As a boy I always had a fascination with cultures other than my own. This was a curiosity that sought to understand what these cultures believed and how these beliefs had developed. I remember my grandmother’s stories of how our people, the Ga ended up on the eastern coastal plains of Ghana. A recent ancestral DNA placed my sequences to be about 60% related to the Yoruba peoples of South Western Nigeria. A finding that may support the oral history of my Ghanaian ethnic group.
Among the cultures I found most fascinating was Native American culture. Unfortunately, I have very few if any friends of Native American heritage beyond claims of remote genetic lineage. I read about the Choctaw, Sioux and Zuni tribes of the Western Plains long before I ever visited the US. I am still in awe of the focus on peace and balance with nature displayed by Native American cultures. Unfortunately these ideals succumbed to the “civilizing efforts” of European settlers.
My own people in Ghana can attest to violence that sometimes came with the civilizing efforts of Western cultures. One popular dance form of the Ga people in Accra called Kolomashie almost fell victim to these civilizing efforts. The current drum music and dance called Kpanlogo drew many of its features from Kolomashie.
These efforts to suppress Kolomashie have most likely altered the nature of the art form today. School authorities punished kids in pre and post-colonial Accra by whipping for watching Kolomashie folk dancers. Christian missionaries and British Colonial government discouraged this practice on account of the perceived risque nature of the dance form.
In the United States Native Americans faced persistent and often denigrating efforts at cultural extinction. One symbolic example is the Mount Rushmore carving onto the “Six Grandfathers” a sacred location of the Lakota Sioux tribe. This famous National Monument effectively erased the significance of the Lakota Sioux peoples cultural attachment to these sacred sites. These sites became the subject of many struggles between the US government and the Sioux Nation when gold was discovered in the Black Hills. The acquisition of these lands by the US government was a breach of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty.
Over several years forced relocation of Native American tribes, the Massacre at Wounded Knee and threats of cessation of promised food rations placed these sacred lands under federal control.
In Australia well meaning white settlers systematically took children away from families to indoctrinate them in western ways. The christian missionaries who stole these children from their families were certain they were doing God’s work. They were of course bringing the christian faith to those “savages”. My question is, “what is more savage and unchristian than taking children away from their parents?’. Unfortunately this was a common practice. Slave owners in the American south and as missionaries in both Australia and the Americas routinely separated families. The recent Trump administration separation of refugee families at the border was a reminder of these prior barbarous acts.
‘Yes, in an effort to civilize the “heathens” one is allowed to act like a savage sometimes!!. Who knows?! violence is the only message they understand!’
I know there are many of us who can understand this system of thought. The ideology is very much aligned to the proselytizing nature of evangelical christianity. It is however important that before we decide it is in another person’s best interest for us to force our ideas and ways on them we need to pause and think. We will need to ask ourselves; “how would it feel if the roles were reversed?”
How would you like to be forced to live another person’s life for just a few days? If we rightfully took time to consider these questions we may be more gentle in our pursuit of to spread “civilizations” especially when the recipient have made no request to be civilized.
Dr. Leonard Sowah is an internal medicine physician in Baltimore, Maryland