Cultural Diversity in India and Africa: A Strength Not A Problem

Suresh Kumar and Halilu Babaji

Indian Journal of African Studies, Vol. XXlll, April & October 2018, Nos. 1&2



India and majority of African countries are multi-ethnic and culturally diverse society that has witnessed conflicts arising from ethnic and cultural identity. Culture and cultural diversity in India and Africa to many tribal communities are place without history. The complexity, richness and intellectual dept of India and Africa shows culture and cultural diversity as a strength not a diversity due to their common heritage and share values that bind them together as one unified family or clan. India-Africa in both literatures has a flavour in attracting negative headlines about identity, cultural differences, norms, values and beliefs which were not ignored but show the huge creativity of different people that shares a common heritage. India-Africa has a common cultural challenge, and the challenges are daunting. The economic performance among tribal communities and its potential has giving rise to chronic unemployment and poor living conditions in large parts of the regions. Every community in India and Africa has cultures that constitute the frameworks for their lives and behavioural patterns. Cultural factors and diversities in both countries affect economic behaviour and the social and economic performance of nations which can only be best appreciated and explained against the background of the prevailing cultural domains. This has bearing with the prevailing differences in subsisting institutions. Cultural trajectories affect policy formulations and implementations and how they drive growth and development. India-Africa are ethnically and linguistically diverse country that has very significant implications in almost every area of their economy.


This paper seeks to investigate the impact, influence, and consequences of interconnection between cultural diversity and identity in India and Africa. The multi-ethnic differences and cultural identity has shaped the manner and behaviour in which people behaved with one another in terms of interaction which shows more strength than problems. People with different identity comes together to share different values. The cultural diversity in every society is place where groups of people live or exist and share different ideas, experiences, set of beliefs and communicate with one another. It is only human beings who have the capacity for diversity which allows them to communicate cultural ideas and symbolic meanings from one generation to the next and constantly create new cultural ideas. It is this capacity for language that separates humans from other primates.

It is difficult to move from one cultural group or region of India and Africa without noticing some element of diversity that shows different signs of strength rather than problem. Most people have heard the term “cultural diversity.” This involves more than adjustment to different types of houses, food, mode of dressing, dialect, cultural marks, norms and beliefs that created a wider gap between different cultural groups. The whole pattern of organization of the new place may be totally different from one’s home culture. Differences may be small, at first, but many. One may experience many small irritations, sometimes unidentifiable, and these build up. Finally the irritations and disorientation build up to a breaking point. This may result in depression, anger, criticism. Some resort to overwork to avoid contact with people. Others schedule administrative work instead of field work for the same reason. Others develop symptoms of general lethargy or hyperactivity, depending on the individual and multiple other factors.

Cultural diversity is an integral part of every society, so also mode of communication. Language is central to cultural diversity because it is the means through which culture is learned and communicated in diverse societies of India and Africa. When a group begins to lose its language, its cultural tapestry starts to unravel. As infants eat the food of a particular culture that is different from theirs to which they belong, and learn the language, they simultaneously acquire the language of the society to which they were born into.


India and African Philosophical Identity

A society or cultural group in India and Africa is an extremely complex collection of historical identity, religious concepts, relational patterns, and shared experiences of all kinds. The present character of an ethnic group or a political entity is the result of centuries of shared experiences, and entails a coherent thought-system that helps make sense of those experiences and maintain the values developed over the history of different groups. A philosophy has two aspects when considering a whole culture or people. There is the consistent worldview shared by the people and the system of social requirements and roles and beliefs within most societies in these nations. The second aspect is a formal statement of this, which for the Westerner includes a rational analysis and systematic statement. Many societies have no philosophy in the second sense. Yet the shared worldview and social identity which clearly understood by members of that society that they could give an outsider answers to questions concerning what is expected of members of the society in various situations, and concerning the beliefs of the society about various things. These answers could lead to the construction of a “formal” statement which would represent the general world-view of the people of India and Africa as a whole.

