Restoring Eldership And It’s Role In The African Community
By Written by: Ini-Herit Khalfini November 5, 2016
“All over Africa, elders are respected and trusted – as mediators, facilitators and repositories of knowledge and wisdom. Indeed in African societies, the elders are considered to be vast reservoirs of the collective wisdom that has been accumulated over time. But despite their wealth of knowledge, the important role of the elders in Western society has been lost. Says Ampie Muller of the SA’s Centre for Conflict Resolution.” Ian Macdonald The Counsel of Elders.
Since being removed from the motherland, it seems we have lost are connections to our traditional African values deeply engraved in our African consciousness. Our traditions, customs, languages, respect for our elders, and Maat were vital practices we centered ourselves around. With the influence of being kidnapped, chattel slavery, rape, public lynchings, self hate, depression, alcohol, drugs, mass incarcerations, lack of education, and so much more it’s easy to lose sight on the things we once held in high regard. Even through all the agony, pain and suffering, intimidation, and mistreatment by our oppressor how did we gather the nerve to disrespect, dumb down, and dismiss our elders? We have allowed the colonizer to set the rules of engagement therefore we no longer seek counsel from our elders, yet we look to the west in her thuggish narcissist disdain mannerism. In doing so, we have become that which we have grown to resent.
“The elders (Bakulu, Ogboni, nsw, HqA.w, Hogon, etc.) are the embodiment of wisdom and it is wisdom that staves off foolishness which can bring catastrophic disharmonies to a society.” Asar Imhotep Nsw.t Bjt.j (King) in Ancient Egyptian A Lesson in Paronymy and Leadership. Currently we have become a society who refuses to seek wisdom from our elders and now our communities are in a disarray. Have we ignored the voices of the ancestors and replaced it with drugs, alcohol, depression, hatred, and grief?
I recall a time when I use to walk to the corner store and would run into a bunch older men in the community who occasionally would hang out drinking, and as I pass by each one of them they would offer me advice about life and the importance of making good decisions. I would look at their situation and just shake my head because I was able to relate but couldn’t relate to their struggle. Today, I have a different perspective because I understand the African principle of eldership. The kids today seem different because not only is there a communication barrier due to age, but they also seem far removed from listening to anything anyone has to say.
Today’s youth are not only difficult to mentor they are also intimidating due to their fits of rage, anger, and aggression. True Elders have since been phased out and I can’t recall a time here recently that we witness the same level respect we once had. The days when when great grandmothers and fathers would sit at that kitchen table sharing knowledge with their grandchildren seem to be over. My great-grandmother who transitioned a few years ago use to tell me all kind of stories about life, the struggle, the things she endured, the things she seen, and the things she saw others overcome despite slavery. We called her the “Rock” the families personal savior and our glue. She was more than all of us combined, because she practically instilled all that we know in every one of us. Our children are missing that “Rock” partly because we have forgotten so much about the importance of we. We only know ourselves and we tend to take for granted the knowledge and wisdom of our Elders.
Who are Elders and what role do they play in the African family? They are believed to be the teachers and directors of the young. Among the Efik it is said: “The words of one’s elders are greater than amulets”, which means they give more protection than the amulet does. In the same way the Igbo say: He who listens to an elder is like one who consults an oracle. The oracles are believed to give the infallible truths, thus the elders are also believed to say the truth and their words and instructions are heeded to for the promotion of good behavior among the young.” Matei Markwei, Life in our Village, in African writing (ed), P. Zebala & C. Rossell, London, 1979, P.15. Traditionally the elders carried the “Rock” like quality in the community, we could look to them for guidance and wisdom. It didn’t matter if we knew them our whole lives or only for a few days if we needed them we knew where to find them.
In Nsw.t Bjt.j by Asar Imohotep he argues that elders are like living ancestors in the community and are advocates of humanity that assist us all with understanding life and it’s lessons centered around moral principles. He goes on to say that “Leadership in the community is always held by wise elders. These are individuals who are masters at building symbolic worlds which aid in the management of the destinies of African wisdom traditions. These sages have learned to the highest degree the secrets of knowing life and stemming the tide of its challenges. It is the reservoir of knowledge that enables elders to be effective teachers.” We are lacking elder-ship in our families, communities, and as a people across this globe period!
