Culture, they say, is a way of life of a people; the culmination of their values, norms, belief systems, behavioral patterns, history and traditions, preserved and passed down from their ancestors through generations whilst also being re-modified to accommodate the changes of the times. If this is the case, it is safe to say then that culture is a working model seen and implemented in every social structure, from the small village in Nnewi to the inner trenches of Ijebu Ode, all the way to the big metropolitan cities like Lagos, London or even Hong Kong – exhibiting an amalgamation of people from different works of life, social classes as well as cultural and subcultural backgrounds uniting under the sturdy umbrella of national unification and maintaining an understanding of beliefs and values which is reminiscent of their cultural heritage and unique identity – the same pattern observed still within ant colonies or flights of birds or even packs of wolves, a common understanding is exhibited, unifying them as one. (or what we may term the bind of cultural awareness)
Mama Africa, the second largest continent and home to some of the earliest and greatest civilizations, is one with a firm grasp upholding the cultural diversity of the plethora of tribes housed in her womb. Have you ever wondered why the term mama was attributed to Africa? Well, the more ancient of African civilisations, the likes of Kemet (modern day Egypt) and Kush (Ethiopia), down to even smaller tribe clusters acknowledged the woman as the divine Mother, the backbone of Africa and she was even deified as the supreme being. Culture, in these geographical areas was employed as a tool to uplift and empower its women and an equality of the masculine as well as the feminine was exhibited. Examples of this can be traced back, for instance, to Egypt and Kush where the children took their surname from the mother, and she controlled both the household and the fields; in Kush also, the Queen mother had the power to choose the new pharaoh and in some cases occupied the role of Pharaoh and in Sub-Saharan Africa during the 12th and 13th centuries, succession to the throne was matrilineal; or we could journey to Kikuyu of Kenya in East Africa, where the women were the major food producers and had authority over how the land was to be used or cultivated or among the Egba of Nigeria in West Africa where the women were the economic powerhouses of the nation, or even still the female ancestors from my maternal side of Abara, Warri in Delta state who represented their village as warriors. It is misinformation perpetuated through the history books to believe then that pre-colonial African culture exhibited an inequality between the sexes placing the African woman as subservient to the African man. We come down to post-colonial Africa and we begin to notice the trail of restrictions and constrictions placed on the African woman ranging from denying girls the right to education and emblazoning in the consciousness of our women that our place is in the kitchen to underage marriage, female genital mutilation and gender-based violence. So then, the very same culture which has been used to empower some has also been used to imprison many, and while promoting the idea of empowering African women through culture, we must ensure to sift through our cultural paradigms so as to propagate the one most befitting to empower our women.
In the 21st century, or what me might call the Digital or Information age, we have witnessed the birth and boom of digital technology (computers, cellphones, world wide web…), a whirlwind surpassing industrialization which has engulfed the world and has molded her into a global village, and has become part of our everyday lives. Digital technology has made it easier for us to communicate, engage in commercial activities and have ready access to a bounty of information vis-a-vis other great attributes that is has quickly metamorphosed human interaction and is defining the current era of human civilization, albeit one that is becoming increasingly hard to do without and is owned by the majority of the Developed and developing world. Despite its obvious disadvantages it also has many advantages (a trait exhibited by everything in the universe).
The woman, an intricate and ingenuine creation made by the creator , serving not only as the portal between the physical realm and the spiritual realm, but also as the sustainer of the home, the teacher, backbone and the nation is a crystal that is to be cherished because of her innate God given abilities and how she beautifies everything and the lives of every one around her. How do you weaken a society? You destabilize and disorient the woman so that she feels powerless and subservient, because a woman who is informed and aware of her power is a walking powerhouse. This was the ploy used by the early colonialists, observed mainly on slave grounds using the fear propaganda where the slaves were restricted from reading , and those who failed to conform were severely punished resulting in the woman beating her children in the stead if they disobeyed as it was better than the masters punishment. Through the later parts of the 20th century through to the 21st century however, and much to the delight, the women rights and feminist movement sprung up and spread through most parts of the world with women fighting for their rights. Measures have been taken to promulgate this movement, albeit most have deviated African women from upholding their culture and in the stead adopting European culture. Digital technology, hence, because of its widespread nature , is a means which should be employed to empower the African woman through culture.
