The tragedy of our situation is not simply what has happened, but what, as a result, can never be. It is this gap between what would be optimal and ideal, and what is that we must reconcile ourselves with. This reconciliation need not be capitulation, but a resolute commitment to forge the future out of an imperfect past.
I think that the academy is overly concerned with its own importance; that what passes for criticality within it can generally be characterized as, at best, safe and non-threatening to the global systems that it purports to critique; and at worse, discourses that obfuscate what terms like “critical”, “radical”, or “revolutionary” potentially mean.
I may be wrong, but I think that Amy Jacques Garvey, Malcolm X, Hannibal Afrik, and so many others who were advocates of African liberation situated their work beyond the confines of academia because academia is not–despite the copious use of the terms “critical” or “social justice”–a sustainable front in revolutionary struggle. It is a potential contested zone, but many of the people best positioned to contest these spaces are more interested in attaining the rewards of the institution, rewards that do not change or challenge the material conditions that we face. Many others are, sadly, forced to prioritize their own survival over the lofty ends of reality transformation, as these spaces can eviscerate the emotional well-being of those unprepared for the incalculably numerous microscale attacks on their humanity that occur therein.
Yes, some of us survive to have respectable careers. However, we are consequentially and perpetually weighted down by the armor of self-protection, distracted by the maddening churn of assessment and evaluation, made less productive by the efforts to prevent our brain spaces from being new sites of colonization by the armies of vacuous rhetoric and needless toil, and made less productive in the worlds that we actually inhabit as our vision of an emancipatory social possibility is filtered through language and paradigms that binds and blinds us.
The academy is a self-disguising and dynamically modular möbius loop. It masks its own redundancy with the illusion of relevance and the busying of professors who it perpetually seeks to reduce to the status of drones.
It has become the new shrine whereupon whose alter we sacrifice fertile minds and preciously finite time in the hopes that the mystery gods of the heavens will transmute our offering into transformative action in the world. If so, it will be the first time in the history of the world that work has been accomplished absent a preceding and corresponding effort. Such is the unforgiving nature of the world, that words, no matter how abundant are no proxy for action. As the elders remind us, “Kazi (work) is the Blackest of all.”
The New York Times featured an interesting article on philosophy in the academy entitled “When Philosophy Lost Its Way“. After reading it, it provoked some of my thinking about the nature of academic knowledge production and the significance of African philosophy.
This is a good discussion of the ruinous nature of so many forms of academic knowledge production. The academy has succeeded (along with the academic publishing industry) in commodifying knowledge in rather unnatural ways that divorces its productive cycles and areas of emphases from the existential quandaries that exist in the world.
I think that a number of questions are in order here. How does philosophy answer the crises that so typify so-called modern life? How does philosophy inform a mode of social criticism capable of forming a new conception of society? How does philosophy reinforce the more generalized and diffuse Eurocentric hegemony of Western education? Is philosophy (as we know it) more trouble than it’s worth? What might we pose as an alternative?
While I am disinclined to suggest a forward path for Western philosophy, I will argue that for people of African descent, the resuscitation of philosophical discourses and modalities of knowledge production are a vital part of social transformation. Whether we are examining the deep thought of the ancient Nile Valley pertaining to “good speech”, or the cosmological insights of the Dogon, or the Yoruba conception of struggle and its necessity, the love of wisdom as captured in the works of Ahmed Baba and his contemporaries at the Univ. of Sankore in the 16th Century, the social theories of Prince Hall or Martin R. Delany or Anna Julia Cooper, the cultural analysis of Du Bois from the 30s and 60s, Master Fard Muhammad’s and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s discourse on moral intractability, Malcolm X’s critique of America’s vaunted and dubious morality, Sista Souljah’s thesis about enslavement as the default condition of Africans in the American social order, and on and on. Philosophy has a great deal to offer us, but first we must do as Jacob H. Carruthers instructed and resolve ourselves to cultivate bodies of knowledge both divorced from the imperatives of the West and inextricably linked to our efforts to transform both the world and ourselves.
Some brief reflections on the article Nigeria: The “repats” who have returned.
This is a promising development. It is also somewhat unsurprising. While the Black elite has fared marginally well in the West, the suffering of the masses reflects the tenuous nature of our collective welfare. In short, our mid-20th Century forbears were buoyed by dreams of hopes that have been largely unrealizable for their descendants. What opportunities we find have and will continue to contract.
