Many Africans in America express an interest in learning a language from their ancestors. In some cases this may be a daunting challenge, however Kiswahili remains one of the most accessible African languages.
- It is the most widely spoken African language in the world (based on both primary and secondary speakers). Thus it is the best example of a Pan-African language.
- It has enjoyed a rich history of writing for centuries, from an Arabic based script (Ajami) to Latin script. As such, Kiswahili has a broad body of literature.
- It reflects the cosmopolitanism of the Swahili Coast with its loan words from Gujarati, Farsi, Arabic, other Bantu languages, and so on.
- Its diffusion as a commercial language, and later as an administrative language of the colonial powers also enabled it to function as a common language for those struggling for independence. Thus, Kiswahili has been a language of liberatory struggle.
- It became the default African language of the Black Power Movement in the United States as numerous institutions, organizations, individuals, and slogans were derived from Swahili. Thus Kiswahili words and phrases such as imani, nia, uhuru sasa, and simba may already be familiar to you.
- It forms the basis of the Pan-African holiday of Kwanzaa, created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966.
- Unlike most African languages, it is non-tonal with a simple five vowel system, making it less difficult for some learners to vocalize.
- There are numerous free resources available to learn the language.
- There are many beautiful and profound proverbs that have been developed in the Swahili culture.
- It is a conceptually or philosophically rich language, containing complex and important ideas such as ujamaa (socialism or cooperative economics), kujitegemea (self-reliance), umoja (unity), ukweli (truth), utu (humanity), and so on.
This list was adapted from a list created by @SemaKiswahili
The problems of dualistic thinking are manifold. It sustains the notion of a disjuncture between the self and other, when in fact these are often entangled.
Yes, I am not part of the air, but I breath the air. My use of an automobile subtly changes its molecular composition. The air supplies oxygen, a necessary element for my body’s functioning. Every exhalation contributes carbon dioxide to the air around me. The air and I are bound in a cycle of exchange which will continue until I cease to breathe.
I am not my children, or my wife, or my parents. Yet, I am clearly a part of all of them. For some this connection is biological (to my parents and children). For all, the context of shared experience reveals the myriad ways in which we are connected. Even for my father, from whom I was mostly estranged while growing up, his struggles with respect to exemplifying a compelling standard of manhood and to live ethically provide much of my determination to transcend his shortcomings. Thus even in his error, I have found inspiration and insight in his life. My journey is merely the continuation of his.
Indeed, there is no absolute disjuncture between these varied phenomenon. They are entangled.
Of late, much of my thinking about this has consisted of continued reflection on my practice of the arts, as they do not exist outside of me. At a certain point, they became a part of me. In fact, it was during a time when I attempted to take a much narrower perspective on the arts when I became more aware of the extent to which all of these experiences had shaped me, influenced how I perceived movement, and stimulated my thinking about the inextricable links between body and mind—a connection that combat training is supposed to augment. Further, I began to understand–perhaps unconsciously, that on the level of principle, I was not talking about Capoeira, or Choy Lay Fut, or Wing Chun, or this, or that–but circular arcs of movement, linear thrusts, lateral downward movement, sidestepping, flowing, intercepting, and on and on. I began to realize that the barriers between these arts were sustained not merely in the traditions that they embodied and their respective lineages, but that these had crystalized my mind. Thus my mind became the arbiter of an imagined disjuncture between these arts, it became the border guard policing the mental/physical territories that they were supposed to inhabit.
However, there are times when these mental crystals begin to crack, when the markings at the border have been obscured, when a greater awareness of underlying principles blurred distinction, prompting a recognition of a sense of connection and unity. It is at these moments, when I have been most clear that when practicing these arts, I am not simply engaging in some discipline that exists external to me, but that they facilitate my embodiment of these underlying principles. Thus while the art exists as a particular type of kinesthetic tradition emerging out of its respective milieu, it is also a tradition that, when embodied, is expressed through me, one that becomes a part of me. And in so doing, removes the disjuncture between the practitioner and their practice. Ideally, the two become one.
The process of re-Africanization, the need to heal ourselves, and the work of reality transformation are all interrelated. There is no disjuncture or hierarchy therein. They are concomitant endeavors, coterminous in their ends and implications.
What must be remembered is the critical need to draw upon African paradigms in these endeavors. As Jacob. H. Carruthers stated, “We cannot move our people by borrowing our foundations from other people.” This means that definitive movement consistent with our intended restoration of an African worldview, requires a deliberate engagement with African knowledges.
Many of us, like Sinuhe, have created homes for ourselves in foreign lands, but ultimately we must “return to the Black land”, that is reclaim our ancestral paradigms as a means of informing our cultural reclamation, our healing, and the transformation of the world.
