Last week on Wednesday, we woke up to an official statement from the Chairperson of the Rwanda National Itorero Commission, Bamporiki Edouard, denouncing one local female artist Uzamberumwana Oda Paccy over a photo that she featured on her latest single "Ibyatsi”, a letter in which the musician was also stripped of her “Itorero" name “Indatabigwi”.
Just a few hours after the release of the statement, the action received mixed reactions on different social media platforms.
While some affirmed that Oda’s action compromised Rwandan values, others indicated a glimmering acceptance that culture has evolved over time, and others noted that the older generation still has a lot of work to teach the young generation about the culture.
The incidence attracted attention, statements and debates from media channels, civil society actors, journalists, foreigners and social media users.
Scanning through all the exchanges on social media, and informal setting conversations, some of which turned sour with insults and invectives, I could only see modernity against tradition.
Modernity vs tradition
Tradition has been defined as a ritual belief that in the form of values passes down from generation to generation within a society, which means that the tradition that is maintained in the present day has its origins in the past.
Tradition also includes the ideas which are mostly considered as useful and socially meaningful and it can persist, but can also evolve over time.
Traditions are often presumed to be ancient, unalterable and deeply important and are required for a practice by future generations, which is why it’s important to preserve them and pass them on from generation to generation.
While Modernity can be defined as those sets of ideas or beliefs which are ever flowing and evolving like a stream. It relies on an 'expressive' model of communication in which each person is a unique self and this interior uniqueness finds its expression, to a certain extent through the act of communication with other unique selves.
When both the terms are discussed in a social setup, traditions represent the actual identity of a particular society while getting rid of them is supposed to be a sign of modernity but I have to come to realize that it is a matter of great significance to establish a healthy relationship between both tradition and modernity.
Train the child
Oda, just like many musicians or even the millennials today (the wakanda generation) could have been introduced to the beliefs, the customs and the values passed on from their ancestors, but they are also exposed to so much and they are pushed to adapt themselves to the changing times or else they fear that they could deprive themselves of the opportunity to make any progress or development.
Therefore, there is need to marry both tradition and modernity, without necessarily compromising the values but also not depriving the young generation from realizing their position in this ever changing world.
One wise man Leo Buscaglia once said: “You can only give what you have ... If you have love, you can give it. If you don't have it, you don't have it to give.” This situation presents a reality check and a reminder for the older generation to ask themselves different questions, rather than putting up petty social media fights.
Questions to ask can be: have we taught the young ones the values they need to follow? Are we available for them to ask us, challenge us and reason with us on their social dynamics? Are we close for them to emulate or we leave them to the TVs and series to shape their decisions?
How many times do we revisit the Rwandan values and beliefs for them to master?
Proverbs 22:6 - "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it."
Dialogue and tolerance
In any democratic society, institutions that are custodians of the country’s heritage need to provide guidance, advice, consistent platforms for dialogue and most especially in the case of a post conflict society like Rwanda, a room for tolerance.
Through the lenses of peacebuilding, unless something promotes genocide ideology, or undermines the leadership of the presidency or jeopardizes national security, society ought to exert tolerance.
The perimeters of values and culture are sometimes thin that one may not know when they will fall outside the boundaries, reason why dialogue and tolerance are a pivotal in any community.
In Oda’s case, yes she attended the civic training and she is expected to be an “Intore” worthy in all categories and catalysts for positive changes; and let’s say she has failed, has she been approached, has she been warned repeatedly, has she adamantly refused to heed to the recurrent cautions?
In some traditional societies, unmarried girls who got pregnant were considered a shame to the family, so they would be taken to abandoned and left to die. Today, although the family is not necessarily thrilled, about the news, the girl is still supported and taken back to school while the family raises her child.
In ancient times, when a girl got into her menstrual periods, she was banished from the society and forced to stay in abandoned huts, today, we encourage our beautiful daughters and sisters to continue their day to day activities even when it’s that time of the month.
Back in the day, a woman would never talk back to what a man said, a woman was meant for the kitchen, she would see her identity in the marriage, but in present time, women are educated and independent, we are promoting gender equality, encouraging women to take up leadership positions, they talk & we listen to them and they lead and we follow.
Therefore, instead of banishing someone for putting a dent on the Rwandan values, why not engage them to merge their idea (seemingly extreme) with what is accepted to the society they are affiliated to.
Every time I take my children for shopping, our 3 year little Joey , she often opts to pick out beautiful tight flowery leggings instead of dresses. Courtesy of the dot com era, it’s what she knows and loves, so as a father, I encourage her to pick her leggings but also get some dresses that she can wear on Sundays or parties or other celebrations.
As we promote made in Rwanda, the concerned institutions need to engage artists, and craftsmen into constructive dialogue and platforms that can help them to produce made in Rwanda (products, songs, films) that combine modernity and tradition.
So, fellow CSO actors and fellow citizens, the onus is on all of us to not scoff at tradition but also not limit our young generation from being creative and imaginative, they require guidance and an unwavering ear to listen to their conflicting thoughts.
The writer is the Executive Director at Never Again Rwanda, A PeaceBuilding &Social Justice Organization. He is also a Public Health Practitioner. The views expressed in this article are of the writer. Twitter @Josephnzizar