So often when one thinks of our heritage, it is often music, dance, and beautiful garments. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that as it celebrates our heritage; however, there is everything wrong with that if we are going to let our heritage be defined only by clothes and dancing. There is so much more to us than that. A lot of aspects define us as a people. The month of September has been put aside to serve the purpose of bringing about consciousness within ourselves, that which makes us who we are.
It is true that we may not know where we are going if we do not know where we come from. We therefore need to ensure that the road we are paving for the younger generation, is one that will strengthen our cultural values to speak to our true heritage.
Remember how back in the day, a person would look at a tree and not only see this object that will provide shade during a hot summer day. The beauty of that tree, how it provided life, how it would bear fruits… a poet would give praises to that tree. You get a number of values from that.
Our heritage is through dance and every dance has a meaning. You would not get a small child performing ditolobonya; simply because there was a time, place and age restriction for such dances. The values instilled in that as well as the message, need to be carried through.
I am a Zulu maiden and although I have in some way accustomed to the modern day South Africa, there is no way I will regard my cultural practices as barbaric. Who am I to say such things? Don’t I know that my forefathers had much more wisdom than I do right now? Don’t I understand that these practises were done for a certain reason? Without understanding, it is very easy for a person to ridicule someone else’s customs. However, we need to ensure that the legacy we were supposed to pick up a long time ago, does not die with this generation.
Heritage is the legacy of the past. You then need to ask yourself whether the heritage you are celebrating today has not lost its meaning through translation and adaptation. There are many values from the past that can still apply today in order to destroy the social ills that we are faced with at the moment.
I always say that culture is a form of survival; therefore the people in a certain era in the 1800s will definitely not have the same cultures as those living in 2015. But, if we are going to apply the same principles when it comes to traditions and customs, then we are doomed.
In light of correcting the imbalances of the past, we need to celebrate our heritage. This can be done through recognising and declaring heritage sites. These are – houses of stalwarts, graves of those who played an important role during the struggle against discrimination. The declaration of sites such as open space where meetings were held, schools, halls and other areas that were used to hold political meetings, harbour refugees and be used as feeding schemes where necessary. Graves of those fallen heroes may also be declared. Perhaps conscietizing the young people should not be the work of the government, but the community at large. We can only do things right if we are told by the people exactly what they would like to see happening. It is all up to us to ensure. Therefore, let us honour and celebrate our living heritage. Whether it is tangible or intangible, it all remains necessary and important.
In South Africa, September is celebrated as the heritage month; one which I hold very close to my heart. This is the lead up to the public holiday – heritage day on the 24th of September. Before 1995, this holiday was observed in KwaZulu as Shaka Zulu’s day. I get charged up when September begins, not only because I am a historian and a heritage practitioner, but simply because it has become a time when South Africans give themselves a chance to become well versed with other cultures. A time when the country is so colourful with these bright colours that have been adopted by different cultures to symbolise their beauty and identity. Although some may argue that we run the risk of making this day or perhaps month about fashion parades; as we often only recognise fashion, song and dance as facets of culture. However, understanding the messages that come with different garments, poetry, song and dances, one would become cognisance to the values and lessons attached to it. To bring about heritage and cultural consciousness, we have to start somewhere.
To me, heritage month means I get the opportunity to express myself through my culture. Although this should be something one gets to do all year round, but since certain things are frowned upon; this is my opportunity to educate people. When one understands the reason behind cultural practices, then they are in a better position to respect them. It is also best to hear it from the horse’s mouth because we run the risk of misinterpreting certain practices. This is also a chance to ensure that the younger generation do not misconstrue our legacy as only wearing fancy garments.