My interest in constructed languages has been related to two queries. 1) Might we utilize a constructed language based off of African-languages to optimize language learning? 2) Can we use a mutually intelligible constructed language for intercommunication within the African world?
With respect to the first query, Afrihili or Guosa may be an examples of this. Though you have a great deal of advocacy for learning African languages in the US, few actually attain a high level of fluency. Part of the reason for this is the complexity of living languages.
My primary African language, Swahili, is a beautiful language, but none could claim that it is a grammatically simple language with its noun class system, affixes, and nature of agreement between nouns, verbs, and adjectives. In contrast, my third African language (of which I am still a rudimentary speaker), Twi, is one where I feel somewhat comfortable with grammar, but do have some difficulty with vowels, particularly tonal variation–a feature absent in the colonial language that I speak primarily.
If we look at the research pertaining to other constructed languages, particularly Esperanto, the time frames for acquisition are comparatively short. Attobrah’s creation of Afrihili, though imperfect, is an interesting model, one that could be augmented to optimize learnability.
However Dr. Edward Powe has stated that constructed languages have no natural base from which to spread. These languages spread from a speech community whose activities–economic, political, migratory–impact its diffusion. Consider the diffusion of Swahili, Twi, Hausa, or Wolof.
There is also the problem of constructed languages not fulfilling the desire present within many African Diasporan language learnings, that is connecting to specific African cultural communities–often to whom one has ancestry.
My interest in Swahili was informed by its role in Pan-African & Black Nationalist movements. My study of mdw nTr was related to it being a repository of ancient African deep thought. I learned Twi because I wanted to learn a language from West Africa, one to which I may have had an ancestral connection. This desire has also pertained to other languages of groups to which, based on my studies, I possess genetic ancestry. Thus for all of the reasons stated, I consider the prospect of constructed languages satisfying the desire for sankɔfa among African people to be exceedingly limited.
Therefore, I consider the second query to be fundamentally different. That is, “Can we use a mutually intelligible constructed language for intercommunication within the African world?” This question was quite interesting to me for a while, particularly with respect to the possibility of such a language facilitating communication among Africans who speak the colonial languages: Dutch, English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.
To this end, I was intrigued by both Interlingua and Lingua Franca Nova. However of late I have become much more interested in Papiamentu, given that it has many of the things that I like about the latter, with some degree of intelligibility for Spanish and Portuguese speakers. I wondered if, such a language could be used as a textual medium, one enabling us to communicate in literary form with other segments of the African world.
I am reminded of Ama Mazama’s translations of some African-centered works into French as being demonstrative of a need for deeper and broader engagement with communities fluent in French, Spanish, and Portuguese. The idea is that by using some interlanguage, one might find a much simplified means of communication short of learning what would otherwise be a complex language. Again, this was a consideration born of practicality, whereas ideally we would be centered in using African languages, most logically Swahili for such a task. But again, the issue of learnability must be addressed.
I do not consider learnability to be an insurmountable challenge. I look at what Native Hawaiians have done to revive their language. They have created a network of schools to create primary speakers of their ancestral tongue. Similarly, I think that we have to consider building supplementary schools focused explicitly on this problem–after-school programs, Saturday schools, rites-of-passage programs, study/conversation groups, and so forth including independent African-centered schools. My point is that if we are serious about solving the language problem, the solution will have to be institutionally-based.
A couple of weeks back Dr. Kwame Zulu Shabazz related a conversation that he had with a continental African regarding the question of the ethnic origins of Diasporan Africans. Dr. Shabazz was asked to identify his “tribe”, and his inability to do so produced some bewilderment in his interlocutor. His experience and discussion of it can be found here: http://twitter.com/kzshabazz/status/1004033728094638082. However this raises a number of interesting questions regarding the issue of Diasporan Africans and our identification with extant ethnic groups on the continent. A late comer to the conversation, I stated that folks seek to answer the “What is my ‘tribe’?” query using three means: DNA testing, divination, and simply “laying claim” to a group to whom one has some kind of affinity or attraction. I would like to briefly explore this question, that is “What is my ‘tribe’?” along with its implications.
It should be noted from the outset that “tribe” is problematic nomenclature for African ethnic groups. However, I will anchor my remarks to it for the sake of this discussion, given that this is the context in which this query was framed. Do note that terms such as ethnic group, society, people, or even nation are better descriptors of African peoples who are often discussed under the heading of “tribes”.
The most obvious reality, and this is borne out in the studies of the genomes of Africans in America, is that we are an admixed population, that is we possess genetic ancestry from a variety of African ethnic groups. This same research reveals that some places feature populations who possess a greater proportion of ancestry from specific African regions. Examples of this would include the presence of people with significant proportions of Akan ancestry in Jamaica and parts of the Virgin Islands. Other studies have suggested that the Igbo and Yorùbá (who possess notable genetic similarities) comprise a significant portion of the genetic makeup of many Africans in the United States. However, even in these cases, some degree of admixture is generally still present. As such, Africans today who are descended from enslaved Africans generally possess ancestral linkages to living groups such as the Bakongo, Fulani, Ewe and other Gbe-speaking peoples, Hausa, Akan, Yorùbá, Mandé peoples, and so on.
