Kuumba and the boundless mind

The mind is endowed with infinite potential. In fact, the mind is the wellspring that has enriched human life since its inception on this planet. When we survey African history, we are continually astounded by the grand potentiality of the human mind, in particular its capacity to create ideas, objects, and conditions that optimize human life.

Today, African people find themselves living in a world shaped by the Maafa—the interrelated process of slavery, colonization, and its legacy. We reside in a world that has been shaped by tyranny and plunder, one wherein the deprivations, campaigns of destabilization, and alienation continue characterize our existence.

We are even taught that we are bereft of possibility, that we have arrived at the end of history, and that the established order—despite its inescapable problems—represents the best possible expression of human potentiality. All of these messages are not happenstance, but have been devised specifically to impoverish our imaginations and deaden our creativity.

However, for those of us who know our history, we know that these things are untrue. We know that our history provides a testament of African ingenuity, and that, as Marcus Garvey has said, “Whatsoever things common to man, that man has done, man can do.” Garvey reminds us that history, beyond being a chronicle of the past, is also a measure of human capacity. Our history is no different, for its reveals to us that we are capable of building vast cities, maintaining effective and just governance, developing ecologically-balanced food systems, preparing our youth to be the stewards of our future, devising profound and stirring art forms, and creating practices and principles that gives the people a powerful and expansive sense of identity, purpose, and direction. In effect, history teaches us what we have been and what we might become. It is the deep well of knowledge that fuels the imagination, and enlivens our creativity, a creativity that once awakened, is boundless in what it can achieve. This is the essence of Kuumba.

Q&A: Ancient Egypt in African history

A person posed the following question: Since most of our ancestry derives from West Africa, why does African history always focus on Ancient Egypt?
My response: I don’t think that African history only focuses on Egypt (Kemet), however the focus on Egypt among African Americans goes back to the 19th Century, wherein its grand legacy was seen as a means of redeeming the false notion that Africa was devoid of history and that Africans had never created a great civilization. If we were to survey the historiography of 19th and mid-20th Century African American intellectuals, we do see a significant focus on Egypt, but there were also a fair number of intellectuals writing about other, later civilizations; consider for instance Du Bois’s groundbreaking texts The Negro and Black Folks Then and Now, as well as Carter G. Woodson’s The African Background Outlined. All of these texts offer a fairly balanced treatment of Black history.

To be sure, there are critiques to be made of a “lop-sided” focus on Egypt, particularly if such a study does not alleviate our often impoverished knowledge of the rest of Africa. Many argue that as Diasporan Africans, we should be more acquainted with the history of West and Central Africa. I agree with this, but also add that it is important to understand African history as a continuum that spans from ancient Egypt and Nubia to the present day.

Language resources


Abibitumi: http://abibitumi.com

LearnAkan.com: https://www.learnakan.com/

Textbooks from the National African Language Resource Center: https://nalrc.indiana.edu/resources/books-media/lets-speak.html

Video Lessons: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-vyAPawT20CKpp9H-xjFlg?fbclid=IwAR079pHmTkHwrogp1k6rfyhwO46RpcAXel3vR7Se5YsK7lW_DgO396zfBgk

Various resources: https://lmc.uiowa.edu/resources/twi-language-and-culture-resources



Textbooks from the National African Language Resource Center: https://nalrc.indiana.edu/resources/books-media/lets-speak.html



Various resources: https://lmc.uiowa.edu/resources/ewe-language-and-culture-resources



Fulani-English/English-Fulani Dictionary and Phrasebook: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0781813840/ref=ox_sc_act_title_1?smid=A1JKVWH22E85VP&psc=1

Pulaar-English Dictionary: https://www.amazon.com/Pulaar-English-English-Pulaar-Standard-Dictionary-Hippocrene/dp/0781804795/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1532305251&sr=8-1&keywords=pulaar

Textbooks from the National African Language Resource Center: https://nalrc.indiana.edu/resources/books-media/lets-speak.html

A free Fula textbook: https://www.livelingua.com/fsi/Fsi-FulaBasicCourse-StudentText.pdf

