It seems that culture and modernity are mutually exclusive. As a people chase acceptance and the glitter of materialism, what suffers over and over again is the culture that once defined us.
I know it seems like I’m about to walk head first into the brick wall of contradictions when I’ve been arguing for weeks against the evils of tribalism only to now defend culture.
In reality though, my repulsion against tribalism does not mean I want a society of uniform cyborgs. I love my Ethiopian heritage, but I concurrently love and adore countless other cultures and heritages throughout the world.
I view humanity as a family where everyone has a different first name (culture) yet we are interlinked by our last name (humanity). Diversity is what makes us beautiful, the problem lies when we clutch on to our culture and forsake the culture of others.
As problematic as tribalism is in this sense, the other end of the spectrum is equally as vexing and capricious. Chasing pop culture and running to assimilate to modern trends comes at a tremendous cost; we lose the essence of ourselves by trying to be someone else.
I speak of this through experience. I spent my youth running away from my Ethiopian culture, washing away every trace of accent and being embarrassed by the smell of berbere as I perfected the English language and doused myself with Burberry instead. Only to look back now and regret that I struggle to speak Amharic and realize the smell of the most expensive cologne is nothing compared to the nostalgia of smelling kibe.
Take a gursha for example, the act of eating with our hands and feeding others with our fingers. This simple act is the essence of humanity, a circle of friends eating together and feeding each other. Our food has always been an extension of our community and the continuation of our culture.
Yet there was a time I was embarrassed to eat Ethiopian food in public. Afraid of being gawked at by strangers and judged, I frequently ate injera in solitary corners at work. Yet when it came to embracing western etiquettes I dove head first; learning the ways to eat with a fork without turning it upward, how to cut steak properly, and how to eat soup without scraping the bottom with the spoon.bAll these rules I perfected, the way to eat “properly”, but in the process I was losing the very essence of what made me different. Chasing acceptance, all I found was the emptiness of vacuous sophistication.
Though this world tries over and over to bend us into compliance, resist at all cost and instead retain your authenticity. Popping bottles and smoking shisha is just inhaling death while seeking validation. Instead embrace culture which is grounded in love and life.
Modernity and development are twin arrows aimed at the heart of culture. Instead of seeking the glamor of consumerism, value more the humility of our culture and embrace what makes us different while valuing the difference of others. Be more like gursha which fosters community and less like fork which values distance from our nourishment.
Hope you enjoyed this gursha, see mine are always a mouthful just like how my father fed me. That’s because I retained my culture even as I rebelled against it even though yene Amharic tinish tinish tesebrawl.
~ This is an excerpt from “Soul to Soil” , which can be found on Amazon and will soon expand to other distributors. Thank you to everyone who has been part of my journey, butterflies emerge from caterpillars through cocoons—the struggle is what gives wing to our aspirations ~
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.