Traditions that are presented as age old and showcase a link between the distant past and present tend to have their origins in present times and are rather modern public, social, cultural and political manifestations. Most have their origins not more than three to four centuries ago. ‘Invented traditions’ is hence the name coined to aptly, if loosely, represent the devised or imposed (if forced) traditions seen today. These new traditions may have been instituted formally in recent times (and can be ascertained to a specific date or year) but were established very rapidly, and came to be recognized as traditions. The tradition of the royal broadcast of Christmas is an example, which illustrates the point. The broadcast started in Britain in 1932.
Invented traditions are those practices that are impressed upon the peoples of a nation or society or even a part of the society through repetition, making it a ritual. There is a tacit understanding to follow certain rules and norms while following these rituals. The other point of note is that ‘invented traditions’ seek to project the practices or rituals in a way to lend them a meaning; especially when they are connected with the past. The newly designed architecture of the British Parliament house after the WWII that follows the Gothic-style is one such striking example. In as much, even the relevance to an era that is not very old may be drawn upon in ‘invented traditions’. However, the traditions that we see today are constructed in such a way that their relevance to certain facts can be easily established (Hobsbawm & Ranger, 2012).
Invented Traditions are alternatively understood as enforced, devised or constructed practices; rituals that offer a response to a new situation while deriving or seeking to maintain continuity or as is now known, professing to establish continuity with a very distant past (which is not the case in fact). All the traditions thus devised only recently may not last for long or may be discontinued owing to certain exigencies or some other newer form of practices taking over, or because they have lost their relevance and importance.
It is here that the distinction between tradition and customs need to be clarified. One important point that distinguishes them is that traditions are not susceptible to change in spite of changing social, evolutionary, or political considerations. Customs, on the other hand are not responses; rather follows the natural laws of evolution and is generally compatible with the times the ‘traditional societies’ that develop it. Customs represent the outcomes of practices, conventions, and routines that established a coherent social structure and balanced the forces prevalent in the societies, making them amenable to change to suit evolution. Traditions invented or otherwise may be evident in the professional domain, too, where they at times, may, prove an impediment to exercise alternative reflex action needed to counter an emergency. The traditions thus have an inherent weakness. The affectations of the ‘invented traditions’ imposed on the African population that was under various European occupations from the first quarter of 19th century to almost the middle of twentieth century is explored in this essay.
European ‘Invented Traditions’ Imposed on African Society
The Europeans had invented traditions to emphasize and declare their prowess upon the world. The African continent they newly sought to lay claim upon was very flexible and there were age-old customs in place like the chiefs of tribe being accorded a place of honor and indisputable dignity. The Europeans, mistakenly, equated it with the rigidity that their own neo-traditions conferred upon them. The Europeans thought of themselves as modernized and highly civilized people with traditions that would embark them into a modern, evolved era. In contrast, according to the Europeans’ perception (which was actually a misconception); the Africans subscribed to rigid traditions that did not allow for changes and were conservative and traditional in their outlook and hence could not prosper or evolve. Of note here is the fact that African customs and systems allowed them to transcend tribes freely and account for natural processes and laws whenever the need arose. African tribes that existed prior to colonization had an in-built competition, a system to challenge the authority of chieftains of tribes, and due regard to age, gender and occupation. The fluidity and virtues of intermingling between tribes and in matrimonial matters too went unnoticed. The Europeans sought to align the African society along their own perceptions of social order and hierarchy. In order to establish in and rule Africa efficiently, therefore, they imposed their own newfound traditions. A very striking example appears in imbuing the Christian thought and rituals into the native and local Masai traditions. In a way, thus, the purity, continuity, and flexibility of the actual historical traditions of Africa had been intruded upon.
Tradition Used by Elders to Profess Authority
Europeans sought complete dominance over Africa. The interaction between the tribes could pose serious problems in the endeavor. The rulers also needed local collaborators who would enforce their diktats on the tribes. They ‘educated’ younger Africans the modern ways that could then be implanted within the tribes. The danger to natural course of passing on the customs from generation to generation and the flexibility made the chiefs to become rigid and possessive seeking full control over their land and women. The newly trained men professed many skills and knowledge unknown to the elders and chiefs of the tribes. Traditions like taking notes and skills needed in urban economy brought in by the young in the tribe posed a threat to the existing structure of the tribes which sought to correct the situation by forcing their decisions unlike in the past where flexibility was the key to harmony (Hobsbawm & Ranger, 2012).
Loss of Freedom of Women
The Europeans sought to induce a manageable society where the family was a rigid structure. The customs like ability of women to choose or change their protector broke down and at the same time, the upsurge of male dominance in traditions grew disproportionately. . A strict paternal society was enforced upon the local populace. The native society developed an anti-feminist attitude. The women, without the traditional support sought refuge in the missionaries or challenge the institutionalized customs by invoking the age-old customs. The ‘Mother’s Union that was born out of this predicament restored some of the to ‘tradition’ (Hobsbawm & Ranger, 2012).
