Thursday, August 14, 2008

Prognostication of Acculturation in the Somali Diaspora

Maulana Al-Maududi (may Allah admit him to Jannatul-Firdaus) was a prolific writer and Islamic theologian who spent a greater part of his life disseminating Islamic ethics and values . Writing about the importance of Islamic dress, he had this to say about those Muslims who dress up in Un-Islamic ways: "the psychology of imitation suggests that it has sprang from a sense of inferiority and abasement and its net consequence is the cultivation of the defeatist mentality."

Since 1991, millions of Somalis have been dispersed to every sphere of the globe; many children were born outside of Somali borders; many Somalis have married foreign nationals; and undoubtedly many have renounced Islamic teachings since the Qur'an (Koran) states that "there is no compulsion in religion, truth is clear from error." Al-Baqara.

Because those who seek refuge outside of violent Somali borders fortunately experience freedom of movement and of expression, they also become exposed to what sociologists and anthropologists refer to as acculturation. This new phenomenon opens up an atmosphere laden with unique modes of transactions, novel communication systems, a melting pot of new dwellings and neighborhoods, new language , alien foods, new fashion and clothing styles that lead to changes in inner life and cultural lifestyles. These connote assimilation or integration.

In most cases, parents become citizens of their adopted country whose laws and regulations require they transform for the better or adopt the language of the host nation-that is adjust to the prevailing conditions and live by the rules. Adolescents enroll in schools whose medium of instruction reflect alien syllabus while those born in foreign lands automatically pick up languages other than their mother tongues.

On the other hand, the old will become impotent or eventually die such that their children will be left to fend for themselves in a new environment. Those oldies who succumb to death will be buried in the host country and their children will look to their graveyards for solace and for historical and genealogical traces.

Many in the Diaspora will have a taste of crime and ultimately end up in jail where they will pick up new habits that will transform them partially or completely. All in all, every household will be affected in one way or the other. Even those who beat up time to relocate and retrace their roots will arrive Somalia somehow if not outrightly transformed . A few will cling to past experiences as old habits die hard.

To better understand the impact of acculturation, readers will need to read novels in the African Writers Series editions written by African writers like Nurudin Farah, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Elechi Amadi, Taban Lo Liyong, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Alex Laguma, Peter Abrahams, and Okot P'Bitek where each gives his or her version of events.

Those who remained in Somalia at the height of the civil war will perceive the newly arrived as adulterating their old customs while the newly arrived would endeavor to entice them to abandon their old lifestyles and embrace theirs. What a conflict? Could this erupt into a new cultural war?

When one neighbor barbecues in the open and another basks in the sun with a bottle of Budweiser in hand, while another supplicates with the holy Koran besides him, there ought to be cultural commotion. Also, a conflict of language will flicker when
the returnee from the Middle East speaks in Arabic while the girl from Stockholm addresses him in Swedish. A neighborhood could house speakers of Yiddish, Swahili, Amharic, Russian, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Kikuyu, English, Flemish, Dutch, Somali, Kinyarwanda, and a score of other languages each unintelligible to the other.

Even if peace arrives now or at a later date, a new breed of Somalis carrying dozens of conflicting identities, different religious beliefs and practices, and a plethora of educational credentials, repugnant cultural lifestyles and unique eating habits will flood Somalia-all competing for space where they would want to release their distinct ideological trade marks. Only then can we determine the superiority of one ideology, race, or language from the other. Over to you for comment.

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