As an ardent user of the social media, recent years have shown a move towards black power( a movement from the 80’s) and reclaiming black sovereignty . I personally am a fan of the #blackgirlmagic and #melaninpopping movements on Instagram as it shows a move by black women to reclaim their sovereignty. There is no doubt the power a hashtag has in our modern day lives as it spreads like a forestfire. With hashtags like the ones stated above, we have seen an incredible move towards natural hair appreciation as more and more women are ditching the weaves and relaxers and embracing their natural hair, hair relaxer sales alone have reduced by 28% since 2008. One might wonder how ditching hair relaxer empowers black women, but if you look at it this way, who taught you that your hair is a burden or your kink is ugly? why do you have to perm and apply chemicals to your head to achieve a more European aesthetic which has been deemed more beautiful and acceptable? This topic however is one of perspective and preference. Some might argue also that these hashtag movements promote nudity in some ways, but I beg to differ by saying when you research pictures of African women from antiquity how are they portrayed? Nude! the mindset that nudity is not our culture can then be ruled obsolete as this school of thought came with…wait for it…colonialism; as the African men from these era’s never slut-shamed but accepted it as the natural way. I must point out here that I am in no way encouraging black women to walk around naked, but I am pushing for an acceptance of self. I began with the physical first because I strongly believe that true freedom begins with the liberation of mind and body first; where there is no need to fashion your form towards what others term beautiful and acceptable but accepting yourself all flaws and flamboyance is very liberating; a woman who sees herself as beautiful from the inside out also fashions her world to reflect such beauty. Thanks to social media, more and more women are finally embracing their melanin and the bleaching creams are also being ditched in the process. We must go back to our roots.
Also, with the advent of the digital age, information has now been made available at our fingertips. There is no excuse now for not being informed as there are articles, forums, blogs and websites aimed to inform. Also, if one is not a fan of hardback books, e-books as well as audiobooks are readily available. Nothing empowers like knowledge. Information is both the gateway for mans advancement and the cure to his frustrations a great scholar once said. These days you can find anything on the internet from how to cook egusi soup, to how to build jets. Women have become renowned makeup artists from learning the craft off the internet and have started successful business to acquiring other very valuable skills and becoming entrepreneurs who own and run their viable businesses. The key, hence is to be informed. Whether it be through forums created on facebook with masterclasses on bead making, gele tying or creation of local cosmetics such as Shea butter, black soap, henna (lali)…etc teaching and educating African women or blogs of the likes, theses avenues can be used to empower African women. Also, by creating movies and music which instead of degrading, uplift African women, I believe change can be implemented, as a woman who is knowledgeable teaches a nation.
Finally, Acts like the AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act) enacted on the 18th of May 2000 allows the transaction of textiles between Africa and the United States of America. In a digitalized global system, factions of women textile producers as well as tye and dye producers can be put in committees from various geopolitical zones, with their works and profiles put on social media to promote their craft and hence, foster trading between themselves and AGOA as well as a sense of unity; This does not only promote a sense of sisterhood between the women in the union, as women empower women, co-operatives can also be formed to provide financial support. This stratetgy can also be implemented in agricultural sectors, arts and crafts sectors etc, to not only promote the richness of African culture but to guarantee African women financial liberty.
Power, equality and sovereignty are not concepts alien to us, but are one which have been buried along the ridges of time. We owe it to ourselves, our kindred, our seed and mama Africa, for mama Africa cannot be made great again without the empowerment and liberation of her daughters. All hands must be on deck then, for we must first be the change we want to see.