Tradition Induced Subjugation of Subjects
The Nyasaland chiefs of Ngoni manipulated the European traditions to impose their superiority over the Chewa tribe. They thus became collaborators and sought to upend the competition from the Chewa tribe. Secondly, they also started professing hitherto unknown practice of control over the immigrants into their land and tribe. The armed adventurism of the tribes was pacified by the colonial intervention which resulted in the resurrection of the Mang’anja tribe which was never in a dominant position prior to European settlers’ intrusion. The colonial system infused a radical social and political system into the way the tribes operated. The tribes that aligned with and accepted the traditions introduced by the invaders became the de facto rulers of the land. They changed their way of living to match those of the superior ‘gentlemen’. So much so, that the national institutions in Africa are now Golf and riding horses (though the Europeans themselves have given that up) (Hobsbawm & Ranger, 2012).
Ngugi wa Thing’o author of ‘Prison Diary’ very critical of the Kenyan elite, who he states are outcomes of the colonial system that left them behind as reminders of their legacy. As for the official paraphernalia, like flags, anthems and medals, he observes that these were never a part of African culture or traditions until the nineteenth century. The whole ‘invented tradition’ that Africa now follows, has been instituted by bureaucracy, evangelism, and the historians (who have conveniently ignored looking beyond the obvious) (Hobsbawm & Ranger, 2012).
The traditions that evolved in Africa can be ascribed to a thirty to forty year period prior to WWI. Traditions were either invented or imposed upon people. As a result, the entire traditional landscape of Africa changed beyond recognition. Some of the historians have found that what exists in today’s Africa does not resemble what might have existed in the pre-colonial days. The tribes had used the traditions to their own ends, unable to withstand the onslaught of the European invaders. However, they got established very fast- the reasons for this fast assimilation vary from context-to-context. The traditions were chiefly of two types- political (formal) and social (informal). The political ones are generally highly bureaucratized and formal, whereas the social ones manifested in different forms, but became rigid once institutionalized. The events that occurred in Africa bring to fore the problems associated with ‘invented traditions’ on a local populace that had hitherto existed in an evolved a system of their own.
Part 2: Introduction
Traditions are practices that are followed assiduously by the subjects and imply the continuity of the respective society with its past. The pageantry of the monarchy of England seems to be steeped in tradition that has been carried through many centuries. However, as this essay explores, the rituals that we see today are not that old in reality. In most cases, across many societies, traditions have been constructed, devised, and institutionalized in recent, ascertainable times. They have been mostly responses to certain situations- turning points in history and not earlier than a few decades prior to the WWI. The traditions that we see today took roots instantly owing to the growing military strength of the European nations chiefly and the advanced communication innovations, which made it easier to reach larger tracts of society speedily.
Invented Traditions are those routines with a set of rules that people follow as a matter of routine and the repetition makes it seem perpetual. The practices seem to have emanated in the distant past and distinguish a society from other similar assemblies. Each society chooses a set of practices and governs them tacitly to make it a unique distinction through which it is then recognized. Such traditions mostly have connectedness with path breaking events like revolutions or wars or even national recognition of a game. Thus, though the modern traditions are ‘invented’ they are certainly related to a certain factual event in the nation’s history, which can be dated precisely (usually within a couple of centuries at the most and in certain cases as late as the second world war.
‘Traditions’, invented or not, and ‘customs’ of traditional societies are independent practices though both follow rules and the common denominators in both are perpetuity and distinguishing features of a society. Traditions, however are to be followed strictly without any alterations and the emphasis is on formality and repetition (because their continuity and originality can be established by such means only), whereas customs need no such support. The customs are flexible, do not arise because of certain events and are perpetual inherently. The exact origin of customs can rarely be traced and any change in them follows the course of natural laws and gradual evolutionary processes. As such, customs aim to create a balance of forces whereas traditions impose rigidity in relations. Each society seeks to form a continuity with its past that has evolved over centuries and form a distinct character of its own. The local people take pride and are attached to them emotionally (Hobsbawm & Ranger, 2012).
‘Invented traditions’ are often seen to lack the functionality aspect so dominantly present in the customs. Customary practices define and to a large extent characterize a way of life and are a reflection of the society they belong to.
Invented traditions, when imposed or accepted tacitly tend to disrupt the social structure present hitherto. These are the social traditions accepted by the society’s imposing them, the ruling class seeks to realize similar lifestyles and language, and other practices so that the political means can be achieved. It is in this context that the invented traditions of the Welsh need to be studied (Hobsbawm & Ranger, 2012).