Should we look abroad for opportunity? Certainly, but we should be cautious about the dangers of feeding the unsustainable and rapacious system of global capitalism on the continent. Yes we need economic development, but we need a paradigm of economic development that reconciles human need with the capacity of the planet.
Moreover, we should be mindful that there are over 100 million people of African descent in the Western hemisphere. If our concept of economic opportunity and development consists of the globally mobile, Black cosmopolite elite absconding to Nigeria, Ghana, or elsewhere while our people still suffer under the terror that has so defined our American (North and South) experience, then our vision is deficient. The question that I have asked myself, which I have not yet been able to answer is, how do the economic development initiatives of repatriates in Africa favorably impact our communities in the diaspora? Again, to leave is not enough. Turning away from a problem does not resolve it. We need comprehensive solutions, which will be, as they always are, necessarily multifaceted.
“Every decisive gain achieved by the anti-capitalist forces will be countered by the state against the working class. This repression will be significantly greater against Blacks and other national minorities than experienced by other sectors of the working class. Socialists must come to the conclusion at the outset that there will be no peaceful culmination in the achievement of state power. ”
-Manning Marable, How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America
“Think about the strangeness of today’s situation. Thirty, forty years ago, we were still debating about what the future will be: communist, fascist, capitalist, whatever. Today, nobody even debates these issues. We all silently accept global capitalism is here to stay. On the other hand, we are obsessed with cosmic catastrophes: the whole life on earth disintegrating, because of some virus, because of an asteroid hitting the earth, and so on. So the paradox is, that it’s much easier to imagine the end of all life on earth than a much more modest radical change in capitalism.”
-Slavoj Zizek, Zizek!
“The importance of socialism to the Kawaida project begins with the fact that the basic tenets of socialism are rooted in African communitarian thought and practice and are thus a part of our cultural heritage. As Nkrumah noted, communalism is the socio-political ancestor of socialism and socialism is communalism in modern form and circumstances. In this regard, we reaffirm the central African communitarian principles of shared work, shared wealth and shared decision-making in an unalienated communal environment–in a word, ujamaa. Secondly, socialism offers the most severe critique of capitalism and thus makes a necessary, even critical contribution to our understanding of the society we live in and struggle to change in the interest of social justice and human development.”
-Maulana Karenga, Kawaida: A Communitarian African Philosophy
“Not all economists have fallen for the notion that growth will go on forever. There are schools of economic thought that recognize nature’s limits and, while these schools have been largely marginalized in policy circles, they have developed potentially useful plans that could help society adapt.
The basic factors that will inevitably shape whatever replaces the growth economy are knowable.To survive and thrive for long, societies have to operate within the planet’s budget of sustainably extractable resources. This means that even if we don’t know in detail what a desirable post-growth economy and lifestyle will look like, we know enough to begin working toward them.
We must convince ourselves that life in a non-growing economy can be fulfilling, interesting, and secure. The absence of growth does not necessarily imply a lack of change or improvement. Within a non-growing or equilibrium economy there can still be continuous development of practical skills, artistic expression, and certain kinds of technology. In fact, some historians and social scientists argue that life in an equilibrium economy can be superior to life in a fast-growing economy: while growth creates opportunities for some, it also typically intensifies competition—there are big winners and big losers, and (as in most boom towns) the quality of relations within the community can suffer as a result. Within a non-growing economy it is possible to maximize benefits and reduce factors leading to decay, but doing so will require pursuing appropriate goals: instead of more, we must strive for better; rather than promoting increased economic activity for its own sake, we must emphasize whatever increases quality of life without stoking consumption. One way to do this is to reinvent and redefine growth itself.”
-Richard Heinberg, The End of Growth
“It is the purpose of education, which ultimately makes it Maatian. The most fundamental difference between Western and African education is its purpose. The purpose of Western education is to train people to function within a Capitalist system, to fill the ranks of the workforce as capitalists, to consume the material things produced by the society, to acquire position, money, power, to gain control over others and the planet. Quite differently, the purpose of Maatian education is the protection and development of all life, society, self, and to respect and care for others and the Earth, to show compassion and create harmonious balance and health.”