This admixing is paralleled by the cultural syncretism that emerged among Africans in the Diaspora, that is the intermixing of cultures from various ethnicities resulting in the formation of various “new” African cultures in the Americas. Brazil, Haiti, Cuba, Trinidad, the United States, and other parts of the Americas evidence the contributions of many African ethnicities. Brazil is an interesting case in point where the fighting traditions of Bantu peoples contributed to shaping Capoeira and Yorùbá and Bakongo spiritual traditions gave rise to Candomblé. Haiti also shows this same pattern, featuring Bakongo-influenced iconography, a spiritual tradition with significant influence from the Fon and other Gbe-speaking peoples, as well as the Yorùbá. The point is that preceding the question of “What is my ‘tribe’?” for Diasporan Africans, is the question of “Who are Diasporan Africans?”, a query that reveals various populations of African peoples who are essentially a genetic and cultural composite.
Elsewhere I have written that “The longing for home is most acute among a people dispossessed of one.” Here I was using home to refer to a place of affinity, belonging, one’s foundation in dimensions that are both spatial and cultural. Thus the question of “What is my ‘tribe’?” is most notably a question of home, and this has not been an idle query. In fact there have been several means that Diasporan Africans have utilized in response to it. In my response to Dr. Shabazz’s thread I stated that divination, DNA testing, and a sense of affinity have been bases of ethnic group identification that have been utilized by Africans in the US.
The first, divination or the revealing of one’s “ethnic root” occurs in consultation with mwaguzi (diviner) of the traditional African spiritual traditions. This special type of “reading” is intended to identify the particular ethnic group from whom one’s mzimu (“soul”) descends. Central to this process is the idea found in various West African cultures that the mzimu reincarnates further down the clan line, creating and maintaining continuity between the living mtu (person) and their wakale (ancestors).
The second, DNA testing has grown in popularity in tandem with advances with genetic genealogical research. The most advanced service, the one that has been customized specifically for Africans in the Americas, is African Ancestry, whose database contains 33,000 samples of mitochondrial (mtDNA) and Y-DNA from various African and non-African groups. Their service essentially identifies extant populations who share DNA with their customers. According to African Ancestry, the top five groups that they match test-takers with are Mende, Tikar, Fulani, Yorùbá, and Temne and the top five countries are Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau and Senegal. It should be noted that there is a great deal of overlap between these top five groups and countries as shown in the table below.
|Sierra Leone||Mende, Temne|
For those who receive one match, this may indeed satisfy the “What is my ‘tribe’?” question. However, research on the African American genome and its matches to African haplogroups (specific clusters of mtDNA and Y-DNA) often reveal matches to multiple groups, thus possibly complicating such a question. Also, it should be noted that while these types of DNA may be useful for obtaining some degree of specificity in terms of one’s genetic ancestry, they also represent a very minute portion of one’s DNA, thus basing one’s conception of one’s “tribe” on such a small sample of one’s larger genetic profile may or may not be problematic.
The third, affinity or attraction, appears to be based on a sense of connection to some extant African ethnic group and is not necessarily based on the two above instruments of investigation. Some people express feeling a strong connection to specific groups. This feeling may be based on a number of tangible and intangible things, but nonetheless provides a type of attraction.
Years ago, in my own quest to answer this question I availed myself of the services of a mwaguzi, who told me that my mzimu descended from the Ewe people. At some point this knowledge became the basis of further study and investigation into this group’s utamaduni (culture) and kale (history). Three features of the Ewe experience that struck me was the centrality of migration to their history, the absence of the formation of a centralized Ewe state along with the kind of political relations that existed between these, and the open-texturedness of Ewe culture with respect to their absorption of influences from other peoples—especially the Yorùbá and Akan. My occasional use of “day name” was also partially informed by this knowledge given that the Ewe has adopted this naming convention from the Akan.
More recently, I turned to DNA testing to revisit this question in the hopes of gaining a fuller understanding of my family’s history. My mtDNA matched the Tikar, Hausa, and Fulani of Cameroon and the Bubi people of Equatorial Guinea (my Y-DNA is non-African in origin). In my studies, I have focused on the language of the Hausa and the philosophy and history, particularly the intellectual history of the Fulani. The Hausa language is one of the most widely spoken languages in Africa. Like the Swahili language, it possesses many Arabic loanwords, which has also been useful for me in terms of informing my word recognition. Also, the Fulani’s contributions to the intellectual tradition in West Africa has been notable and inspiring. The Fulani were prominent among the scholars at Timbuktu, which is inspiring given my current profession, and that I am carrying forward this intellectual tradition.
