such a self-righteous attitude! so are africa’s “educated”. as we boast a higher literacy rate than ever before (sic), we are raped, exploited, violated, and dominated. patriarchy is an alien concept to africa. it is indeed a colonial import to africa. some indicators are important. in almost all african cultures, spiritual leaders & deities are women. in south africa, i still witness sangomas being predominantly women. yet the anglican church still refuses to ordain women bishops, even though there is one who has been ordained in south africa. you shall never hear characters like aernout zevenbergen touch on such issues, since they are allied to the contemporary euro-centric political agendas & suffer the irreparable damage of the white male complex. africa has always been much more multicultural, tolerant and progressive. this does not mean that we need not work; it means we have to be prepared to articulate what it is that we find valuable, useful, necessary. we have to fight on. stop this nonsense about african culture. you have no clue what africa is.

    1. Middle Eastern Thoughts:

      Men are born of women. This is quite an awkward situation because there are only two legitimate genders, which are male and female. If a girl is born of a woman, the girl has to evolve into a woman. A boy has to become a man, but to do so, he has to evolve away from the woman. This is the reason fathers and a group of elder men exist.
      Men have to be trained hardly to evolve away from women. Their masculine nature go against the status quo of nature, which favors women. Civilization requires a lot of buildings, hardwork, systems of taxation and ranking, more rules and less backbiting so as to create a society more orderly than a matriarchal one.
      In a patriarchal society, everyone has their rank. This is the reason all successful civilizations are patriarchal. Men are the bastions of this civilization, not women. Therefore it is a man’s job to tell a woman to know her place.

      This thought is present in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and to some extent, in India, China and other successful cultures.

      1. Successful cultures? What do you call successful? Looking on the outside for the illusion of material so called wealth while one cannot seem to grasp the NATURAL CONCEPT as to whom Womb he came through? Common sense is not so common due to the turmoil we see today and the ones who are creating it.

    2. Another evidence that Nature favors women and patriarchy is necessary:

      Since the inception of in-vitro fertilization, there is a possibility of 2 biological mothers and 1 biological father. The mother who contributes the eggs is considered a biological mother, the father who contributes his sperm is the biological father and the mother who carried the child in the womb is called the natural mother.

      If women have power over life, men must have the power over death. Civilization can give power over Nature’s casualty forces, therefore, giving them power over death, therefore, patriarchy must continue.

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  4. One of the biggest detriments to the progress of women in the 21st century is not their portrayal by rigid old men or stupid masculine brutes but by women themselves.

    What I say might sound irrelevant and a bit backward but we are already seeing traces of transformation in many African cultures with traditional chiefs and headmen taking female councillors and tribal kings embracing affirmative action.

    Patriarchy is not our enemy but the fools who seek to use it to oppress women are.

  5. Patriarchy interrupted African (and other non-African but “Black”) cultures. Before patriarchy, the world was matriarchal. The birth of patriarchy is what has caused more destruction than planet Earth has ever seen. There is nothing good about the system regardless of what people think and as you said, this is why Black people don’t care to preserve any aspect of their indigenous cultures. If they are patriarchal, educated women definitely will not seek to have them live on. I know I wouldn’t. The conscious community is nothing but confusion and they do nothing but spread lies about Black people everywhere. It doesn’t deserve anyone’s attention. It’s obvious who runs it.

  6. Reblogged this on Ayaba's Labyrinth and commented:
    Patriarchy interrupted African (and other non-African but “Black”) cultures. Before patriarchy, the world was matriarchal. The birth of patriarchy is what has caused more destruction than planet Earth has ever seen. There is nothing good about the system regardless of what people think and as you said, this is why Black people don’t care to preserve any aspect of their indigenous cultures. If they are patriarchal, educated women definitely will not seek to have them live on. I know I wouldn’t. The conscious community is nothing but confusion and they do nothing but spread lies about Black people everywhere. It doesn’t deserve anyone’s attention. It’s obvious who runs it – white people and black patriarchs.

  7. Interesting comments. The example of the dowry had me thinking. I really can imagine a time when patriarchy might have made sense – when we were hunter gatherers and work was more physical pregnancy, childbearing and raring would have rendered women useless for long periods. But it is the smart society that can be nimbel enough to readjust to gain advantage. Thanks to science, technology and a modern world physically being the gender most put out in order for us to reproduce is not as limiting as it was. Therefore the social construct should adapt. Women can contirbute to society so why retain a system that obstructs that contribution? Apart from its unfairness its not even in anyones interest.
    I also found an earlier point about the inherent weakness in matriarchy and its inability to witjstand aggression a little intellectually lazy – seing as the author failed to address the elephant in the room – patriarchy started aggression as one clever poster pointed out.
    Finally I personally believe that the biggest threat to addressing this issue is religion. Both christaianity and islam are proponents of patriarchy and Africans cant seem to get enough!

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