In Tradition, the ‘Why’ Matters Most

I fear most of us spend too much of our time making the best out of a bad situation when it is simply better to move on.

We have too many rules that stepping out of the norm is more daunting than leading an unhappy life. There are many times when traditions are accepted without knowing the reasons why they are there in the first place.

Today, many cultural proceedings have drifted so far away from their initial point of celebrating family and are now effectively represented by financial splurging. While maintaining tradition is encouraged, we have this inclination to make things bigger, more modern and more exaggerated.

In a small cafe close to Mexico Square, I sat next to an older gentleman that I struck up a conversation with. He told me how his social responsibilities felt too heavy and made it harder for him to spend time on things he loved.

I walked away from our conversation feeling very torn. What he valued most he could not achieve, since he was backed into a corner. Even sadder, it must have been easier to share such feelings with a stranger than those much closer to him who he was responsible for.

This is another layer of our traditions that should change. Strong family ties only make sense if we can share our lives with one another. We need to realise individuals even within the family could be different but can appreciate one another’s life choices without the need to compare or judge.

When was the last time we checked with our family members if they are doing okay, if they need assistance to achieve the dreams they wish to reach?

We gather to share the happy and sorrowful moments in our lives, yet even these gatherings sometimes become generic social get-togethers for the sake of appeasing some cultural norm. I usually prefer not to partake at all. One would assume that as civilisation continues apace, we would hold on to the fundamental reasons why people come together.

We focus on a time and place, while the most important is to care for one another. The point of a wedding is not to show off how much money the couple has. It is to celebrate a couple’s momentous decision to spend life together.

It is to show that the support system is there, that the new bride and groom can feel safe along the path that they have chosen to take. In the countryside, people gather to contribute to the party that will take place. The love is there, and that is what we should be building toward.

I hope future generations do not inherit our distortions as their truths. We have become pre-occupied in how others perceive us and in how we make ourselves seen. We have forsaken the reasons behind tradition and have taken on celebrations of events. The future generation deserves better.

We should work harder at passing on the fundamentals of the traditions that we have preserved. The truth is that we do not take enough time to share why we are doing the things we are doing, thinking it is more important that it is done. And when we do not take the time to share these reasons, we will be left with a generation that misunderstands our tendencies and dispenses with them altogether.

Once the reasons have been made clear, the generations to follow can build on traditions in a way that makes sense to them. These things are meant to evolve and change, but we ought to be able to preserve the fundamentals of being Ethiopian throughout the generations.


By Hanna Haile
Hanna Haile ( is an Ethiopian writer and social worker. She is one of the organizers of Poetic Saturdays at Fendika Cultural Centre in Addis Abeba and at Terara Bar & Kitchen in Hawassa, where a stage is open to those who celebrate art through performances on the first and second Saturday of each month.

Published on Oct 20,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 964]



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