Whither cultural misappropriation? - By: M.U. NDAGI | Dailytrust

Whither cultural misappropriation?

The sun, moon, land, sea, sky, mountain and other features of the physical environment are governed by laws that are constant. They are not, by nature, expected to undergo phenomenal changes. On the other hand, man’s life on the earth planet, unlike the physical environment, is not static. Rather, it perpetually remains in a process of continuous change. As part of the natural course of human civilization, it is characteristic of man’s language, culture, arts, craft, marriage, education, transport system, agriculture, medicine, social life, habits, norms, ideas and values to develop and grow; making them susceptible to changes occasioned by divergent factors. For instance, that is why customs, which were once revered in a society, could become a taboo after several generations. 

While some of these changes are conservative in nature, others are radical. The way a society responds to or resists pressures from foreign elements determines how it modifies or misappropriates its cultural values. No matter how people feel about indigenous cultures today, it’s a monumental tragedy to see young Nigerians, out of some foolish judgment, downplaying their indigenous culture as they zealously do everything to look European or American in dress, food, values, language, beliefs and thinking; sometimes to a crazy level. This cultural tragedy is robbing young Nigerians and indeed youthful generations in Africa of their indigenous way of life. 

Readers are likely to be familiar with the discourse on cultural appropriation, which over time, has remained controversial. It is called cultural appropriation “when cultural elements are copied from a minority culture by members of a dominant culture, and these elements are used outside of their original cultural context – sometimes even against the expressly stated wishes of members of the originating culture”. 

Cultural appropriation can include exploitation of another culture’s religious and cultural traditions, dance steps, fashion, symbols, language, and music. Those who see this appropriation as exploitative state that “cultural elements are lost or distorted when they are removed from their originating cultural contexts, and that such displays are disrespectful or even a form of desecration”. Cultural elements that may have deep meaning to the original culture may be reduced to “exotic” fashion or toys by those from the dominant culture.

What is likely to be unfamiliar is the concept of “cultural misappropriation”, which as opposed to “cultural appropriation” is defined by this writer as the adoption by members of a minority culture of some weird elements from a ‘dominant’ culture, which in effect seek to destroy the fundamental values, ideals and feelings of the minority culture. Indigenous Nigerian culture would seem to be a minority when comparatively contrasted with European culture, which through colonial and economic expansions, spread to become dominant in many parts of the world. The act of adopting a worthwhile aspect from the culture of those who share different ethnic, religious and cultural background may not entirely be wrong. It would only seem to be abnormal when they are rationally inconsistent with the inspirational essence of an individual’s cultural pattern.

Some of the social or behavioural manifestations among Nigerian youths are quite disturbing especially to people who cherish the protection and preservation of indigenous culture. Even within the context of modernization, the extremely ‘out of the mark’ social manners that generally characterize the persona of today’s young boys and girls in Nigeria are inconceivable. For most cultures in Nigeria, it is strange, for example, to find a man plaiting his hair or wearing a ring on the nose or ear. Some of these strange practices are not indigenous even to the people propagating it as if it were part of their original cultural pattern. Young Nigerians adopt some of these practices without asking or finding out why or how those who do so started it.

It is believed in ancient Chinese culture that wearing an ear-ring in the left ear symbolized that the person’s life has once been endangered, and so, an ear-ring is worn to forestall a recurrence. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, hippies and homosexuals also adopted the wearing of ear-rings. The practice which was once detested thus became a fashion; catching on in the celebrity community with athletes beginning to pierce their ears. The two narratives for the origin of men putting on ear-rings are not even honourable enough to inspire its appropriation by Nigerians. So, why are Nigerian young men crazy about putting a ring on the nose, ear, tongue and even the navel? The fact that everyone is doing a particular thing does not make it right. In this wise, the fact that a habit is common in European societies does not necessarily make it right or acceptable among Africans.

The wearing of saggy trousers by young Nigerian schoolboys is simply a silly appropriation of what used to be common among American prisoners who were prohibited from wearing belt. Sometimes too, the inmates would not also find appropriate sized-clothing to wear; forcing their trousers down their waist. It is unfortunate that a young Nigerian would have no one to imitate but a prisoner whose dressing was defined by abnormal circumstances in faraway America, Subhana-llah! Cultural deviations or misappropriations in the form of indecent dressing, wild hairstyles, and bizarre makeups are other brazen display of Anglomaniac tendencies by young Nigerian girls who probably want to be more American than Americans. To check crazy tattooing, some countries are beginning to decline visa applications of visitors with body-wide tattoo.  

The more we chase and adopt aspects of dominant cultures, the farther we move away from our indigenous culture. But in all this crazy for anything western or American, should it not give us concern that those whose culture we appreciate with a silly sense of reverence have never seriously admired any aspect of our indigenous culture. I’ve not seen or heard of Americans appropriating the use of any popular Nigerian dress either in their country or in Nigeria. You would only witness a Whiteman dressed in Nigerian attire such as the northern clothing for a man which consists of a big-gown topped with a turban round the head when he is to receive a traditional title. That’s all!

Like their counterparts in other African countries, many of the cultural aberrations noticed among contemporary Nigerian youths could partly be blamed on globalization with information and communication technology as its strongest weapon. Lack of proper cultural orientation and guidance from parents, ignorance of history, and perhaps, naivety altogether underscore most cultural misappropriations among today’s youths. May Allah guide us all against cultural misappropriations, amin.

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