Slaves to dead cultures


Ozodi Osuji

Africans in urban areas, as well as those living outside Africa, these days, are prone to saying that they are proud of their African culture; by that they mean that they are proud of their ethnic group’s culture.
Most of these people are under age fifty. That is to say that they were born from the early 1970s to the present (2023). These people are two generations removed from living in their villages (a generation is usually taken to stand for age 25-30…when a people can successfully reproduce themselves, both biologically and financially). These people have not lived in African villages and do not have firsthand experience of what they call their African cultures. They have second-hand information of their culture given to them by older adults who were or were not born in African villages.
The fact of the matter is that the culture that enabled people to adapt to their African villages may not enable them to adapt to the exigencies of life in urban areas, where they now reside, nor will it enable them to successfully work in modern industrial settings.
Modern situations require cultural parameters that are not found in African villages. Most African villages were inhabited by folks who did not even go to elementary school. They were born and observed their parents doing subsistence farm work and by their mid teenage years have learned all the technology of their people’s subsistence economy; they could do farming and marry and feed their children in that rural world.
However, the moment you step into urban areas, the situation changes. You need, at least, secondary school education to be able to obtain marginal work. Ideally, you need secondary schooling and vocational training in something (become an electrician or a plumber, a car mechanic, radio, television, or refrigerator technician, carpenter, mason etc.). In the urban area you simply cannot survive unless you have skills-set that employers are looking for and that they are willing to pay you what they believe your skills are worth (what it contributes to them manufacturing whatever they manufacture and sell it and make sufficient profit to be able to pay you a wage).
Work in urban settings is dependent on possessing skills demanded by the labor market; you must have a saleable skill that someone is looking for; and, hopefully, you get hired. If you do not have marketable skills no one will hire you, and you remain unemployed.
Work in urban centers is not a charity affair, it is highly pragmatic; the question asked is do you have what other people desire, if yes, you get a job, if not you do not have a job.
And there is the issue of character and attitude. People like to hire those with the right skills who additionally have good interpersonal skills. How do you relate to people?
Every human being wants to be respected by other people. Deep down people feel like they have no worth and want the people around them to respect them, to tell them that they have worth for them to feel worth. If you do not respect people, even if you have the best job skills in the world, the chances are that employers have no use for you.
If you have a positive attitude, respect every person, and treat people with dignity you will always have a job.
Where do you acquire the attitude of respecting people? You do so from your parents, siblings, peers, schools and teachers, your significant others and from society in general.
The salient point in all these is that in urban settings, getting what you want out of life is a bit more complicated than for those who live in rural areas; in African villages all that people need to do is during the spring go cut their bushes, plant their crops and tender them and harvest them in the autumn; and sell them and have some money to eke out the miserable living most people in African villages live.


