Friday, July 12, 2024

Of Christianity, culture and tradition

When we were growing up, we were taught at school that culture is a way of life, that is the way we eat and what we eat, the way we dress, the kind of music we sing, the kind of dances we practice and many others. We were also taught that culture is inherited as we learn by imitation from our elders.

Most times at home, our grandmother often told us some stories that comprised of the cultural practices, especially in the olden days. Thus we learnt from our very own and even read books from school to learn more.

Having grown up in a Christian background, most of us (as Batswana) have struggled for a long time trying to understand if our African Culture (that is our way of life) is part of our Christian (African) religion or if Christianity is a part of our culture.
What then is Culture and what is Christianity?

The Oxford advanced learners dictionary defines culture as “the customs and beliefs, art, way of life and social organisation of a particular society or group”, and religion is defined as the belief in the existence of god or gods and the activities that are connected with the worship of them and or a particular interest or influence that is very important in [one’s] life”.
Christianity as a religion that is based on the teachings of Jesus Christ is a way of life for most Batswana.

According to research, about 60 percent of the population follows this religion. This, however, means believing in the high God, the supreme God. The sixty percent mentioned include most homesteads of individuals who believe in many gods or ancestors, thus serving the most high God or other gods which, in most cases, are the ancestors, thus practicing both cultures.

This typical African way of culture that comprises both beliefs was marvellously staged by the police crime prevention programme on 13 November 2011 on Botswana Television, which was simply the mediated reality as according to the criminal cases they come across in their line of practice.
The story was of a woman who seemed to be in dire straits seeking help from a traditional ‘’Christian” healer or a ‘’Christian’ traditional healer (whichever way one prefers), who called on the most High God for help as noted in the fascinating line: Modimo rra, morata re tshela (Dear god the lover/giver of life) Timpa Kgolo ya Jerusalema (The Great Timber of Jerusalem).

These lines, eminent in introductions of prayers by most traditional (Christian) leaders (it is not clear what the Timpa Kgolo means but some translations, though meaningless, interpret as the Great Timber of Jerusalem) depict ignorance and lack of knowledge, though in vernacular they lack substance and meaning.

This story depicted the reality as it is in our African tradition. It is very evident that most people cannot completely divorce themselves from their cultural practices, norms and traditions hence these are incorporated in the Christian way of life and vice versa.

The belief in traditional or witch doctors forms part of our African culture affirmed by Steve Biko in his Book I Write What I Like, where he states that “…the witch doctors and the witchcraft is ours (Steve Biko, 1987:95).

However, Christianity in its entirety calls for purity, pure and free traditional ways of living which include the use of witchdoctors. It is very evident that most Batswana are struggling to adhere to one way of life in total separation from the other. Some members in the society are highly esteemed than others as they are normally believed to hold supernatural powers to heal and contact God or ancestors so as to bring rain or diagnose misfortunes.

What then is Batswana’s way of life that is the sixty percent mentioned above, the one who call themselves Christians or the ones who follow the traditional religious practices?

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