In the diaspora the Elders are now extinct or outright ignored in favor of a foreign ideology based on rugged individualism. It seems we have lost our sense of community and a overall connection to the elder. We no longer crave for personal wisdom sought out by those who wanted council to help during times of despair, joy, or whatever the case may be. It’s hard to say the reasons for the decline but what is certain is the generation of baby boomers do not appear to see a benefit of eldership, wisdom, or traditional African culture. According to Asar Imhotep “this is important to understand as the job of an elder is to help younger generations to discover new more satisfying dimensions for being human. It is the youth’s job to expand the collective pool of wisdom. Our jobs as elders in training are to travel the shores of eternity and record what we witness and then find ways to translate into experience that which we witnessed (on the shores of eternity) into the material world.” Asar Imhotep Nsw.t Bjt.j (King) in Ancient Egyptian A Lesson in Paronymy and Leadership.
If we were to take a look inside of each african community in america or abroad we could probably count on one hand how many elders are in these communities . We have a lot of older men and women who have not assumed the role or responsibility of maintaining order. This reality is two fold because in order to establish an elder as important role models, each African family will need to commit to teaching our children traditional African principles. The back talk, smart mouthing, back turning, door slamming, huffing and puffing attitudes needs to be replaced with Maat guiding principles, and the role of the elder in teaching the youth needs to be restored!
As stated before, it is the job of the elder’s to instill wisdom, truth, perspective, life lessons, and so much more. The role they play in our lives is too significant to allow them to be unheard, disrespected, and not seen. “Elders establish guiding principles, creates the structure of organization, sets up structure of the organization, sets up structure of conflict/dispute resolution, decides how and where the elder’s group will deal with situation, establish an orthodox African Kmt pedagogy, and judgement sessions.” Maat Guiding Principles of Moral Living Tdka & Ife Kilimanjaro Ph.D, Yahra Aaneb Sba, T’Gamba Heru Elder.
We need a Council of Elders in every African community across America. In Philadelphia “The Raising Awareness Group,” seems to be taken on the challenge but we need more to rebuild. They are doing great work assembling like-minded individuals, understanding the importance and the role of an elder, working together to solve common sense issues, and repairing a bridge between the elder and the community with hopes of restoring something that has long been lost.
We must uplift the principles of eldership and recognize as a people our roles are much more than individualist. Restoring core principles is needed. We have to tackle this issue head on and allow our elders to feel the need to rise up once again. Without them, we will not succeed and everything we have built will be lost. It is not African to turn our backs on the people who have paved the way for our generation. Our Elder’s are slowly assembling and we should encourage them to congregate so that our fight is fought within the confines of the council of men and women dedicated to truth.
“The Igbo say: “okemmadu wu egbe Okorobia wu igu. Ma igu adighi na egbe o naghiekwu okwu. Ma egbe adighi igu enweghi ebe o ga ano”. That is, the elder is the gun, the young man is igu . lf there is no igu in the gun it cannot fire and sound. If there is no gun, igu would have nowhere to rest, it thus becomes useless. This symbolism is concerned with the complementary roles of the old and the young in the life and in affairs of African People.
Voices of Fire
References: “African Cultural Values.” (2006): n. pag. African Cultural Values. Unknown, Mar.-Apr. 2006. Web. 1 Nov. 2016. <http://www.emeka.at/african_cultural_vaules.pdf>.
Imhotep, Asar. “Robot Check.” Robot Check. Madu-ndela Press, 1 Jan. 2016. Web. 05 Nov. 2016. <https://www.amazon.com/Nsw-t-Bjt-j-King-Ancient-Egyptian/dp/0692637664>.
Kilimanjaro, Ife, Tdka Kilimanjaro, Yahra Aaneb, and T’Gamba Heru. Maat: Guiding Principles of Moral Living. Detroit: U of Kmt, 2013. Print.
Photo by:By Admin – April 3, 2011Posted In:. “African Elder [Community Legacy].” Leadership and Community. Admin, n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2016. <http://www.leadershipandcommunity.com/2011/04/03/community-legacy/african-elder/>.