Further, while I cannot say that I have felt a connection to any particular African group, I have been inspired and attracted to the cultures of various groups—the Igbo, Akan, Yorùbá, Bakongo, as well as the ancient Nile Valley. Thus, I have been and continue to be drawn to the wisdom and history of our people in ways that are both general and specific.
In closing, I think that the question “What is my ‘tribe’?” will be a recurring one due to our people’s continued estrangement from our land of origins, and with this, our history and ancestral traditions. I maintain that our response to this query must ultimately be reconciled alongside a conception of a Pan-African identity, that is an identity that recognizes the diverse African heritage of Diasporan Africans, while also seeking substantive connections to extant African cultures that enrich our culture and also provide the healing inherent in regaining a sense of historical continuity. Furthermore, I think that our efforts to answer this question can be enriched by each of the above methods as both the first (the “roots reading”) and third (affinity and attraction) align with the epistemologies of traditional Africa, while the second provides a useful tool in the reconstruction of African Diasporan genealogies. Thus I am not proposing one over the other, but rather elaborating upon what each potentially provides in both answering this question, but also transcending it.
Shaha Mfundishi Maasi emphasizes the implications of the fighting arts as tools of transformation. He states, “When one attempts to understand martial culture strictly from the confining standpoint of technical practice, they will one day learn and find themselves in a blind alley. Principle is the mother of technique.” Here he argues that understanding the underlying principles of the combat arts enables one to see these as wholistic tools or methods focused on the refinement of not only the shujaa’s (warrior’s) skills, but also his/her character. He also states that “The purpose of warriorship is to develop and enlightened being who is a human vortex of positive energy.” These insights have weighty implications for the conceptualization of practice, as many fail to employ their teaching to such critical ends.
Here I’ll offer two such examples. Mestre Preto Velho argues that Capoeira is not merely a means of self-defense, but also a vehicle for cultural transformation. He states “We can use things from our own culture to heal ourselves.” This includes Capoeira as a tool of empowerment, of cultural reorientation and revitalization. He adds, “We’ve been damaged. We have assimilated other people’s cultural norms. Gangsters are not part of African culture. There were no pimps and prostitutes on the slave ships. Culture defines the parameters of a people’s behavior.” Thus Capoeira (and other African fighting traditions) is not just a means of self-preservation, but also one of cultural transformation, that is social transformation.
Further, in his work to build the Federacao Autónoma da Capoeira Africana, Dr. Edward Powe has articulated the potential role of Capoeira as a tool of political education for Black people. He has noted his use of Umlabalaba (or “Zulu Chess”) as a means of mental training and Capoeira as one of politicization. This is a compelling end, one that seeks to elevate one’s concept of the art beyond its superficial aspects (that is it’s movements and the game), to the transformation of consciousness. And while some scholars (such as Downey) elaborate on the role of the art in re-patterning the practitioner kinesthetically, considerably more is at play–such as a burgeoning identification with Africa as the cradle for all Black culture, an appreciation for the resistance traditions of African peoples–that is our fight for self-determination, and the cultivation of a community of practitioners who represent the nucleus for the regeneration of the Black community–people who see and understand their practice as informing our transformation.
Again, as Shaha Mfundishi states, kicking and punching are necessary, but not sufficient. The shujaa must be emblematic of the type of personal transformation necessary for the reorientation of the community as a whole. S/he must be a model of the “new” African man or woman in whose image we seek to refashion the world.
The idea that we should approach African traditions as ways of being capable of transforming the consciousness of our people is a critical imperative. However re-Africanization is not merely a project of psychological reorientation, but is also an effort to re-pattern the world.
I could be mistaken, but it seems that the Western appeals to the universal, while relevant in informing a discourse on equality within the civic arena, have also served as a medium for the colonization of the ontologies and epistemologies of racialized and oppressed peoples. In this way, one might argue (and indeed, Imari Obadele did) that appeals to reform of the existing state apparatus and its default posture of coercive control towards African people, is also a ceding to that state a degree of unwarranted legitimacy.
The alternative to reform, sovereignty, that is Black nationalism, is generally regarded as both illegitimate and unrealistic. However notions of its legitimacy reside with one’s view on the basic question of whether African Americans have a right to self-determination. And history has demonstrated up until this point, and without a shadow of a doubt, that reforming America in such a way as to eradicate the vestiges of anti-Black racism within the society, its vast institutions, and its practices and beliefs continues to be an unrealistic end.
Therefore I maintain that the appeal to the universal obfuscates more than it clarifies. African people have a unique quandary, requiring a unique set of solutions. Solutions that are predicated upon cultural logics issuing forth from an African-centered orientation to reality.
