Education for a culture of peace through endogenous values and mechanisms

Kôrêdugaw at Sénoufo Centre

With the multiplicity of values proposed for our society today, it is no longer easy to define education. With the current tendency to relativise everything, how can we determine the appropriate education or distinguish between right and wrong? In this article, concerning the values and practices of the Senoufo people of yesteryear, we propose endogenous values and mechanisms as a possible way of inculcating a culture of peace.

The Senoufos of old

In the past, in Mali, as in several other Black African communities, a child’s education aimed to make the youngster a full member of the community, aware of their rights and duties towards society. This period of education is called “initiation”. For the Senufo people, initiation is an opportunity to pass the child the values necessary for integration into the community. They are taught the history of their village, the art of living, the art of governing, pharmacopoeia, how to fabricate work instruments or tools, and exercises to develop stamina. In other words, for the Senufo people, initiation is a social contract between society and the individual. It is a sort of university where a member of society receives the enlightenment that transforms him from his animal state (pre-social state) to the human state (human nature).

Similarly, to ensure the continuity and social harmony of the community, every adult must participate in the integral education of the child. Thus, the Senufo child of yesteryear belonged to the whole of society, and their education was a communal task. According to Holas Bohumil [“Les Senoufo (y compris les Minianka)”, l’Harmatan, Paris, 1957], initiation among the Senoufo consisted of providing technical and philosophical formation for citizens so that they would be dignified by a social order based on specific values. For Roland Colin [Kénédougou, “Visage du monde des Sénoufo du Nord au tournant de l’histoire”, in: Sénoufo du Mali, Paris, Revue Noire Éditions, 2006, pp. 80-87], this kind of education was the most complete unifying system ensuring social order between generations, between the sexes, between humans and genies. In short, the aim was a holistic education: the education of each individual person and the whole person”. The ultimate aim of education in the past was primarily to ensure harmony, including peace, within the community and between communities.

To achieve this, traditional society had shared values and mechanisms that enabled it to distinguish between good and evil and to build a peaceful society. For example, among the Senoufo, the Great Hornbill (Zhigban / Zhigbannawo in Senoufo) is the bird symbolic of a successful education. The Great Hornbill symbolises fertility, wisdom and security through its ritual virtue. Its shape makes each of its limbs a melting pot of appropriate teachings for young initiates:

-Its large head symbolises “good memory”: the young initiate must be able to retain the teachings.

-Its closed beak, resting on its belly, represents the mastery of its language: the young initiate must master his language, be discreet and above all, be careful not to reveal what he has learnt in the sacred grove.

-The hornbill’s spread wings show that it is prepared to fly. This is advice that the young initiate should always be ready to work; it’s a way of saying to him, ‘Don’t beg but feed yourself! ‘

-The straight legs are symbols of the uprightness and honesty that the initiate must embrace: he must not lie, steal or commit adultery.

The situation today

The situation is bitter. It is a fact that several young people today have no bearing! They are at odds with their cultural roots and societal values, which are at the root of many conflicts that undermine our society today. Ignorant of codes of ethics, citizenship, and patriotism, young people are often victims of ideological and financial manipulation, easily recruited into banditry, delinquency, and scenes of extremism.

These days, we helplessly witness the lack of majestic values and teaching mechanisms in the image of those attributed to the Great Hornbill. We note, however, that the current situation of war and inter-community conflict in Mali has awakened the conscience of several religious, political, and traditional leaders. Malian society, in particular, is becoming increasingly aware that effective education and the sustainable and respectful development of any human society depend, first and foremost, on the understanding of one’s own culture.

The Church in Mali, in general, and the Missionaries of Africa Society, in particular, are not left on the sidelines. They contribute and participate in the awakening of consciences and a culture of peace and social cohesion while constantly promoting the endogenous mechanisms of our cultures, mainly through the ministry of inculturation. For example, the strategic pastoral plans of almost all the dioceses in Mali place particular emphasis on rebuilding the social order based on the values of our own cultures. This is both an invitation to rediscover the values of our cultural practices and a call for responses informed by Gospel values.

Malian society’s cultural richness and endogenous mechanisms are invaluable and can be genuine vectors for consolidating peace and peaceful coexistence. For example, several Malian communities have endogenous mechanisms such as sinankunya (a joking relationship), maaya (humanism), jatigiya (hospitality) and koreduganya (a traditional brotherhood responsible for conflict prevention and management). These are just some of the ways and means that have unfortunately been torn apart by the violence that has plagued Mali for over ten years. Now more than ever, the Church is called upon to rediscover these endogenous values and mechanisms and propose ways of evangelising that are more accessible to its contemporaries, especially the cream of our society, our young people.

The Centre Culturel Sénoufo in Sikasso (CRSPCS), the Centre d’Etude de Langue (CEL) in Faladjé – Kolokani, the Institut de Formation Islamo-chrétienne (IFIC) and the Centre Foi et Rencontre (CFR) in Bamako, the fruit of initiatives by the Missionaries of Africa, are among the platforms for learning and deepening these societal values of peaceful coexistence. The existence of these structures is not only a palpable testimony to the Church’s desire to rebuild the social order scorned by violence but also to allow Malian society to deepen its knowledge of others in their differences.

By: Bruno Ssennyondo, M.Afr.

Senoufo Centre and IFIC with the Muslim community at Sikasso

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