Culture of a continent

2012-06-30 08:47

We don’t need no Eurocentric miseducation

Early this year I visited Professor Molefi Asante, a fierce opponent of African cultural dislocation and a leading academic on African culture in the United States.

While I was there I attended a presentation by Dr Ama Mazama, another leading scholar on African culture.

A student of Ancient Egypt’s philosophy, Mazama understands that the teaching of our ancestors’ wisdom is essential for the prosperity of posterity.

Mazama is inspired by one of Ancient Egypt’s philosophers, Kheti, anthologised in Maulana Karenga’s book Selections From The Husia: Sacred Wisdom of Ancient Egypt.

“Follow in the footsteps of your ancestors, for the mind is trained through knowledge. Behold, their words endure in books. Open and read them and follow their wise counsel,” reads Kheti.

What emerges from Kheti’s counsel is that our African ancestors were logical in performing their rituals, and knew that without mental training the logic behind their acts would be lost to their descendants.

Colonialism replaced African traditional education with Eurocentric miseducation.

As Frantz Fanon observes in Wretched of the Earth, not only did colonialists empty the native’s brain of all form and content, but by a kind of perverted logic distorted, disfigured and destroyed the past of the oppressed people.

Consequently, Africans suffered cultural amnesia.

Against this backdrop we should understand why Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya (City Press, May 6) dismisses as a “ridiculous notion that there is something called ‘African culture’”.

When Moya argues that it “is bizarre when you consider that there are 54 countries in Africa” to speak of African culture, he writes as if the Balkanisation of Africa by the Berlin Conference in 1884 was done with the consent of Africans.

Then there was a shocker from the department of arts and culture’s chief director of social cohesion, Sandile Memela (City Press, June 3), who questions the “homogeneity of so-called African culture”.

Firstly, to appreciate the unity of African culture we just have to note that ubuntu, or botho, is not individual to any African ethnic group but a philosophical outlook across the continent.

Secondly, ancestor reverence, wrongfully referred to as “ancestor worship”, is another continent-wide cultural practice. Africans – those at home and those in the diaspora – pour libation to the ancestors.

Libation is practised in the belief that people do not “pass away” but “pass on”.

It is to ensure that the bond between the departed, the living and those yet to be born is not broken.

Thirdly, ancient Africans’ attitude to land is another feature that demonstrates African cultural unity.

Africans throughout the continent taught that land should neither be sold nor bought because it is the sacred property of the ancestors.

We realise that it was colonialists, through their miseducation, that historically sought to dismiss African cultural unity.

They perpetuated for centuries the lie that Africans had no history, no philosophy, no culture and no inventions.

Yet Europe’s museums are full of artifacts stolen from Africa.

While Eurocentric miseducationists continue to insist on African cultural differences to keep us away from our dream of political and cultural unity, they are doing their best in not only enjoying cultural unity but exporting their values across the world.

Hence Africans, not even knowing why, use cakes and candles for birthdays and weddings like their European masters do.

We wear ties – a European symbol of formality and respectability – like Moya and Memela do, thus celebrating European cultural unity while simultaneously questioning and denying African cultural unity.

But there are African scholars of note who have risen to the occasion and rescued our history and culture from distortion.

Public African intellectuals should do themselves and us a favour by studying Afrocentric texts on African culture.

They should do better than European colonialists who condemned African culture without understanding it first.

Steve Bantu Biko taught us in I Write What I Like that “one cannot escape the fact that the culture shared by the majority group in any given society must ultimately determine the broad direction taken by the joint society of that culture”.

» Sesanti is a lecturer in Stellenbosch University’s journalism department. He writes in a personal capacity.

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