The Oxford Dictionary defines culture as ‘the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society’ (Oxford University Press, 2017); and indeed, for me, culture has always been synonymous of identity, because the latter is a product of the former.
As a Ghanaian woman influenced deeply by an European upbringing, my cultural identity stems from the knowledge I have gained through my parents, and the information I have acquired through formal education.
My familiarity with Ghanaian heritage came through my parent’s social behaviour and performances. From the way they speak to me – in Twi and Fante – to how they dress and encourage me to dress – in traditional attire – to the way I conduct myself in our home and in public. I experience a culture very distinct to the place of my birth, the birth of my parents, and that of my ancestors – Ghana.
In our home we practiced Christianity, which was introduced to me, from the day of my baptism when I was a toddler. My Christian faith and my culture have constantly informed each other equally. As I grew up in a Roman Catholic community that had both ‘White’ church and ‘Black’ church, I always wondered why my school friends could go to their church service in turtleneck and a pair of trousers, while I had to attend church in ‘Sunday’s Best’ made of tailored Ghanaian attire. I wasn’t aware that it was an effect of culture. This was a visible manifestation. I wonder how many intangible manifestations I have yet to understand and recognise.
Presently, there are people abandoning Christianity to embrace indigenous forms of faith. I often wondered why people who have been Christians make an explicit decision to embrace a different faith. Through the small research I conducted, I sensed that people of African descent, of first generation as well as in the diaspora, require a cultural element to their faith. An issue I resonated with is what I called ‘the packaging of Christianity’: The imagery and iconography of Christianity has been a White (or European) appropriation of the figures of the Bible, thus Jesus, a native of the Middle East, is often depicted with blue eyes and blonde hair. Secondly, Christianity historically developed and was forged among African people, and the African Diaspora, while the African person was held in contempt, within both the context of missionary societies, as well as during the enslavement period that took place in the Americas.
This packaging is powerful, and, although people are aware of the historical context, it has an effect on the person that it speaks to. Thus culture, as defined above, and the ideas of self, matter.
My formal education of Christianity started at an age when I did not have full capacity of understanding. But in the last few years, I have made an effort to gain a deeper knowledge of it. Reading the work of Professor Olupona made me reflect on the meaning of religion within a cultural sphere and how this understanding impacts the way we move through society as people of African heritage.
I do believe in a higher power that guides me and ensures my well-being; a power that, through trials and tribulations, gives me a picture of who I can be. I often pray to God, a power that instils in me the ability to manifest love and be a decent person to others and for others. I, however, often wonder if this God is the same one I read about in the Bible.
The Bible has prescriptions that condemn people who do not follow the law and the precepts set forth. I have questions and no answers. As a social being, and as a person who wants the fulfillment of everyone’s idea of self, how do I negotiate a faith that tells me to renounce people I care about because of who they are? As a woman, how do I go about knowing that God created me in his image and equal to man, yet by the law of God the manifestation of my periodic biological flow of blood makes me unclean?