A free Pular textbook: http://www.ibamba.net/pular/manual.pdf



Teach Yourself Hausa: http://www.teachyourselfhausa.com/

Textbooks from the National African Language Resource Center: https://nalrc.indiana.edu/resources/books-media/lets-speak.html

English-Hausa Dictionary: https://yalebooks.yale.edu/book/9780300047028/english-hausa-dictionary?fbclid=IwAR29l1Yo2Ph0kj9_wqI9PXsQ342GmEYzATLW9TaPlJCTpC6RUG1ygRS2Ir4

Hausa-English Dictionary: https://yalebooks.yale.edu/book/9780300122466/hausa-english-dictionary?fbclid=IwAR2TlgJZvIMoR8EfzRH6gQgXUsZBJkyYDq3yc0h9Ka5WSUdqc3bIUK5SuvE

Hippocrene Hausa-English Dictionary: https://books.google.com/books?id=sJZkAAAAMAAJ&dq&fbclid=IwAR2EL0RM1xkuq6TFLbZm-GHNgiErv_WYhPy1bbhxeWR9nueE1ddAk2zyXwU

Various resources: https://lmc.uiowa.edu/resources/hausa-language-and-culture-resources



An Igbo phrasebook: https://wikitravel.org/en/Igbo_phrasebook?fbclid=IwAR0MHHBL3Vm2oPOk4OsVmb37swXj3Yi2gKCyjgKE8aRN6XLtTXXzUwnwUrQ

The Guide on Igbo Culture and Language: https://www.igboguide.org/

Textbooks from the National African Language Resource Center: https://nalrc.indiana.edu/resources/books-media/lets-speak.html

Various resources: http://www.omniglot.com/writing/igbo.htm?fbclid=IwAR36vUepU2488lBWsNHCDi6MU6PyGPvp_j2q_0kQyeD1p1k7VtETJKNy1Kw



Textbook from the National African Language Resource Center: https://nalrc.indiana.edu/resources/books-media/lets-speak.html



The Swahili Institute of Chicago: http://swahiliinstitute.org/

A free textbook from Kansas University: http://www2.ku.edu/~kiswahili/pdfs/all.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2ptAPg3yhurmaJkN4L84kP_dcOQYUZ9DzRtxApcnIy4OMzvVcg2vXPJBI

Textbooks from the National African Language Resource Center: https://nalrc.indiana.edu/resources/books-media/lets-speak.html

Various resources: https://lmc.uiowa.edu/resources/swahili-language-and-culture-resources



Various resources: https://lmc.uiowa.edu/resources/mandinka-language-and-culture-resources


mdw nTr (Medu Netcher)

Abibitumi: http://abibitumi.com

The Kemetic Institute of Chicago: http://www.ki-chicago.org/

Sebat Rkhty Amen’s school: http://www.meduneter.com/

Mfundishi Jhwtyms’s mdw nTr classes: http://www.mfundishijhutymsmdwntchr.com

Middle Egyptian by James Allen: https://www.cambridge.org/hk/academic/subjects/languages-linguistics/arabic-and-middle-eastern-language-and-linguistics/middle-egyptian-introduction-language-and-culture-hieroglyphs-3rd-edition?format=PB&isbn=9781107663282



Abibitumi: http://abibitumi.com

Textbooks from the National African Language Resource Center: https://nalrc.indiana.edu/resources/books-media/lets-speak.html

Various resources: https://lmc.uiowa.edu/resources/wolof-language-and-culture-resources

Video lessons: https://www.youtube.com/user/Moustaphasarr?fbclid=IwAR3Sqq0N4VWvJCqA3mb_lSVCPWZTTbR7NNLbgviEjCqaFPkcl-P4zOAHlVA



Abibitumi: http://abibitumi.com

A free textbook from the University of Texas at Austin: http://www.coerll.utexas.edu/yemi/index.php?fbclid=IwAR0aL7UAS3N3Mzh0viMJvY0s7xPjbAa37d3aQkyxWoMVgzieMzDuo51eyb8

A pronunciation guide: https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Yoruba/Pronunciation?fbclid=IwAR0KtmJvprYAMB0nTHrYLxAxP3pIxdjjCV4E4G4o_-oim1AmCSG5m7F9TUQ

Textbooks from the National African Language Resource Center: https://nalrc.indiana.edu/resources/books-media/lets-speak.html

Various resources: https://lmc.uiowa.edu/resources/yoruba-language-and-culture-resources


The challenge of Nia

We are not living at the apex of African civilization. In fact, we must face the unfortunate reality that our civilizations, our societies have been reduced and that their resources—intellectual and material—have been usurped to serve as a foundation for the current world order. Our orientation towards the present condition is most instructive as to our vision for the prospects of the African world–meaning do we acquiesce to our oppressors, or do we resist and join a struggle to achieve our restoration?

