Cultural Perceptions of Time Term Paper

Pages: 15 (6951 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 0  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature - African

The regional or ethnic subsets I will examine are: the Bantu-Kongo of modern Nigeria, the Nguni Zulus of modern South Africa, and the Akan of central and southern modern Ghana and parts of the adjoining eastern modern Cote d'Ivoire,. Additionally I will discuss other regional affiliations of Africa based on the importance of the issue the history of the particular culture gives testament to.

The Bantu-Kongo region is defined as: "Kongo" refers to a cultural, linguistic, and historical group of people that is descended from a larger body of Bantuspeaking communities who migrated south from the Benue-Cross river region of present-day Nigeria into the equatorial forest of West Central Africa and beyond." (Fu-kiau 1994, 17)

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The three factors to be analyzed as foundational to the change in definition of cultural time perception, labor changes, relocation, and changes in family or regional loyalty are especially interesting here, as this region was already comprised of people who have undergone relocation. This relocation was ancient, gradual and serves as a cultural aspect fundamental to the identity of the region. Another distinction particular to the Kongo is the level of knowledge about the region that predates European colonialization. The evidence clearly suggests that not only was there a rich history in this very successful region but that this history outshines that of western civilization during the correlating timeline. Evidence of recent history makes clear that though the Kongo was one of the most successful of the Bantu nations its decline was rapid and directly correlates to the interjection of colonial Europeans. As early as 1960 European colonial government began to acknowledge the existence of a rich cultural heritage existing long before colonial rule, yet it is of interest that much of the archeological work done regionally was at the site of colonial entrepreneurial When they were mining tin they began to uncover so much artifact that its further analysis could not be neglected.

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Surveyor of Antiquities was appointed in 1943 and has since made excavations at Ife in the Western Region and in Southern Zaria and areas on and near the Jos Plateau in the north where tin-mining operations have revealed valuable material. From the former site have come important finds in bronze and terracotta which display very considerable artistic achievement. In the north the material provides evidence of a culture which flourished some 2,000 years ago and which was probably associated with the working of iron.

1960, 27)

Regardless of acknowledgement by Europeans of rich and ancient African History it is clear that just such a history does exist. The perception of time as associated with ideas of progress based on wealth thought to be a European phenomenon. The truth is that this may only be true in a sense of capitalism. Just as there are fluctuations in economy in a capitalist society there are also fluctuations of wealth in any non-industrialized society. It is clear from the representations of time in the history of an oral tradition that the expectation of fluctuation is based more on the results of the natural rhythm of nature, in other words natural occurrences like the seasons, weather, unusual occurrences like a drought or even an eclipse the recognition of success as an issue of wealth is universal. In a non-industrial society wealth might be judged by the level of one's hunger or lack there of while in another it would be determined by the numbers that dictate economic health or lack there of.

In the Bantu-Kongo region it can be said that the culture and economy began a rapid decline as exposure to European colonialism began. The rapidity at which changes were assimilated in regards to relocation, a normally gradual or seasonal issue deteriorated the familial and location loyalties that would lie at the heart of a strong non-industrial culture. The rapid decline of the Kongo state can be clearly associated with European colonialism but the idea of permanent relocation the worst of which was the slave relocation to one of the other colonial nations, was a deteriorating factor that can be seen to be linked directly with the creation of a labor force.

Though not always as extreme as a the permanent relocation of a slave the expectations of wage labor relocation as permanent removed the gradual nature of migration from the family and location even in a cultural situation where migration was a dynamic of nearly all memorable history, which in the oral tradition was vast.

It has been mentioned previously, as a universal example of the forces of labor changes that South Africa's labor history follows the pattern of the degradation of cultural dynamics. Atkins quoted above in footnotes makes it clear that there is both little prior knowledge of that which came to South Africa before the Europeans and the fact that though the South African's were willing to engage in wage labor the results of the attempt at uniformity between the European work standard and the culture of the South African people clashed mightily and resulted in opinions and prejudices that continued to haunt the labor relations between blacks and whites in south Africa and the rest of western civilization almost to the end of Apartheid and possibly beyond. (footnotes 8-9)

Time was at the nexus of the "Kafir labor problem." No sooner was a work agreement made than confusion arose from the disparate notions of the white employer and his African employee regarding the computation of time. Otherwise said, the record of persistent desertions from service was in very many instances related to the fact that the terms of master-servant contracts, which were based on European units of measure, did not accord with the African mode of temporal reckoning.

(Atkins 1994, 123)

Like most other non-industrial societies the Zulu used a lunar calendar and also had a subsystem of holidays that beseeched the European settlers who relied on them for labor. It is particularly evident that these sorts of differing ideals about time negatively effected the growth of the sugar industry, one of the largest cash crops available to the South African European colonist. The workday length of the Zulu was dictated by sunrise and sunset for two reasons one being a belief in the need to rise after the dew has burned off the grass, a preventative for disease and two the belief in evil spirits that would attack anyone outside at night. During the intense labor period of sugar cane production continuous industry was required to complete the task with any great success.

It is generally known that the Kafir looks to the sun's course to regulate his hours of labour; that "puma langa" with him, commences about an hour after sunrise, and that "shuna langa" begins with the same time before sunset. It is difficult either to induce or compel him to work either before or after those periods of the day, which have received his arbitrary definition of sunrise and sunset.

Atkins1994, 129)

These conflicts in the ideas of workday length, lunar calendar, holiday work stoppage, translation differences between seasonal concepts like years constituted an almost insurmountable barrier between the colonists and the labor force. The only solution was a very precarious balancing act based on complex and careful communication between the native and the colonist, on occasion there was a successful exchange and on other occasions a worker would leave their employment six months prior to the time the colonist assumed they would be leaving. When communication broke down to an extreme there may have actually been conscription and forced labor practices or piece work (by the completion of the job) hiring rather than length of time hiring.

The South African Nguni Zulu seem to have been fairly adaptive to the idea of wage labor and the migratory changes that it caused. They attempted to maintain the standards of their culture that enforced family and home, returning with each seasonal work stoppage and maintaining the dictates of their representational ideas of calendar and the like. It would seem for a longer period of time they were living lives closer to their nature but in later years and due to natural disasters and tyrannical colonial representatives the Nguni endured the forced urbanization brought about by industrial, natural and political changes and the eventual establishment of the Apartheid system that subjugated the black proletariat majority until recent times. This eventual demise resulted in permanent fatality to pre-colonial cultural identity, and familial, location loyalties.

The Akan people have an expressly different sense of time and the documentation provides proof that the Akan recognize a multiple time structures and calendrical system. Though Adjaye notes that there has been detailed evidence and technological ability to analyze this complicated system the only studies that have done so are those that study the system from the perspective of how it fits into a… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Cultural Perceptions of Time.  (2002, November 17).  Retrieved February 28, 2021, from

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"Cultural Perceptions of Time."  17 November 2002.  Web.  28 February 2021. <>.

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"Cultural Perceptions of Time."  November 17, 2002.  Accessed February 28, 2021.