Acculturation of indigenous Gambian cultures by western and foreign cultures


By Ousman Jassey

Few weeks ago there was ‘atomic bomb explosion’ on social media among The Gambia communities across the globe about the behaviors of few students and punishment they received from the school authorities. The online social media users were divided in two camps. The supporters of the school authorities and critics of the punishment meted out to the students. This issue made me to write this article about foreign influences on Gambian cultures, moral behaviors and consciousness of the Gambian youths.

What is culture?
Culture is the totality of learned, socially transmitted customs, knowledge, material objects and behaviour. It includes the ideas, value, customs and artifacts of a group of people. Culture is a pattern of human activities and the symbols that give these activities significance. It is what people eat, how they dress, beliefs they hold and activities they engage in. It is the totality of the way of life evolved by a people in their attempts to meet the challenges of living in their environment, which gives order and meaning to their social, political, economic, aesthetic and religious norms and modes of organization thus distinguishing people from their neighbors.


These cultural features are passed on laterally or inherited from one generation to another (cultural heritage), or horizontally passed on from one society to another through such agent as globalization. The word globalization here is very significant because it is through globalization that there are emergence of new cultural identities by modern generations and also causing the destruction of traditional cultural heritage. Many social scientists see globalization as the increased interconnectedness and interdependence of different societies around the world. Globalization is the breaking down of national boundaries because of advances in communications, trade and travel.

The process of expanding culture has been under way for many centuries, but technologies have increased the speed and have also broadened the distribution of different cultural elements beyond communities and nations’ territorial frontiers and at the same time, this fast expansion of cultural beliefs and identity becomes a virulent threat to many indigenous cultures in The Gambia. Which is exacerbated by poverty and greed.
Historically, culture can be transmitted or acquired through information or symbol but in this modern times, the paradigm is shifting with the new opportunities such as technology and information system revolutions and challenges created by them.

Now, what are the: Issues, Impacts, and Emerging challenges that is causing cultural genocide in The Gambia?
Issues the indigenous Gambian cultures are facing
Colonial Legacy
One of the greatest issues is that The Gambia is a heterogeneous society. Before colonialism, the territory known as Senegambia today was inhabited by different peoples, empires, tribes and kingdoms. These peoples have different cultures, traditions and religion. The colonialists did not consider these divergent issues, but went ahead and welded them together as one country and furthermore re-divided them into two different countries with each carrying a new identity base on former colonial masters’ philosophies, languages, legal system, educational systems and type of governing. So when we talk or plan for globalization of the heritage it is pertinent to start at home/domestic level before internationalization (i.e. cultural nationalization of different tribal groups before cultural globalization).

Cultural Diversity
The Gambia is a society with abundant rich cultural heritage that are scattered within the diverse tribal groups. These cultural heritages include language, marriage rites, burial rites, birth rites, dressing, greeting, music, folklore, religion, and other tangible cultural monuments, natural sites and cultural landscapes. Some of these cultures have died due to firstly; influence of larger tribal groups over smaller ones and the tribe fortunate to control national wealth uses it to advance its cultural identity over the poorer tribes. Secondly; western and other foreign cultural influence causes a great acculturation by slowly and systematically eliminating indigenous cultures. Therefore; in order for the indigenous cultures to be viable and remain significant, they needed to be revitalized and uploaded in the worldwide information superhighway.

Environment of Cultural Globalization
The pertinent question in this area is, how adequate are the The Gambian society, tribal groups, the Gambian government, religious leaders and groups, educators and civic leaders were ready for the onslaught of globalization and technological revolution on the Gambian indigenous cultures? The truth is we the Gambians are not well prepared. Our focus have been economic and educational developments without thoroughly thinking of the other consequences of foreign investments and integration into our society and local communities. In this modern technological environment and international integration, there were no educational institutions or governmental departments in The Gambia that has enough resources in terms of technologies and manpower for the globalization of The Gambian cultures as a mean to halting the onslaught of foreign cultures on the indigenous cultures. For that to happen, the country needs steady power supply, computer literate society and cultural websites with strong and viable economy and financial resources and unfortunately, none of these exist in The Gambia.

