The suspension of History as a subject schools’ curriculum has done more harm than good, especially in the development of students. The founder of the African Theatre Development Foundation, Prince Abiathar Zadok at a summer skills fair, said it has not only robbed them of their roots, but native languages, values and true identities. He spoke with Kuni Tyessi
What is this summer programme all about and why not summer lessons as has been the practice?
The African Theatre Development Foundation (ATDF) happens to be a foundation that is interested in promoting core African values in promoting positive African development. By so doing, we use the theatre to promote social change and development.
Our language and values are going extinct and so we use the theatre as a platform to drive home that message. Here we introduce them to African drums, dance and creativity and we try to connect them to their roots. Even the scripts they write connect them to their local identity. We give them assignments which they take home and meet their parents who tell them stories which they in turn script into plays. These are not stories of Cinderella, but stories from their roots which connect them to their ethnic identities so that they don’t lose contact with their roots. Now, we don’t even have history as part of the school curriculum. Children need to have this engraved in them so that they don’t lose touch with their roots.
Does this in anyway add to their academic progress?
Academics without interaction with other environmental and social factors cannot be complete and a child cannot be educated outside his connection and environment. So a child’s connection and environment has to do with a child’s total makeup.
Talking about cultural values, what do you have to say to parents that would prefer to always use English Language as a means of communication and not their native dialects?
They are under the cloud of inferiority complex to English Language. It is destructive to our system and values. We host ‘Save the African Project’ in order to revive our languages and culture. We asked some children why they don’t speak their languages and the answer was that their parents speak it only when there is a conflict. So the children see it as a language of violence and so do not speak it.
What is your reaction to claims by parents that English Language should be the mode of communication because it is the language used to write exams locally and internationally?
It is a misplaced priority. Speaking English only for the purpose of examination does not solve a purpose. You have people who had learnt to speak English and if it is because the children need to pass exams that they are subjected to speaking English at the detriment of their mother tongue, which is God-given heritage which you as a parent have not been denied but you denied your children, you have denied them of their identity forever. That simply means you have taken them out of the natural zone that makes them Africans. So they cannot speak with their fore parents who cannot speak English or with their mates who do not go to the same school where English Language is an issue. So I see such as misplaced priority. When you take away a child’s identity, you have taken away a major component of his life.
But English is an imperial language and a language of power and class. It connotes intelligence and success. Could these be the reasons for the craze?
It is a product of colonial thinking and I say this with all sense of modesty. English cannot be said to be a language of power. It depends on what you make of it. When Napoleon conquered England, they imposed French values over England and that is why you have common law. Before then, there were no languages and cultures that were common in England.
The Anglo-Saxons had different nationalities, cultures and languages. In French colonies, you have people that have been assimilated by the French and speak the French Language. So if I make my language a language of conquest to those who are under me, my language becomes superior to them and that is exactly what the British did. They did not only colonise our minds and languages, but also our thinking.
Today, we cannot think straight but have to think like the English. Today, I challenge you to think in your language before you think in English Language and you will see that your thought process will be different. But because you think in English Language, if I speak to you, you have to process it in English before you can connect it to your mother tongue. Even though we are politically independent, we are not mentally independent because our thinking has been subsumed by that particular attitude.
Will the study of history break us from this shackle?
Not just the teaching of history; there should be a deliberate attempt to break away from these claws of imperialism by breaking and bringing up the importance of our cultural values. There is a lot of disconnect in the society today. We go through a lot of cultural vices because our cultural structure is broken. We are living with borrowed ideologies and this is not good for us. This is why corruption has sunk deep into our system. When I say corruption, I don’t mean it in just the narrow sense of the word, but broadly.
What impact is the training going to have on the larger society?
The impact of this training is to help children understand who they truly are; bring out their creativity and protect, as well as project their cultural values. When I was growing up, I could not go out and come back with something I did not take out. My parents will ask me where I got it from. So we need to institutionalise our cultural values in our children and make them replicate the kind of games we play and make them understand that these are the kind of things that should be added to their lives.
How do you achieve this?
By giving the children assignments they cannot do on their own without the help of their parents. The parents tell them stories with African flavours, which are different from the Cinderella stories and so they do the assignments together. We have heard testimonies of parents saying that this programme is bringing them closer to their children. The programme makes the children wake up and sit to tell them stories and that far, we are getting somewhere.