The West has a long history of formal and rational philosophy which informs us of our cultural and intellectual heritage. Through this we can trace the development and change of Western thought over the centuries on India and Africa, giving a better understanding of the cultural diversity in India and Africa as strength not a problem. It is true, however, that most members of Western societies are unaware of our cultural diversity. Indian and African worldview may be considered basically religious. All things are seen to be related or connected; everything is united in existence. You cannot be objective with that sort of a world– you are part of it. Everything that is done involves you as well as everything else. In the Indian and African world, God is understood as Creator, though he is far away. In Indian and African view of reality, everything is related, thus it is basically a “religious” worldview. All that exists is “spiritual,” a part of one unified Whole. The European normally views India and Africa as divided into “sacred” and “secular.” Thus the religious realm, for many, is a separate realm from the normal activities of basic everyday living. For “religious” Westerners, commitment to God often means commitment to what is beyond this life and this world.


Spiritual Realities


This would seem a strange pattern of reality for most Indians and Africans. Most Indians and Africans would see no need to divide reality in that way. Though God might be far away in terms of his personal relationships with humans, it would not be a common belief that there are actually two levels of reality which could be separated as the Western view indicates. It might appear superficially that the Indian and African traditional view of the departed ancestors would indicate a “sacred” and a “secular” reality for them. It seems to me that, on the contrary, it actually illustrates the unity of reality for these nations. The closeness of the living to the dead and their memory indicates that there is, in fact, one reality which is shared by both the living and the dead. God is not seen as living away in some other world. It is accepted that God the Creator is a different type of being than his human creation, but not that the world of his existence is a different one. All of reality is one, humans share the world with spiritual realities.


Verbs or Nouns?

These basic differences in perspective on India and Africa are apparent even in the languages. In the African languages, especially the Bantu languages such as Swahili, the verb system is the key to meaning. Likewise most of the Indian languages. It is difficult for Europeans to get into the Indian and African way of thinking about things, because they “do it” with verbs. Verbs are the words that express action, relationship, conditions. In Western languages, nouns and adjectives are most important. In this “format” we have a noun, representing a thing, and then we describe it. The world is thought of as made up of entities. The totality of reality is the sum of these entities. Some entities are living, and these living entities act independently, initiating actions and relationships with other entities, either living or non-living. Because the world is made up of entities, things or objects, westerners believe that if we can describe it, then we can understand it. If we can understand it, then we can control it. Then we can manipulate the world, change our environment. Nouns and adjectives – that is, things and their descriptions – are primary to a European, a Westerner. But to an Indian and African, activity and relationships are primary.


The Individual

Finally, in the African situation, group identity and relational obligations are paramount. In the West things are very individualistic. Westerners believe in rights, not obligations. (Though some would, of course, say that there are obligations that come with rights. Freedom does have its responsibilities). Western concepts of justice are developed in terms of rights and protection of those rights. Europeans define themselves individually, and in small family groups, whereas African society is organized in very close-knit, broad family groupings. The group is what is important, the group is the point of identity. The individual is defined by his or her relationship to the group. Obligations to the group as a whole are more important than individual “rights” or privileges.



This concept of individualism versus community shows up in the patterns of discipline. Europeans often comment that Kenyans (African) do not discipline their children, and yet Kenyan children often seem better-behaved than European children. The significant factors in discipline are different in the two contexts. Expectations are not the same and the areas of discipline are not the same. Indians and Africans discipline their children but not in the same or perhaps not for the same things as European parents. The process of socialization in the two societies is quite different. The teaching and training of an American child, for instance, centres on moving the child to independence and decisive action. American children also tend to be active or unruly, as they are not used to sitting still. African children may sit quietly in a long church service, but the American children will squirm, talk, play, wiggle and in general make a spectacle of themselves.

