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Tradition – The Albatross Of Our Time

It was 3:25am when the first phone call came through. Who would be calling at such an ungodly hour?  My first instinct was not to pick up that call, but after a few more rings, I caved in and answered. I checked the caller ID and lo and behold, it was a call from the motherland Ghana. Everyone knows that an early morning phone call from the motherland hardly ever contains any good news.  My heart was palpitating at such high speed that I was visibly shaking.  Hello, who is it I asked?

Although I knew it was a call from home, I was not sure who the actual caller was. It’s me Margaret, said the caller. Margaret who, I asked?  By this time, I was questioning if the early morning rude awakening had robbed me of my memory of who this person was. I didn’t want to appear rude so I waited patiently for her to jog my memory.

My name is Margaret and I am a distant relative of yours. I was asked to inform you that your late Uncle’s wife’s brother has passed away and we are soliciting contributions to help with the funeral. Did you say my late Uncle’s wives brother? I asked in return. I just wanted to be sure that I was not imagining things in my mind. Yes, your late uncles brother’s wife, she responded.  I’m sorry to hear that he passed, but can you tell me know how you got my number?

Well, your aunt gave it to me and said it’s okay to call, answered Margaret. Okay, no worries, Margaret, I have to go now but you will hear from me later. If you guessed that I would be calling my aunt right away, then you are in luck because that is exactly what I did.  Within a minute of hanging up with my “newly found relative” Margaret, I was already speaking with my Aunt.  Below is the interesting dialogue that ensued between her and I:

Me: I got a call from a lady called Margaret this morning. She was asking for financial assistance to purchase a cow for a funeral.

Aunt: O yes, I forgot to let you know she will be calling you

Me: No worries auntie, but please, with all due respect, don’t disclose my phone number to people I don’t know especially if their sole intention is to call only when they have a financial need.

Aunt: I didn’t think it was a big deal, besides it’s a family matter and I felt you might  be able to help since they are really poor.

Me: Aunt, the real issue is not whether I’m willing to help but rather if this issue is relevant or even necessary.  Why would a poor  family be mandated to purchase a cow for a funeral given their circumstances? Who are they purchasing that cow for?

Aunt: Well, it’s tradition, that’s how it has always been. Their side of the family is responsible for the cow and the remaining families have their own obligations as well.

Me: Don’t you think it’s problematic to adhere to a man-made tradition that places unusual burden on a poor person and causes them to either go into debt or engage in a begging spree.  Aunt, I’m saying this not because she asked for money but  because it’s a tradition that impedes progress and I personally can’t support that in good conscience.

Aunt: It’s tradition and it can’t be changed. Our forefathers and elders did it that way.

Me: It can be changed if it no longer makes sense. In those days, it was an agrarian culture and most people reared cattle so asking for a cow was not burdensome. People could easily afford that. Today, it’s no longer the same. Don’t you think we should ask people to support based on their financial ability instead of  what a 100 year old tradition mandates.

Aunt: You and your  big English!!!!

Me: Lol, Aunt, but do you understand what I am saying?

Aunt: Yes, I do but who can change tradition?

Me: You and I, and everyone else. We all can review certain elements of tradition that impede progress.

Aunt:  I hear you, but in the meantime, please be sure to send Margaret some money for the Cow

After my conversation with my aunt, I was saddened. For the rest of that day, I kept comparing how some people in the Western part of the world build wealth and pass on a good financial foundation to their children while a good portion of us in the motherland are constantly encumbered with unrealistic and impractical financial obligations that constantly push us further and further into financial strain. How are our  children supposed to compete fairly with their Western counterparts?

How is it that we are quick to embrace technological changes but fear to evaluate tradition and make necessary changes? Do we feel that changing tradition is a betrayal to our forefathers? I myself, I’m a proud African. I am grateful each day for my African heritage, values and rich culture but I also know that my African culture could use some fine tuning. Just as we have gained grounds in promoting the education of the girl child, we can also begin to have some serious discussions on reevaluating those aspects of our culture that have become an albatross to us.

Why do we do the things we do?  What are the principles behind those cultural mandates? Can we still maintain those principles albeit in a new practical way? I wonder. I invite your comments.



Hi, thanks for stopping by!

I am a writer, a lover of intellectual discussions, a social entrepreneur and an oatmeal junkie. My educational background includes a Bachelors in Social Work, a Masters in Development Studies and a PhD in Human Services. 

My goal is to use this blog to inspire, create and motivate. I hope the stories and posts you read on this blog fulfill that purpose.

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