Thursday, February 7, 2008

Is Reading An African Weakness?

Reading is a hobby and habit. My father had four types of disciplines or corporal punishments for me as a wayward child in my childhood and teenage days. The first type was reading the dictionary. The better I read the faster he fell asleep and we both could go to bed. The second was Pick-A- Pin; right index finger down and left leg up. The third was taking a letter to the headmaster or teacher to tell them I have misbehaved at home which they followed up with “six strong boys pick up”. The last was; “Doctor Do Good”; the switch the rod, whip or whatever you call which him and my mother found solace in the Bible (Prov 10:13; 13:24; 22:15; 23:13-14). Growing, reading became an inseparable tradition. That again annuls the fact that not reading has any relationship with where you come from. Reading is a habit.
Reading could be motivated by priority. I hated to see pastors being ridiculed by scholars of major scientific and logical fields. When I came to the US, the first thing I had was a 39-volume set of Encyclopedia Britannica that I grazed from cover to cover. That was my priority; acquiring knowledge to defend my belief.
Africa is not basically an oral tradition society. If Africa is basically an oral tradition or mostly influenced by oral tradition why is it that Art subjects always register many students considering that most of them warrant a high level of reading? Oral tradition was a handicap due to the unavailability of inventions and methods to store information. The centuries before Christ and the 1st Century A.D were typically the same. In biblical times, oral tradition and scrolls writing were the most common mediums to preserve information. Yet the leader; Moses, had to debrief the people regularly on their theocracy. May be there should be readers to the Africans. You smile don’t you? Despite that, the society was still influenced by oral tradition in the first century. As such, they used lectionaries in most churches. Lectionaries would not have been used if the society was a reading public. The used of scrolls was merely to preserves the work of God. After the 15th century, the advent of Gutenberg’s printing press (1436) changed the way history was read and recorded. Therefore, oral tradition is not limited to Africans alone and should not be the prima facie for their lack of reading enthusiasm.
The non-reading should not be attributed only to Africans alone because in most forums; Africans or non Africans you have only about eight people who constantly write. If the Africans do not read, how do they pass their exams? Therefore, the non reading public is not a problem of African but a problem of priority. Now they do not see why they should read. Neither is reading a habit to most people in the west nor oriental societies.
The lack of good printing presses in Africa is not because there is a non-reading public. It is because of the lack of funds to buy the books and promote the growth of the printing press considering that the book will be pirated, photocopied or distributed in one way or the other. The publisher has to give them what he knows will help him maximize some profits. Poor quality is not the fault of the publisher because he comes from Africa. It is the lack of pouvoir d’achat that has influenced the quality of his products. Even the goods from China and the US coming to Africa are of lesser qualities than those sold in the US because if kept at the same quality nobody will buy them. That is why we have mostly baubles and trinkets. So again, the problem is the poverty-stricken society that is merely struggling to survive.
Flashing back, literature in the West was for the aristocratic society for their leisure, information and didactism. Consequently, reading in general was for those who had made it and wanted to layback and enjoy the fruits of their labor. How would a sample from Ethiopia be contented with reading when he has barely eaten a palm kernel nut for three days?
Consequently, most Africans in the West have an agenda; survival. Firstly, they ran away from a mismanaged economic system and integration is posing problem to them. Secondly, they are haunted by their dreams of grandeur to replace the withered grass at home with the green grass abroad without which they become a byword of failure to their kins.
The solution to this is for Africans to have the wealth necessary that can help them to be laid back. Reading and writing are mostly laid back habits. If you do not have a sound and peaceful mind you cannot read or write. That is why if you are taking an exam you could be given some time to appear in court if its not a serious crime because everybody believes you need a sound mind to bolster acquitting legal arguments. Therefore, no troubled mind will read and write regularly.

Until then, I encourage everyone to read.

Prince & PA Hamilton Ayuk

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