Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday celebrated primarily in the United States and Canada as a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year. Several other places around the world observe similar celebrations. Thanksgiving has its historical roots in religious and cultural traditions, and has long been celebrated in a secular manner as well.
Thanksgiving is not a festivity we celebrate in Uganda or even in Africa but I was shocked this week to hear people in my country gearing up to celebrate “Thanksgiving”. Amusement places around town advertised and called upon people to celebrate this day in flashy parties. There have also been a lot of greetings passing on social media by Ugandans wishing their friends a happy celebration of the day.
As this all goes down, I cannot help but wonder at how great the western culture has dug into our social fabric. I am not saying that these cultures are bad for us, however, I believe that as people, culture is one of the greatest attributes we possess; it defines us and our values, history and existence. In the days of our forefathers, we used to have what is called “Amakungula” which is literally translated as “Harvest” and our people would celebrate a period of production. During this time, homesteads were open to strangers, people drank and danced till wee hours of the night and gods would be appeased for blessing us. I think that is a close festivity to thanksgiving but do these traditions still exist? No, we prefer to get a turkey like it’s done in the movies and celebrate in the confines of our bungalows. I find this adaption neo-colonial especially for people with rich cultures and traditions.
I have grown up in a time when there is so much conflict of cultures. People my age look at our African traditions as “local” and “backward” and prefer to talk in “Snoop Dog” accents and dress like “name-your-favourite-celebrity” We name our kids Sean Paul and groom them speaking English, French or whatever language our colonial masters taught us. We have lost our traditions, our values and cultures and we sway to the whims of a culture we barely understand; we are lost people. The internet, radio and television have enabled this erosion of our culture and enabled the spread of foreign cultures. Maybe this is good for the “global village” but I believe that diversity is one of the best ingredients in this globalization. I believe that is the same reason we have UNESCO to promote and preserve culture.
Culture and traditions define people and their values and must therefore be safeguarded. The identity crisis is probably one of the biggest challenges facing the youth today and it stems from the absence of a set of values to hold unto. Our young people are growing into drug cultures, violence and whatever they sync to be part of the modern way of life. They speak in foreign accents punctuated with four lettered words and walk like they have springs implanted in their femurs!
We have certain cultures and traditions which are either cruel or outdated and I support the abolition of these. The Sebei people in Uganda are notorious for female circumcision and in a time like this, such a tradition must be fought against, for its health risk to women and so should cattle rustling amongst our Karimojong and Turkana people. Culture must not be static; it must evolve with the times so as to suit the challenges of the day. In this evolution however, we should not lose that which truly defines us.
My friend Aballa Okello Richard from the Ethur people in Karamoja established the Ethur Cultural Hub (ECH) which will be a museum for the cultures of his people. Ugandans and tourists from across the world will get a chance to walk into a real life museum to experience the cultures and tradition of the Ethur people; eat their food, sing their songs, learn their history and celebrate their diversity. We need to see such initiatives coming up across the world in order to preserve what is truly ours. This will have a double benefit for us socially and economically. I therefore call upon our governments and the entire international community to come up and support initiatives aimed at promoting and preserving culture.
Back to Thanksgiving, I wish all my friends across the world celebrating this festivity a grand celebration. I hope that your tradition and values attached to this festivity will live on forever and that the spirit of community will be cherished. Happy Thanksgiving!