Shiai Magazine: Who is actually Kamau Rashid? Talk about your life and martial arts experiences?
Kamau Rashid: Well I’m originally from the South Side of Chicago. Growing up in Chicago in the 80s and 90s left an indelible mark on me. On one hand this was a point where the crime rate, especially the murder rate was quite high. There was a pervasive consciousness of mortal danger. This was especially so in some of the neighborhoods where I lived and went to school.
On the other hand, this environment seemed to foster a certain type of critical consciousness. It was an environment where one could readily see the contradictions between the ethos of American society and its actual practices. After a while I found myself encountering a lot of people who possessed varying degrees of political consciousness. These encounters, coupled with my growing intellectual pursuits, and the daily struggle to stay alive all helped to mold me in certain ways.
When I finally went to college in the early 1990s I was able to pursue my intellectual interests without constraint. This allowed for me to foster a critical, and eventually an African-Centered world view.
It was also at this point that I began my study of the martial arts. It is fair to say that I had an acute awareness of the need to be capable of defending oneself based on my years in Chicago. I began my training with an eclectic group, one that blended Western Boxing, Karate, Akido, Ju-Jitsu, and Greco-Roman Wrestling. This style helped me to develop an appreciation for simplicity and comprehensiveness in a fighting system. I should say that this was prior to the advent of the mixed-martial arts. I trained with this group for a couple of years before moving on.
Eventually, I graduated from college, returned to Chicago, and developed a strong interest in the African martial arts. I had learned about a Capoeria group that trained on the South Side of Chicago. But they met on Saturdays, which was a work day for me. Eventually I decided to postpone pursuing the African arts and at the recommendation of a colleague of mine I began studying Wing Chun Kung Fu.
Wing Chun Kung Fu was a great experience for me. It helped me to see an even greater depth of simplicity in the art (or science) of combat. Moreover, this was my first introduction to combat theory. It was from this experience that my understanding of the martial arts began to mature.
A few years later (during the early part of the 2000s) I went back to school to obtain my doctoral degree. I used my return to college to get a lot of low-cost training. So I studied Choy Lay Fut Kung Fu and the mixed-martial arts. I also got introduced to Kali stick fighting and some Jeet Kune Do around this time.
It was also during this time that I decided to renew my pursuit of the African arts. After a false start, I eventually hooked up with Ahati Kilindi Iyi and attended his domestic camp in 2005. While there I also met Mestre Preto Velho. This basically started me down the path of dealing substantively with the African arts. Since then I’ve trained in Capoeira pretty consistently, though I have become something of a Capoeira hobo of late.
Of late I’ve sought balance in my training. This means seeking proficiency in all of the various dimensions of combat. My principle goals once again are simplicity and comprehensiveness.
Shiai Magazine: What can sociology help in African American society and black society in general, can vain theories really indeed help the African/black races to have self esteem and determination?
Kamau Rashid: Sociology is essentially the study of society. It is an attempt to understand the various social and historical forces that act upon us and shape our lives. Central to the Sociological process is theory. In Sociology theories serve as statements that attempt to explain or predict phenomenon.
I maintain that Sociology can indeed by useful in the transformation of African people. That is, if we develop and employ an African-Centered Sociology.
There are a number of social theories that have been offered by African-Centered scholars that are of critical importance. One that readily comes to mind is Maulana Karenga’s Kawaida Theory. Kawaida theory starts from the basic premise that the core crisis in African life is the cultural crisis and challenge. It continues that Africans must reconstruct their culture using the best elements of African culture, and then use this emancipatory culture to galvanize us in reshaping the world in our image and interest.
When we take the ideas of Kawaida and begin to look critically at the numerous, vexing issues that plague the African American community we can certainly problematize the role of maladaptive cultural responses that contribute unwittingly to this malaise. One very prominent example is the soaring murder rate among young African American males. This is occurring despite the fact that murder has declined among nearly every other segment of the American population.
The question becomes, what makes us so unique? Well, our estrangement from our own culture via the ravages of the Maafa is simply unprecedented. The process of enslavement was critical in problematizing the humanity of Africans. As such, not only did Europeans construct a grand narrative as to the utter inferiority of Africans, they also possessed the power to impose this wholly deficient worldview upon us. Thus they created the malaise that W.E.B. Du Bois referred to as Double Consciousness, the tragic state of being African, yet seeing oneself through the eyes of Europeans.
Kawaida insists that we must see the world through African eyes. Kawaida insists that our grand historical narrative be one that exemplifies the dignity and nobility of Africans’ struggle against tyranny. It also insists that Africans who are taught to see themselves as having a sacred duty to promote good, fairness, and justice in the world would be disinclined to kill one another over gang affiliations, drug territory, having one’s gym shoes stepped on accidentally, or any of the other reasons why we take the lives of our fellow Brothers and Sisters. People who see themselves as being the quintessential expressions of a valued and sacred humanity work to elevate their collective condition. This is quite the contrary of what many of us are doing in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities.