The term culture is omnibus. It stands for everything that people in a place, usually a human group (family, kindred, village, town, nation etc.) do.
Culture stands for everything done in a group that their past experience told them enables them to survive within their group setting. Thus, for example, every group has a family culture that enables members of the family to survive (such as not seeing members of your family as sex objects because if you do you pass on genetic disorders that lead to the death of the entire family), how to raise children and successfully shepherd them to adulthood; how to improve children’s self-esteem so that they can relate well to other people, and do so with self-confidence; school culture; work culture; interpersonal relations culture; religious culture.
Simply stated, culture refers to everything done in every group of human beings. You can choose to narrow your focus to family culture, school culture, work culture, religious culture or whatever but you are looking at what people do in a group setting that enables them to adapt to the exigencies of their particularistic environment and enable their offspring to survive. The key word here is survival.
What enables people to survive in one setting may not enable people in another setting to survive. Consider work and religious cultures.
Africans, until the mid-twentieth century, were mostly rural dwelling people who did subsistence farming. Their religions were of the sort found in traditional societies.
In the African village, most residents saw the sun as a god. Science has enabled us to understand the laws of physics that underlie physical phenomena. The sun is not God; it is a clump of hydrogen gas in whose core elevated temperature and pressure fuses hydrogen atoms to helium atoms and light and heat are given off. That heat and light walk their way from inside the sun, star, and reach the surface and escape as the light and heat we associate with the sun/stars.
The sun has existed for 4.5 billion years; all indications tell us that it will last another five billion years, transforming hydrogen to helium. In about two billion years it will begin transforming other elements…review your chemistry’s periodic table, from hydrogen to uranium, keep going until you get to iron, number 26 on that periodic table.
When the fusion process, called nucleosynthesis, reaches iron the sun/stars become too hot and begins expanding in size. As it expands it sends too much heat and light to nearby planets. Our earth, in about three billion years, will be too hot to have liquids to sustain life. Everything will die off on planet earth.
In about five billion years, the sun explodes in a supernova and spills its debris into space. What remains of the sun, the core, is called a red giant; it will glow like an amber of dying fire for a while and then become dark and become a piece of rock that floats in space and time.
Astrophysics and science in general can explain what stars are so that we do not need to see them as gods, as folks in preliterate villages saw them.
The knowledge of what things are found in African villages, to be generous, is mostly unscientific and irrelevant for survival for those living in modern settings.
If that is the case, why harken to what you call your people’s culture? What good is that culture going to do for you?
Every African group, like all human groups, had a religion. Religions suspect that there is an unknown force behind our lives. But what is that unseen force? None of us knows.
Every group posits a story regarding their god and how to reach him; a people’s story about their origin and fate constitutes their religion.
Greeks called their chief God Zeus; Romans called him Jupiter, Scandinavians called him Thor, or Odin., Germans called their chief God, Godan (abbreviated to God in Germanic Britain). Every group had a chief god and lesser gods.
In Alaigbo we call our God Chi-ukwu; he has a creative aspect called Chi-neke; that creator God manifests in each human being as Chi (his soul). However, being an agricultural people, Igbos posited lesser gods that guided their day to day lives. There is Ala (every village had that goddess to guide it); there is Amadioha (a town had that god to help it predict the future and guide the people); there were other gods. Each of these lesser gods had high priests that guided people in how to reach it.
Most Igbos are now living in urban areas. Their village religions are now useless to them.
Suppose that today, the high priest of Amadioha tells you that you are supposed to bring a ram, and if you are rich, a cow to him when you have a male child, so that he blesses you, you will laugh at him for telling you such nonsense. But our ancestors believed in that nonsense, and if you did not believe in it the ancestors were expected to strike thunder on you and kill you.
What people believe to be true, even if not true, tends to affect their behaviors. If you believe that ancestors will kill you because you did not do what they asked you to do, make sacrifices to their gods, you may become sick and die.
Urban dwellers now perceive the religions of their ancestral villages as irrelevant in their lives; they cannot help urban dwellers to adapt to their current world, whereas they were functional in the farming community of their ancestors.
Since people still believe that they need a God to enable them make sense of their lives, they now accept the gods of the universal religions (Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam).
Christianity posits a Father God, a God the son and a God the Holy Spirit, all three sharing oneself. Jesus Christ is considered the symbol of God the son.
Jesus Christ was a human being who found a way to overcome his desire to live as a separated ego self. He died to his ego self-concept and regained the awareness of his Christ self, the unified spirit, the son of God that we all are parts of.
The man’s ego died, and he resurrected to the awareness of a different self, a self that knows itself as joined to all selves, is one with all selves and since love joins people loves all people. Jesus Christ stands for love that transcends this world. At least, two billion human beings now embrace his religion of Christianity.
But beyond religions, what really explains phenomena is science. By science I mean physics, chemistry, biology, geology, and astronomy.
We must now adopt science as our primary methodological approach to phenomena. In other papers, I argue for what I call scientific culture and urge Africans to use it to replace their mostly unscientific cultures.
Scientific culture is based on science’s universal principles and enables people to live according to the parameters of science. It is no longer useful to seek refuge in African prescientific cultures. African religions and cultures did not explain phenomena in a rational and scientific manner, certainly, not in a testable and verifiable manner.
Biology explains our bodies; chemistry explains the elements, molecules, and matter (solids, liquids, and gases); physics explains how nature works.


