When we are first asked the question “what is time?” We are taken aback. We know what they are referring to but we do not know how to define it. Webster defines time as “the measured or measurable period during which an action, process, or condition exists or continues”. There are many types of time; African Time (AT; for Africans), Black People Time (BPT; For African Americans), Colored People Time (CPT; for Africans, Asians and African Americans) and White Man Time (WMT; for the Caucasians).
The importance of time is too strong that God works within its frame. In Genesis the Bible says; “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. We are told the first day, the second day and so on and so forth.
Then we read in Ecclesiastes 3: 1 “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven”. The phrases “at the time appointed, a set time, appointed season, appointed time are constantly being used when God is doing something. Now one quick question; if God who has no problem with time, whose actions transcend eternity, works with time how much more should humans (who have a life span) be concerned with time?
Paul Herbert, in Anthropological Insights to Missionaries says, “Africans have no notion of time.” John Mbiti (an African himself) confirms that in some of his writings. There are two major reasons why Herbert and Mbitit think this way. The first is that, no African meeting will ever start on time. Let me do some application to Manyu people right here. MECA starts at 8 P.M. but we show up at 11 P.M . Fund raising starts at 8p.m but we show up at 1. A.M. The excuse we give is that we are working. You and I know that most at times were doing nothing.
Nevertheless, let me challenge Mbiti and Herbert a bit. If the African has no notion of time, why did our fathers sacrifice only during specific periods? They did that because the gods will only receive those sacrifices during certain periods of the year. Though they did not have watches, our fathers read their shadows to tell time. Both Herbert and Mbiti failed to show the importance of time between the Westerner and the African. The Westerner sees time in terms of money while the African sees time in terms of work done. That though, is not the cause of economic disparity or development between these two groups. In the U.S for instance, where there is no time clock to clock in and clock out people come late but when you have it hanging somewhere everyone is punctual. People are not punctual because they like to work. It is simply because if they are late their paychecks will suffer. Meanwhile, with the African if an assignment can be completed no matter the period then it is okay but then done within a given allocation. That is why we stockpile dossiers in a ministry and the minister goes out for campaigns because all you need is for the document to be signed and when he comes back he will sign them anyway.
Again, one other thing Herbert evokes is that retirement is a Western affair. Did he not hear, did he not know that our parents when they became physically weak handed over their plantations to their offsprings? According to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, retirement is “specific withdrawal from work, business, etc.” So then did the African crawl to the farm when old or how did he/she do it. What then was the appellation for handing over his farm to his children? At times, he handed over the most precious farm to the brother to till so that he could have offspring to help continue the work when he was too old.
We tend to discover that any society that took time serious made great strides in development. If we want to progress then we have to learn how to keep to time. I personally always regard people coming late to a ceremony, church, and you name the rest as a show of disrespect. Sadly like “E. V. Lucas once said: “I have noticed that the people who are late are often so much jollier than the people who have to wait for them”. Who amongst us would have a rendez vous with the president and will go late? Meka in Oyono’s Old Man and The Medal, spent almost an entire day waiting outside for a medal because it was important to him and his family. If a ceremony is important to you, you will be there on time. Your job is important to you that is why you go to work on time. I knew someone who had an interview for a visa at an embassy at 8 A.M and he went there 30 minutes later because he was praying. He was asked to come next year.
Not keeping to time could cost you your job or cost you something more precious. Why did Prince Nico Mbarga sing that opportunity comes but once? It has fallen within a given time and once you miss it that’s it. My friends, we must learn how to keep to time; start a meeting on time and end on time. Attend a fund raising on time and most importantly go to church on time. I conclude with this saying: “This time like all times is a very good one if we but know what to do with it” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).
Until then, let us learn to keep to time.
Prince & PA Hamilton Ayuk