There is this anecdote of a traditional African ruler in the North West Region of Cameroon who began a divination rite to appease his village gods by saying “Hi, Ancestors.” He was speaking in front of a shrine where he had to perform annual sacrifices in the village. The village notables who accompanied him for the ritual wished that they had not had him say such a thing, because knocking at the tomb of their fore fathers in such words sounded sacrilegious to them. Of course, the traditional ruler in question was a young man who had acquired wealth through modern education and returned home to inherit his father’s estate. He was unfamiliar with village norms.
This incident recalls the assessment of the renowned African writer, Chinua Achebe, who once said the problem with Africa is that the colonial masters took away power from the elders and handed it over to the youths through education that focused on the younger people. Since the colonial era therefore, several generations of Africans have struggled to stabilise their societies by regaining the lost position of the elders who have however continued to be regarded as the repository of ancestral values. Of late in Cameroon, most elite have systematically effected back-to-their-roots operations to be enthroned as chief of this or that village.
Looking at the calibre of those who undergo the traditional rites to take control of their villages, one cannot say that it is a mere formality. There must be some inherent value in the traditional titles and positions that people acquire back in their native lands. Any keen observer cannot avoid wondering at the knowledge that these intellectuals, groomed in Western values, have about their culture. Simply put, a village chief must be capable of telling anyone who cares, all about the custom and tradition of the people. He is the custodian of the ancestral values.
However, some critics have argued that nobility can be acquired or inherited. Although it is true that given the means people can seek to gain nobility in a specific community, the assertion that ancestral values require preservation in our African setting definitely raises some questions in situations whereby the collective mind of the local population is adulterated. Are those who hold administrative positions in the big cities still capable of delivering the goods back in their villages? By handing power to notables back home, do they still valuably carry out their chieftaincy role to the satisfaction of those under them or do they simply use their modern title to impose on the villagers?
Also, within the context of Cameroon, the political activities of most chiefs have often led to conflicts and even collision between the subjects and their leaders. The result has been, in some cases, a fragile chieftaincy, incapable of effectively administering the local entities placed under them.
Dress code, language, and other ancestral legacies do comprise important aspects of leadership in most African communities to the extent that acquiring power without them is strange to the people. In Asian countries, for example, it is difficult to make people understand that English, French or Portuguese are the official languages of an African country. The Asians have imbibed the western culture while maintaining their cultural identity, especially concerning language.
Thus, Africa may lay claim to her own development model, but the ancestral past must be preserved no matter the pattern of progress that the political elite may want to impose on the people. Addressing ancestors using the word “hi” could be nothing short of an aberration.