Musical and Merry Welsh
The leisurely and entertainment Welsh traditions started falling apart as early as the seventeenth century. As noted by a voluminous and out by Edmund Hyde Hall in 1810, the Welsh had started acquiring the intelligence of the western world and adapting to hectic life practices that combined to overwhelm the foibles that characterized their way of life. Methodist evangelists tried to influence the Welsh people as early as 1660 and make them aware of the rapid progress the western world was making notes G.H. Jenkins. The British dissenters who called themselves Methodists and was an offshoot of the Church carried out the drive to transform the Welsh who were supposed to be a laid-back and backward society. Most of the new mannerisms imposed by the evangelists were taken from the new traditions adopted by the French or the English. The raw, innocent and free-flowing Welsh behavioral practices gave way to the sober and subdued mannerism of the developed people who did not allow swearing as they had women members in their clubs back home. The gentle tea as the afternoon drink replaced the more intoxicated drinks. The recurrent brawls taking place in the pubs soon became non-existent. Those that did not change lived a ‘medieval’ life and wrote poems and ballads that traced back their ancestry to the princes and times of yore. At the same time, their kinsmen were rooted in the western world and working out the strategies that would be followed by Napoleon (Hobsbawm & Ranger, 2012).
The Welsh music, characterized by the bards, the harp and group singing and dancing had probably begun to recede by early eighteenth century. Welsh had a very long tradition of folk dances and music that disappeared very quickly, in fact within a few decades, so powerful was the effect of foreign invasion on their culture. In a very period of time, a society in which every household had a harp had changed so dramatically that almost none could any longer understand Welsh poetry. John Roderick an almanacker and grammarian decried the pathetic state of Welsh music to Lewis Morris in 1729. consequently Morris brothers and colleagues found a huge trove of that they could not decipher; it was laid down in strange notations- original Welsh. The date on it was 1613. In a matter of one generation the whole of Welsh musical traditions disappeared. Even here, it must be noted that most of the tunes created for the fiddle instead of harp were English and not Welsh. Not even the most noted musicians recognized earlier compositions that alluded to the of life the Welsh led (Hobsbawm & Ranger, 2012).
The Bards and Welsh Literature
Another characteristic of the Welsh was the culture of Bards. The Bards were an important representation of the secular culture of the Welsh courts and society. Bards dominated the literature of the Welsh culture. The Elizabethan Welsh Protestants created a great secular work when it was done solely by the bards who functioned as musicians, heralds, historians and librarians. This art form of continuing with rich traditions seemed to wane with the onset of the seventeenth century. By the beginning of the eighteenth century the secular structure of literature was disappearing very fast and the bards were soon out of employment. The language the bards used did not find resonance even with the Welsh themselves who has Anglicized irretrievably. They no longer supported native literature as the new language that had been thrust upon them as the modern world language had overwhelmed them. Many of the words found in older Welsh literature used by the bards had been rendered useless and not used by the new generation who had migrated to the western world. Thus, the Welsh themselves were guilty of some of the damage, rendering causing most of the loss of original culture and literature (Hobsbawm & Ranger, 2012).
The Customs of the Wales and the minstrelsies that were a part of the Welsh traditions disappeared with in influx of illiterate plebeian teachers and impostors who led the common people away from their Catholicism in the absence of a strong protestant movement which had yet to establish itself. This was accompanied by dissuading the people from engaging in their of group singing and dancing and rural sports- a characteristic of the innocent way of life the Welsh led since times immemorial.
The total collapse of original Welsh history, traditions and customs and their replacement by the Anglicized versions is explained by three major Mass Inventions of tradition percepts- Their own version of history as Welsh people, the advent of Christianity into the common daily lives and routines, and the lives of their princes. As far as their history is concerned, they believed that they were the original inhabitants of the British Isles. The Triads of the Isles of Britain were memorized by the natives where they remember having fought invaders, were defeated and again reclaimed their land. The British Christianity was accepted in the Roman times and heroes like Arthur and Ambrosius Aurelianus repelled subsequent attack on it by the Saxon pagans. The Welsh remember the lineage of tribal princes that dates back to the seventh century. Some of the princes were Romans, too. Certain names like Cunneda and Cadwaladr the Blessed, last Welsh prince who ruled over Britain right up to Llywelyn in 1282 find mention in the lineage of princes of the Welsh history.
It was only in the following couple of centuries that the connectedness with the past was not clearly stated. Then, the Anglicized dominance of Wales reduced the merry and jovial society into a dull and boring society bereft of its innocent ways of life and secular structure to the modernized ways of the western world in all ways- history, literature, religion and ancestry (Hobsbawm & Ranger, 2012).
Hobsbawm, E., & Ranger, E. (2012). The Invention of Tradition. Canto Classics. Retrieved from http://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/history/regional-and-world-history-general-interest/invention-tradition-2