Should Culture be dynamic or static?

Thursday May 21 2015

Dance troupes performing traditional dances

Dance troupes performing traditional dances from around Uganda. Dances are one of the prominent features of Uganda’s cultures. Dressing and gift giving have been maintained especially during marriage ceremonies. PHOTO BY YUSUF MUZIRANSA  

By EDGAR R. BATTE

Uganda joins the rest of the world to commemorate World Culture Day (WCD) today. And it is the climax of week-long series of events under the theme, “Promoting our norms and values: A tool for national identity and patriotism”.
On Monday, there were street performances at Kamwokya market and Jinja Road yard in Kampala. The aim was to sensitise the public about WCD.
The following day, there were similar activities at Wandegeya market, Constitution Square and Kikuba Mutwe Kabalagala Community. On Wednesday, there were presentations at the Uganda National Cultural Centre (UNCC) or National Theatre, as it is popularly known.

How relevant?
The theme has created some debate though. Comedian/artiste Kenneth Kimuli appreciates the relevance to promote our norms and values but is quite unsure how patriotism ties into the whole theme.
But Andrew Ssebaggala, a performing artiste, thinks otherwise. He says the theme is relevant as it highlights cultural norms and values in promoting identity in love for country.
“Everybody has norms and values that distinguish them from the rest. What I value may not necessarily be what you value. However, my major challenge is that we do not have a national identity. We need to clearly know what distinguishes us from other countries,” Ssebagala observes.

Connect with the theme
But to some, the theme does not communicate much. One of them is Faisal Kiwewa, founding director Bayimba Cultural Foundation.
He notes: “I come from a creative and collaborative world of fusion, cutting edge productions and breaking boundaries. I find no place for these at the table with the year’s theme.”
However, Philip Luswata, a performing artist, has a different view. He is excited to be on the team that organised the WCD celebrations under auspices of the ministry of Gender and UNCC.
“The bigger issue is that we always need to remind ourselves of who we are because we are dynamic cultural people,” Luswata observes, adding that it is important to live every day, celebrating who we are, and our participation with our culture.
Culture gives a sense of belonging and grounding in life. According to Joe Kahirimbanyi, a musician and Qwela Band leader, there is a lot of value that culture holds.
“When it comes to culture, yet I am a pro-traditional kind of person,” he observes. “The world is constantly changing, thought and worldview are constantly changing and therefore cultures must adapt to remain relevant.” Kahirimbanyi adds that the bad aspects of culture should be abandoned and the good should be retained.
Varied opinions on culture
Different people perceive and appreciate culture in various ways. Kiwewa explains that culture is the whole embodiment of humanity. Therefore, he thinks, it should be put in to context, depending on a place and its people.
“Culture should not be defined, rather described. For example, many in Uganda can define elegance of a woman by her dressing. This view has influenced even the laws that were passed by our Parliament. To me, it also means that our society is still very conservative and looks at culture as something static, not evolving,” Kiwewa argues.
Without anyone to teach him about his culture, Kimuli, alias Pablo, says he took the initiative to ask his grandparents About tribe and culture.
That is how he came to learn and appreciate it. “Being a product of different tribes, I was between a rock and a hard place especially where norms conflict.
“Our norms keep us in check especially when it comes to behaviour. I appreciate that they define who we are and especially shaping our values, attitudes and views,” he argues.
Ssebaggala says he cannot claim to know less or much about his culture. He is aware of the fact that he is a Muganda and of Ffumbe (civet cat) clan. “I have the basic knowledge of my culture. I relate well with it and I am proud of it. I am glad it’s dynamic,” he adds.

Understanding communities
Luswata partly agrees and advises that occasions like WCD should remind Ugandans about what is uniquely ours and thus promote patriotism. “We need to remind people to celebrate their culture,” he reasons.
When it comes to appreciating culture, Bayimba Foundation aims at studying communities by understanding their beliefs, their history and their present.
Kiwewa says the foundation then reflects these perspectives in their programming, where tradition meets modernity.

