“Tradition is just peer pressure from dead people.” I came across this statement and I am wont to agree with it though with an added caveat “Most” because I know for a fact that some traditions are good, they make society stable, make us secure and knowledgeable about what to expect in certain situations and they are generally safeguards for the society. Tradition is meant to be a servant formulated or created for the use of society, the trouble starts when it becomes the master and not the servant and oh what a hard taskmaster it is especially when the society it is meant to serve has evolved.
I attended a burial ceremony some time ago and I was aghast at all the demands that were made by the extended family and villagers before the deceased could be buried. There was an unending list of things to be bought for members of the society, fines to be paid and social clubs and groups to be appeased. As a harsh taskmaster, tradition was in its element as it gave no exceptions, no acknowledgement of the present circumstances and situations of the people it was meant to serve but demanded strict adherence to rules made in different times and circumstances. A plea from the children of the deceased did not move it, neither did it’s heart soften in the realisation that several members of the society were lying in the morgue because their kith & kin could not fulfil its (tradition) demands.
But it is not solely tradition’s fault, it has been hijacked by a group of people who pretend to be its custodians, people who do not know how these rules evolved, who hide the history, interpretations and exceptions to the rules from the general public and find satisfaction and fulfillment in their elevated importance, using their positions to impoverish and oppress others.
The blame is not entirely borne by the elders and priests, we the people also share a part of the blame by our strict adherence to these rules whilst acknowledging in other situations that the world has evolved. We are to blame for not challenging the status quo especially when we see the discomfort, pain and hurt it brings to the victims, we are to blame, because in spite of our education and enlightenment we are still brutish and backward in our orientation.
In my opinion, one good thing the current pandemic has wrought is the laying bare and disrobing of our traditions so that we can see many of them for what they really are- ego inflating ceremonies that serve to make their so called custodians more important than they are. We have now seen that people can be buried anywhere and not compulsorily at their ancestral homes and that we need not give in to the pressure to raise enormous sums of monies that can be put to better use for the living to bring the dead back home to be buried.
In so doing, we have laid to rest the myth that the spirit of the dead will haunt us if they are not buried at home and freed ourselves from the guilt feelings that we have somewhat failed our relatives. We have discovered the joys of working from home and now know that offices can function if people work remotely. We are aware that wedding or funeral ceremonies need not consist of more than 20 or 50 persons and that traditional rites can be done virtually or not at all and that there are always acceptable alternatives to what was said to be sacrosanct.
But there is the need to do much more and the weight of that responsibility lies on us that are enlightened and educated, who know that these things do not really serve much purpose but to enslave people to a particular way of thinking. We need to challenge the status quo like some South Eastern women have done by filing court actions challenging the culture which says a daughter cannot inherit her father’s property. We need to speak out against the in humane and barbaric treatment of widows in our midst. To campaign against child marriage, lack of access to education for children, female genital mutilation and all the ills that tradition perpetuates with the words” this is how it has always been done”
Lastly, we should ingrain in our children the importance of the individual and how it is vital not to lose sight of the individual when pitched against society. We should also help nurture their inherent sense of justice and encourage them to speak out against injustice in any form and we show them by our own example especially when relating with them that, they like everyone else is an invaluable member of the society and that their voices should and must be heard.
As we grow older and take up leadership positions in the society, let’s all remember that traditions were meant to serve man and not the other way.