-Rkhty Amen, A Life Centered Life: Living Maat
The acquisition of sovereignty is not simply a political process, in fact the actualization of statehood is one of the later stages of this arc of national development. One might argue that it begins more squarely in the minds of the people, in their conscious recognition of their right to be independent, to be the arbiters of their collective affairs. Part of the social psychology of nationalist struggle is embedded in the language that the people employ to express their aspirations for freedom.
Martin Delany, in his book The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States,
In our own country, the United States, there are three million five hundred thousand slaves; and we, the nominally free colored people, are six hundred thousand in number; estimating one-sixth to be men, we have one hundred thousand able bodied freemen, which will make a powerful auxiliary in any country to which we may become adopted—an ally not to be despised by any power on earth. We love our country, dearly love her, but she don’t love us—she despises us, and bids us begone, driving us from her embraces; but we shall not go where she desires us; but when we do go, whatever love we have for her, we shall love the country none the less that receives us as her adopted children.
Delany establishes three major points in this passage. First is that we, African people in the U.S., are powerful force, one that is capable of contributing favorably to any society. Second is that we are loathed by that same society. That this loathing denies us comfort sufficient with equating this society with the intimacy and warmth that we associate with home. Third he advocates that we find a home, that we chart a future for ourselves free of the fetters of degradation.
Central to Delany’s advocacy for independence is the use of language as a way of demarcating the social milieu wherein such struggle is to waged. In so doing he articulates a very specific image of African Americans: A powerful collective, persecuted, yet aspiring towards a sovereign reality.
The second stage in the arc of national development is the formation of social movements for the acquisition of sovereignty. Two historical examples that illustrate this are the tradition of maroonage during the era of enslavement and the movement for the establishment of independent cities and towns in the immediate aftermath of enslavement’s supposed abolition. In each of these contexts the people, in word and deed, affirmed their right to be free. These actions were an outward manifestation of an underlying belief in the legitimacy of independence and the viability of sovereignty as a response to the oppressive state apparatus of U.S. society.
The maroon tradition is indicative of the unwillingness of Africans to acquiesce to European dominance. One apt example of this comes from the account of a maroon named Mango from Virginia. They state.
I escaped my master’s plantation. It was so easy. I tried to convince my close friends to leave with me. Only three did so […] To keep the remaining slaves in check, master told the slaves we were ruthless, unchristian and not to be trusted.
When we raided plantations, the slaves ran from us faster than the whites. We have twenty-seven men and twenty-eight women now. At one time we had as many as forty-eight men and thirty women before their deaths. We have lost only four men during raids and on the many plantations we have raided, we could only get six slaves to run with us. And they were all women. The whites will never catch us…
Mango expresses little ambiguity about the legitimacy of struggle against an oppressive system, of divesting that system of the human fuel that powers it. Mango’s account is simultaneously critical of the state apparatus and the mass of Europeans invested in its survival, as well as instructive of what is perceived to be the most practical response—independence and sovereignty.
Though the maroon movement is typically considered only a feature of the era of enslavement, the response of our people to continued oppression after enslavement’s supposed end reflects certain affinities with the maroons’ view. On April 17, 1880 Benjamin “Pap” Singleton, leader of the movement of Blacks to the western United States, was called to testify before Congress. When asked why he set out to establish this movement he stated:
Well, my people, for the want of land–we needed land for our children–and their disadvantages–that caused my heart to grieve and sorrow; pity for my race, sir, that was coming down, instead of going up–that caused me to go to work for them. I sent out there perhaps in ’66–perhaps so; or in ’65, any way–my memory don’t recollect which; and they brought back tolerable favorable reports; then I jacked up three or four hundred, and went into Southern Kansas, and found it was a good country, and I though Southern Kansas was congenial to our nature, sir; and I formed a colony there, and bought about a thousand acres of ground–the colony did–my people.
Here Singleton acknowledges the malaise of African people–incessant dehumanization and degradation. However he also articulates his view of the importance of land, that which Malcolm X said was the “basis of all independence”, and thus seeks to establish a land base for African people. Singleton stops short of waging war against the system set against African people (as advocated by the maroons), nor does he call for national independence (as does Delany), what he does however is to demonstrate the necessity and intelligence of creating the institutional framework requisite of any sovereign people.
