I think about Jesus' parables and all the agricultural images in Scripture, and how they must ring very deep and true for the people of Kumbo. With the light of tradition as a guide, and with necessity pushing and pulling them forward, the people here wring out a living from the earth. For me, the images of sowing and reaping and storing grain have always been metaphorical, relating to my life only by analogy. How much more can one understand the words of Christ who actually puts his hand to the plow, who sows, who reaps, who stores her grain!
The image of the fiddler on the roof is an apt one to describe life in Kumbo: people trying to scratch out a simple and pleasing melody, without breaking their necks. From our conversations and observations we know that tradition is very important in many aspects of life here. In many ways, tradition helps people to understand who they are and what they are about. For instance, we are told that to be married in the Catholic Church, one must first be married according to tradition as well as according to the law, because like it or not, the weight of the traditional ceremonies holds marriages together more firmly than just the vows made in Church.
Then, against the backdrop of tradition, there is progress. Fufu jama jama is consumed with Coca Cola. The farmer breaks from hoeing the ground to answer a cell phone. The Fon, the traditional king, comes out of his palace to watch the Americans set off fireworks for the Fourth of July.
Yesterday, I was walking down the road to Squares, and in short succession I was passed by tradition and progress. There was a procession of men in traditional garb, shouting and chanting and leading along a man dressed in a costume replete with a grotesque wooden mask. They were going up, and I had to step to the edge of the road. There is little shoulder to speak of on that stretch of road, the drop off is steep, and guard rails are practically unheard of here. Then, from out of the constant swarm of achabas buzzing uphill loudly or zooming down almost silently (as gravity uses up no gas) a huge truck loaded with goods came barreling down, honking and belching smoke in the air. I had to stand firm on my little edge of road above the drop-off and trust that neither the truck nor an achaba would force me off.
Tradition steadily climbs up, not merely preserving the past for the past's sake, but rather capturing and claiming for the present and future all that is good and true that has come from the past, leaving the bad. Tradition need not be set against progress, for both are needed: so long as we preserve only the good and that in all our progressing we don't progress straight off a cliff.
The dance and interplay between tradition and progress is all a distant worry when your most immediate need is to try not to get hit by a truck.