Changing culture: can we become readers?

Rwanda does not traditionally have a culture of reading. Like many African countries, oral traditions have taken precedence over reading and writing.

Rwanda does not traditionally have a culture of reading. Like many African countries, oral traditions have taken precedence over reading and writing.

Of old, our stories were passed from one generation to the next by word of mouth. Grandparents would spend hours telling tales to the young.

But as we come to realise the importance of reading in a modern age, the question arises as to whether we can become readers.

We understand the importance of reading, that it enables the spread and development of ideas and can facilitate great progress.

We know that we cannot afford to be isolated and need to read so as to interact with the rest of the world, but it is less clear how to introduce something that quite simply does not come naturally to us.

Though we have been accustomed to oral storytelling, can we change and turn our attention to what books, newspapers and journals hold? This question raises two important questions: what is culture and can it change?

Believing that it can change, I want to get to grips with why and how.

Firstly, what is culture? Culture (from the Latin cultura stemming from colere, meaning “to cultivate,”) generally refers to patterns of human activity and the symbolic structures that give such activities significance and importance. Different definitions of “culture” reflect different theoretical bases for understanding, or criteria for evaluating, human activity.

Culture is manifested in music, literature, lifestyle, painting and sculpture, theatre and film. But these are embodiments of culture and not culture itself. Culture is essentially what we do, how we express ourselves, how we classify, codify and communicate our experiences.

As such, culture not only can, but must, change. Life experiences change. Our lives, with mobile phones and the internet, can barely be compared to those of grandparents. Change is inevitable. Just as time will pass, change will occur.

This said people, by predisposition known to resist change, depending on culture traits. For example, men and women have complementary roles in many cultures. One gender might desire changes that affect the other. There are therefore, dynamic influences that encourage acceptance of new things, and conservative forces that resist change. That is there; forces at work within a society, contact between societies and changes in the natural environment.

How then are we to change our culture? How are we to become as readers what we previously were not?

I think the answer lies with children for whom change is as natural as growth. Take a look at how our children have seized the internet as a new form of expression and communication.

Last week I explained ways to get our children reading, this week I hope to have shed some light on why this is so important. Children after all are our future; let us equip them with all they will need to make that future bright.