Both of these accounts evidence the use of language in significant ways. Mango’s account exposes the oppressor as fallible and vulnerable in the face of opposition. He also demarcates the political sensibilities of the African masses as those who are willing to confront the enemy and those lacking in this resolve. He closes with a defiant assertion, “The whites will never catch us”, in effect stating that they will not be stopped. Likewise Singleton begins by framing the necessity of his actions in terms of futurity—“our children” and the absence of viable possibilities for their lives being a source of grief and sorrow. He also reveals that the Exoduster movement was not simply the effort of a charismatic, heroic individual, but a collective effort as he notes having received favorable reports from his agents of the suitability of Kansas for his people.
The third and fourth stages in the arc of national development are the creation of a sovereign state and the defense of that state from contrary forces. These are reflected in the Republic of New Africa’s New African Creed. For the sake of this discussion points 5, 6, and 8 are most relevant. These state:
5. I believe that the fundamental reason our oppression continues is that We, as a people, lack the power to control our lives.
6. I believe that the fundamental way to gain that power, and end oppression, is to build a sovereign Black nation.
8. I believe in the Malcolm X Doctrine; that We must organize upon this land and hold a plebiscite, to tell the world by a vote that We are free and our land independent and that after the vote, We must stand ready to defend ourselves, establishing the nation beyond contradiction.
These stages of struggle are interlinked. The realization of sovereignty necessitates a disruption of the existing apparatus of anti-African oppression, and as such represents a threat to the continued functioning of that system. Like Mango noted centuries ago, to deprive the existing system of African people—our labor, wealth, and our minds– is to deny it the fuel that drives it and enables our oppression. Thus the RNA clearly recognized that the most effective response to oppression is sovereignty, and that our efforts to attain sovereignty would not go uncontested.
We continue to refine our understanding of struggle, and this is reflected in our language and tactics. From “Uhuru Sasa” (“Freedom Now” in Kiswahili) in the 1960s to Abibifahodie (“Black Liberation” in Twi) today, language continues to be a contested domain, a frontier of struggle that reflects our efforts to define reality for ourselves. Ultimately language is more than a mere means of communication. It also becomes a way of demarcating space, reinforcing identity, and engaging in a process of symbol manipulation—that is the utilization of imagery for the sake of communicating certain ideas.
Language conveys layers of meaning, and these layers multiply as we move from colonial, to modern African, to classical African languages. The colonial languages are the existing frame via which we have sought to articulate much of our aspirations for freedom. These languages reflects the extent to which that struggle itself is embedded within the territorial context of European domination and the context of cultural penetration. The use of African languages within these struggles in the mid-20th Century represents both the contested nature of space—that we continued to reside in the spatial context of European domination, but that we had resolved to transform our culture to augment our capacity to resist it. These languages also symbolized a conscious process of re-Africanization, that is the reclamation of African culture in the wake European oppression. The growth of interest in the classical African language of mdw nTr (Medew Netcher) in the late Twentieth Century represents an attempt to use language acquisition as a process to reconstruct and operationalize an African worldview as a prerequisite to both conceiving and actualizing a sovereign reality.
Language matters. It is not an idle consideration. Quite the contrary it reflects the cultural logics of liberatory struggle. Via the effective use of language we might at once identify the problem before us (the Maafa), articulate the most viable response, and convey the varied mechanisms through which this solution is implemented (such as kujitawala, a Kiswahili word which means self-governing or sovereignty). Language can be employed to tell us who we are, and by extension who we are not (such as the RNA’s “New African people”). Language can also capture the optimal condition to which we might aspire (such as or mAat, which is, as Sebat Rkhty Amen states, “harmonious balance”). Language provides the conceptual canvas upon which our image of possibility is rendered.
Re-Africanization can be thought of as a process of decolonization, wherein people of African descent seek to reconstruct their cultural practice in ways that augments the core elements of traditional culture, deconstructs the vestiges of cultural disruption, and adapts these reconceptualized cultural forms to the modern exigencies of the African world. Discourses of Re-Africanization, whether from continental Africans as Amilcar Cabral, or from diasporan thinkers such as Dr. Maulana Karenga, are focused on the conceptualization of culture as an engine of social transformation. Herein culture is understood as a deterministic structure instrumental in shaping human cognition, actions, and modes of organization. Culture then is conceived as a terrain of struggle, wherein the capacity of the people to extricate themselves from systems of oppression is not only contingent upon victory over structural forms of oppression, but also relies upon the dismantling of those cultural patterns that have been derived from processes of foreign domination, and thus focused on reinforcing the domination of the oppressor. There are generally two perspectives on the process of Re-Africanization: one approach which emphasizes the importance of cultural specificity, and another that advocates the utility of devising a cultural composite.
