By Ousman Jassey
As a child growing, I had attended many cultural events of almost all the tribal groups in The Gambia. I had seen how love, peace and understanding spread amongst people at these events. I missed those good old days. Now as the Gambians emerged from their Darkest Ages in history, what can we do culturally to promote individual, communal, societal and national healing and reconciliation from the traumas and terrors we faced in the last two decades of Devil Jammeh’s rule?
The academicians define culture as “the shared values, traditions, norms, customs, arts, history, folklore, and institutions of a group of people.”
So, with this definition, why should we even be concerned about culture with regard to national reconciliation and healing?
Well, it is a general belief amongst social scientists that understanding culture helps people to understand how others interpret their environment. It has been known that culture shapes how people see their world and how they function within that world. Culture shapes personal and group values and attitudes, including perceptions about what works and what does not work, what is helpful and what is not, what makes sense and what does not.
So, with this understanding of culture and with participation of different cultural group musical bands in recent one year celebrations of uprooting dictatorship in The Gambia, is it possible by organizing cultural events and Sharing Culture can facilitate healing and reconciliation amongst tribal groups of their traumas due to last two decades of horrors under Devil Jammeh’s rule? In this article, I will look at points that culture plays in the healing process.
‘Historically, as I mentioned in my preamble above, organizing cultural events and Sharing Culture amongst us will help Gambians’ battered and traumatized societies and communities, to heal from two decades of traumatization and its consequences under Devil Jammeh’s rule, e.g. mental health problems, suspicion amongst us and tribal hatred. These cultural events induced healing and reconciliation processes will be based on the core values of authenticity, connection, courage, creativity, empathy and forgiveness and professional mental counseling. The government and society must make sure that healing starts with individuals and families, then extends to community and societal levels, then it will have effect on citizens.
There are many ways how culture can facilitate healing and reconciliation in The Gambia because of the cultural consciousness of the Gambians, the approach is based on principles that facilitate healing and reconciliation. The following steps might help when consider:
1. The human rights of tribal groups must be recognized and respected
Cultural events and sharing cultures should emphasize the recognition of, and respect for, the human rights of all the tribal groups, which is fundamental to improving their health and wellbeing. The government and society must ensure that each tribal group has full and effective participation in decisions that directly or indirectly affect its members’ lives.
The members’ wellbeing is tied to their collective rights, such as rights to land and cultural practices, and maintenance and application of traditional knowledge. Self-determination is the key foundation of individual and communal healing and reconciliation. So allowing each tribal group to have self determination of their problems within the context of national law will be effective national healing and reconciliation processes.
2. Help people understand the nature of their problems
The government and society must understand how tribal conflicts and problems have arisen in order for them to facilitate healing and reconciliation, then they should educate Gambians on that and its prevention in future. This is because such a profound tribal conflicts is rarely known in The Gambia before the advent of the Dark Ages (1995-2017).
Sharing cultural events will show how social and political traumas happened and what consequences they have on people. Also how did they arise from the policies of totalitarian government of Yahya Jammeh? It will also show how it negatively impacted Gambians’ wellbeing and their centuries old peaceful coexistence and social integration. These political traumas are exacerbated by ongoing social and economic disadvantages affecting people, tribalism and political intolerance seeded in our nation by Devil Jammeh.
Learning traumatic events from tribalistic perspective, its impact and consequences, will help people understand why they have problems which is still affecting their societal integration. It will help them deal with issues still affecting them and also any factors that impact negatively on their social and emotional wellbeing.
3. Focus on solutions, strengths, positive narratives and celebrating success
Whilst sharing cultural events will highlight the nature of the problems, it will also focus on finding solutions. The government and the society should also focus on the strengths and assets of each tribal group, rather than their weaknesses and deficits (as much of how society does today).
Each group should be given opportunity to create positive narratives about the groups people and their experiences under Yahya Jammeh, in order to counter the disempowering negative narratives and paternalistic actions of governments and wider society. The society should empathize with them and help with their plans in order to facilitate healing and national reintegrations and forgiveness.
4. Healing trauma
Sharing Cultural events should emphasize the necessity of healing trauma and its consequences directly with actions and commitments, rather than managing its symptoms with only talking by saying “Al-sabarree”; (local language known as forgiveness), as it is generally the policy of Gambian society. Mere talking does not heal traumas – it generally causes more social issues and unanswered questions and dis-empowers the people further.
Sharing cultural events will help the society to utilize its knowledge – from both each tribal group perspective and government perspective. This will help people to heal and reconcile from traumas of tribal conflicts the nation is facing currently and its consequences. The government should involve professionals and experts who will not only show but also outlines what traumas from tribal conflicts cause at a biological, psychological and social level, and demonstrate how these changes of toxic attitudes, behaviors and thinking from reconciliation and healing can reverse that.
5. Empowerment and connection amongst tribes
Sharing culture events will create a powerful voice of healing (amongst tribal groups) that empowers and connects people. Empowerment and connection are the foundation of healing and reconciliation from any forms of political and social traumas and their consequences.
The government and society should empower people to heal by giving them hope (that healing is possible), understanding (of how healing can be achieved) and a sense of belongingness.
