Monday, July 7, 2008

Decolonising the Mind

“Every time I hear the crack of a whip, my blood runs cold. I remember on the slave ships how they brutalized our very souls. Today they say that we are free, only to be chained in poverty.” – Bob Marley, ‘Slave Driver.’

In the articles, ‘The Philosophy of White Supremacy’ and ‘White Power Structures,’ I examined the Eurocentric world we are forced to live in by the White minority of the world, and the structures they have consciously constructed to maintain their unjust stranglehold on us. In this piece, I intend to suggest the strategies we can adopt to counter and overthrow Global White Power.

“History is not everything, but it is a starting point. History is a clock that people use to tell their political and cultural time of day. It is a compass they use to find themselves on the map of human geography. It tells them where they are, but more importantly, what they must be.” Dr. Henrike Clarke

I put education at the top of my list because the sad truth is that our low esteem stemmed primarily from the fact that we refused to study our own history. Many (or is it most?) of us suffer greatly from historical\cultural ignorance.

I made it my duty to study my Yoruba and my African heritage. The odyssey was gratifying in more way than one. My education not only enables me to develop my deep sense of consciousness, it enables me to hold my head up very high anywhere in the world. It also made me aware of my enormous responsibility as an inheritor of a very, very rich heritage. My education made me aware that I am the inheritor of the great Egyptian, Nubian, Meroe, Axum, Ethiopian, Ghanaian, Malian, Songhaian civilisations. Through my education, I came to realize that I am the offspring of Khufu (the builder of the great pyramid of Giza), Imhotep (the world’s first physician and whose story became the Joseph story of the Bible), Sundiata Keita, Mansa Kankan Musa, Menelek II, Hannibal, Chaka, Samory, Osei Tutu, Nandi, Nzigha, Moshoeshoe and other great figures of history.
Thanks to efforts by scholars such as Yosef ben-Jochannan, John Henrik Clarke, John G. Jackson, Cheikh Anta Diop, Jacob Carruthers, Chancellor Williams, Adu Boahen, Lao Hansberry, Jacob Carruthers, Lao Hansberry and many others, African history has largely been reconstructed. It behooves us all to honour these pioneers and study their work.
We should bear it in mind that these Africanists relied on materials written by white scholars before racism took over European scholarship. In the words of Professor Clarke, “Most of the old and new Black scholars asking for a total reconsideration of African history, in particular, and world history, in general, are using neglected documents by radical White Scholars who are generally neglected by the White academic community. In African history I am referring to scholars like Gerald Massey and his work, Egypt, Light of the World, (two volumes), The Book of the Beginnings, (two volumes) and Natural Genesis, (two volumes). I am also referring to Gerald Massey's greatest English disciple, Albert Churchward, whose book, The Signs and Symbols of Primordial Man, asks for a reconsideration of the role of people outside of Europe and their role in human development. Your attention should also be called to the work, Anacalypsis, two volumes by Godfrey Higgins, published in 1837. These books deal with the dispersions of African people throughout the world.”
African, do yourself a great favour and read up on your history and you will discover that contrary to what the Arab or the European is telling you, your ancestors were not hopping trees and waiting to be discovered or civilized. My Yoruba people were living urbanized lives in cities long before the British invaded what they now called Nigeria. I have been exposed to many European cultures and in no way do I consider Yoruba inferior to any of them.

Language I always believe hold a key to a people’s civilisation and the Yoruba language is simply outstanding in the depth of its richness. I speak two European languages (English and Dutch) fairly well and in no way is my Yoruba second-rate to either. In one of his books, Professor Ivan Sertima dealt with the complexity and the elegance of the Yoruba counting system, and it clearly shows it could never have been produced by inferior minds.