Advocates of cultural specificity emphasize the importance of our immersing ourselves in the culture of a specific ethnic group (often Ashanti or Yoruba). Emphasis is typically placed on the value of adopting the cultural practices of extant ethnic groups given the relative accessibility of living practitioners. Other advocates of cultural specificity also include Kemet (the ancient Egyptian civilization) as a viable cultural model. Contrary to the notion that Kemet is a dead civilization, proponents for the reconstruction of Kemetic culture argue that the abundance of textual, iconographic, architectural, and other data make Kemet highly accessible for those seeking to fully understand its culture. Moreover, many argue that Kemet’s culture legacy is evident in the language, cosmologies, and other practices of modern African ethnic groups.
Generally, advocates of cultural specificity will adopt the names, spiritual practices, language, dress, family/social structure and other elements of this particular culture. Baba Agyei and Mama Akua Nson Akoto discuss this approach extensively in Sankofa Movement: ReAfrkanization and the Reality of War.
The cultural composite approach emphasizes the importance of us developing a new African culture (though some might say a Pan-culture) that embraces the best elements of traditional and classical African culture, in both its continental and diasporic forms. Thus it advocates that we seek to be critically engaged with African cultural production in its totality, and from this seek to analyze, critique, interpret, and adopt those elements that best informs our attempts to liberate ourselves and to transform the world.
Generally, advocates of the cultural composite approach will draw from a variety of traditions for names, spiritual practices, languages, dress, family/social structure, and other elements. Dr. Maulana Karenga elaborates on this philosophy in his writings on Kawaida Theory, the most comprehensive treatment being his 1980 outline from the Kawaida Institute of Pan-African Studies.
Though these paradigms are presented as binaries, much of the actualization of processes of Re-Africanization reflect varying degrees of both. It should be noted that no culture can be adopted by any group without some degree of transformation and adaption from its original to its new form. Therefore even in contexts of cultural specificity there are composite elements that are inextricable. Furthermore, many proponents of a cultural composite may draw more heavily from one particular cultural context than others, this may even be more salient in specific domains of cultural knowledge and practice, thus producing areas of specificity within a larger composite framework.
It is strange to gaze upon America’s pathological racism from Ghana. It is no less disturbing to behold, but it also makes me feel that we, Africans in America suffer a profound disadvantage in that, unlike our counterparts here or in other majority Black countries, we do not have our own society free from the idiocy and machinations of others who historically and presently have succeeded in maximizing our subordination. I am not suggesting that these ostensibly Black countries are panaceas, but they are places where in many respects we are (or believe ourselves to be) the stewards of our local destinies, which is different from the malaise of African Americans and other Diasporan Africans who are the subjects of often indifferent and frequently hostile states and institutions.
The hyper exploitation of enslavement was compounded by the evisceration of African humanity, and as such, provided a pretext for the legal mandates which enshrined Black oppression for the next century. And while that legal mandate was revised, wherein explicit acknowledgement of racial subordination as a state mandate was omitted, the damage had been done. The racialization of poverty and opportunity, the social psychology of white supremacy, the massive cultural apparatus designed to achieve what Carter G. Woodson called mis-education and Jacob H. Carruthers called de-education were sufficient to ensure that Blacks in the U.S. would remain on the margins of society–their hopes buoyed by the select few whose success became the stuff of “pulling one’s self up by the bootstraps” legends–an implicit condemnation of all those unable to overcome the weight of history and the burden of structural racism. Those others who refused to dream, the denizens of America’s declining urban centers in the late 20th Century, were ushered into the burgeoning prison industry, itself the heir to the fallen legacy of America’s great industrial economy. This was America’s assurance that it had a special place for Black people, the same place that it held in reserve for us in 1619: the dungeons of captivity, the expanding frontier of an ever-evolving hyper-exploitation, and life behind the veil of racialized contempt.
This puts before us a troubling malaise, one whose analysis is easier by far than its resolution. Some have argued that we should abscond to distant shores, that a more fulfilling life awaits us in Ghana or elsewhere on the African continent. I do not doubt that this may be true for a small minority, but this is not scalable as a solution to the structural racism faced by the masses of Africans in the U.S., to say nothing of the impact of global capitalism on the Black masses the world over, where the avarice of a few is afforded by the marginalization of the many. Thus one arrives on that distant shore beyond the horizon, only to find the flag of greed and corruption waving resplendent.
