In Chinua Achebe’s seminal Things Fall Apart, the protagonist Okonkwo, obsessed with the necessity to always prove his manhood, kills a young man from another village who had been raised in his home. He had reluctantly followed the advice of an oracle and ignored that of a village elder.
As Okonkwo strikes the death blow, Ikemefuna, who saw Okonkwo as a father, begs for his life but to no avail. Following that heinous act everything starts to go wrong in Okonkwo’s life. During a gun salute at a funeral service for the same village elder Okonkwo’s gun explodes and kills an innocent boy. Okonkwo and his family are exiled for seven years.
On his return Okonkwo finds that his village has been taken over by white colonisers. His previous way of life is no more. He later kills a white messenger sent by the new dispensation to stop a meeting of his native people. Okonkwo gets no assistance from those around him and when the authorities visit to arrest him they find that he has killed himself. It is an inglorious death because Igbos simply do not commit suicide. His demise started with the unnecessary taking of a life and a deviation from tradition.
There are traditions in Barbados which we have cherished for many moons. There are practices and norms that have made Barbadians easily recognizable across the globe. Barbadian children traditionally went to church unfailingly every Sunday. Indeed, Sunday school on mornings was followed by more religious teaching at night.
Religious knowledge was taught in schools. There was no descent into academic babble about “rights to worship” and “rights not to worship” or discourse on the prudence of teaching one religion in preference to another in our schools. Church and religious instruction were part of the Barbadian way.
The passage of a child or teenager through a neighbourhood had to be accompanied with a polite acknowledgement if an adult was encountered. It was taboo for children to show disrespect for an elder on the basis that their kin was at loggerheads with that adult.
Respect for teachers and the authority that parents and guardians instinctively placed in them were such that a child dared not complain at home when legitimate punishment was meted out at school. Such a complaint invariably meant further parental punishment, often within the precincts of the school.
Homes were fortresses where parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles ruled with a loving but iron fist. Profanities were uttered in the presence of adults to one’s detriment. Indeed, simply to whistle in a home was met with a frown and the admonishment that such acts should be reserved for manhood or womanhood.
Those children who would seek to bring coins, toys, books, pens or pencils not bought or brought into the home by an adult had to give proper account for them. Household chores were not done by request; they were accepted as part of breathing.
And Bajans worked. Teachers taught. Policemen policed. Cleaners cleaned. Farmers farmed. Builders built.
Of course, Barbadians of an age past did not live in a utopia. There was crime, there was hardship and there were occurrences that indicated human imperfections.
But just as Okonkwo’s world fell apart after his failure to take wise advice and ignore good traditions, the bottom of the bucket in which much of what Barbadians hold dear seems to have disappeared. We have progressed backwards. We have now improved worse.
Now adults – some unfortunately with children of their own – stand in the precincts of the law courts and cheer accused murderers. Parents, who never saw the necessity to send their offspring to church in keeping with the modern way, curse the system as their sons with blood on their hands and mush for brains smile proudly all the way to prison.
We live in a Barbados where sick leave matches and sometimes outstrips productivity; marshals no longer serve summonses; magistrates and judges function at a rate to occasion widespread ridicule; political and labour agitation has replaced teaching; manners no longer maketh man or woman; and it is politically incorrect to stand one’s ground on the ideal that a wholesome union should be between opposite genders. And on it goes.
We carry out studies and compile statistics to state the obvious. So there were 50 murders last year with 20 guns involved. So what? How does that knowledge stop the 51st murder? How does that statistic prevent the 21st gun from reaching the hands of some smiling fool who can hardly put two legible sentences on a piece of paper? But, he can expertly carve some meaningless teardrop tattoo under his eye.
Where is the blueprint that states that societal progress automatically means the concomitant decline in long established Barbadian standards? Where is the dictum that states that because technology brought the nations of the world into our villages that it necessitated the abandonment of things Barbadian?
Whether we be the descendants of the Igbo, Fulani, Mandingo, Ashanti, or other, we were long snatched from across the seas and implanted with the unique identity of a Barbadian. But we have abandoned much of that and now present and embrace an identity, that, if we are not wary, will simply lead to things falling further apart.