Africa Speaks: Family 1

Women, Id al-Fitr (end of Ramadan fast), Plateau quarter, Niamey,1992

Contents: . . . Old People . . . Heritage. . . Memories of Grandfather . . . home page

Old People

Yacouba Saibatou May 11, 1992, in class writing

As the story teller told it: "My mother, being old, has become a girl."

Old age is a stage when the old are like children, and like children, they need to be guided. At the age of five or six, for example, a child can wash himself, but this is not the case with an old man or an old woman. So one must do everything for an old person, even when he needs need to urinate or do any other kind of need, we must take him.

It is not uncommon to see an old person naked just like a child, because they do not care about being seen. Indeed, it is not easy to deal with old men or women when they reach a certain age. They always complain and cry for nothing. They are more troublesome than a child of five years or a she-goat, because when you tell a child not to do something, he will stop; if you attack a she-goat, she will leave you in peace.

An old woman was going one day to throw herself in a well, because she thought no one cared for her, not even her child. The woman had called to her child around four in the morning, and he did not answer her. To the old woman, the child only looked after his wives, and therefore she had better put an end to her life. As far as his wives were concerned, they could not do anything right; she gave them nothing but insults.

This is the kind of problems faced by the families of old people. The old people are unbearable and because of their bad attitudes, many people wish them to die.

Like childhood, old age is a stage during which the person does not think. An old man will do whatever he wants to do and find it normal. People must not be too rough on old people, and must know how to deal with them.

Copyright © 1998 Yacouba Saibatou


Man with herd at Niger-Sirba confluence, Niger, 1992


"Rah Man Youcif" 3/20/92

Some of us like to think of ourselves as tradition-free, unaffected by our origins and customs that over the years have provided our people a sense of definition, identity, and stability. We may cast our lot with the future and try to free ourselves from the powers of the past, rebelling against or ignoring the insistence of the traditions.

Others of us are intensely loyal to our traditions and make every conscious or unconscious effort to carry on habits, customs, rituals, beliefs, and myths because we like continuity and believe in the past and its power to shape the present and future.

We inherit many things from our parents in terms of physical traits, mannerisms, attitudes, and so on. Once in a while we are told that we smile or act like someone we never knew. Heritage, then, goes back even beyond memory.

From my mother, I have my longing for freedom, the desire to win my liberty, because African women's rights are so suppressed that they sometimes revolt.

From my father, I take my dark eyes and my love of studies; after hard work comes independence.

From my uncle, I get my size, and from my grandfather, I have a disease, the cambrure [limp] in my left foot.

Grandmother transmitted me her coolness and her short stories and poems and songs I will never forget.

From my family, I learnt the secrets of hunting and farming, the virtue of self-respect and fellowship. Other things that make us what we are are cultural heritages. The cultural heritage comes to us through the older generations of our families and our community in stories, tales, legends, myths, art, dress, food, and all sorts of daily practices and values, conscious or unconscious.

Boys are circumcised and taught to call Father, not only our own daddy, but every man of his age, and to call Mother our own Mammy and all women of the age of our mother.

Then we are initiated in praying and praising God Almighty, and learning to read the Divine Book, the Coran. We are also told to wash our hands before eating, not to let the plate move when eating, and to put our right hand on our heart each time we shake hands with someone.

We are told to take off our shoes in front of a king and before a king's palace. We learn to eat hot food, not to contradict aged men, to turn back when a dark cat appears on our way to somewhere, and dress in "boubou" during the traditional feasts, and to greet people even if they are unknown to us.

All cultures experience conflicts based on different expectations. Sometimes our culture comes into conflict with that of other people in terms of ideas, languages, habits and other things. Our cultural heritage is both African and other. The full-blooded native African has a heritage that is not purely African in anything but geography. African culture is a mixture of Arabic and European and various heritages of African values.