Nia challenges us to choose the latter path. It challenges us to understand that we are not struggling for the sake of our personal aggrandizement or for a place within the established order, but are struggling “to restore our people to their traditional greatness”. The question of restoration raises urgent questions about the “source material” that informs our efforts. In 1987, speaking in Aswan at the Conference of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations, Jacob H. Carruthers stated, “We cannot move our people by borrowing our foundations from other people.” Carruthers challenges us to draw fully and deeply from the deep well of African thought, and to apply these insights to the malaise confronting us, recognizing that our history, our culture carries within it the seed of our potential renewal.

Nia also challenges us to realize that the restoration of our people must be the driving force in our lives. It is work that must animate our thoughts and give purpose to our actions. We recognize that though our enemies are legion, that each act of resistance is a victory in that it defies the lie that we are a people bereft of a history and future possibility, and that the key is to sustain such resistance, enabling it to grow in scale and intensity until victory is achieved.

Ultimately, Nia is a challenge for us to live lives that makes us worthy of remembrance, to be like those ancestors whom we call upon when we pour libations, true exemplars of our determination to be free, true models of African excellence.

Ujamaa: Economics and African Values

Eric Williams’s monumental work Capitalism and Slavery captures the synergistic links between the rise of modern capitalism and white racism. In it, Williams argues that racism, as an ideological framework that argued for and sought to concretize in the realm of social relations the subordination of Africans and the superordination of Europeans, emerged as a necessary by-product of the system of chattel slavery. Williams’s analysis thus shows that racism cannot be delinked from capitalism, and that from this vantage point, the struggle against racism must also necessarily entail a struggle against the malformations of capitalism.

In Kawaida Theory (the body of ideas that spawned both the Nguzo Saba and Kwanzaa), there are seven areas of culture. These are: “history, religion (ethics and spirituality), social organization, economic organization, political organization, creative production, and ethos” (Karenga 1997, 10). Of these, economic organization, offers valuable lessons pertaining to the form and character of our liberation struggle, and is directly related to the principle of Ujamaa, “Cooperative Economics”.

There are two dimensions to be discussed here. First, it is critical that we control the economics of our communities. This means that we must produce, distribute, and consume goods and services produced by ourselves for ourselves. No sovereign people, nor any people aspiring to sovereignty, can attain such a status so long as they remain dependent on another for their basic, day-to-day necessities.

Second, it is necessary that our economic institutions do not reproduce the malformations of the dominant society—that is extreme forms of stratification and dispossession. Ours must be a humanizing system, that is a system that respects the rights and dignity of people over that of capital, profit, and greed, and that seeks to enable people to achieve their maximum development. And as an African people, such systems must also be Africanizing, that is that they must facilitate our process of cultural reclamation and renewal, and reflect the African value system.

This latter point takes us to the root of the word ujamaa itself, which is jamaa. Jamaa translates into English as “family”. Ujamaa translates as “familyhood”, and denotes a collective interest or concern. This is part of why the word ujamaa has been employed to refer to socialism—an economic system emphasizing shared resources and shared profit in the interest of all. This was not due to a reliance on the ideas of any European theorist, but due to the values inherent in the economic systems of traditional African society, which entailed concerns about the collective welfare, the greater good. Thus, while the pursuit of profit was welcomed and envouraged, the values of compassion and generosity were also enforced. Such a sentiment is born out in the ancestral wisdom which states, “Ubepari ni unyama,” which translates as “Capitalism [exploitation] is animalistic”, that is, savage. A just economy, must enhance our humanity, not negate it.



Karenga, Maulana. 1997. Kawaida Theory: A Communitarian African Philosophy. Los Angeles: University of Sankore Press.