So yes, an African-Centered Sociology can indeed inform how we might address our basic problems. If we use a Kawaida approach for instance, we might eschew the mis-guided practices of conspicuous consumption and atomistic individualism and instead work tirelessly and collectively to build viable families and communities.
Shiai Magazine: You say that your a survival instructor and that you help many blacks to survive in the society, against what? What is exactly the Black Survival Network indeed?
Kamau Rashid: The Black Survival Network is an organization that was established thirty years ago to train the African community in the United States in the science of disaster awareness and preparedness. Our concerns have been driven by many things, but most recently the interrelated environmental crises of peak oil, water scarcity and global warming. It is quite apparent that these crises each have the capacity to threaten the survival of the human species in general, and Africans in particular.
Conscious Africans need to recognize that our survival will only be assured if we are prepared to deal with the uncertainties of the future. The mission of the Black Survival Network is to train Africans to deal with those unknowns.
Shiai Magazine: Since you practices several martial arts systems and styles you know very much implication and role of Africa and black community in the heritage of martial arts and sports combat in general. Why all a sudden the urge and need of the promotion of African Martial arts in the entire diaspora community be it America, Brazil, Jamaica and so forth?
Kamau Rashid: I think that many of us want to gain a better understanding of the African contribution to the martial arts. This is certainly another nuance in the oft-neglected and unknown historical and cultural legacy of African humanity.
Personally, I always felt a small sense of dissonance training in non-African arts. I realized that the rituals, languages, and protocols were from the particular experiences of that style’s progenitors, be they Chinese, Japanese, etc. I knew that these styles invoked and revered their cultural ancestors. Well, this lead me to a basic question: what was the martial tradition of our warriors? We certainly invoke the names of Taharka, Nzingha, Shaka, Zumbi, and others, but this invocation often doesn’t move to the level of tactics and technique. How did they fight? And why were they so effective? Well, you can’t begin to answer this question until you study these systems rigorously.
Fortunately, some people have embarked on the difficult journey of discovering and teaching the African martial way. This is what I like to call the African Warrior Tradition. As our collective understanding of these martial systems has grown, so too has the fervor to disseminate this information.
There’s another dimension too. I think that its wedded to the belief the African martial arts can facilitate a cultural transformation in the minds, bodies, and spirits of our people. Mestre Preto Velho, Baba Balogun, and others have expressed this sentiment. This may also fuel the fervor with which some of us are attempting to promote these arts.
Shiai Magazine: Tell us the differences between Kung fu and Capoeira, both systems demands movements, flow, agility, speed and strength but what makes differences between African and Asian martial arts systems?
Kamau Rashid: This is an excellent question. I think that any martial system bears the indelible mark of the culture that created that system. Its history, political-economy (social institutions), aesthetic sensibilities, language, and ethos (collective psychology) all shape this.
People have to understand this. One cannot understand traditional Jiu-Jitsu outside of understanding feudal Japan. One cannot understand Tai Chi without contextualizing it relative to Taoist philosophy. Lastly, one cannot understand Capoeira without understanding cultural dynamics and political history of central and southwestern Africa; as well as the horrors of the Maafa, and African resistance to enslavement in Brazil. I know that a lot of people try to lift martial arts outside of their attendant cultural moorings, but this is impossible and impractical.
With regards to movement, flow, speed, and agility—the Chinese arts, though often fluid and organic, manifest a different quality than the dynamism manifested in the African arts. I am not speaking here of one way being superior or inferior to another. I am simply noting a core difference.
For instance, Capoeira is an art that uses semi-perpetual motion in the form of the Ginga to generate linear and lateral energy. Every technique that the Capoeirista launches draws from this force. The Ginga is central to the body mechanics needed for proper power generation when striking. Also, the flow of motion and energy is constant. It doesn’t stop. The Capoeirista moves seamlessly from evasion to attack to attack to evasion to attack and so forth. Capoeira is omni-directional. The capoeirista may launch a kick to the head that misses, move into a ground position to give the impression of being defensive, and launch another kick or sweep from the ground in the opposite direction. Thus, the adept fighter can strike or move in any direction at any time. There is an organicity in Capoeira that cannot be described. It has to be seen or experienced.
