All daily habits of African people are deeply infused with a culture of peace. The language of peace is found everywhere, in: crafts, songs, dances, proverbs, and prayers. Every community has a “culture of peace” which is cherished as a good way of living.
The Burkinabé historian Joseph Ki-Zerbo said: “African culture is based on peace and on peaceful coexistence. Looking at how African leaders, after liberation wars, have been capable of reconciling with those who dominated, mistreated, crushed, and despised them, the ability of African people to take the standpoint of peace is easily recognizable. Moreover, all daily habits of African people are deeply infused with a culture of peace, from ritual salutations to the way of settling community conflicts. Their manner of speaking and their social behaviour suggest a perpetual appeal to peace with both the universe and one’s own neighbours.”
In African societies, the language of peace is everywhere. It can be found in crafts, songs and dances, proverbs and sayings, fairytales and myths, stories and prayers. African culture is both visual and oral. Through time, Africans have managed to convey messages and communicate human and social values through images, gestures, and words.
Every African ethnic group has a culture of peace that is cherished as a good way of living. In general, the culture of peace is acknowledged through events, as well as material and linguistic symbols representing different forces that are present during the reconciliation process. These forces are called upon directly, or their presence is felt or recognized, during all reconciliatory meetings in one’s lifetime. Five forces recur in different situations and in particular times. The first force is reconciliation with blood relations, the second and third are reconciliation with the spiritual being and the living dead. The fourth is mediation with certain peace-associated elements of nature, while the fifth is respecting the wisdom represented by the elders at the time of reconciliation, just as they are represented at the time of birth, initiation, marriage, and death.
Living in peace
In opposition to the culture of peace is the culture of violence, a culture of disorder and ugliness. The culture of violence is principally recognized as a culture of human suffering, anger, and cruelty and it is in contradiction to the culture of happiness, calmness, and prosperity. The culture of violence is seen as conflicting with the five forces mentioned previously and hence conflicts with the culture of peace. Reconciliation is part of the culture of peace against the culture of violence. It needs to be affirmed repeatedly, so that order is sustained in the community living in peace with the spiritual world, the elders, and with respect to certain elements of nature.
Let’s take as an example an illustration from a Maasai prayer that symbolizes the culture of peace for this particular group of pastors. There is a common Maasai prayer that goes like this:
God we plead with you and pray to you for peace.
Let it be so, oh God.
Bless us all, bless the sections of Maa from Kisongi, Keekonyoki, Kaputie, Matapato, Arusa, from the West, North, East, and South.
Let it be so, oh God.
God give us peace to love and cherish one another, peace for our land, our livestock, our children, and all people.
Let it be so, oh God.
God bless our children, let them be like the olive tree of Morintat, let them grow and expand, let them be like Ngong Hills, like Mt. Kenya, like Mt. Kilimanjaro and multiply in number.
Let it be so, oh God.
What is evident from this traditional prayer is that peace is desired; indeed an appeal for peace is made in the verses. This prayer is often said during the day and at meetings and ceremonies. This is because peace is viewed as a state of good relationships in the community and between groups of people and the environment, as well as with the spiritual being. Metaphors relating to trees and hills are important aspects of the prayer.
During negotiations, such prayers, like the Maasai prayer, are common for the well-being of humans and the environment. God, and the living dead among some communities, are called upon to witness and help in reconciliations among the people. The spiritual being’s anger often results in conflicts in society that may become violent, then blood is shed and humans suffer. This is detrimental for all fighting parties, for it promotes violence. God’s wrath also results in conflicts with the environment, with ensuing drought and famine.
Rituals and negotiations
The groups of pastors in Kenya, like the Maasai, Samburu, Pokot, Turkana, Rendille, Gabra, Somali, and Borana, often say that there is no peace when there is drought. Like in a war, there is human suffering during famines. Sometimes there are wars because the spiritual being, or the ancestral beings, are unhappy with human misbehaviour. The beauty and order of social life are then disrupted.
Rituals and negotiations to maintain the culture of peace are organized with great consideration according to the rhythm of the nomadic calendar. The rituals come from social life cycles denoted by rites of passage, and generations. This ensures that human suffering is avoided at different stages of development and that a culture of peace is maintained at the key points in one’s life. This is close to what many in the Western world know as the reconciliation process.
Reconciliation after conflicts is mainly aimed at reintegrating the parties into the order and discipline of society. When two groups of people have been engaged in disputes that ended in violence, or threats of violence, then reconciliation is sought. It aims at asserting the peace cultures from both conflicting parties. Reconciliation meetings are therefore intended to reclaim peace cultures. It is within these contexts that the goodwill of the contending groups can be fostered. Peace is important, as a means to an end, which is ultimately to avoid or lessen human suffering.
Description of a peace and reconciliation ceremony
At ten in the morning in Lokitaung, a subdistrict of Turkana, a peace and reconciliation pact was sealed between the Murille (Ethiopia) and the Turkana (Kenya). The two sides sent young men and renowned elders to the meeting. Each person was armed to the teeth and wore headgear with the black and white ostrich feather, which is always worn for peace making. They tied black sheets around their waists and carried headrests to use as stools. They tied the round wrist knife around their arms to cut meat at meals.
A Murille elder, a seventy-year-old called Lotikori, spoke first. He stood with the help of his walking stick. He said the Murille had come to make peace, that fighting was not necessary, and that animal rustling should stop.
It was then the turn of a Turkana elder, Lowoton, sixty-nine years old. He said that if the Murille wanted peace, the Turkana would not stand against it because they also wished for peace. The elder spoke with many pauses to take small bits of tobacco from his snuff container. Sometimes he just stood there leaning on his walking stick, tapping the soil with his sandal, making the dust rise.
After the talks, they killed two bulls. The Murille had brought a bull and the Turkana had too. The animals were killed with spears driven into the jugular. They started a fire with sticks and the two bovines were brought to the pyre to roast. When the eating was over, the peace was honoured by burying a gun. This assignment was given to the Turkana to fulfil. Before the gun was buried, it was washed and then in everybody’s presence, it was smeared with the dung from the intestines of the slaughtered bulls. This signalled the end of the fighting.
The old men from both sides used leaves from the Cordis Synensis tree to sprinkle water onto those who had gathered, and the Turkana delegation leader lowered the gun into a deep hole. They were one people now. There ceased to be a Murille or a Turkana. The Murille bade the Turkana farewell and went back to Ethiopia and everyone left for his home.