The aim should be to connect people to safe and empathic environments, where they feel accepted and supported, learn how to improve their social health and wellbeing, and gain a positive identity. They should also provide platforms where all the tribal groups become reconnected to each other and reintegrate their cultures, open their homes and lands for their neighbors as it was before the arrival of Dark Ages in 1994. The government and society should also create platforms where the tribal groups share their individual spirituality, family beliefs, community experiences and historical events that occurred during Dark Ages, as these are keys to national healings and reconciliation.
6. Tell healing stories
As the people heal from social and political traumas and its consequences, they should have platforms where they will be free and safe showing their necessary coping mechanisms, skills and knowledge, to rise above adversity. Their personal narratives will be of considerable value, since it will inspire other people and help them understand how they too can overcome their interpersonal and intertribal problems and then, The Gambia ]will be at peace with itself.
As it is widely accepted that people in the early stages of healing identify with and trust the experiences of someone who is further along in their journey. This is true because who better to help us with our problems than someone who has ‘been there’?
Storytelling is a cultural healing ritual amongst Gambians of all tribal groups for centuries. As many of us will remember growing up as a child, we surround our grandmothers at bedtime to listen tails of folklore. All of those stories have moral implications. To simply put it, they tell us “if one does good, then good follows you and if one does bad then bad follows you”.
Such cultural practice helps us to safeguard our peace and harmony for centuries before the arrival of Dark Ages in 1994. It also helps with healing and reconciliation process of the members of communities and tribal groups. As a result, in a culturally safe environment (e.g. healing circle), allowing individual tribal people to share experiences by telling their Story (which is often a trauma Story), help each other come to terms with the emotional pain caused by what has happened to them in their past, and make sense of their personal story in relationship to the collective communal Story. Allowing this process, tribal groups can work through multiple levels of loss and grief and this will bring peaceful emotional feelings and allow forgiveness and acceptance of each other.
8. Facilitate self-healing and self-care
It is important to know that healing, forgiveness and reconciliation come from the heart of a person and not from treatment centers or a professionals. Therefore, organizing cultural events will make different tribal groups to develop self-awareness, self-regulation, self-expression and self-care skills to facilitate their journey to wellness and reconciliation.
Organizing and Sharing Cultural events can be educational resources that facilitate these processes and help people deal with shame and negative thinking; learn about mindfulness, self-compassion and forgiveness; and develop resilience. It will help national tribal groups understand the nature of society’s treatment and support systems, and how they can navigate their way around these systems.
9. Highlight tribal worldview and tribal healing initiatives
Organizing and sharing cultural events will highlight the holistic view of the tribal groups health that incorporates the physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, social and environmental after 22 years of tyrannical rule of Devil Mansa. The tribalistic worldview of their individual wellbeing is far richer than national view of their mental health after facing two decades of brutalities.
Organizing these events, will also help to successfully establish tribal healing initiatives so that the approaches they use are more widely adopted by the group members with support of other tribal groups. This will help people understand traditional healing approaches, tribal spirituality, and the importance of connections to culture and land.
10. Create cultural pride and cultural connectedness
Organizing cultural healing and reconciliation via cultural events and Sharing Culture will create cultural pride amongst tribal groups in order to facilitate cultural connectedness, which in turn enhances wellbeing and facilitates healing and reconciliation. At these events, each tribe should be allowed to celebrate their culture with artistic works in relation to their beliefs, cultural music, ceremonies, dances, foods, language, stories and spirituality without any feeling of inferiority in comparison to other tribal group cultures. All these will help with reconciliation and societal reintegration.
Such actions will not only facilitate cultural connectedness, but also enhance understanding of different tribal culture and feelings in wider society after The Gambia’s Dark Ages (1994-2017).
11. Whole community healing
The aim of this cultural tribal events and Sharing culture will be to advocate for the concept of “Healing Forest” approach, a tradition practice by Native American Indigenous people. This traditional concept is similar to Community Spiritual Prayers in some Gambian tribal communities. The concept emphasizes the importance of actively healing of the whole community and its institutions at the same time that individuals work on their own healing, forgiveness and reconciliation.
What is the point of people learning to overcome their problems in a government or association organized controlled events which only imposed theoretical concepts of academicians style of healing and reconciliation processes? After these events, the people will then return to their ‘sick’ environment/communities in which their problem initially developed and the clouds still hanging there. However, if the tribal groups organize their own healing and reconciliation events, this will help them to have effective soul and mind cleansing through spiritual connections and the true healing and reconciliation will take place.
These events will help peoples to work together to create safe healing and reconciliation environments for all. The intention will be to enhance understanding of national societal healing and reconciliation across wider society, including in education, health, social care and criminal justice settings (which was weaponized and used by Devil Mansa to oppress people). Also create advocacy campaigns to catalyze grassroots activity and create change of negative mentality at societal level.
12. Create networks of hope and healing – and create historical (or intergenerational) healing and reconciliation
The events will help in spreading healing messages in innovative ways and harnessing the considerable latent energy that exists at grassroots levels. The events will also create a ripple effect of hope, healing and reconciliation and eventually, both healing and reconciliation will become positively contagious, as has happened with other social events such as pride of celebrating national Independence Day.
The events will bring peace, social reintegration, love and understanding and eliminate beliefs that spread suspicion and tribal conflicts. This will pass on to generation to generation of the Gambians. This will taught all Gambians that, as traumas had crossed generations, healing can do the same.