Spankings of African Tradition

Child-rearing practices in Africa have always been preparation for taking an honored role in adult society. A very high priority of Ancient Africans was for youth to recognize the dignity in each of God’s creatures and creations and to show them proper respect. With fellow human beings this was done by having good relations with and demonstrating good behaviors. Adults were also aware that all newborns are primarily instinctual beings brimming with God given natural and automatic self-preservation reactions—reactions of a totally selfish nature and with no consideration for anyone else. Hence, in Africa and among other “We” cultures (mainly “Colored People’s) of the world proper child-rearing practices have always focused on getting children to expand beyond this total selfishness by embracing family members; and then those outside the family; and then Nature.

Because so much is involved in trying to overcome the instinct of total selfishness, African parents used a variety of methods in a manner that made them what some might call strict disciplinarians.

What all Ancient African families had in common was parents asking their children to give up excessive assertion, aggression, and self-indulgence for a mature and honored adult role that would bring self-fulfillment. Children were taught to step outside their selfishness; to go in the direction of spiritual self-growth; and to have compassion for sentient beings (any creature with feelings). However, the right and proper way for children to learn social rules has been to observe, imitate, and accompany adults obediently until such time as they have acquired all the skills necessary to independently embark on an ethic geared to the good of all people. When these were not sufficient, various forms of punishment immediately followed any child’s insolence. Spankings, a common method of punishment, were done without delay under the belief that any abeyance would fail to register cause-and-effect relationships; fail to get children’s attention as to the significance of what they did wrong; fail to make lasting impressions related to being human and humane; and fail to keep them from forgetting. It was only later that an explanation might be necessary.

The custom has been that children are spanked (the preferred term is “caning”) on the buttocks or on the palm of their hands with a cane (which orthopaedically I do not recommend).

Because children are highly honored in African Tradition, the abuse of children in the form of whippings or spankings done indiscriminately on any part of the child’s body was not tolerated by members of the community. If done, the abusers would encounter the wrath of family members, if not fellow villagers. Yet, that community did not dictate to families how to rear their children. African children were not deemed liable for mishaps since it was understood by the community that any child is capable of such acts. Yet, to this day the parents have the responsibility to reprimand the child for not applying common sense (Donkor, African Spirituality p93). A consistent and reproducible result of this African approach has been that of wellmannered youth who give respect to their elders, their parents, their peers, and to all others of God’s creatures and creations. Although these comments about Ancient African spanking practices are deserving of considerable thought, no matter how the following comments sound, I am not taking a position for or against spankings.

Rather my intent is to stimulate thought in light of the increasing undisciplined nature of today’s youth and to strongly state my opinion that it is not Euro- Americans place to dictate what Black people should and should not do because they do not know what is best.