Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

What Kind of Village?

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

What Kind of Village?

Article excerpt

The African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child," sparks lively discussion. Some promote it as a philosophical ideal. Others appear to reject it. The proverb has recently become a political football and is kicked back and forth between candidates and parties. Conflicting interpretations as to what constitutes a village abound. For some, a village represents a neighborhood or a small town; for others, it represents the ultimate - that is, the federal government.

As one who lived in European and Arab cultures, I find it almost amusing that a proverb from a continent of developing nations has gained such notoriety in an industrial and technological society such as the United States. Furthermore, where did the proverb truly originate? Africa is a continent encompassing a multitude of nations and cultures. Westerners err seriously in considering Africa as a monolithic culture or country.

Rarely recognized is the fact that Africa is both white and black. North of the Sahara is considered white Africa and south of the Sahara is notably recognized as black Africa. In North Africa alone, despite the fact that the various countries are fundamentally Muslim, cultures vary widely due to the varying original, indigenous inhabitants - for example, Kabyles and Berbers, occupying the territory before the Arab invasions in A.D. 600 and A.D. 700. Wouldn't we all like to know where exactly the village mentioned in the proverb is located? Knowing the source could enable us to understand better the religious-political-cultural implications and whether the ideal is workable in our diverse, modern culture. In April of this year, Fauziya Kasinga, a teen-ager from Togo, a West African country, became front-page news. Kasinga was seeking asylum in the United States to avoid the tribal rite of female genital mutilation and an arranged marriage as the fourth wife of a man three times her age. Her need for asylum related directly to pressure from the village of origin. If she returned to her country, tribe and village, she would be forced to submit to genital mutilation - a widespread practice in 26 African nations. Could the proverb have originated in a village in one of these nations? In the small country of Togo alone, there are 21 major and many minor ethnic groups. The World Health Organization estimates that 85 million to 114 million girls and women have been mutilated. Second thoughts about the village raising the child are warranted. Certainly in the case of this teen-ager and many others like her, the village does not appear to be a good friend. The question arises whether her parents, and her mother in particular, just might have the child's best interests more at heart than the village, including a shaman or witch doctor in this case? While studying Arabic and living in Tunis, Tunisia (North Africa), I learned a popular Arab proverb: "They that have them have to raise them. …

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