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Impact of modernization on African tradition.

Traditional african dressing
people wearing traditional clothes

What is tradition?

An inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (such as a religious practice or a social custom). A tradition is a belief or behavior (folk custom) passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past.[ There are many different examples of traditions throughout the world for example folktales, dressing, certain behaviors, language,practices, myths etc. These are handed down from generation to generation through observation, story telling and formal education within the family or society. Some people take advantage of even meal times to teach their young about their traditions (When we gather to eat, we not only nourish the body, but we also feed the soul). This handing down is done so that the young people can grow with a sense of belonging, understanding why certain things are done and also to be able to continue upholding their family or society’s tradition by passing it on to future generations.


It refers to a particular era in human history. It is an era characterized by scientific thought (rather than metaphysical or supernatural belief), individualism, a focus on industrialization and technical development and a rejection of some traditional values. Modernization, in social sciences terminology, is the process by which a country moves from having a traditional, agrarian, rural society to having a more secular, urbanized, industrialized (or even post-industrial) society.This concept is different from tradition in the sense that it does not accept the existence of certain aspects that the traditional world acknowledges for instance the supernatural realm and certain core values of tradition such as dressing, language etc. From the onset the aspect of modernity diverges from the path of tradition although the two can at times agree in certain areas. Modernity embraces the issues of individualism, competition etc all of which go against most African traditions.

In the contemporary society, these two aspects have become a big cause of conflict among different African societies. Both are being practiced parallel to each other and as a result, causing confusion within society. The young don’t know which path to take and because our tradition is being given to them half baked ,they have totally lost focus as to what to do and what not to do, they have no one to ask and have become subject thus to peer pressure and peer advise some of which may be very misleading.

Impact of modernization on a traditional society.

In as much as most of these impacts may be negative, one should not dismiss the fact that there are also positive impacts of this co-existence which may be expanded if people commit to bringing a change to our society. However as it stands the impact remains highly negative especially on the younger generation as shall be noted.

A Traditional African family

Destruction of family ties or structures. In a typical traditional African society, the family comprised of a number of individuals, ranging from grandparents,aunts,uncles, father, mother, children etc sometimes the “sahwira” is also regarded as part of that family in some sense. This was especially important in terms of eradicating poverty by taking care of widows, orphans and the vulnerable in society, ensuring respect is cultivated in the young as they respected most elders as their relatives and also ensuring the passing on of certain values and cultural traditions within the members of society. In the African community, a man had the obligation to cater for the widow and orphans of his deceased relative(Kanu 2010). However, modernization has brought about the destruction of these family ties and structures where the family is now only limited to the now termed “nuclear” family comprising of mother, father and children. This has largely destroyed the fundamental traditions held dear by the African society and has disrupted the passing on of important traditional aspect such as the role of the aunt in the children of her brothers especially in terms of sexuality and the sacredness of the body. Respect for elders has also been eradicated as most youths are growing up without proper exposure to their extended family members thus they find it difficult to respect people with whom they have no strong ties. Observation has revealed that most youths actually no longer have an understanding of their tradition due to less exposure to elderly members of society.

Language dilution.Proficiency in our language is declining in Africa because we are compelled to embrace Western culture and civilization as Western language. Modern Africans have begun to embrace foreign languages at the expense of their traditional languages all in the name of modernization. It has become a symbol of intellectual intelligence for one who fluently speaks foreign languages and is largely less accustomed to his or her local languages and this has made our African languages inferior to those of other countries or continents.

Religion. The religious practices of the African people where closely linked to the way they lived in society thus to them their religion was more like a way of life rather than an act of worship. They believed in a diverse spiritual realm that coexisted with them here on earth although they could not see these spiritual beings. Their religion was in the center of almost everything that they did and they believed in a God that was just and could administer punishment fairly. They had spirit mediums, sacred places and objects all of which helped during their acts of worship. The morals and the institutions of the society are thought to have been given by God, or to be sanctioned ultimately by him. Therefore, any breach of such morals is an offense against the departed members of the family, and against God or the spirits, even if it is the people themselves who may suffer from such a breach and who may take action to punish the offender. (J.S. Mbiti). These religious views have been proven to be shared sentiments among other religions brought to Africa by modernization and of great significance Christianity. However the introduction of such religions has led to the eradication of most African religious customs which were an integral part of their tradition, for instance certain burial rites, birth rites etc which are deemed demonic by some of these religions. This thus provides a serious challenge for the modern African as they are in between two religious practices that usually do not co-exist. This is mainly because each and every African is somehow linked to the traditional way of behaving and is also trying to integrate a new practice or religion into an already ordered society.


Traditional religious leader at a shrine.

Cultural dilution.Culture as defined as the ideas, customs, and social behavior of a particular people or society has been largely affected by modernization, particularly in terms of dressing and behavior. The African way of dressing is largely influenced by their values and norms which advocate for decency in dressing whether one is male or female. This in turn means that the audience one is to face has a large impact on how they are supposed to dress, and even if the audience is not that respected one still has to dress decently, avoiding exposing their bodies according to the African context. This has however been disturbed by the modern world view were all kinds of fashion trends have been introduced thus making it difficult for one to maintain the decent dressing encouraged by our tradition. One fears feeling out of place or being mocked by peers for dressing like an ‘old’ person especially among the young people. This peer pressure can therefore influence greatly cultural decay within society.

Zulu cultural dressing rarely worn nowadays.

In line with cultural dilution, Africans have begun to embrace certain cultural practices that where largely considered vices within the African context. Examples of these include homosexuality (a practice that has become rather normal within some African countries), incest (though less popular, but the fact that totems are being disregarded makes it a common practice among Africans nowadays), abortions (an act that was considered a crime by African traditional law is now being legalized in some African countries) and many other practices and behaviors not in sink with the African way of life. Some sources say that, an estimated 70,000+ illegal abortions are performed in Zimbabwe each year, resulting in around 20,000 maternal deaths. This is just an example of the cultural disorientation happening in some African countries and the rate at which it is being practiced is rather frightening. Debate also has occurred throughout Africa over proposals to legalize same-sex marriage as well as civil unions. Although these issues have not been legally approved the fact that talk of it is becoming louder suggests that it is slowly creeping into the African way of life.

The modern society has produced a society of traditionally illiterate people who are largely self-centered, corrupt, disrespectful to sacred places, people and objects. A generation that knows almost nothing about their practices and how to deal with certain issues and problems.A generation of people who are slowly becoming morally decayed and losing their culture and identity. Irregardless of this, the elderly within the African community continue to emphasis that no matter how many people turn their backs on the African tradition, one remains an African whether active or inactive and what influences an African child will always influence an African child.

In as much as it has been highlighted that modernization is highly eroding the tradition of the African, it should however be noted that there are also positive effects of this development within the African society. For instance accepting abortion where the child or the mother’s life is at risk is a practice within the African society that has been enhanced by modernization through machinery that can easily detect danger on the part of the mother or the fetus during pregnancy thus eliminating it before the danger increases. Also the idea of democracy was introduced from modernization and is highly positive as it allows everyone’s voice to be heard in any situation.

Modernization actually has impacted largely on the lives of Traditional Africa, as it has brought about a lot of changes some of which have been noted above both positive and negative. One thus has to weigh the pros and cons of each new development so as to consider whether its worth it to adopt or whether the traditional way is actually better.

a modernized world.


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