Williams, Eric. 1994. Capitalism and Slavery. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.


Ujima and collective struggle

One message of the dominant culture is the ethos of atomistic individualism. This is the notion that we are all solitary individuals, having no obligations beyond our own person, wherein our own preferences take greater priority over any imagined collective interests, and that in fact the very notion of collective interests is in fact oppressive.

It should go without saying that thought and practice based on such premises is antithetical to the African worldview. This is borne out in the deep thought of our ancestors which teaches us that there is no separation between the individual and the collective, in fact the individual is merely an extension or expression of it. The Zulu put it this way, “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”, that is, “A person is a person through other persons (or people)” (Karenga 2015, A6). This teaches that our humanity is bound up in the humanity of others, hence we are all connected and interdependent. In fact, this statement articulates the ethos of ubuntu or humanity in the African worldview.

By contrast, we are also forcefully reminded that those who rule the world, enforce their power through collective means, particularly through institutions built in the image and interest of their hegemony. Many of our wise ancestors and elders including the Honorable Marcus Garvey, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, Baba Hannibal Afrik, and others recognized the following truths:

  1. That we are capable of liberating ourselves
  2. That our capacity to achieve liberation is dependent on our ability to engage in collective actions, including the building of organizations and institutions dedicated to African redemption

It is this message of collective struggle that the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party so wonderfully articulates in their insistence that all African people should be a part of an organization dedicated to struggle. This is the essence of the third principle of the Nguzo Saba—Ujima: Collective Work and Responsibility.

Ujima is not merely a principle of those who advocate for revolutionary social change (though it is an imperative of such possibility), it is also present in the ancestral wisdom. The Akan put it this way, “Nsa baako nkukuru adesoa, which translates into English as “One hand cannot lift a [heavy] load.” Ujima teaches us that those who would dare to take on the audacious aim of liberating their people, must necessarily share such work. It is impossible to succeed by doing otherwise.


Karenga, Maulana. 2015. “The Ideal and Ethics of Ubuntu: A Kawaida Conversation”. Los Angeles Sentinel. April 9, 2015. Accessed January 23, 2017. http://www.us-organization.org/position/documents/TheIdealandEthicsofUbuntu04-09-10.pdf

Ọṣun, Aset, and the divinity of motherhood in African thought

Years ago I read Oyèrónkẹ́ Oyèwùmí’s work on gender in Yorùbá society. I found her work exceedingly interesting.

I was struck by the indigenous conceptualization of Ọṣun (Oshun) as “Oore yeye”, the “generous mother”. I found this quite interesting given that Ọṣun also represents (among other things water and harmonious relations). This made me think about the Kemetic concept of nwn (nun), which is primordial water, as well as ast (Aset), and to a lesser degree mAat (Maat). While I don’t think that Ọṣun is the Yorùbá “equivalent” of these Kemetic concepts (the search for conceptual equivalencies across cultures betrays a number of problematic assumptions about cultural universalism, but more on that at another time), it is interesting that both societies represented these ideas in the form of women.

The critical role of women as the vessels of new life was not lost on the architects of these ancient civilizations. The reproductive and educational roles of women were not just physical or instructional, what we might term “instrumental functions”. In the Yorùbá imagination women were reflective of the conduit of life, the stream of human consciousness from time immemorial to the present, the maintenance of ethical and nurturing relations, and the deep feelings of love that sustain them. Thus the role of rivers, lakes, and streams in sustaining food production systems paralleled the roles of mothers as sustainers of humanity.

This echoes the role of Aset, who was not only the mother of Hr (Heru), but also represented the archetype of human motherhood. Again, this was not simply an instrumental or functional role, but was one that expressed the role of women as carriers of future possibility. In this case Aset carried Heru, who delivered the country from the rule of his uncle stX (Set). Heru represented the triumph of right or righteousness over might. Aset therefor represented the possibility of renewal, redemption from injustice, reclamation of truth, and the forward flow of human society. Again, these are similar concepts. Though they differ in critical ways, they reveal a great deal about the ontology of gender in at least two indigenous African civilizations.

