What is Culture?
Cultures differ in their concepts of time. Let's compare the European and the African concept of time. In considering the African view of time, we must note that there are different cultures in Africa. Some African peoples' concepts will be more like those of the West than some others'.
Thus what I am saying should be understood as qualified by the phrases in the traditional view and for many African cultures. The viewpoint of some African peoples and individuals today will be different. But you will find the traditional view pervading modern Africa.
Let me analyze the European view of time for comparison. In the European view, the movement of time would be forward, coming from behind us. Europeans have the idea that time exists as an entity in itself, and it moves.
We speak of time travel in science fiction in the terms of forward in time or backward in time. In the Western view, an event is a component of time. As time moves, you must use it or lose it. If you do not use it, it is gone.
In the African view of time one might say that time flows backwards. It flows toward you from the future, and the more or faster the activity, the faster time flows. Time is created, in a sense.
Time is not something in itself. Life is made up of events, defined by relationships. Time is a component of the event.
Your activity really determines the amount of time that passes. Thus the faster you work, the more time you use, because more activity is occurring, more energy is being used. If you are sitting and resting, you are conserving time. Time is not actually passing; it is simply waiting for you.
Time in Different Cultures
First published in the series "What is Culture?" in Focus on Communication Effectiveness, February 1998
This version posted to the web 08 February 2003
Last edited 9 December 2009
Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 1998, 2003 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Other rights reserved.