The Power Areas of Life
Malidoma established the importance between the young and old early on in his narrative. He identified these two ages as the two power areas of life. In African culture the young children spend the majority of their time with their grandparents. Th ey are responsible for the rearing of the child. This relationship is established so that the child can learn from his or her wise grandparents. The bond is also important because if it is strong enough, it can be a bridge between the world of the livin g and the dead after the grandparent has passed away. Malidoma's grandfather was a very real part of Malidoma's life even after his grandfather's death. When Malidoma was in the seminary, the only tie that he had to his people and culture was his grandf ather. His grandfather, even though he had died when Malidoma was very young, was the steady and supportive force throughout Malidoma's life.
When Malidoma was young he spent huge amounts of time with his grandfather. The thing that Malidoma really emphasized about their relationship, was that his grandfather always talked to him as if he were an adult. No one else treated Malidoma as if he were an adult; their bond was special. Malidoma was referred to as a brother by his grandfather. This bond of brotherhood between the elderly and child is stronger than death. In a way, it is strengthened by death. The French colonial rule was able to completely disconnect Malidoma from his family and culture. They alienated him so much, that after fifteen years away from his village, he couldn't reconnect with his people without undergoing the extensive initiation ceremony. The bond with his gra ndfather was unscathed by life with the Jesuit priests.
In Of Water and the Spirit there is an extreme respect for the elderly. The elders were the pillars of the Dagara's society. The elderly are considered the wise men and the care providers in Africa. Even Malidoma's father was considered a child unt il the boy's grandfather died. It interested me that Malidoma really didn't speak about his parents much. He primarily referred to his grandfather and the elders of his village. The parents give the children life, but it is the elderly that give them k nowledge to prepare them for the future. It is a very circular process.
I find this relationship between old and young very powerful when examined in the context of today's "modern" world. Our culture has dismissed the importance of these two stages of life. Daycare is where the children of today are raised. Children, only weeks old, are dropped off everyday with strangers so their parents can go out and earn money. The family no longer plays the major role in raising the child and shaping who they are to become. The elderly are shrugged off in the same manner. They are put in convalescent homes of retirement homes because their families don't have the time or patience to take care of them. The young and elderly have been separated and then tossed aside. The power has been taken away from these two stages of life.
The world views of the two cultures can explain a lot about their view of the elderly and the young. The African view is circular. The elderly have the responsibility of rearing the young before they themselves die. In a sense they are replaced by t he future, the children. Their wisdom is respected and appreciated by the young. In the modern world the world view is very linear. The elderly are looked at as people whose lives are almost over and are too old to identify with. They are not respecte d, and they are not viewed as wise. Children don't communicate with their grandparents. The knowledge that was once given to the youth from the elderly has been replaced with computers and technology. The knowledge of our elderly is considered dated an d useless. The are left behind on the strait line into the future.
In the introduction of Of Water and the Spirit, Malidoma suggests that the reason our world has lost touch with its ancestors is because of dysfunctional relationships. In the modern world many children never meet their grandparents or even parents d ue to dysfunctional relationships. People often sever ties with their family because of disagreements or problems. This is a sickness in the modern world. Families don't have the importance that they used to hold. This has made for a very disjointed a nd unconnected community. The basic structure of community, family, has been dismantled.
The importance of the elderly and their bond with the young was a very important part of Malidoma's narrative. When compared with my culture it exposes a glaring difference. The modern world has lost its respect for the old and the young. Their sep aration symbolizes the modern world's loss of values. The Dagara people respect the bond and value it. Their society possess a closeness and a unity that our world lacks. Malidoma spoke with joy about his grandfather and elders. He possessed a sincere respect and love for them. The bond he had with his grandfather was special; it was a bond of brotherhood. The modern world has caused the two power stages of life to go unused.