The Importance of History, Part 2 by Malvia Coomber

My first lessons in history and on the importance of the past began on the lap of my late great grandmother during my childhood in Sierra Leone. The time spent with my great grandmother growing up in Sierra Leone are some of my most cherished childhood memories. I remember being a little girl and sitting on her lap listening to folk tales or stories about her childhood and I absolutely loved those moments and wish that I had been old enough to fully understand and appreciate the importance of what she was relating.

My secondary school history lessons consisted of lessons on the English Monarchy during the early modern period (mainly the Tudors and the Stuarts, Nazi Germany and the Russian Revolution. There were also a few weeks in Black History Month with lessons on slavery and the American Civil Rights movement. Initially, I found these subjects quite fascinating, and this ignited my love and appreciation for history. However, over the years, I lost my initial enthusiasm for history. I wanted to learn more about historical topics that I could relate to; historical topics on Africa.

Sadly this wasn’t possible until I went to university and was presented with the tools that enabled me to do my own research

‘You don’t know where you are going until you know where you are from’. This is a proverb that I have always believed in, even if I have not always practiced it.  History is an inescapable aspect of who we are as human beings; both individually and collectively, we all have a share in the past. We also have a collective responsibility to preserve our history, whether this is through oral history or documenting our knowledge of history in libraries or archives.

The preservation of history is practised by most people around the world however, as Africans, and particularly as Sierra Leoneans, there appears to be a great lack of appreciation for our history. This is very tragic, as Sierra Leone has a rich history, but as Sierra Leoneans we all have a responsibility to ensure that this legacy. If Sierra Leonean heritage sites were preserved, Sierra Leone could economically benefit by promoting our history through tourism. However thus far, Sierra Leoneans have largely failed in the efforts to preserve our history and this could have a lasting effect on our country into the future. Without knowledge and an understanding of the past, future generations of Sierra Leoneans may not appreciate or remember important aspects of our history and this would be detrimental for our national pride.

However, history is not always positive and there are difficult aspects of history that must be remembered as well. History is the reality of what has already occurred and the truth is that life is not always a bed of roses. We need to learn to also embrace and preserve all aspects of our history, and to learn important lessons from both positive and negative historical experiences.

A few weeks ago, I had a rather heated debate with a friend concerning the preservation of negative aspects of Sierra Leonean history. My friend argued that some aspects of Sierra Leonean history were not worth preserving, and that it would only lead to greater tension and resentment among the present generation. As much as I believe my friend has a right to voice this perspective, I felt quite offended by this notion that Africans are unable to examine negative aspects of history without conflict or heated responses. Other groups who have similarly experienced traumatic events have learned to embrace these aspects for the betterment of themselves and humanity. For instance, contemporary Jews passionately remember the tragic events that led to the genocide of European Jews during the Holocaust and they refuse to allow others to forget what happened to their brethren in the past. As the offspring of past generations of Sierra Leoneans, we should ensure that those Sierra Leoneans who actually lived through (and sometimes died in) difficult circumstances are never forgotten and are immortalized in our history books and in our national consciousness. Too many individuals have scarified their lives to be forgotten merely because Africans are unable to deal with the unpleasant areas of history.

To sum it all up, history should always be preserved, regardless of whether it is positive or negative. It is impossible to escape the past, and no matter how much we try to forget history, it will always find a way to rear its ugly head. It is better for us to accept and embrace the past for what it was, and to prevent anything similar from happening again.”

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