There is an easy way to decipher whether or not an object, or activity existed locally before colonialism. For example, I know that a box and cupboard were not yet invented in Nkore before the arrival of foreigners that is why we call a box 'eboksi' and a cupboard 'ekabada.' These words transformed only by pronunciation, did not exist before the coming of an English speaking foreigner to our corner of the world.
In Ankore we have a word that captures the essence of human rights and humanity, a word that is used throughout many parts of Africa where Bantu languages are spoken. 'Obuntu.' The word has been with us for so long that it requires no further interpretation for many people in Africa and beyond. The widely held belief that justice, democracy, humane treatment of people were unknown to backward African tribes before colonization is proved wrong by the pre-existence of that one word. Yet we spend so much ink either asserting or debating the fallacy that the numerous concepts it stands for were brought to us by gun-wielding foreigners who introduced laws to protect us from ourselves.
So recently I was lamenting my inability to recite those lovely stories that my grandmother told in the early evening as we enjoyed fresh, organic beans and greens from her cooking pot. I have yet to meet a contemporary chef that can reproduce the authentic taste of my granny's steamed vegetables. We sat near her fire in a semi-circle and hang onto her every word as she told a story. The start was always the same 'long, long ago, there was a man who married his wife and they had their children.' (My corrupted mind even now wonders whose wife and children the subject of the story would have had other than his own!) When she paused to breathe we responded with 'Mhhm' or 'tebere' and she knew she had our attention. There was always a sad song thrown in the mix, a beast, a death or a cause of sadness or happiness but always it ended in celebration of the triumph of 'Obuntu' over evil. It saddens me now that hardly anyone I know remembers or uses the art of story telling aka 'okugana,' to educate their children.
The early Pan-African movement tried to reinstate our love for our names, our ways, our stories and our history but it's best proponents were silenced by the new political and economic order making sure that we will never fully utilize and validate words like 'Obuntu.' This silencing of our glorious past is completed by the continuous erosion of our languages so that we can no longer communicate meaningfully about what was authentically African. Thus I find myself struggling to write this story in English, the only way that it can be properly communicated to my children.
At 50 I know that until we are willing to tell our stories, the way they were told and handed down to us for centuries, in our own languages, we will continue to reinforce the fallacy that Africans were an uncivilized, backward people saved from themselves by outsiders.