African languages are rich in proverbs and Yoruba is no exception. African cosmogony thrives on deep sense of not only humanity and spirituality but also a deep sense of justice. I give as an example an incident that happened during the 1983 elections in Nigeria. The federal government made the mistake of awarding the Ondo state gubernatorial to their Ekiti candidate; The Ekitis rose in protest. They had voted for a candidate who came from another part of the state, and they would not have anything to do with their own. I was brought up to (1) consider injustice anywhere as injustice everywhere and (2) that cheating, in any manifestation, is abhorrent.
It is indeed sad that today Africans have been bamboozled into running away from themselves and their rich cultural heritage. An Akan now proudly goes about answering to European names which they tell him is Christian name, and a Yoruba now takes enormous pride in speaking English with his family as this writer (shockingly) witnessed in Lagos. And many brothers and sisters are spending fortunes to bleach their melanin-rich skin.
We need to rediscover our old ways and mesh it with our aspirations for modernity. The tragedy would be to allow ourselves to be consumed by pessimism. Each and every one of us should do her ablest best to help out. In Ghana there’s a movement call ‘Sankofa’ which is trying to teach people to look into their past. Sankofa is an Akan word that means, "We must go back and reclaim our past so we can move forward; so we understand why and how we came to be who we are today."
Any honest observer will attest to the fact we Africans are the most humane and the most accommodating people on earth. Our people would rather starve than let a stranger go hungry. Alas, our generosity and humanity have been used against us again and again. It’s time we start to reappraise how we deal with the ‘others.’

When our people in what is now called South Africa gave accommodation to the Dutch pirate, Riebeeck, and his gang, they thought they were extending a hand of help to fellow humans (even if an albino) in distress. Little did they know that the Dutch had a different concept of humanity, which includes the annihilation of the local folks in order to steal their land. It took over three hundred years of hard struggle before Africans were able to reclaim their lands from the hands of the Dutch conquerors, albeit in a mangled form.

It’s time we learned that (1) the Europeans do not share our definition of humanity and (2) that almost everyone has used our generosity against us. We ought to learn and preach this lesson. We welcomed the Arabs and we welcomed the Europeans, they set out to do us in and today we remain a sad caricature of these strangers we welcomed into our land. Our generosity has led to our being virtually wiped out culturally. The strangers mangled our history and made us into a non-historical people. They mangled our religion and made us worship their furious desert gods and taught us to laugh at the gods of our ancestors.

This has been our history and it is time we learn from the historic mistakes of our ancestors.

Everywhere we look in the world every other race safe for the African is practicing racial solidarity. I totally agree that race is a sociological and not a biological term. But the reality is that we operate in worlds of words and symbols. The Albinos we call Europeans (whether they live in Europe, Australia or North America) always present a united front against the rest of us. The Arabs and the Asians are doing the same thing. Or would someone tell me the last time he saw an Indian or a Chinese or even an Egyptian in an African shop?

Cheikh Anta Diop very ably demonstrated in his book, “The Cultural Unity of Black Africa,” that black Africa is culturally homogenous. Sadly, Europeans intruders have succeeded in destroying what should be a natural solidarity of a people who are, in essence, one people. I get irritated when I am asked in Ghana why I choose to live there. For those who might not know it, two of Ghana’s largest national groups, the Ewes and the Gas are of Yoruba descent. I’m still astounded by the sheer number of Yoruba words still found in the Ewe language (ku, enu, agbo just to mention a few). The Akans are the largest national groups in both Ghana and Ivory Coast. The Mossi straddles both Burkina Faso and Ghana. The Fulani (Pula or Peul) and the Hausas are found throughout West Africa, while the Mande (Mandigo) are to be found in large numbers in at least nine West African countries. Zulus are found in South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The Kongo people are found in both Congo and Angola whilst Maasai are to be found in both Kenya and Tanzania

Even in the most harmonious of families disputes do arise, but it’s courting disaster to invite outsiders to settle your family dispute. This again has been our tragedy in Africa. Ancient Africa was in rupture when European intruders came and took sides in our disputes. The clever European end up suppressing both parties and he became the ultimate winner. He ends up owning our very land.

Even in modern times whichever warfare in Africa we take a look at, the most ferocious and prolonged are those where outsiders (principally Arabs and Europeans) took sides.

Europeans do not allow any outsider to interfere in their affairs; Africa has no business inviting foreigners in to settle their wahala.

