KAMPALA – The Coronavirus Pandemic has brought many changes to the way we work and live, in many ways, and we are yet to see its full impact. It has also taught us many things about society, about the economy, and technology among others. One of the key things I have learnt from this period is the strength and beauty of our culture and family. Most Ugandan families are still practicing the extended family concept and with various relatives in one compound. Most families have their ancestral home where they are born. In this case the men in the family. To break the monotony of staying in Towns during the lockdown many people and families went to their ancestral country homes (villages) where it is more spacious and you can breathe some fresh air from the beans, maize that is growing at the moment! People are also harvesting maize and roasting maize adds to the flavor of village life. It is this extended family and its importance to bring people together, and how it shapes people’s values that I re-affirmed.
As the country changes into a modern urbanized society, we still have ancestral/village homes and while we stay in towns, we see towns as a temporary place of abode. This is because when a person dies, he/she is taken to the ancestral/village home and buried there. During holidays like Christmas, people flood to the village. We are still in a transformation process. When we have problems in town, we retreat to our village homes. For my generation, it is in these homes that you will find our parents and relatives who didn’t make it to town. Many people retreated to their ancestral homes when the coronavirus pandemic raided the country. This was not very different in our case, we had children and grandchildren come into our country (ancestral) home.
We are a big family and our family compound is quite spacious so when our grandchildren showed up they had a lot of space compared to the apartments and small houses where we stay in town. They had all this space to run into and trees to climb as they went around playing games. They had all this sand and dust to eat. The fruits! “feene”, pawpaws which are found in the compound. Even when we bought other fruits, they thought they came from the family gardens. They had an amazing time.
Of course we prayed that they should not get sick. Not sick of the coronavirus, that would be horrible, but rather from the ordinary sickness of bacterial infection, malaria and such. By staying in the villages, playing in mud, getting bitten by insects of different types and being hit by friends they build immunity. I believe our dirty conditions in our villages may be some of the reasons why the coronavirus pandemic in this country has not gone to an epidemic let alone on pandemic level and yet in other countries the pandemic is causing havoc.
It is these village conditions that we have formed our culture. Culture are the traditions, language, artifacts and behaviors of a group of people. Basoga, Buganda, Banyankole and other tribes are described so because of those cultural factors that define them. These result from the socialization process. How the people, in this case children, are treated, what they eat what and how they speak and what is expected of them defines culture. I was able to observe how a child’s mind is formed as they interacted with parents and grandparents and workers in the home. This is the upbringing.
When we have our children in our flats in town, they see very few people. They have little opportunity to interact and learn from others. Some of us bring up the child in a way that they don’t respect people. You will be amazed when you hear what some children say! I visited a friend who had a son pursuing Bachelor of Commerce in MUBS, therefore my student. My friend, the father, asked him to bring me a drink and he retorted “Why don’t you do it yourself.” The father was embarrassed! He was lost for words. He put his tail between his legs and went to collect the drink. He made a thousand apologies about the conduct of his son! This was a reflection of poor upbringing!
In our town homes, some of us bring up children either with very strict regulations, or with so much love and in a relaxed manner. This shapes the child’s behavior. We may allow children to do anything they want and this may lead to misconduct. They interact with a very small number of people, so, they have no social exposure. When they go to school they are conditioned by rules, do this, don’t do that. In a village setting, it is an opportunity for them to meet many children and other people to explore the world and to be creative and innovative. The village and family conditions shapes the children behaviours. While of the the old tradition in the villages are long gone, some are still practiced, like respect for elders, not speaking as old people speak. The old saying that the child is brought up, not by a family, but the village, is still true to some extent.
One specific incident that happened while in the village setting was when one of my grandchildren used words that are not acceptable in our family values. We all wondered where these words came from. He was spanked by not one, not two, but three people telling him that such words should never be said. We grew up knowing that you cannot insult a grown up person, let alone argue with him/her. We grew up being ashamed of saying certain words especially with sexual connotations. It was taboo and indecent, so, we expect our children to behave in a similar manner. If they don’t, it is either because we have allowed and accepted it or we take offence and discipline the child.
The tendency for a child when spanked by other people, not their parents is to run away, but they would naturally run away to their parents, in this case the parents were not here! Some run away still running their mouths with unacceptable words. My grandson had nowhere to hide, though still he found somebody to seek protection from. I have seen some parents discipline children who also fight back! They too get something, some weapon and throw it at the parent. Total indiscipline!!
What did I learn from this? May be didn’t learn but re-affirmed. Our socialization defines how we behave and what we say. In our family/ancestral home, we never greet our elders standing. We must find somewhere to sit or at times, we kneel down for our mother! Some people find it strange, but that’s how we grew up. Respect for parents. By kneeling, you lower your esteem to let that of your parents or elders be higher than yours. In our culture all young people must kneel for elders. Women kneel for elders and husbands, as a sign of respect. Those are our values. I learnt that individual values are learnt from the various associations and environment one grows up in. In kiganda culture, an ordinary Muganda must prostrate before the Kabaka. Those who are not Buganda find this odd. Many people greet the pope while kneeling! May be I did not learn but re-affirmed from the incident involving my grandson. My grandson grew up in different environment.
Children who grow up with parents who may spoil them, I am sure you have seen such children, tend to have bad manners. They behave badly, misconduct. When you visit them in their homes, they will walk all over you and even pour soda, water or tea on you and the parents cannot do anything to them! Such parents are building poor values. There is also a big problem with children who grow up in “Mizigo”. Single bedroom homes normally lined up together. They see and listen to many different people and families and you will be amazed at what they know and say. Socialization. Children should be nurtured. They should be told and shown what is acceptable.
This rebuke by grandparents to my grandson led to the realization by this child that people need to be respected. That what he had said was unacceptable.
And indeed, I saw that this kid had been humbled by the treatment he got from these clan members, grandparents. He has since changed. So, I wondered about those who do not have this opportunity. Many families today have no time to go their villages. Some don’t want to take their children to the village! Mbu they will fall sick! Of course, in the developed countries, mostly in the western countries where individualism is high, such improvement, preservation of social values from interaction with extended family members doesn’t exist. A child will respond to a parent in any way he wants and nothing will happen. So, this extended family, which we are losing by the way, will lead to strengthening of our values and consequently our culture.
It will be unfortunate to lose the good parts of our culture because we failed to have moments to associate as a family. As the world changes, resources are becoming more difficult to get and consequently reducing interaction of family. The world is becoming more difficult, to live in. It is becoming more individualistic and families are becoming smaller. We will definitely loose this culture. But my grandchildren had a wonderful time playing in the grass, in the dust and eating “fene”, “duma” eating all the time and having fun. I hope that the parents will, during holidays, bring these kids back to us and have fun with us. Of course, at times we instead spoil them by showing them too much care and love. Sure, we need to reserve the good parts of our culture and transform those that will not help social transformation.
The writer, Prof. Waswa Balunywa, is the Principal of Makerere University Business School