On Pan-African Languages

In this discussion, Dr. Souleymane Bachir Diagne advocates for multiple Pan-African languages. While he includes the colonial languages along with Swahili in his formulation, he also suggests Manding and Fula.

His recommendation of Manding, which I would broaden to include the Mandé languages generally, is a logical one. These languages possess a high degree of mutual intelligibility.

His recommendation of Fula surprised me, though perhaps it should not have. When I was in grad school, a colleague of mine, Rama who was from Senegal, told me that she considered Fula to be an ideal candidate as a Pan-African language. Consider that it is enjoys a wide geographic dispersion (see the map below).

Fula_language_map

I consider Dr. Diagne’s suggestion that the colonial languages are acceptable vehicles of Pan-Africanism problematic for reasons that may be obvious. If they are not, you can read my thoughts on this here: http://libjournals.unca.edu/moja/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/MOJA21-v2i1-Rashid.pdf. I do accept that such languages are a part of our social milieu, however I also recognize that the impacts of languages extend beyond their utility and includes the political, economic, and conceptual. I contend that we leave the fetters of colonialism on our social systems and our minds by remaining wedded to these languages.

These criticisms notwithstanding, it is a worthwhile dialog.

Pan-African Forums – The Question of Language (23 Feb 2021) https://youtu.be/_BdKKOxYkdQ

On the determined pursuit of suffering

Shantideva, an 8th Century Buddhist monastic, in commenting upon the constancy of human suffering stated:

For beings long to free themselves from misery,
But misery itself they follow and pursue.
They long for joy, but in their ignorance
Destroy it, as they would their foe.

I am reminded of the continued applicability of his insights by the myriad contradictions around us. Consider the nations that are beset by climate catastrophes, while presently doubling their efforts to extract coal and oil from the Earth. Further, there are societies where democratic institutions are upheld as the bedrock of human freedom, whilst policy makers busy themselves eroding their foundations in order to usher in authoritarianism.

Sadly, such contradictions do not only exist on the level of the state, but also manifest themselves in our personal lives where many people act in a manner contrary to professed ideals and dismiss the apparent contradictions. In each of these instances, as Shantideva said people pursue misery with predictable results.

Polyculturalism

Polyculturalism-a conceptualization of culture that, rather than examine cultures as discrete social historical phenomena, instead focuses on the extent of their imbrication, that is the varying ways in which cultures and histories are inextricable, interweaved. It contrasts with multiculturalism, which often regards cultures as discrete entities.

This theory is elaborated upon at length in Vijay Prashad’s book Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting.

African or American: A reflection on persistent absurdities

Recently on Twitter (that bastion of civil, intellectual discourse) a user posted that many of us had been duped into believing that we are African descendants due to the machinations of two European intellectuals, Franz Boas and Melville J. Herskovits. This statement was a part of a larger conversation about the idea that African Americans are really indigenous to the Americas. While I am loathe to engage in such non-sensical discussions, I decided to briefly weigh in with a few simple remarks.


Of course one is entitled to their cherished familial narratives, but do note that families make all sorts of dubious genealogical claims. Richard White writes about the the differences between history and memory in his book Remembering Ahanagran. I have found a number of grotesque errors in my own family “history”, errors that defy empirical verification.

Secondly, the idea that enslaved Blacks were African is not an idea that had to wait for Franz Boas (1858) or Melville J. Herskovits (1895) to be born. Many African Americans in the 18th and 19th Century knew of their African origins and took great pride in them. Martin Delany knew of his African origins. So too did Paul Cuffee and Harriet Tubman. For this generation of African Americans, the memory of Africa was fresh and undeniable. Further, they named their institutions after Africa: African Lodge, African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Free Schools, and so forth. Our 18th and 19th Century ancestors were not confused about who they were. Nor was such knowledge derived from “theories” of Western-trained academics.

In fact, narratives like these persist into the present-day and is the subject of books like Wendy Wilson-Fall’s Memories of Madagascar and Slavery in the Black Atlantic which notes how the memory of Madagascar, or more specifically Malagasy ancestry has been retained by African American families. I actually know people for whom such a narrative exists. I also have Malagasy ancestry, but my confirmation came via DNA testing. Kwasi Konadu’s Akan Pioneers: African Histories, Diasporic Experiences explores the cultural legacy of the Akan in this hemisphere. The Igbo Diaspora in the Era of the Slave Trade by Douglas B. Chambers discusses the Igbo in the US and the Caribbean. This is just a short sample, there are other texts that discuss the Kongo and Yorùbá in the Americas.