Now what I’ve just described may be similar in some respects to the Chinese arts, but still different. I’ll use Choy Lay Fut Kung Fu as an an example. Similar to Capoeira, Choy Lay Fut attempts to use a lot of circular power. It relies on continual attack and uses the shifting of the stance to generate power. Though, unlike Capoeira, Choy Lay Fut’s power source isn’t semi-perpetual motion. It is the movement from one stance to another. This creates a footwork that is substantially less dynamic and mobile than Capoeira’s Ginga. Whereas the Capoeirista trains to see the potential attack in any situation (standing, kneeling, falling, etc.), Choy Lay Fut’s body of techniques does not produce the same range of possibilities. Also, Choy Lay Fut, like most striking arts relies primarily on the horizontal plane of combat. That is, it focuses on using distance to moderate the types attacks that one would use in a given situation. Capoeira uses the horizontal and vertical planes. Meaning that the Capoeirista may moderate their attack based on distance from an opponent, and height in relation to the ground. Thus in Capoeira, the ground is employed as an offensive space. Choy Lay fut does this to a very limited extent, but lacks Capoeira’s mobility on the ground level. To be sure, there are some Chinese arts that make a more robust use of this vertical plane, however I would maintain that Capoeira’s uses of linear and lateral power gives it a different striking platform than these other arts.
I guess the essence of it is that the African martial arts, as reflected by Capoeira have a substantially different principle of motion. It is a principle that is rhythmical, spontaneous, and intuitive. Also, they derive from the historical and cultural reality of African humanity.
As someone who has trained in both African and Chinese arts, I must say that I feel more at home doing Capoeira. This is not say that I don’t still practice these various non-African systems, but I have a substantial cultural and aesthetic appreciation for Capoeira as an African fighting system.
Shiai Magazine: You have created the African Warrior Tradition which is an online discussion forum based African military, martial arts and African resistances, why the need of creating such a discussion group? Do you think that African Warrior Tradition should evolved and become a true organization promoting African Warrior heritage and culture?
Kamau Rashid: I was compelled to create the African Warrior Tradition for several reasons. First, many of the on-line discussion forums focused on the African arts have de-evolved into extremely divisive discussions regarding authenticity, or have taken on a very fundamentalist bent. To be sure, we do need to address matters of authenticity. However, we can do this in a civilized fashion. In some instances this was not occurring.
In other instances people were dealing with the African arts in an isolated manner. Whether this was having one group focused on continental arts and another on diasporic arts. I felt that we needed to address these matters comprehensively.
I’m not sure if this group should or could spawn a viable, international organization. However I think that it can contribute to such an effort. Ultimately I think that such a development should draw upon a cross-section of interests, entities, institutions, and individuals. Unfortunately I’m not sure if my group, the African Warrior Tradition, has become the public commons for this diverse and growing community. Suffice it to say, I would be immensely supportive of such an initiative.
Shiai Magazine: Is it true that you are creating your own martial arts system based on your experiences?
Kamau Rashid: Yes, I am attempting to synthesize my varied martial arts knowledge. This system, which I’m calling Sbayt Nkht, or “instructions for the attainment of victory” in the language of the ancient Kmt (Egypt), is a dynamic synthesis of everything that I know. I’ve attempted to use the ideas of simplicity and comprehensiveness as a core philosophy. Its really just a reflection of how I train myself and my son. It’s an attempt to give added structure to something I’ve been doing informally.
Shiai Magazine: Have you been to Africa or other areas in the world where the African diasporas are found? Are you not thinking to create network in other parts in the world?
Kamau Rashid: Unfortunately I have not been to Africa yet. I have been to Belize in central America. You have a strong African community there called the Garifuna. While I was in Belize I did not inquire as to the existence or nature of their fighting arts. I hope to do this in the future. However, I do believe that it is absolutely necessary that we build a global network around the African martial arts.
Shiai Magazine: Any future projects in which you will like to talk about?
Kamau Rashid: Right now I’m focused on three objectives. One, concretizing Sbayt Nkht and in the process streamlining and enhancing my own training. Two, continuing to network with other like-minded Africans via the Internet and conferences. There’s a great deal of energy out there right now that I think we need to channel. Third, I have a series of children’s stories that I want to publish sometime in 2010. Many of these stories are set in ancient Africa and depict the African Warrior Tradition in various contexts whether it be hand-to-hand or armed combat. I think that African youth need an African-Centered and compelling body of action literature that can excite their imagination about our historical legacy much like other children possess.
Shiai Magazine: As the founder of the African Warrior Tradition what is the role and implication of the African warrior in the black society and the entire world society? Many blacks says that they are warriors but they are same to sell drugs and weapons in streets and encourage prostitution? Can our children follow the true spirit of African warrior beliefs?
Kamau Rashid: When we look at traditional and ancient African societies, the warrior was expected to safeguard the welfare of the society. Whether this meant taking to the battlefield or working the farm, the warrior’s obligation was to his or her people.
