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A Toast To Culture

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by Ayo Ogundipe    •    66 Views    •    likes, 0 dislikes    •    0 Comments

A toast to culture, a toast to a place

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A toast to a people, a toast a language

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Who I am, is the unity of these phrases. 

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So here’s a prose of instinct and experience. 

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This is a journey into self discovery, a secrete passage into my inner world. Call it espionage if you may, but this is a journey in parts and this of course is the first of a serial on culture, indulge me to share...

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First, the subject of culture is one vast in content, and dynamics that cannot be covered in a single article. It is therefore by no means an exhaustive conversation. I would therefore narrow down my scope to certain specifics and adopt a rather empirical approach in putting forward my views. This is my disclaimer notice that I am no authority in this subject area, however, humour me...

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So, over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been mulling over the concept of “culture”, it’s perception, acceptance, relevance and the substance of culture especially within the Nigeria context. 

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I recently came across an interesting article on-line, on the Forbes website which was captioned; Leadership Qualities: How To Lead Well Across Cultures which immediately got my attention. Although this article was more business oriented as expected, it hinged heavily on culture which further piqued my curiosity on what exactly culture is, (within the Nigerian context) and how we leverage on it.

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Firstly, culture is part of our humanity. From time memorial, people (society) have found a way of life, peculiar with their needs, and parallel to their beliefs and eventual practice, which they hold sacred. This framework set up by any group of people with common interest is based on a consensus, engineered towards purposeful co-existence. Aptly put, culture is the infrastructure of our human existence (within a community), which may vary across communities.

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Exploring the cultural components of a commonwealth like Nigeria as a case study (using the Yoruba culture as a reference point), one is often confronted with an intriguing perspective. One that hovers several planes of conflicting narrative of history, religion, administration, mores and values etc. which I would expound in forthcoming posts.

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Growing up in a Nigerian environment - the Yoruba culture is one that is big on deference, and I have from adolescence learnt, appreciated, and some times struggled with this ‘culture’ at times in my adult life, owing to some of its seeming “excesses”. It’s a practice of a hierarchal system of authority which can be based on age, wealth, academic qualification, social status where the lesser/younger is expected to defer to the higher/richer/older.  Geert Hofstede, a dutch social psychologist explores this paradigm of culture more in what he coined ‘Power distance’. 

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In the context of language, the Yoruba Language is one laced with strong undertones of deference. When addressing an elder, there is an intonation to suggest deference as opposed to speaking with ones mate, this remarkable quality of the language is however lost in (the English Language) translation. The short comings of speaking in a “borrowed tongue”.

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In Nigeria, the imprints of colonisation remains an ever-abiding presence, as evident in our legal tender of communication in the form of national language. We often find ourselves caught up in a contradiction of thought and words. Where thoughts are often lost in translation. Speaking in another language is an acquired skill, not a natural talent.

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Instinctively we think in our mother tongue, and express our perceptions in such vernacular. It’s a natural consequence. Language is a phenomenon; a kind of spiritual construction, there is no science or formulation. maybe it’s why Christians speak in tongues as a spiritual exercise - edifying of the spirit just saying .

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Since we think in our mother tongue, we often translate our ideas as we perceive them. Take for example a yoruba word “omo yen o mo iwe” is literarilly translated as ‘That child knows book” rather than “the child is brilliant”- A linguistic faux pax. The short coming of expression in a borrowed tongue. We innately think in our mother tongue. This is so because culture is the purest form of individuality - the uniqueness of thought, language, settlement etc. The supremacy of a people in their uniqueness.

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Culture is the beauty of a global identity, but only a thing of shame when the practice is relegated or considered obsolete. When culture is not ‘updated’ through practice and documentary it is lost and the world is poorer for it. Any remedial intervention would be a parody of it’s true form.

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Culture is native to a people, and the passing down of this practice and folklores is tradition. It not only marks a time in history, but the timeline of a civilisation. But the lingering and somewhat terminal question is - how long shall our (African) culture last?

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