What we know about our culture

Faisal Kiweewa, the Bayimba director, has varied views on culture given his exposure across the world. “I observe values, customs, and traditions which represent individuals of a place I am at. So, I do not have specific favourites. I am a scholar of cultures and embrace all no matter where,” he states.
In Pablo’s culture, you cannot get married to some of the same clan. “You do not work when your neighbour dies. Another norm is that your mother-in-law is as good as your real mother. At meal time, we eat meat last,” the comedian lists some of the norms from the Bakiga.
In Buganda, just like many other cultures, it is important to respect elders and other people in society.
Ssebaggala points out that Baganda preach living in harmony, kneeling, especially of ladies and young for the elderly as well as having meals together.
Joe Kahirimbanyi, a musician and Qwela Band leader, describes his Bakiga people, as hearty, outspoken most of the time, hardworking and honest to a fault. “Kiga culture is about heartiness and the music and culture express this. The most commonly known dance is ekizina (the foot-stomping dance) though that’s not all there is to Kiga dance. There’s kakitari, which is slower paced and a few others which I can’t quite remember,” Kahirimbanyi explains.
A common misconception about Bakiga is that they are rude and hot-tempered. But they are very social and have a common saying, ‘Amaka tigakafuuna, emitima niyo efunzire’ (meaning the home is only too small to accommodate others if the heart is too small).
He says: “Contrary to popular belief, Bakiga can be romantic and loving. They sing songs expressing love and give gifts and have acts of service to express love to each other.
“They are focused more on the qualities of a person than physical beauty. Bakiga women love strong, brave men. And the men love homely, industrious and practical women.”

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Culture should be a daily thing

“The authorities concerned should not wait for world cultural day to highlight the need of promoting norms but ensure that the faculties involved in promoting culture such as theatres, museums, and kingdoms are supported,” Kimuli advises highlighting that culture needs to move with trends.
The arts and creative industry are well positioned to contribute. “First of all, the arts can easily address cultural diversity and identity. Bayimba tries to promote this by organising training activities in various regions, emphasising the importance of local languages and encouraging collaborations between artistes from various regions. Second, some arts forms (music, film) have a huge reach and artists and creative entrepreneurs (can) play a role model ,in many respects,” Kiwewa explains.

Togetherness
Through its trainings, Bayimba includes an element in its training programmes that is about responsible behaviour. Awareness creation of the contribution of norms and values towards national identity and patriotism is one of the WCD objectives.
Kiwewa adds that arts and culture certainly can foster solidarity, by bringing together (social) groups that normally would not necessarily be together, by specifically including (minority, disadvantaged) groups that would normally not be included, by addressing issues that would normally not be addressed by communities. In this sense, the culture has a huge potential to enhance social cohesion within a community, especially when communities that have been affected by conflict or that are not included in national development. There should be a gradual process to start supporting culture for development and investing in infrastructures to enable a working environment

Many questions
Luswata, on the other hand, argues that no amount of sensitisation, awareness creation, education can be effective without the government investing heavily in the culture of her people. “Culture shouldn’t be sold, shouldn’t be expensive to practice, shouldn’t be an exhibition. It should be lived. Are we living our culture? Are we being enabled to live it under the status quo? So many questions for us to ask ourselves this world culture day,” he provides food-for-thought.
Ssebaggala recommends that there is need for the country to value culture and one of the ways through which this can be done is by empowering UNCC as the apex organisation for art and culture in Uganda so that it has a countrywide presence.
Musiitwa says the main objectives of the day include creating public awareness on the importance of culture in development, provide an opportunity to deepen understanding of the values of cultural Diversity and learn to live together.

Background

The General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) adopted the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity in Paris, France, on November 2, 2001. It was the 249th resolution adopted at the 57th session of the United Nations General Conference.
Although the declaration was the culmination of years of work, it was adopted in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
This reaffirmed the need for intercultural dialogue to prevent segregation and fundamentalism.
The year 2002 was the United Nations Year for Cultural Heritage. At the end of that year, on December 20, 2002, the General Assembly of the United Nations declared May 21 to be the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development.
The General Assembly emphasised links between the protection of cultural diversity and the importance of dialogue between civilizations in the modern world.
The World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development was first observed in 2003.

rbatte@ug.nationmedia.com

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