One only has to travel around to witness the immense beauty and diversity of the African culture, yet I do not know any other people on earth who had such low estimation of their cultural heritage as Africans.
Culture is manifested in music, painting, sculpture and in religion. The more we study our history the more we realize that our ancestors bequeathed to us a very rich cultural heritage. It then beholds upon us to become passionate even animated in enriching and protecting our own culture. Musically we are on top of the world. Our paintings have been plagiarized like no man’s business; example is cubism which made both Picasso and Matisse famous. African religion still continues to awe me with its deep reverence for life and its central humanness. The more I studied the Yoruba Ifa Religion, the more I’m astounded by its depth of its knowledge.
Religion is essentially ancestors worshipping and Africans remain the only people who do not pay homage to their ancestors. Could this lack of reverence for our ancestors be responsible for our current sad state? How ridiculous to see Africans bowing heads in prayer to the ‘god of Jacob or Abraham or a god of Israel?” Space will not permit an exhaustive examination of the Christian religion here, but Africans will do well to know that it owes its origins to the religion of their forebears in Egypt. One needs only to examine the Osirian drama, where the Egyptian redeemer-god sacrifices himself, dies, and is resurrected to save mankind, and see its close resemblance to the Jesus tale. Moses was brought up in the palace of the Pharaoh and the laws he claimed to have received from Mount Sinai was part of the Egyptian legal system. And we shouldn’t forget that Jesus spoke Aramaic, an African language, nor should we lose sight of the fact that the most potent symbol of Christianity, the cross was a copy of the ancient African Ankh.

It is absurd to expect oppressors to come and teach us how to free ourselves. I find incongruous the current situation where Western governments and their agencies are sponsoring ‘free media’ practices in Africa – a commodity sorely lacking in the West. African journalists, whatever their political, ideological or other orientations owe it to the motherland to be pro African first and last. We have no reason anymore to be giddy about imperialists and the cheap laurels they keep throwing at us.

The God’s truth is that Africa is stupendously beautiful and Africans can hold their own against the best in sheer beauty, why then do we allow ourselves to be stymied by the negative vibes of the CNN, the BBC World and other White Supremacist media? If I say ‘Black is Beautiful,’ I’m merely making a statement of fact. So why do we abandon the 1960’s slogan and start to view ourselves from the prisms of our historic oppressors.

There is no society created by man that hasn’t got its own earthly problems, why should Africa be different? Of course we face tremendously developmental challenges in Africa, so do Europeans and their American cousins. I have seen pictures of ghettos in the US that would make Ajegunle (a slum in Lagos) looks like paradise. Of course, you will not see such on the CNN.

I say it’s time we start singing our own praises. As Achebe said in ‘Things fall apart,’ “The Lizard that fell from the Iroko tree said if it does not praise itself no one else will.”

If they sing their crap and start awarding themselves ‘Academy’ and other awards, why are we not creating our own laurels for our pool of hugely talented artistes? Gladly, the Nigerians have invented Nollywood and are creating their own images of themselves; other African countries should follow this example.

It is time we stop being apologetic. As Professor Karenga rightly said, we are a non-obligated people. We have done nothing to be ashamed of. If they throw idi Amin at you, throw Stalin and Mussolini and Hitler right back at them.

In order to do this, however, you need to begin the journey in self-discovery. Read up on your history and more importantly teach it to your children.


Anonymous said...

wOw.. very enlightening article. This is especially relevant to me being an African living in North America - Canada. I see the effect of mis education on black youth. And you cant blame most of them because even the parents dont know. It's really sad when I find it impossible to relate to my caribbean brothers and sisters etc. There is hope though, I still find a few people who are open minded and are aware of their history and rich culture.

Anonymous said...

i am trinidadian and was never taught much about african history and i am so fascinated now that i see how important my culture and heritage is for my very livelihood.
i embrace it now and wish that i can further decolonize my mind. I enjoyed and learned many many things from the article and am blessed.

Wise saying:

" Never use both feet to test the depth of the sea." - African proverb