Sesotho culture, like many other African cultures, is largely founded on orality. Transmitting knowledge orally is no easy feat contrary to what others might believe. It is an art that often carries some poetry or musicality to it. Okay, this is just my opinion based on how I rationalise, for example, the condensed format of clan knowledge.
Use of shorthand or brevity is for memorability. It is not, and I repeat, it is NOT for devaluing the importance of context. I needed to stress this because we seem to have forgotten this. It seems we are quicker to imagine or conclude that our elders were simpletons without nuance and/or a strategy for communicating with future generations.
This increasingly irks me. I suppose because I have set myself unwittingly on a path (particularly through this blog) that I can innocently be asked to translate clan praise poems. Often I have had to explain, with part tongue in cheek, that some ideas cannot literally be translated into English. Part tongue in cheek because I recognise that people know this already, but through some kind of whiteness logic they hope the translation into English will be more insightful.
Actually, I am not even sure what it is I mean. All I know is that it would seem it is easier to interrogate ideas in English than in our own languages. As a consequence we fail to understand why we having lingering sentiments such as ‘makhooa ha a tsoane’, which translates more or less to ‘whites don’t betray each other’.
The above sentiment is true on some level. However, I dare say, it did not become part of our conventional wisdom for purposes of valorising whiteness. Our elders, bound to the medium of orality, were trying to warn us. Basically, like Biko, they wanted us to understand that we blacks are on our own!
Think, for example, how class or race supposedly did not matter for the brothers in arms during World War II, until the end came. As captured in one of my favourite songs, disposable hero, when that end came, the question of who was to be the first on the breadline (or plane in my warped interpretation) was asked. The answer was clear: it was not to be the black man. The effort to pretend otherwise was but a dance; for, ‘makhooa ha a tsoane’!
MaAfrika we need to get this to reject whiteness. It has ‘fudged’ us up! A friend drove this point home for me by noting that whiteness as an imperialist system has not only messed us up as black people, but has destroyed the ecological base of the planet. This means aside from the socioeconomic and the psychological we need to centre the environmental issues as well. To succeed, we need plurality of thought, the wisdom of our elders and all the knowledge we have acquired so far to subversively and strategically work at reclaiming our throne.