In the study of human culture in general, asides the popularly known concepts of material culture and immaterial culture, there are also some notable concepts that calls for attention. These concepts include ethnocentrism, universality and relativism. The complexity of relativity makes it an interesting concept to dwell on.

To the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Relativism is “a view that truth and falsity, right and wrong, standards of reasoning, and procedures of justification are products of differing conventions and frameworks of assessment and that their authority is confined to the context giving rise to them”. On the other hand, cultural relativism is the view that ethical and social standards reflect the cultural context from which they are derived. This concept is mostly used in the social sciences and the field of sociology specifically where it has been realized over time that the phrase, “to each his own” is an extensive term which goes as far as influencing a person’s opinion even in the cultural realm.

This diverse notion of the standard is the basis of the conflict of cultural practices in Africa with that of other African societies or with African culture and some Western societies. With focus on the conflict between some practices and standards in the western society and that of some African societies, it should be recalled that in Nigeria for example, inheritance is shared in a medium that favours the male child due to the presumption that the female child will be provided for by her husband hence no need for independence. On the other hand, the western inheritance sharing formula, since as far back as 1000AD, is one that uses a medium where all the children of the deceased are well accounted for. In line with this, it can be clearly seen that there is no escape from a conflict among the two practices. Despite the seemingly betterment of the substitution of the indigenous cultural practices with the Western cultural practices in terms of the general accepted notion of fairness and equity, it has been opined by some indigenes that the reason behind the “so-called harsh practices” were quite essential to the traditional structure of the community. 

One of such reasons is the retention of the spiritual course of the community. Practices that can be highlighted under this includes the marriage traditions where food items are brought and prayers are made; and coronation ceremonies where the king to be sworn in undergoes some processes like the ones in an article herein. In a marriage setting for instance, in Igbo land, the wife is to present a bowl of palm wine to her husband while he is sitting. This is called “igba nkwu” to show submission and readiness to be with him and the husband’s acceptance of the bowl is to show his embrace and promise support thus to the two partners, it signifies the intention to strengthen the bond between them. 

Another reason behind some of the cultural practices is the need to preserve the cultural heritage. It is no news that with civilization came the extinction of some aspects of the culture as they stopped being done and ultimately, respected. However, the continuous engagement of some has allowed for these practices to be reintegrated into the minds of the indigenes and the community in general. Therefore, there is something for the one coming in the later future to meet as evidence of their indigenous culture. For this reason, despite the new trends around the communities, there is still the regard given to the culture.

For the reasonable convictions supporting the cultural practices, it is acceptable to push for the embrace of the cultural practices notwithstanding the variance in the standards of measurement posed by persons not indigenous to the community of origin. Nevertheless, while embracing these practices through the lens of personal standards, the natural law on fairness and equity need be applied in a way that aligns with the obvious “relativeness” of the culture. This implies that irrespective of the regard given to a cultural practice having understood its relative nature, it is important to do away with those that when measured with the personal standards still appear to be unfair to the persons whose lifestyle they direct.

In line with this, while the relativity of culture needs to be known and popularly accepted, there is also the need to have a natural yardstick for proper and fair measurement.

Fathia Abolore Yusuf

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