Practical education in most of Uganda was hybrid. It combined traditional African folklore and Western Colonial education at formal learning institutions. This type of education was effective since it produced outputs that positively influenced and shaped ‘total’ nation-states. First and second-generation intelligentsia in Uganda were of this ilk. We will let you judge – for those of you that can go back in history, the quality of contemporary intelligentsia vs that of old. We can only write here that there is a clear and critical role for intellectuals in shaping the culture and politics of a nation-state.
The quality of intelligentsia influences the social culture and politics of nation-states. Are we missing what folklore brought to education and its final products?
No wonder, when growing up, our parents, especially our Maama, paid incredible attention to ensuring that we understood and practised folklore. The traditional values made us the people we are or are supposed to be. Our Maama was even more rigid to ensure our sisters’ well-grasped folklore. I’m still trying to understand why a well-educated woman, married to an educated and liberal husband, emphasised raising ‘straight’ daughters than boys. However, that interrogation is beyond the scope of this blog.
Suffice it to say that those were the days when traditional African folklore was relevant to childhood learning and upbringing. It was referenced and quoted several times a day in many Ugandan households. Never written down, it had encyclopaedic order and depth that was sustained by passage between generations. This manner of educating worked well, especially in the formative years.
Even as Western colonial education was becoming more and more available to most Africans, in our case Uganda, it worked side by side with folklore to shape the learning and upbringing of children. Indeed schools – at least those we attended in Busoga, didn’t throw folklore education in the bin.
Schools used folklore in tandem with modern education. That we had folklore at schools isn’t surprising given that teachers were from the very deeply cultured community around the schools and that school management committees were constituted by a generation more shaped by folklore than western colonial education.
The product of this hybrid education system, i.e. the combination of western education and traditional folklore values, was unique. If the jury were still out on the quality of human beings produced by this hybrid system and how effective they were at sustaining and improving African/Ugandan society, we refer it to the first and second generation Ugandan civil servants for evidence of quality.
Folklore, modernity and its mutation
Fast forward to the modern-day, folklore has been relegated to the back seat. It’s a singular western education offer that is considered education today. Not only has folklore been relegated, but it‘s disdained by the youngest of the generations. Folklore is deemed to be primitive and not fit for the times. In the same vein, the chief custodians of folklore, African/Ugandan elders, are no longer the custodians of this knowledge. The elders have lost their place and voice on the society-grooming table. Indeed elders are the forgotten generation, ridiculed by many.
Knowledge management has shifted from ethnographic approaches to digital highways that process and host vast, diverse and deep knowledge domains, including culture. The most dominant and influential of these knowledge highways is Google, the internet search engine.
And it’s important to note that it’s not Google that has brought about the change in knowledge management that we discuss above, but the internet. Google gives us the road and vehicle to drive around the internet. The internet is a network of networks connecting computer systems across the world.
What the internet, aided by Google, has done is to decentralise authority and power over knowledge, as well as devalue it. Using vehicles like Google, the internet has brought seamless speed and convenience to knowledge distribution. You don’t need to travel to the village to have the elder pass on knowledge – all you need is to access the internet via Google, and you get answers to your questions, including cultural ones.
A search of the words Ugandan-marriages on Google returns diverse knowledge excerpts rendering our folklore system absolute.
The cost of mutation
However, the danger is that the transition from authentic traditional folklore hosted in the elders’ brains to the new and more structured digital platforms hasn’t been systematic. Content has been dropped and changed without a proper rubric.
The outcome of the above uncoordinated process is the neo-classical folklore, heavily mutated and reshaped into the so-called modern excerpts of folklore. We are witnessing new definitions of trust and truth, as well as loyalty; for those in the marriage industry in Uganda, we now have the commercial Senga and Kooja (read: aunt and uncle respectively) and sadly, heavily mutilated traditional marriage ceremonies across Ugandan tribes. Money and where it sits underlies our loyalty choices and not anymore, shared good values, etc
We want to opine on this blog that a hybrid approach – i.e. both folklore and modern colonial education, produced a viable education product. The latter product created and sustained much needed technical knowledge, but also a strong and harmonious ‘values’ regime. Moreover, values are the glue between technical skills and the ‘wellness’ of a nation-state, at least from an Africa perspective.
Formal education alone shall never be a viable replacement for traditional values. We acknowledge that specific Ugandan traditions, like a woman’s rights, need looking at plus corrected. And the latter is where folklore can borrow from modern education.
We opine that the pseudo-modern education product in Uganda, devoid of folklore that society was built on, is taking us to a dead-end