The people in our communities who prey on other Africans are not warriors. They are parasites. I know that some people say that these are not parasites, they are simply wayward warriors and the like. The problem with this notion is that it assumes that intelligence, wisdom, or basically common sense lies strictly within the purview of the politically or culturally conscious; and that if the politically and culturally conscious were to bestow their lofty wisdom upon the present-day drug dealer, pimp, child abuser, etc. that they will be magically transformed into whole human beings…whole African men and women. Clearly this is problematic. Firstly, we don’t have any monopoly on common sense. Even the most wayward member of the African community knows the difference between right and wrong. There may be a small minority to whom this doesn’t apply, but for the most part most of know on a basic level whether our actions are morally just or unjust. Secondly, everyone is not necessarily responsive to information or ideas. America is steeped in anti-intellectualism. Many people go out of their way to avoid thinking at all costs. Thus, reasoning with and cajoling people into acting in a manner that we deem is appropriate will only be effective with some, but not all.
So where does that leave us. What seems to have the greatest capacity to regulate human behavior is culture. Culture consists of many dimensions, however three in particular that are imperatives for ours (or any other community) are norms, sanctions, and values. Norms are the standards of behavior deemed appropriate or necessary by the community. Sanctions are the rewards or punishments that people receive for complying with or disobeying the norms. Values are our collective concepts of good and bad.
You see our problem is that we have failed to embrace a cultural system that promotes a functional and collectively beneficial set of norms. We have failed to develop and maintain a social structure that is capable of carrying out sanctions. We have also been remiss in promoting the values that are most relevant to our collective welfare and development.
When these things are in place, people naturally become warriors. They naturally develop a desire to sacrifice (to give of themselves) for the sake of our collective survival. They seek the skills, knowledge, and resources that are consistent with the expression of these values in the world.
So, yes, we must create warriors. But our paradigm of warriorhood must be informed by the best of global African culture.
Shiai Magazine: Why so much popularity of African Martial Arts? There are several books being published based on the topic by several famous african martial artist. There are also several african martial arts festivals and events being organized.There is even several african martial arts magazines be it printed, online, DVD or on TV. And finally two main film projects on the topic “The Way” starring Khalil Maasi a Ray Muhammed film in the United States and MoneyBag starring Joe ATEBA an Aurelien Henry OBAMA film in Cameroon?
Kamau Rashid: I think that many people feel that its time for us to tell our story. This is true in many regards. But as it relates to the martial arts, I think that people are increasingly cognizant of the need for us to represent ourselves in a dignified and inspiring way. A way that compels us to reflect deeply about who we have been, who we are, and where we as a people need to go.
I think that this is related to several broader thrusts. First, is the maturation of the African-Centered Movement in the United States. This movement, which has grown out of the cultural nationalist thrust of the 1960s, has been central in calling for greater study, reclamation, institutionalization, and practice of African culture. Second, may be the increasing heterogeneity of the visible martial arts scene. Forty years ago people knew about martial arts coming form China and Japan, but they may not have known about much beyond that. Today people are aware of Thai arts, Indonesian arts, Fillipino arts, Russian arts, etc. People are literally mining the world for its marital arts traditions. In fact there have been at least two television shows dedicated to this quest. This may be leading more and more of us to say “well if all of these other people have martial arts, then what about Africans”? Third is probably our (Africans’) incessant quest to be self-determining, self-affirming, and self-defining, and the imperative of sharing this consciousness with other Africans. So for many of us the African martial arts become a rites-of-passage system, it becomes a value system, ultimately it becomes mechanism of socialization. I think that many of us believe that we can use these systems, as well as a broader African cultural construct, to transform our people.
Shiai Magazine: As an elite and high personality in an african martial arts community, what advice can you give the to african child who wants to fulfill his dream be it in martial arts or any field of life knowing that is very hard among african people to succeed in life?
Kamau Rashid: Well I wouldn’t consider myself an elite or anything like that. However, if I were to offer any advice to a young African aspiring for success in life I would say that you should always walk the path of self-mastery. Seek to eradicate your fears. Surround yourself with positive and challenging opportunities that will give you a greater depth of self-knowledge. Also, build healthy relationships with elders, teachers, etc. who are capable to guiding down the path that you seek to walk. It always important to remember that difficult does not mean impossible, success is always attainable if you are sufficiently determined.
Shiai Magazine: What is your opinion on Shiai Magazine and work of Aurelien Henry OBAMA?
Kamau Rashid: I think that Shiai Magazine is a noble and positive effort. I applaud Bro. Aurelian’s work to bring the African martial arts to the forefront. We need to support and sustain his work.
Shiai Magazine: Any last words?
Kamau Rashid: Thanks for requesting this interview. Its been an honor to participate in your admirable work.
Shiai Magazine: Thank you brother Kamau Rashid in accepting our interview, we hope oneday to receive you in Cameroon “Africa Miniature”, God bless you and let our ancestors guide your path!
Kamau Rashid: Thanks Bro. Aurelien. I’d love to visit Cameroon. I look forward to our continued collaboration. I wish you immeasurable success in your endeavors.