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Preserving heritage as technology and culture impact each other

 Preserving heritage as technology and culture impact each other

Yaw Adu-Gyamfi, is a social entrepreneur and an Asante Historian

Harnessing our cultural heritage for youth empowerment can be enhanced by using technology as an enabler.  The relationship between modern technology and traditional culture has been a great concern of many. Those with a gloomy view states that they are not compatible with each other. However, based on my experiences, technology and traditional culture do not have to repel each other, but rather should co-exist harmoniously. Technology being the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes cannot be at variance with culture and traditions.

The existence of several traditional customs and festivities and practices, explains how people and traditions are great treasures even with the rapid development of technology. Traditions, are the embodiment of a culture which refers to the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, attitudes, hierarchies, notions of time, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations.  For instance, the Asantes celebrate Adae festival to purify stools, thanksgiving, and set agenda for development. The Chinese celebrate spring festival in honor of the legendary victory against the great monster ‘Nian’, and that tradition has lasted several thousand years.

Similarly, Easter is a great memorial for Jesus Christ enjoyed by all Christians for ages ago. Furthermore, plenty of customs are kept instead of wiping out by the development of technology. Take traditional foods, for example, they are widely enjoyed by all cultures on special occasions even there are myriad more tasty foods available for people. Besides, traditional activities such as marathon and tug-of-war still gain significant popularity among people all over the world even though their original purposes had long faded away.

How culture/tradition and technology, impact each other

Therefore, I would like to proceed by analysing culture and traditions with emphasis on how traditional culture is compatible with technology, causing people’s life styles to change from time to time due to the contribution of technology.

Starting with agriculture, Akan farming practices for cocoa are organized around small holder farms, harnessing decades old knowledge and nnoboa system (collective labour deployment for efficiency). The Kuapa Cocoa model which was developed by farmers to ensure that they combine the factors of production, processing and marketing to retain as much of the proceeds for farmers as possible, ensuring that farmers have steady income. The good cocoa season when farmers were in control of all these factors led to a boom which resulted in wealth for farmers visible in eg Kumasi where much of the inner city as it looks now was built individually by farmers.

Currently, the harnessing of technology is ensuring improved seed production and deployment. The cocoa link app for instance empowers farmers with knowledge on the correct application of seeds, education on fertilizer application and pest control through to marketing of the processed beans. Technology in this is being deployed on a cultural and traditional activity of cocoa farming, thereby creating jobs for young application developers.

In business, the apprenticeship, mentorship and incubation models are all traditional and embedded in culture. A young apprentice learns from a ‘mastercraftperson’ on the job, is incubated if he has an idea to pursue even when he has completed his service years to develop until he is able to move out. In most cases when the apprentice turns out to be good, he is supported by the master by offloading clients, rent and funds. This sets the apprentice off to a good start while the master routinely checks in to ensure he is on course.

The big challenge here is, how might technology impact this aspect of culture to the extent that, platforms are created to boost mentor, mentee relations and ensure effective incubation of ideas and funding, thereby scaling the challenge of meeting in person which is synonymous with the traditional system especially in this period of covid-19?

Fashion and mainstream business are influenced largely by culture and traditions. The celebration of the Asante Bonwire Kente festival yearly has had a big boost from digital marketing by Kumasi Social, a digital marketing company based in Kumasi. Thousands of Ghanaians and non-Ghanaians alike are having the opportunity to be part of the celebration through postings and updates on Kumasi Social Media Platforms (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram). The increased coverage is leading to new openings for sale of the traditional cloth harnessing online platforms and expanding access to the philosophical underpinnings of the Kente motifs and their impact on our lives. Even though technology is being infused for marketing and advertising purposes, there needs to be more innovation and technology infusion in the access to the raw materials (silk and cotton) and the weaving process to enhance the finishing and conversion into different fashion styles and items.

More especially, as the COVID-19 pandemic is making it difficult for tourism and sales around the Kente to thrive in Bonwire, Adanwomase, and surrounding areas, there is need to harness technology for virtual showrooms and museums that will make it possible for clients and tourists to check and also learn about the weaving process and history behind the legendary cloth. These virtual platforms can also help enhance sales creating opportunities for online purchases and delivery around the world. Hence, instead of COVID-19 being a damper on the operations of small businesses like those in the Kente industry, it should open up new opportunities with technology as an enabler. Additionally, with acquired technology around effective cotton and yarn production, the industry can secure its raw material in the wake of the closure of borders during pandemics (COVID-19 being an immediate example) leading to increased cost.

Akyeame of the Asantehene(Asante King) who through their staffs carry intricate diplomatic messages symbolizing ancient technology engaging with the present

Empowering young people through culture with technology as an enabler

There are two ways I will highlight as a means for empowering young people with technology as an enabler. For instance, in Asanteman, every town has an identifiable profession. Places like Ahwiaa, Bonwire, Ntonso, etc are noted to produce carvings, patterned cloth, kente, and other ornaments used in cultural expressions. These are all traditional business areas which thrive and with some innovation, young people can have good vocations and jobs. For instance, there is a need to harness indigenous knowledge systems stored in our proverbs, informal economic systems, education among others to re-think the way we do things for ourselves and create an enabling environment for young people to thrive. A student or graduate who is studying chemical engineering for instance should be interested in how the black dye used for decorating the native sandals are made, as well as the Adinkra stamps on cloths. Unfortunately, most of these materials are imported from Europe and China, offering jobs and income to many abroad. With technical knowledge, young people can manufacture these dyes and take over the business, stopping the importation which is currently synonymous with the sector. In the same manner, ‘makers’ and innovators and traditional knowledge-preneurs can work together to improve the weaving process for both efficiency and ease of large quantity production. This is not to side-line the handweaving loom which will still fetch good income for those who are extra conservative.

Furthermore, digitizing and animating indigenous knowledge on life skills, relationship management, agriculture, business, cuisine, leadership, arts, non-verbal communication among others, and mainstreaming across all sectors of our society and to most importantly fix the gaps created by western education, we would make tremendous progress. The digitized content can be made available on technology platforms in text, photos, and videos to educate and empower young people to meaningfully make an impact on society, especially their immediate environment.  

More importantly, we need to also build confidence and awareness in the youth, we can do this by taking advantage of digital platforms to empower the youth;

Technology itself is culture redefined. / Picture Source: techisculture.eu
  1. Through knowledge of their illustrious past of their forebears through accomplishments
  2. Through accountability, transparency, embedded in our indigenous knowledge and lived by our ancestors (eg Asansa fa adeɛ ɔde kyerɛ – to wit, when the eagle holds up something it shows it) – this depicts the need for accountability and transparency.
  3. On the need for collaboration, mentorship, and entrepreneurship which are not strange concepts to our people
  4. through the preservation of our culture, development of content, and shaping the discourse to ensure we build systems for our growth and wealth creation.
  5. About the need to keep our culture and create jobs through cultural tourism with the application of technologies that will make eg museums appealing, fun, educational, among others.

In conclusion, I will say that we have work to do and that we are privileged to have culture as a tool for human, resource and environmental sustainability. Let’s get to work with the vast knowledge available to make the needed change that will impact generations.

By: Yaw Adu-Gyamfi

Social Entrepreneur and an Asante Historian based in Kumasi, Ghana. He can be reached via yagyamfi@gmail.com

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