Globalization of cultural heritage has some negative impacts in some areas. Akande (2002) seems to understand more of this negative impact when he said that western adventures made efforts to undermine the cultural heritage of various peoples around the world through colonization, imperialism and now globalization. He said that cultural imperialism left the colonized in a state of cultural disorientation which is vulnerable to cultural invasion.

Commercialization of Culture
The most important far reaching effect of cultural globalization is the commercialization of culture. Production, distribution and consumption of foreign cultural goods and services have become commodities along with the essentials of life. Music, food, clothes, fashion, art, sports images, etc are now been imported and sold in the local markets in The Gambia. This has a great influence on our way of dressing, behaviors and even eating and social gatherings. It slowly eliminating the indigenous cultures of the Gambians.

Commercialization of culture has a disturbing impact on the people of The Gambia. For example, what was once an element of The Gambia’s cultural way of life has become a product, rather than something unique which they have made to suit their specific needs and circumstances. The Gambian markets are increasingly bombarded with new images, new music, new clothes and new values. The impact is that the familiar and the old artifacts, cultural items and way of life are being discarded. The fact is that these material products, way of life and values will be lost forever simply because they are not valued by the Gambian consumers. That made us enemies of our own and contributed to acculturation by globalization. This undermining of the peoples existing values and cultures has a corrosive impact on the sense of who we are, what we want and what we respect. The cumulative effect is a crisis of cultural confidence, combined with economic uncertainty and crime which global integration often brings.

Information Technologies and Mass Media (e.g. Social Media Apps): The advent of technological revolution has brought a new era of information consumption of local people of The Gambia. These technological advancements have made globalization of the world population so easy and it has brought the foreign cultures, folklore and heritage of western countries into our doorsteps causing cultural genocide of the indigenous Gambian cultures.

Our Gambian cultures with all their embodiments are being incessantly polluted and westernized by the mass media especially social media, which have rather resorted to Eurocentric prejudicing
journalism/broadcasting, like the western scholars/artists of such rendition. The mass media’s cultural genocide on The Gambian cultures comes as a product of pornographic films or programs on television and pictures in newspapers, magazines and social media. Once upon a time, it was an abomination for Gambian females to appear in public in jeans or trousers generally or Gambian boys to lower their pants showing their buttocks, a dressing style known as “utal”. Nowadays, females do not only appear in jeans trousers but do so sensationally by leaving bare the most sensitive parts of their bodies whilst boys doing “utal” with dreadlocks hanging on their heads. Our institutions and beaches (designated tourists development areas) are among common places where these unfortunate uncultured acts of immodesty are mostly practiced.

The truth is when one takes a global look at the communication channels operating in The Gambia today, there seems to be a successful imposition of alien values, alien faith and alien psychology on our culture. Why should this be so? On radio and television and in the press, both privately owned and public owned, we are devoting space and airtime to foreign “non-creative works” which is a curious misapplication of valuable communication resource to my opinion.

Furthermore, the over promotion of foreign cultures in The Gambia have not only relegated, raped and underdeveloped our indigenous cultures, many Gambians’, especially the youths’, interest in their God-given heritage– culture– has been forcefully and abruptly killed. Western and other foreign cultures mimicry have become the order of the day. For a show-off, most Gambians elitist and common parents alike now resort to allowing their children to perform non-Gambian traditional behaviors such as “Freak dancing or pasa passa”, a behavior that caused anger among some Gambians social media users. This passive attitudes of parenting is not only dangerous but leaving the kids and adolescents with no cultural identity. Interestingly, in The Gambia nowadays, anything indigenous is old-school, barbaric, archaic and local and so on.

It is now common to see a Gambian in suit in a hot day on the street. They imitate this without realizing that most Whites go in suit and regalia because of their cold freezing environments. Also to be fair even other African countries cultures like Nigerian, are polluting Gambian cultures. Example, Gambian women now abandoned Gambian traditional way of tying their headscarf and adopted Nigerian way. Like one influential Gambian lady told me Gambia traditional way of women tying their headscarf is “old, ancient and too local”.
One of the most important things many of the young Gambians failed to understand is a culturally aware person has won more than half of his or her battle for liberation. Freedom is meaningless without cultural foundation as its springboard. Any people or societies who neglected or compromised their culture will sink into oblivion. Depend on others and do things of their point of view and you are finished because you are an imitator, a cipher, and nothing worthy can emerge from within your being.