African Americans, understandably, reject the religion of their slave masters. They seek alternatives to Christianity. In the 1930s, some of them thought that Islam is that alternative religion for them.
Islam was begun by an Arab called Mohammed in 610 CE. Muslim Arabs enslaved Africans for almost two thousand years, in fact, until the 1900s in Sudan and Mauritania. Thus, the religion of Arabs is as oppressive to Africans as the religion of Christian slave masters in the Americas.
Despairing, some African Americans look to Egypt to find an ideal religion for them. They tell us that ancient Egyptians called their religion Kemet. We really do not know what the Kemet religion was like. This is because in the past three thousand years Egypt was ruled by non-Africans.
The Hittites of ancient Anatolia, todays Turkey, an Indo-European people ruled Egypt in the 1300 BCs. The Hyksos, a Semitic people ruled Egypt between 1650-1550 BC. Persians conquered and ruled Egypt 2500 years ago; Greeks conquered and ruled Egypt 2300 years ago; Romans conquered and ruled Egypt 2100 years ago; Arabs conquered Egypt in 643 CE and have ruled it since then.
Contemporary Egyptian culture and religion is Arabic and Muslim. Indeed, the light complexioned current Egyptians do not consider themselves Africans and discriminate against pure black Egyptians.
Ancient Egyptians looked like todays Ethiopians and Somalis. They were black. But their culture was like the culture of those around them, to the right and to left; those were Afro-asiatic people.
Their culture was not like the culture of West Africans.
Most African Americans came from West Africa, from Senegal to Namibia. It, therefore, makes sense that if they want to understand their people’s culture and religion they must go to West Africa, not to Egypt. Their over emphasis on Egypt tells us that they are ashamed of their West African origin; this is probably because they were told that West African religions and culture are primitive, and that Egyptian religion and culture is civilized. These people have not robustly accepted their background in Negro Africa. In time they will do so.


The religions and cultures of traditional societies were adaptations to their prescientific world. They are no longer adaptive to the challenges of the modern world.
What adapts to the needs of our times is scientific culture. Scientific culture is the best alternative to the concept of multiculturalism.
Multiculturalism was designed to give diverse people the feeling that their cultures are as good as other cultures. Whereas that may be true, but there is a better culture than extant cultures and that is scientific culture.
Scientific culture has universal parameters and is inclusive, any human being can embrace it because science belongs to all people.


Science is a methodological approach to living that accepts only what we all can observe, verify as there and possibly falsify.
Science has universalistic, not particularistic values; its parameters offer people from all parts of the world a unifying approach to phenomena. Science unifies all of us.
Consider the origin of humanity. Science tells us that all people originated in East Africa. If so, white racists who think that they are different from black folks are living in fantasy land. Their genes are the same as African genes.
Scientifically, there is no such thing as separate races. Argument on race is thus closed. We are one human race and must work for what is good for all of us.
Scientific culture is what enables us to live together and work for what is good for all of us.
People use the concept of culture to make them feel as one people; that is exclusionary; now we need an inclusive culture; scientific culture is inclusive; it gives all of us a common frame of reference and thus makes all of us feel like we belong to one people, not people from this or that tribal group.
Ethnic culture is often a refuge for scoundrels; nationalism is often a refuge for scoundrels; scientific culture enlightens and embraces all of us.
The future of humankind is the scientific culture, not the razzmatazz of ethnic cultures that divide instead of uniting us.
Since we all need culture, we must replace divisive ethnic cultures with unifying scientific culture.
Nothing written in this essay suggests that people should be ashamed of their people’s past cultures; what it says is that a culture is a people’s adaptation to their world. Our world is changing rapidly; therefore, people must change with it; we have barely understood computers and the Internet and Artificial Intelligence is upon us. Folks cannot cling to what enabled their people to adapt to their world in the past; folks must do what enables them to adapt to their present and future world. Scientific culture is the variable that enables all human beings to adapt to their ever-changing world. Of course, folks can be proud of their past cultures, but they must keep their eyes on the present and future world they live in and do what makes survival in it optimal.
When in the 1960s, Mao Tso Tung and his fellow revolutionaries felt that aspects of China’s ancient culture (Confucianism and Taoism) were holding China back, preventing the people from doing the needful to catch up with the Western world, they attacked those 4000 years old culture, and changed it. The result is China’s rapid modernization and becoming the second largest economy in the world.
Sometimes, folks simply must let the past go instead of harping on its supposed good. You cannot step into a river twice; it is always flowing, moving to somewhere else; the past is gone forever and cannot be relived. Let go of the past and embrace the present and future. The dodo bird of Madagascar that refused to change to adapt to its changing environment died out. Change is the law of survival.

Ozodi Osuji
May 8, 2023

Comments are closed.