Others have advocated that our redemption lies in the voting booth, that a new era of Black electoral participation will lead the path to our redemption. This may be an efficacious strategy in some respects, but it ignores the lingering challenges that we face in cities and states where we are a numeric minority, and it does not capture the reality that the effectiveness of any form of governance in communities that have been wracked by economic decline will require degrees of remediation beyond simply electing a preferred candidate. As we are finding with the election of left-leaning candidates in countries in the throws of neoliberalism, governing in the midst of economic crisis can easily result in a political establishment which both teeters on the brink of illegitimacy and whose policy prescriptions reifies that which we see in many global cities—that local economic development is reliant on capital flows from international banks and multinational corporations–thus even progressive, grassroots leadership will remain tethered and thus constrained by the global economy, likely resulting in diminished hopes for the masses and the inverse—profitability–for the centers of economic power.
I think that the solution to these challenges begins with us working backwards from the present reality in all of its starkness and devising paths which are logical based on these undeniable features.
- The United States is a society where racial inequality is a historic reality. There is no evidence which refutes Derrick Bell’s thesis that “racism is permanent and indestructible”, therefor any vision of the future of Africans in America must take into account the ever-present specter of racism and its irrepressible need to visit misery upon our lives. This means that racism is not within the exclusive purview of some historic white community, an inheritance which will be shed by some new generation. Rather that American racism is inextricable, echoing KRS One’s contention that “You can’t have justice on stolen land.”, a truth that has not and will not be invalidated via the passage of time.
- The United States is a society whose processes of governance reveal one of the fatal imperfections of modern democracy. In the balance of power between the will of its citizens and the desires of its major economic institutions, capital rules. This is why many years ago W.E.B. Du Bois called for Industrial Democracy, that in a truly democratic society no process should exist beyond the assent of the people, that the rule of the people should be absolute both with regards to policy and the economy. In the U.S. we have seen the reduction of the power of the people and the enlargement of the force of capital on the political apparatus. This trend has only intensified rather than lessened with time.
- The economic system of the U.S., the vaunted prosperity that became the beacon of hope for people around the world is hobbled by its basic unsustainability—that is, America’s economy is based on a level of resource consumption that is both unsustainable and dangerous with regards to its impact on global warming, its despoiling of ecosystems, its depletion of water resources, and its energy consumption. The America that Black people and others have been clamoring to be included in is a ghost, a promise that can never be kept due to the finitude the Earth’s resources.
These three issues create a fundamentally different starting point for us to imagine our collective future as African people in the U.S. Moreover, they engender a conversation that requires that we fundamentally rethink our notions of economic development, our faith in certain institutions, or our belief in a redemptive future for the U.S. that finally and utterly eschews the transgressions of its past and present. This starting point compels us to ask a number of questions. What are we prepared to do for ourselves to insure our collective survival and success wherever we find ourselves? What form of economic development will offer, as Dr. Anderson Thompson says, the greatest good for the greatest number” of our people? Where should we cast our lot and how will we forge community there? What are we willing to do to mitigate the corrosive impact that many of America’s dominant institutions has had on our lives—the criminal justice system, mass-media, schools which excel at mis-education and de-education, the profit-driven health care industry, and so forth? What does our history in the U.S. reveal to us about the breadth of possibility when faced with a recalcitrant and violent system? How, for instance, did Africans in the late 19th or early 20th Centuries respond to the malaise before them? How might we learn from their successes and ameliorate their shortcomings? Ultimately, what do we want for the future of Black people, and what are we willing to do to achieve it?
If we fail to grapple with these questions, we consign ourselves to America’s designs for us, which is far far less than what we deserve.
My first Capoeira teacher, Tebogo Schultz, once said to me that when practicing and seeking to understand Capoeira, that “You have do Capoeira for its own sake.” I think about this from time to time as learning Capoeira is a lot like learning a language, particularly one that has its own indigenous script. You must learn the script, you must learn vocabulary, you must learn grammar, you must find contexts to apply this knowledge, and you must understand the ontological dynamics of this linguistic system.