I remember a teacher who challenged us when we were in secondary school. He promised to give 1,000 CFA to any of us who could speak our mother tongue only, for five minutes without borrowing any word from a foreign language. Of course, he repocketed his money, not because we did not try, but because none of us could win the bet, although we did our best to do so.

We love our grandparents and often admire aspects of their old ways, yet we cannot be like them. Wouldn't it be utopian nowadays to pretend to communicate with animals by imitating their cries?

With our present day economic crisis, who is rich enough to distribute tons of gold to poor people just because he is a noble? Who, among the new generation, consults a priest before traveling or getting engaged? Who among us can give the full meaning of a dream someone else has during a night?

Which man or woman, today, will run and hide when seeing someone of the opposite sex coming? Admiration, nostalgia, embarrassment, and pain and pride are all part of our heritage.

On the other hand, some people like to think of themselves as tradition free. They pretend not to be affected by any origin or custom or tradition. They say that the values so much honored are merely exotic. They do not believe in family heritage nor in cultural ones.

Ironically, they resemble their father or mother, they speak their community language, and bear the attitudes of their societies. They are said to apprehend situations the same way their forefathers do, but still they do not believe.

Whenever they are in difficulty, they rely on their environment, they report their sorrows to their people to console them, and they pretend not to cherish values which provided such sense of identity and stability and reference. Their ingratitude is well seen when it comes to relate their background and education and family life.

People without tradition are less than animals, for even animals recognize their parents and their habits. The point is no longer "Do you have a tradition?" It is whether you choose its best sides and combine them with the best ideas from other cultures. The issue is no longer "Are you affected by any origin?" but whether you can develop the morality accepted by people all over the world.

A culture that pretends to be exclusive is perishing. The third millennium's mission, as it is said, will be a cultural one. If this would happen, it would be the Africa Renaissance as well as the Renaissance of God in human beings.


From my mother, the walking bed,
Where I slept and which took me out for a walk
I inherited my longing for freedom
That inner desire to win my liberty
African women struggle hard for their freedom
From my father, I take my dark eyes
Not only that, I take his love for studies.
After hard work comes independence.
From my uncle, I have my size
He is the man who brought me up
He is the man who helped me much
Aid I can never forget
From my grandfather who spoke many languages
I get the desire to communicate in various tongues
But beyond that, I take his disease
The cambrure I still have in my left heel
And my grandmother, dark skin woman
gave me her seriousness and patience
She told me about my Songhai ancestors
She told me folk tales and stories and songs
Words I will never forget
From my family I learnt the secrets
of hunting and farming, the virtues
of self respect and fellowship.

Copyright © 1998 "Rah Man Youcif" (pseud)


Boys at Filingue Market, Niger, 1992

Memories of Grandfather

Abou Allassane May 25, 1992

My late grandfather Allassani was the most respected person in our family, due to his old age and for what he represented for the family and the household. Grandfather was loving, tender, and very kind. However, this behavior was more obvious to us, the little kids, because we were his first ranked audience.

All day long we sat under a big cotton tree in the middle of the compound around Grandfather, learning how to perform games with our playmates in the village square. Even most of the games we played on moonlight nights were taught to us by him. Whenever we were not learning games, Ggrandfather sent us in the bush to collect stems of millet, with which he made cars for us. Then we collected pieces of smashed calabashes to use as tires for the cars.

Sometimes Grandfather went with us into the farms to set traps for little birds or mice, or sometimes to pick ripe fruits of certain trees of the area that bore edible fruit.

After supper, when the sun set, we rushed into Grandfather's hut in order to secure the best place around the fire he had made, to listen to him telling exciting tales.

All these activities took place when we were around four or five years old before we entered school. When we were registered at school, then Grandfather took into account our time table, in order to balance the our two educations: the one at school and the one he gave us at home.

Our registration at school bothered us, and we took a long time to become accustomed to it. We found that school really cut down on our freedom because it tended to take us farther from Grandfather.

Copyright © 1998 Abou Allassane

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