Kujichagulia and the liberation struggle

Part of the genius of the Nguzo Saba is the necessity of each of its principles to the attainment of African liberation. From a foundational point of view, liberation in any meaningful sense is unattainable without umoja, unity. Furthermore, any people striving for freedom must, on every level, practice kujichagula, self-determination.

Kujichagula is a practice evident throughout our history. When Nubians under the leadership of Piankhi pushed into Kemet, expelling the Assyrians and initiating the so-called 25th Dynasty, they restored Kemetic sovereignty and affirmed the spirit of umoja between the two nations—Kemet and Nubia. Their actions evidence a spirit of kujichagulia.

When Nzingha rejected Portuguese hegemony and raised the people to resist their rule, she committed herself to a decades-long struggle for African sovereignty. Her actions provide a potent example of a people engaged in a deep practice of kujichagulia.

When Africans stole away from the plantations of Brazil, and fled into the hinterland, creating the quilombo (maroon society) of Palmares, a community that stood for a century, they resolved that their freedom was insufficient so long as other African people remained oppressed. As a result, they fought tirelessly against that system, and in their struggle immortalized Zumbi—one of their leaders—as an icon of African kujichagula.

And when the ancestors of our movement in this country—in formations as diverse as the Shule ya Watoto, The East, The Republic of New Africa, the Congress of African People, the Institute of Positive Education, NationHouse, the Organization Us, and others—declared that we were an African people, and began to struggle towards the reclamation of our culture and the restoration of our sovereignty, they were engaged in the practice of Kujichagulia.

We stand on the shoulders of all of these ancestors. Their practice of Kujichagulia continues to inform ours, because no people can fully express their humanity when it is defined by their oppressors. No people can choose and fulfill their destiny under the tyranny of alien ideas.

Umoja as Pan-African thought and practice

Umoja is not merely an abstraction, but is expressed in word and deed. At the core of our striving for unity is the recognition that we are one people who share a common destiny. Thus in striving for unity, our petty divisions and differences pale in comparison to the grand vision of the future for African people that we should be collectively working to bring into being.
It must be emphasized that unity is not the same and uniformity. In fact, the genius of African culture is that despite apparent differences, we find innumerable examples of an underlying cultural unity. This is why many of us speak of the African way as an all-encompassing point of reference. We are referring to those values and behaviors that demonstrate the core of who we are wherever we find ourselves.
It is this unity that enabled us to forge great societies in the past, at the dawn of civilization all the way up until the 19th Century. This unity enabled us to wage valiant struggles against enslavement, colonialism, and other forms of oppression. It is this unity that informed the thinking of many Pan-Africanists to propose that we embrace Kiswahili as a unifying language, and made uhuru sasa (“freedom now”) a rallying cry for African people on both sides of the Atlantic as they struggled for self-determination. It is this same unity that causes us to continue to view our people’s struggles, wherever they may be in the world, as our struggle. This is because beneath any veneer of separation, we know that we are one, and have committed ourselves towards intelligent action based on such recognition.

Kujitiwala: An Afrikan Sovereignist interpretation of the Nguzo Saba


An Afrikan Sovereignist interpretation of the Nguzo Saba

UMOJA (“unity”) 
The Pan-Afrikanist Vision of Afrikan people throughout the world joining forces to fight for Afrikan Sovereignty and to build an Afrikan World Order.

KUJICHAGULIA (“self-determination”)
Afrikan people defining ourselves and determining our own destiny as a Sovereign people.

UJIMA (“collective work and responsibility”)
Afrikan people working together, being responsible to and for each other, and accepting a common system of accountability.

UJAMAA (“familyhood”)
Creating economic cooperatives based on the concept of Afrikan familyhood, interdependence, interrelationship, and village and national unity.

NIA (“purpose”)
Afrikan people sharing common goals that determine our commitments and guide our choices and decisions. This gives purpose to our lives and to our work, and tells us why we were born Afrikan.

KUUMBA (“creativity”)
To think with Afrikan minds and to create from our Afrikan-center. When we practice this principle, we no longer imitate europeans. We find our own way.

IMANI (“faith”)
To believe in the Vision of Afrikan Sovereignty, and to have the passion and the wer (“will,” “heart”) to bring it into being.

Mama Marimba Ani