Time to document, preserve our history through books

Rwanda, like most other African societies is traditionally an oral society, and as such, writing and reading has eluded us despite making remarkable progress in other sectors. 
Stephen Mugisha
Stephen Mugisha

Rwanda, like most other African societies is traditionally an oral society, and as such, writing and reading has eluded us despite making remarkable progress in other sectors. 

The silent disaster that is looming as a result of our complacency and lack of concern to document our history and other forms of literature is that we shall lose our history and cultural heritage. 

Generations come and go; if we don’t write and preserve our history what reference shall we leave behind for the future generation?  I was challenged by a friend of mine recently, who told me that most of the books he had read on Rwanda were written by foreigners! 

There is causal-effect relationship between reading and writing-good readers make good writers. So, without a culture of reading shall we write? There are reasons why not writing and preserving our history and oral literature should be a concern to each of us. 

Whereas in the past, our fore parents would gather around fire places and the children would learn from the adults and in this way information, history and cultural mores would be passed on from one generation to another, such things are no longer done today.

Fire place stories have been replaced with television, video games like play stations and other technological fall offs. Parents  are busy and hardly find time to interact with our children and as long as we can provide shelter, clothes, food and pay school fees for our children we are successful parents.

We are wrong! We need to counteract the disastrous effects of technology by engaging our children in books and reading. And if we are to do this, we need relevant books and such books must be written by Rwandans themselves. 

We need enough stock-pile of books both in Kinyarwanda and foreign languages so we can tell our own stories. Particularly we need books in Kinyarwanda on cultural values and traditions to replace stories that our forebears used to teach their children on important values. 

Otherwise our children and the future generation will lose their core identities. More so, we should be concerned with the kind of literature our children are exposed to in the face of technology? A story is told about a young African boy who was accidently killed when he tried to make a bomb. He had gotten information from the internet! We might idly sit back and enjoy technology advancement, but forget its disastrous effects. For example, where as we can control the choice of books our children can read, we have no control of what programmes our children watch on Television! In light of all this, it’s time to re-invent our thinking and give a book its due glory. In the face of technology and other factors at play, can we preserve our history if we cannot write? Will writing make sense if we do not groom and develop a culture of reading? Or shall we preserve our language? I call upon the stakeholders and everyone with interest in the preservation and development of our culture and history to support and encourage indigenous authors and writers. Language is the main repository of our cultures and to preserve our language is to preserve our culture. It’s in books that our beautiful stories, heroism, poems, proverbs will be passed onto the future generations. It’s in books that stories that taught us moral lessons and peaceful co-existence can be retold to our children.

Needless to emphasise,  the current generation must take time to document the history they have made for future references. We need to hear more and more voices of men and women who shaped the destiny of this country. Without any doubt, their stories would inspire the youngsters and would be a reference for the future generations. In this way, history will have been written by the very people who made it! And the best way to preserve this history is through books. Writing a book is both self-fulfilling and inspiring, especially if the author is worth the name. It becomes self-fulfilling to the author and it inspires the reader.

Finally, at the heart of the successful incorporation and development of such initiatives and programmes is the Government. It is a state responsibility to ensure that favourable policies are designed to promote such initiatives. For example can the ministries concerned (Education/Culture and Sports) set up a writers fund to support local authors? Also the Government should ensure that there are reasonable financial allocations on an annual basis for purchase of books and developing school and community libraries. Our curricula needs to integrate creative writing and reading at the centre of teaching and learning process.  Teachers should not be taken off the hook; they determine children’s understanding, interpretation and acceptance of what they learn.

The writer is an educationist, author and publisher.

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