Invention Of Tradition Essay

Length: 10 pages Sources: 1 Subject: Sociology Type: Essay Paper: #54544790 Related Topics: Mannerism, Anthem, Evangelism, Sports Sociology
Excerpt from Essay :

Traditions that are presented as age old and showcase a link between the distant past and present tend to have their origins in present times and are rather modern public, social, cultural and political manifestations. Most have their origins not more than three to four centuries ago. 'Invented traditions' is hence the name coined to aptly, if loosely, represent the devised or imposed (if forced) traditions seen today. These new traditions may have been instituted formally in recent times (and can be ascertained to a specific date or year) but were established very rapidly, and came to be recognized as traditions. The tradition of the royal broadcast of Christmas is an example, which illustrates the point. The broadcast started in Britain in 1932.

Invented traditions are those practices that are impressed upon the peoples of a nation or society or even a part of the society through repetition, making it a ritual. There is a tacit understanding to follow certain rules and norms while following these rituals. The other point of note is that 'invented traditions' seek to project the practices or rituals in a way to lend them a meaning; especially when they are connected with the past. The newly designed architecture of the British Parliament house after the WWII that follows the Gothic-style is one such striking example. In as much, even the relevance to an era that is not very old may be drawn upon in 'invented traditions'. However, the traditions that we see today are constructed in such a way that their relevance to certain facts can be easily established (Hobsbawm & Ranger, 2012).

Invented Traditions are alternatively understood as enforced, devised or constructed practices; rituals that offer a response to a new situation while deriving or seeking to maintain continuity or as is now known, professing to establish continuity with a very distant past (which is not the case in fact). All the traditions thus devised only recently may not last for long or may be discontinued owing to certain exigencies or some other newer form of practices taking over, or because they have lost their relevance and importance.

It is here that the distinction between tradition and customs need to be clarified. One important point that distinguishes them is that traditions are not susceptible to change in spite of changing social, evolutionary, or political considerations. Customs, on the other hand are not responses; rather follows the natural laws of evolution and is generally compatible with the times the 'traditional societies' that develop it. Customs represent the outcomes of practices, conventions, and routines that established a coherent social structure and balanced the forces prevalent in the societies, making them amenable to change to suit evolution. Traditions invented or otherwise may be evident in the professional domain, too, where they at times, may, prove an impediment to exercise alternative reflex action needed to counter an emergency. The traditions thus have an inherent weakness. The affectations of the 'invented traditions' imposed on the African population that was under various European occupations from the first quarter of 19th century to almost the middle of twentieth century is explored in this essay.

European 'Invented Traditions' Imposed on African Society

The Europeans had invented traditions to emphasize and declare their prowess upon the world. The African continent they newly sought to lay claim upon was very flexible and there were age-old customs in place like the chiefs of tribe being accorded a place of honor and indisputable dignity. The Europeans, mistakenly, equated it with the rigidity that their own neo-traditions conferred upon them. The Europeans thought of themselves as modernized and highly civilized people with traditions that would embark them into a modern, evolved era. In contrast, according to the Europeans' perception (which was actually a misconception); the Africans subscribed to rigid traditions that did not allow for changes and were conservative and traditional in their outlook and hence could not prosper or evolve. Of note here is the fact that African customs and systems allowed them to transcend tribes freely and account for natural processes and laws whenever the need arose. African tribes that existed prior to colonization had an in-built competition, a system to challenge the authority of chieftains of tribes, and due regard to age, gender and occupation. The fluidity and...


The Europeans sought to align the African society along their own perceptions of social order and hierarchy. In order to establish in and rule Africa efficiently, therefore, they imposed their own newfound traditions. A very striking example appears in imbuing the Christian thought and rituals into the native and local Masai traditions. In a way, thus, the purity, continuity, and flexibility of the actual historical traditions of Africa had been intruded upon.

Tradition Used by Elders to Profess Authority

Europeans sought complete dominance over Africa. The interaction between the tribes could pose serious problems in the endeavor. The rulers also needed local collaborators who would enforce their diktats on the tribes. They 'educated' younger Africans the modern ways that could then be implanted within the tribes. The danger to natural course of passing on the customs from generation to generation and the flexibility made the chiefs to become rigid and possessive seeking full control over their land and women. The newly trained men professed many skills and knowledge unknown to the elders and chiefs of the tribes. Traditions like taking notes and skills needed in urban economy brought in by the young in the tribe posed a threat to the existing structure of the tribes which sought to correct the situation by forcing their decisions unlike in the past where flexibility was the key to harmony (Hobsbawm & Ranger, 2012).

Loss of Freedom of Women

The Europeans sought to induce a manageable society where the family was a rigid structure. The customs like ability of women to choose or change their protector broke down and at the same time, the upsurge of male dominance in traditions grew disproportionately. . A strict paternal society was enforced upon the local populace. The native society developed an anti-feminist attitude. The women, without the traditional support sought refuge in the missionaries or challenge the institutionalized customs by invoking the age-old customs. The 'Mother's Union that was born out of this predicament restored some of the lost stature owing to 'tradition' (Hobsbawm & Ranger, 2012).

Tradition Induced Subjugation of Subjects

The Nyasaland chiefs of Ngoni manipulated the European traditions to impose their superiority over the Chewa tribe. They thus became collaborators and sought to upend the competition from the Chewa tribe. Secondly, they also started professing hitherto unknown practice of control over the immigrants into their land and tribe. The armed adventurism of the tribes was pacified by the colonial intervention which resulted in the resurrection of the Mang'anja tribe which was never in a dominant position prior to European settlers' intrusion. The colonial system infused a radical social and political system into the way the tribes operated. The tribes that aligned with and accepted the traditions introduced by the invaders became the de facto rulers of the land. They changed their way of living to match those of the superior 'gentlemen'. So much so, that the national institutions in Africa are now Golf and riding horses (though the Europeans themselves have given that up) (Hobsbawm & Ranger, 2012).

Ngugi wa Thing'o author of 'Prison Diary' very critical of the Kenyan elite, who he states are outcomes of the colonial system that left them behind as reminders of their legacy. As for the official paraphernalia, like flags, anthems and medals, he observes that these were never a part of African culture or traditions until the nineteenth century. The whole 'invented tradition' that Africa now follows, has been instituted by bureaucracy, evangelism, and the historians (who have conveniently ignored looking beyond the obvious) (Hobsbawm & Ranger, 2012).


The traditions that evolved in Africa can be ascribed to a thirty to forty year period prior to WWI. Traditions were either invented or imposed upon people. As a result, the entire traditional landscape of Africa changed beyond recognition. Some of the historians have found that what exists in today's Africa does not resemble what might have existed in the pre-colonial days. The tribes had used the traditions to their own ends, unable to withstand the onslaught of the European invaders. However, they got established very fast- the reasons for this fast assimilation vary from context-to-context. The traditions were chiefly of two types- political (formal) and social (informal). The political ones are generally highly bureaucratized and formal, whereas the social ones manifested in different forms, but became rigid once institutionalized. The events that occurred in Africa bring to fore the problems associated with 'invented traditions' on a local populace that had hitherto existed in an evolved a system of their own.

Part 2: Introduction

Traditions are practices that are followed assiduously by the subjects and imply the continuity of the respective society…

Sources Used in Documents:


Hobsbawm, E., & Ranger, E. (2012). The Invention of Tradition. Canto Classics. Retrieved from

Cite this Document:

"Invention Of Tradition" (2015, April 29) Retrieved January 18, 2022, from

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