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What Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral can teach us about the value of cultural continuity

African historical and cultural records were damaged and erased by colonisation, but even after independence, Africans have not invested adequately in restoring and safeguarding cultural and historical heritage.

The lesson we can observe and/or learn — at least from a critical distance — from the death and funeral of Queen Elizabeth II is what institutions mean, their definitions, practices, and actors, and more fundamentally, what happens when institutions are embedded and steeped in culture.

What the world has seen, in all its magnificence, is the refinement of cultural practice, its rituals and symbols, to the minutest of details. It shows how culture can evolve over thousands of years while still maintaining its foundational elements.

‘Culture’ and ‘tradition’ for young people often holds a negative connotation, but the old and powerful know the value of a thousand years of cultural and historical continuity.

Cultural continuity is the ability to preserve the historical traditions of a culture and carry them forward with that culture into the future, and it is closely linked to the concept of cultural identity. Cultural identity has a major influence on our confidence and self-esteem.

‘Culture’ and ‘tradition’ for young people often holds a negative connotation, but the old and powerful know the value of a thousand years of cultural and historical continuity

In a world where the primary objective of colonialism was to erase African cultures, the importance of re-evaluating the value of cultural continuity and creating strong African cultural identities cannot be overstated.

Most Africans are continuing to devalue their cultures. Very few Africans know the history of their peoples. They can’t go 100 years in the past. There’s no knowledge. There’s no memory. We know very little of our pre-colonial societies, and even when we know, our documents are general narratives that don’t have the name of characters, the actual and rich description of events, or even the specificity of dates.

Queen Elizabeth II Funeral. Credit: James Boyes/Wikimedia Commons/ Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

All the powerful nations of the world have recorded histories spanning hundreds, if not thousands of years. The old civilisations of the East, from Japan, to China, to India have thousands of recorded histories, and so is the heartlands of Europe, and so are the stories from the Middle Eastern deserts roamed by Persians and Arabs. The nation of émigrés, the United States, since the days of slave trade, also followed in the path of documentation, covering hundreds of years.

Another uncomfortable truth is that people without a strong cultural identity are easy to colonise, manipulate and control. Powerful cultures will always dominate, oppress, and/or colonise weaker cultures. There will be the oppressed and the oppressor, and what Prof Homi Bhabha theorised as “the third space” that is, the space where the oppressed plot their liberation, and/or the space where oppressed and oppressor are able to come together, free (maybe only momentarily) of oppression itself, embodied in their particularity.

African historical and cultural records were damaged and erased by colonisation, but even after independence, Africans have not invested, adequately, in restoring and safeguarding cultural and historical heritage.

Africa is the origin of humans and the mother of civilisations. Africa is the giant that must wake up.

Pick a cultural practice among your peoples, such as rites around birth, initiations, marriage, death etc and shine a torch into the past — to understand the origins, philosophies, justifications, actors, and events behind the practice — and a whole new world of history, identity, and possibilities of futures will unfold before your eyes.

Queen Elizabeth II Funeral. Credit: James Boyes/Wikimedia Commons/ Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

The complexities of cultures — the minute details that the young tire of — were refined by your ancestors for thousands of years, in response to the evolution of the environment and how they interacted it with and they hold immense knowledge about, not only the past, but also the future.

And in watching the Queen’s funeral, I hope you understand how that small island nation became an imperial empire and terrorised half of the globe. You were presented with a culture, whose performance, in all its extremes, shouted preeminence.

I also hope that you understand how the child of the British Empire, that is, the United States, has used cultural imperialism to colonise the world.

Culture is a source of power, and a means of acquiring and maintaining power.

African people should, always, and as a principle, push back against all forms of cultural erasure by imperialist forces, and invest in strengthening institutions charged with the responsibility of preserving cultural heritage, not only for today, but also for future generations. 

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