5 TRUTHS ABOUT WEST AFRICAN CULTURE

  1. Most people use herbs and are aware of what different plants do for the body, even children!  I am in Ouidah which is a beach town in south Benin; you cannot walk far without seeing someone selling the handmade clay pots used to brew plant medicines or someone selling medicinal herbs, barks, roots and more.  Every local market, whether in Ouidah, Cotonou or Porto-Novo has sections just for medicinal plant merchants.  I host a retreat in Benin for Black American Birthworkers, during the retreat this spring we visited with a traditional midwife who brews concoctions for her clients and a Nurse Midwife who prescribes pharmaceutical medicines but admitted that her clients would undoubtedly also use herbal remedies at home along with the prescriptions.  A child may tell you that papaya leaves were used to bathe them when they had a fever or malaria.  As a person who relies solely on nature for my health care, I am absolutely loving it and learning so much! This healing connection to the land is part of the reason why African people and culture will never be separated from the land. 
  2. People don’t wear swimsuits.  A lot of times this is used to label Africans as conservative or modest, but not wearing swimsuits also reveals that African cultures are not rooted in capitalism.  Swimsuits are about spending money.  You don’t NEED a swimsuit to swim or enjoy a day at the beach, lake, lagoon, or any other natural body of water, you can wear anything! Because the sun is our friend here in west Africa, and because we wear light clothes made from cotton, if we time it right we can be dry by the time we’re ready to go home .  An advantage of not wearing swimsuits is not exposing the majority of your skin to the water and sand AND there’s the added bonus of not feeling like you need to shave your chacha. 
  3. People walk…. a lot!  Brings to mind one of my favorite books as a teen, The Dark Child by Camara Laye there is a part about walking for days to go visit loved ones in another town that stuck with me all these years.  I used to think I walked a lot because I used public transportation in the U.S., but nah.  I mean we all know Africans can out-run the world with no shoes on, but no one talks about how Africans can out walk the world. My endurance is definitely better than it was 5 months ago.  So beware: “it’s not far,” or “it’s just down the road” can mean 30 minutes of walking and “it’s very far” can be a 5-minute drive.
  4. Money stays in the community.  Killer Mike would appreciate this.  People buy from one another.  Brooms, colanders, food, lotion, soap, baskets these things can be bought from local people who actually make the products from local raw products.  Even doors, tables and couches are usually locally made. This is partly because the culture is rooted in entrepreneurship and apprenticeships. There are certainly lots of imported goods, like sugar, condensed milk, wheat flour, plastics, clothes etc. but there are more locally made products than any community I’ve seen in the U.S. White, Asian or Black.
  5. Most Africans don’t refer to themselves as African.  The people the world call Africans refer to themselves and other people of African descent as Black, Red (light skinned Black person) or as their ethnic group (Yoruba, Fon, Aja, etc) I wrote more about that in my last blog check it out here.

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