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The Culture Tree

Updated: Sep 26, 2021

My Dear Africana Woman,

This week has been an emotional roller coaster. First of all Happy Africa Freedom Day. What did you get up to? Let me know in the comments. To all my African sisters who live in the US and/or identify as American too, I stand with you as you mourn the injustices perpetuated against black people especially black men. I acknowledge Mr. George Floyd for a life well lived but snuffed senselessly. I would like to speak more on race relations but not today. I am doing a little research to make sure my information is sound.

Today we will speak about this illusive word Culture. What is it exactly and what does it mean to you? I have had the great honour of speaking to a number of African women across the world from New Jersey to Manchester to South Africa to Thailand and Australia to name but a few. What struck me most was how diverse the definition of culture was for each woman. Not one was the same and yet we say we have an African Culture. Can you define it distinctly?

You may have heard of the iceberg analogy of Culture. You know, how you can only see the tip of the iceberg or in this case culture, but below the surface there is much more to the culture. We do not have icebergs in Africa so I struggled with this analogy. I think it is important to use things people can easily relate to. It's like teaching African children the alphabet using words of foreign objects like apple when the child has never seen or tasted one. Therefore, I settled on the Culture Tree.

The Culture Tree is a tool illustrated by Aliza Maynard, that depicts culture as having different levels of visibility and depth. Essentially the parts of a tree that are above ground are the visible things that are easily identifiable as someone's culture. Things like food, music, arts, religion & rituals, dance and clothes to name a few. Then you have the trunk of the tree which is partially submerged and refers to unspoken rules in a culture. This is inclusive of but not limited to personal space, eye contact, theories of wellness and disease and child rearing principles. Finally you have the parts of the tree that are not seen and yet often forgotten and under appreciated. As you guessed these are the roots. The illustration describes the roots as the collective unconscious, or our beliefs and norms. This includes the concept of self, spirituality & concept of a higher power, cosmology, definitions of kinship and group identity.

You may have seen me say this before; KNOW your Roots, Grow your Purpose. I will begin to explain why I say this. Roots have three main functions; 1. To anchor the tree and provide support 2. Absorption of water and nutrients 3. Storage of food and nutrients. Relate these functions back to your life. I certainly think it is beneficial for you to have roots that keep you anchored and supported. The roots basically enable fruits to be produced. However, imagine if your roots are absorbing nutrients from poisoned and dry soil. This would not be a conducive environment to thrive in. Therefore, it is very important to be mindful of what is influencing your roots. Finally your beliefs and norms are the collective storehouse of wisdom and knowledge that is meant to be passed down to generations or tapped into as a reference point when looking for a solution in your daily lives. The roots are the main focus of what we speak about on this platform. I know there are a ton of blogs, influencers and podcasters that talk about the fun surface level parts of our culture from fashion, food, music etc which are all great. But at the Africana Woman blog we dig deeper to uncover the roots and really get to the bottom of who we are.

The mere fact that the roots are called the unconscious collective is scary because our unconscious makes us behave in certain ways without us even realizing what we are doing. I also firmly believe that exploitative systems like colonialism, missionaries and slavery became the proverbial poisonous soil for our roots. For example a new higher power was introduced to us and our norms and beliefs were brandished as not only wrong but evil. When you are under attack at the level of your roots but you do not talk about it, the trauma and abuse caused by the poison does not get healed. Instead it distorts the culture and is passed on to unsuspecting generations as the essence of the culture.

Baring in mind that a tree goes through different seasons and is exposed to different environments, to which it adapts. This would imply that culture can adapt with the times, but the roots maintain its essence. I hope we are still together. As I alluded to earlier, we Africans have some work to do. Over the years we were distanced from our roots and this has left us not knowing who we are. We have no pride or confidence in our own capabilities and fruits, so we continually believe better is always foreign. We continue to educate our children in a way that served our colonial masters, which makes it easy for a certain red country to step in and take over from where our oppressors left off, and we are okay with it. I guess most importantly, we have believed the lie that conformity is the one and only true way to live. Yet centuries have proven that many a great nation thrived on diversity.

I know some of you are saying listen, I am not about to start worshiping whatever ancestral gods there were. I get it, you practice a certain religion. But may I challenge you by asking whether your spirituality is in a personal relationship with your higher power? Have you actually read the holy text for yourself or are you relying on a flawed mans interpretation of the text. I will give an example of the Christian bible, in the book of Proverbs there are 3 versus that talk about disciplining your child. And I kept saying to myself why is the word of God promoting beating children. Listen, it says discipline. As an adult who works if you fall out of line, your employer will follow disciplinary measures; this can be a verbal warning, warning letters or even termination. No one is chasing you with a stick and yet you feel the gravitas of the discipline and behave accordingly thereafter. So who is it that decided that disciplining a child involved violence? Even the illustrations in the Bible show a child being beaten. Don't be fooled Discipline does NOT equate violence. That is a man made lie. Sadly I was programmed to believe that. Even when I read it multiple times I believed the Bible said beat your children, not discipline your children. For me this revelation only came by being in the Spirit. So if you are practicing a surface level religion that consists of rituals and ceremonies but have not tapped into your spirituality, you are still disconnected from your roots.

KNOW your Roots, Grow your Purpose. I will expand on the acronym KNOW in the following weeks. But I wanted for us to first be on the same page about culture at the level of our roots and its importance. Let me know what you think in the comments. If this is your first time here please subscribe. Also share this with someone you think this will bless. Africana Woman has a blog, podcast and community. Feel free to take a look around. You can also find me @Chulu_byDesign. Y'all know, my desire for you is that you love yourself, flaws n all, and attract the life that you deserve. Have a lovely week.

Kiss kiss, mwuah mwuah


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2 commentaires

Beautiful article , it is so important for us to go back to our roots and take pride in who we are and up hold the values that kept us together. We also need to establish traditions for our children that will create a sense of belonging.


I absolutely love this article! From the words you spoke to the photos; this is absolutely amazing. Thank you for sharing you with the world!

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