This is a lot like Capoiera which consists of a technical repertoire of physical movements, a kinesthetic philosophy which underlie all of this, various contexts of application, songs and instrumentation, a historical narrative, in addition to a rich body of epistemic and ontological knowledge which seek to explicate the “magic” of the art. The art conveys all of this knowledge, in many instances multiple things concurrently. These layers become fuller once decoupled, unpacked, reflected upon, or revisited much in the same way that learning mdw nTr (Medew Netcher), the language of ancient kmt (Kemet) or Egypt illuminates deeper insights upon further reflection and with deeper study.
I first began learning mdw nTr thirteen years ago and continue to study this language. My continued study has been rewarded in kind with richer insights and a deeper appreciation for this language and the cultural and historical contexts out of which it emerges. Much like my study of Capoeira, it has made everything richer via its contribution to my intellectual growth. Admittedly my focus has vacillated between the general and the specific. Some times I have focused on personal pronouns (mdw nTr has three classes of pronouns). At other times I have sought to memorize the many bi-literals (these are symbols that represent two consonant sounds). On other occasions I have worked on transliterating and translating texts, rich exercise whose frustration inevitably enables growth. One of the most exciting realms of study has been my efforts to integrate the language into my life. The point is that mdw nTr is, in its totality, too vast to approach for the sake of achieving narrow ends. One must simply plunge into its depths, buoyed by the intellectual rewards that it promises.
My Capoeira journey began a decade ago with the goal of learning Capoeria as a combat art. This was and remans necessary, but Capoeria is many things at once. Like Xing Yi Capoeira can serve as a gateway to a more fully integrated self. Like Muay Thai, Capoeira is a tool for physical conditioning. Like Choy Lay Fut Capoeira can be a highly effective fighting art. Like Yoga, Capoeira can build the suppleness of the body. Capoeira is not one thing. It is many things. And like studying mdw nTr, one must plunge fully into its depths, swimming through the waters of renewal, becoming water oneself.
When my daughters go to bed and wake up in the morning we speak mdw nTr to each other. These acts, though short in duration are complex in their layers. When my children and I train Capoeria together, or when I teach a class, these occasions are also multilayered. These knowledges become a part of an integrative toolset, a collection of resources firmly embedded in one’s being. They augment you. I say the mdw nTr and see the words in my mind. I stumble, but never fall because Capoeria teaches you to find balance in the midst of adversity. I find myself translating my thoughts into Kiswahili and mdw nTr as an exercise in multilingualism. I juxtapose defensive tactics for specific attacks between Wing Chun, Choy Lay Fut, and Capoeira. I find innovative ways to use the languages that I study. Capoeira has become central to the curriculum of a rites-of-passage program that I help coordinate, and thus a tool that we are using to build men.
Again these tools, once fully integrated, augment one’s humanity, enabling us to become, day-by-day, a greater expression of our highest selves. This is what it means to “…do Capoeira for its own sake.”
A compelling proposal from Kawaida: An Introductory Outline by Maulana Karenga. Sadly, much of this remains in the realm of the conceptual rather than the actual.
D. Build Pan-Africanism – As Pan-Africanists, we must build Pan-Africanism as a global project, not just a continental one. Any serious and successful Pan-Africanism must be rooted in and reflective of the following basic principles and practice:
1. unity and struggle of Africans wherever they are;
2. acceptance of the principle that the greatest contribution to the liberation of African peoples is the liberation struggle each people wages to liberate itself, and thus;
3. acquire the effective capacity to aid others still struggling. In a word, the overall struggle for African liberation is one, but a people must begin the struggle wherever they are.
4. development of mutually beneficial cooperative efforts between Continental and Diasporan African.
Kawaida proposals at FESTAC: a. permanent Afro-American observer status at OAU; b. All African People’s Convention-international as distinct from continental (OAU) – Continental and Diasporan; c. Pan-African University-Continental and Diasporan; d. Diasporan Studies in all African universities as African Studies in West; e. Continental and Diasporan common language – Swahili; f. developmental capital – for all Africans; g. African people’s lobby-for all Africans; h. African people’s skills bank-for all Africans; i. support in the UN-and other international bodies by African countries for Afro-Americans and other Diasporan Africans and other concrete support (political pressure, capital, information, asylum, etc. where possible).
5. recognition and response to the fact that in the final analysis, each people is its own liberator. A people that cannot save itself is lost forever.