[in-the middle hadithi…..Chapter5]
Mentors and the Life of Youth
There are certain things without which young people cannot survive and flourish, and mentoring is one of them. Westerners see adolescents as fundamentally naive about life. By contrast, the tribal mentor sees a youth as someone who already contains all of the knowledge that he or she needs, but who must work with an older, more experienced person to “remember” what they know.
A mentor therefore is not a teacher in the strict sense of the term, but a guide who shows the way, working from a position of respect and affinity, addressing the knowledge within the young person. The pupil is not an ignorant person in the eye of her or his mentor. The pupil is seen as a storehouse, a repository of something the mentor is quite familiar with and very interested in, something the mentor themselves has and know very well. The mentor perceives a presence knocking at a door within the pupil, and accepts the task of finding, or becoming, the key that opens the door. There develops a relationship of trust between mentor and pupil, motivated by love, and without which success would be unlikely.
Mentoring is aimed at increasing security, clarity, and maturity in the young person. It seeks to develop the genius within a young person so that the youth can arrive at his, hir or her destination – the sharing of one’s gifts within the community….in Afrika, as elsewhere, the journey of a young person through adolescence is taken with the help of a mentor, so that the young person may grow into the mature adult who can live out her, hir or his purpose in the community, giving of one’s genius and receiving, in turn, the help of others.
At the core of mentoring is the understanding that genius must be invited out of a person. People carry to this world something important that they must deliver, and mentors help deliver that genius to the community. To see the genius in a young person is to give it the fertile ground required for it to burst forth and blossom, for it is not enough to be born into this world loaded with such a beauty.
The newborn must be assisted in giving birth to the genius that s/he is born with. Failure to do so kills the genius along with the person carrying it. The community responsible for the death of an inner genius is like an assassin. The community that is able to receive the person’s genius gives birth to an adult who is able to contribute his or her healing gifts to that community.
The West defines genius as a great intelligence, or an exceptional talent. I don’t reject that definition. But it is different from the indigenous definition, which sees genius as an open line that flows through a person from the Other World. It seems to me that limiting the meaning of genius to intelligence or talent displaces it from its real source, and privatizes it in the individual. If genius has no grounding in the sacred, then it becomes easy for the community to ignore it if it chooses. In the traditional context, the community does not have a choice. The community is obligated to awaken the newcomer’s genius, and the ritual welcoming of the newborn into this world is the community’s official acceptance of this responsibility….
Mentoring is a role that is assumed not strictly by age, but by ability and experience….but more parents and grandparents are mentors. It is not surprising to find mentors aged twenty-five to thirty years if the need and the knowledge are present. Similarly the people mentored cover a wide range of ages, at least with respect to the knowledge being exchanged in that relationship. This is because in indigenous Afrika, knowing means becoming old. To say that someone is old is to say that this person knows something or has experienced something valuable. Furthermore, the mature self is hardened in the field of experience by awareness. In contrast, the werd young refers not just to age but also to the absence of awareness.
The way villages are structured leaves no room for a young person to escape having a mentor. The cohesiveness and identity of a village require this kind of caretaking. Unlike loosely formed modern communities, where each person is preoccupied by his, hir or her own affairs, kijiji life requires that most things be done collectively because people are very tightly connected. Tight connecshun requires friction. In turn, friction among people deepens their sense of belonging. People bound by community are sure, at some point, to get on one another’s nerves. This is not considered a bad thing, but rather a part of the natural human experience…..
If mentors are spiritual parents, biological parents are stepping stones, the points of departure for children. At their best, biological mamas and babas are friends of their children. They can help their children as special friends do in times of need. But their limitation is to be almost helpless in the business of bringing out the child’s true spirit. This is where the mentor enters in, since his or her spirit becomes for the pikney a mirror of what the pikin is feeling inside. Consequently, their relationship has some content that is based on Spirit, in contrast to the paternal relationship, which is based on biology……
Chapter 6 Elders and the Community
No matter what culture you belong to, certain personal situations and social relationships are inescapable. For example, common to everyone is the recurrent feeling of needing to expand and to grow. Similarly, you cannot help at certain points in your life feeling the need for the emotional, psychological, and social support of others. Everyone needs to come into some sort of visibility, some sort of recognition. Just as these experiences establish the need for a mentor, they also establish the need for elders. Where a mentor invites the genius of a youth to come out of its hiding, an elder blesses that genius, thereby allowing it to serve efficiently the greater good.
We will be talking about two kinds of elders in this series (of hadithi), an elder in the formal sense of a village or community leader who helps community members coexist peacefully, and elders in the informal sense of people whose age makes them invaluable resources in community life……
The elder is as important to the community as the newborn, in that they both share proximity with the Other World, the ancestors’ world. The newborn just arrived from there, and the old one, the elder, is preparing to go there. The very young and the very old complement each other because they draw from one another. The very old honour youth as the source of collective physical stability and strength and as recent arrivals to this world, who are more closely connected to the ancestors….
Perhaps the respect owed to the elder derives from the perception that the elder is at this critical junction where the natural meets the supernatural and where the ancestors and the divine intersect with the humans. In indigenous Afrikan context, this is a place of great freedom and great responsibility. In effect, the elder is almost the only one in the village who can have things his, hir or her way.
But more important, the elder’s posture is rooted in their intimate connection to the balance between this life and the Other World without which village life would be a nightmare. Not only Dagara people have made up their minds that they can’t live without elders….indigenous belief in this is so strong that tribal communities cannot understand how cultures can thrive without elders, the same way that a modern person would have a hard time imagining a life without electricity and running water…..
[coming soon…. profiles of elders! from revised excerpts from The Healing Wisdom of Africa: Finding Life Purpose Through Nature, Ritual and Community by Malidoma Patrice Some]