The American approach to training is basically “inductive.” It seems that, in principle, Americans assume that a child should know what to do and should do what is right. (Perhaps this stems from the naive American belief in the goodness of humanity.) This means that Americans commonly teach their children by correction after the child has broken a rule. (This is the inductive approach – correction, rather than directive teaching before the act). European parents seem to place more emphasis on individual responsibility of children for their acts. It seems that Americans often treat their children as “little adults”. In European culture there is really no specific time when a child becomes an adult. In contrast, most African and Indians societies have a specific ceremony or rite which marks the change in social status and responsibility. On the other hand, in the African society, because everyone is a part of the single social unit, responsibility is defined in terms of group relationships and obligations, not in terms of individual initiative as in the West. There is an event called initiation in most Indians and African cultures, at which time there is a formal change in status and role for the child, and a change in expectation for the child. From this time in the initiates life, the former child would be expected to fulfil an adult level of responsibility. The specific expectations and role obligations will vary from one ethnic group to another, and particularly from the rural areas to the cities. In the Indians and African cities focus will be more individualistic and emphasize more individual responsibility.



Always remember the value of greetings. Greeting is much more important for Indians and Africans than for Europeans. Always take time to greet even those with whom you will have only casual contact. It is important that you recognize the existence of individuals. Be ready always to extend your hand in greeting. Hand shaking is a very important ritual in India and Africa. Observe the particular forms of handshaking, palm touching, bowing and so forth, in each particular ethnic or geographical setting. A triple-shake is common in much of Eastern and Southern Africa. In India and Africa, handshaking may be replaced by other hand signals. For instance, the Shona greeting in Zimbabwe is clapping both hands together. Note the manner of clapping, which differs for women and for men. Observe also the appropriate body and head motions which accompany handshaking and greeting. This will vary from one area to the other. Note particularly the common practice of holding the right wrist, elbow or forearm with the left hand while shaking with the right.


Indigenes and settlers

Objectively, the concept of ‘indigenous’ in Africa is a dangerous fiction in a continent with highly mobile populations. Nonetheless the notion of an ‘indigene’ has recently taken on strong political overtones in India and Africa. As a reaction to domination of education and employment by a few ethnic groups with powerful organisational skills, both countries have developed a quota policy in many areas of public life. University entrance, jobs in the civil service and passports are now subject to quotas or caste, with a certain number of places reserved for the ‘indigenous’ population of particular states and municipal councils.

However, the secular and pan- Africanist ideology that dominated in the post-Independence era required a move away from such patterning to more inclusive structures which often split ethnic groups between administrative zones or implicitly handed power to minorities. Sometimes this was intentional, sometimes probably just a chance by-product of remote cartographers. The growth in power of local governments and the increasing articulacy of their residents have created a continuing state of friction that is little short of catastrophic for stable and effective management. This is to show that diversity in India and Africa is a strength not a problem.


The Ethnicity Dimension in India and Nigeria: A Historical Perspective

The ethno linguistic fragmentation of India-Africa and Nigeria in particular is extreme, even in comparison to European countries, and there is strong evidence that the picture today still represents a falling off from the diversity in pre-colonial times. The twentieth century saw both the assimilation by many minority groups, a process that can be expected to continue, but also a demographic expansion of many very small groups to substantial populations. A key element in the ethnic differentiation sharpened by the colonial ideology was the division of the country into different ethnic line. These began as early as 1916 and grew in size and importance until Independence in 1960. A policy of cataloguing division ran very much counter to the ideology of independent Nigeria, and for this reason, linguistic and ethnic surveys were discontinued by the state and not encouraged in the universities. Indeed, policy has remained divided on this issue; the rise of a notion of ‘indigenousness’ effectively recognising such divisions, but with government-controlled media and documents emphasising unity. Ethnicity is thus tacit in accounts of political divisions; although it is well known which ethnic bloc politicians represent, this is rarely openly discussed in the media.



In conclusion, it is difficult to move from one cultural group or region of India and Africa without noticing some element of diversity that shows different signs of strength rather than problem. Most people have heard the term “cultural diversity.” This involves more than adjustment to different types of houses, food, mode of dressing, dialect, cultural marks, norms and beliefs that created a wider gap between different cultural groups. The whole pattern of organization of the new place may be totally different from one’s home culture. Differences may be small, at first, but many. One may experience many small irritations, sometimes unidentifiable, and these build up a stronger relations in the mixed of different people with different cultural identity living in a definite area of a state. These identities build of stronger relations with adequate learning environment. People learned from a diverse cultural diversification such as food, clothing, greetings, norms and values among others which shows that cultural diversity is strength rather than a problem.



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