Lastly, when one considers that the average African descendant in the US has been in here for nine or ten generations, and that this means having 510 or 1,022 genetic ancestors. I find that narratives of being native and not African generally rely on the story of a single ancestor, rather than the hundreds or more to which one owes one ancestry. Genealogical research is arduous and relies on empirical evidence. Not sole narratives, as even these are subject to critique and verification.

Bridges, not walls

IMG_20190530_191323742 (1)
Given the salience of alienation in this society, it is unsurprising that the politics of atomization retain such popularity. In these times one could simply manufacture identity constructs or conspiracies or political agendas that no matter how mad would attract a following.
 
What is perhaps lost in the headlong rush towards division ad infinitum is an appreciation to the degree that such actions erodes the basis of community. Absent this, our capacity to exist as members of a society greatly diminishes. Further, our resolve to act in concert towards desired ends (such as addressing climate change, which threatens to nullify our species or to empower our communities) cease to be viable.
 
The politics of atomization has proven itself as an expedient means to garner attention and to rally the disaffected given that it peddles in fear and loathing. Alternatively, it has not proven itself sufficient to compel people to act towards a broader vision of the future based on hope, mutual respect, or a recognition of our interdependency. In its most grotesque forms, solidarity is decried and disunity is lauded. Such thinking dismisses Pan-Africanism as an anachronistic fiction, while identity constructs based on our subjugation by European settler colonists or our descent from those whom they enslaved is considered cutting-edge, if not radical.
 
I am reminded of a Swahili proverb that states “Bora kujenga madaraja kuliko kuta.” It translates into English as “It is better to build bridges than walls.” Indeed, we need to build the bridges that will carry us into the future.

Horizons

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A Fulani proverb states that, “One who gathers stones little by little will one day build a mountain.” This teaches the lesson that consistent and sustained effort is vital to actualizing that which we desire, whether this be continuous self-improvement, completing a project, or achieving some goal.

For me this has meant working continuously on my drumming, berimbau playing, Capoeira songs, Capoeira movements, study of its history and philosophy, and so forth. I apply this lesson to the other arts that I study as well. For example, with respect to 52 Blocks I try to work on strikes, blocks, and footwork daily. It’s valuable when you can see improvement, which is both validation of your efforts and encouragement to keep going.

I am always striving to overcome the finite horizon of my own limitations.

Suggested readings on African deep thought, African-centered social theory, and Pan-African liberation

 Below is a list of suggested readings on African thought, ancient and modern.

 

Deep thought (philosophy)

Armah, Ayi Kwei. 1973. Two Thousand Seasons. Popenguine, Senegal: PerAnkh.

Carruthers, Jacob H. 1984. Essays in Ancient Egyptian studies. Los Angeles: University of Sankore Press.

Carruthers, Jacob H. 1999. Intellectual Warfare. Chicago: Third World Press.

Carruthers, Jacob H. 1995. MDW NTR: Divine Speech. London: Karnak House.

Fu-Kiau, K. K. Bunseki. 2001. African Cosmology of the Bantu-Kongo: Principles of Life and Living. Broolyn, NY: Athelia Henrietta Press.

Gbadegesin, Segun. 1996. African Philosophy: Traditional Yoruba Philosophy and Contemporary African Realities. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Gyekye, Kwame. 1995. African Philosophical Thought. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Kamalu, Chukwunyere. 1998. Person, Divinity, & Nature. London, England: Karnak House.

Karenga, Maulana. 1989. Selections from the Husia: Sacred Wisdom of Ancient Egypt. Los Angeles: University of Sankore Press.

Karenga, Maulana. 1999. Odu Ifa: The Ethical Teachings. Los Angeles: University of Sankore Press.

Karenga, Maulana. 2004. Maat, The Moral Ideal in Ancient Egypt: A Study in Classical African Ethics. New York: Routledge.

Obenga, Theophile. 2004. African Philosophy: The Pharaonic Period: 2780-330 BC. Popenguine, Senegal: Per Ankh.

 

Education/Socialization

Du Bois, W.E.B. 1973. The Education of Black People: Ten Critiques, 1906-1960. edited by Herbert Aptheker. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Fu-Kiau, K. Kia Bunseki, and A.M. Lukondo-Wamba. 1988. Kindezi: The Kongo Art of Babysitting. Baltimore: Imprint Editions.

Hilliard, Asa G. 2002. African Power: Affirming African Indigenous Socialization in the Face of the Culture Wars. Gainesville, FL: Makare Publishing Company.

Okrah, Kwadwo A. 2003. Nyansapo (The Wisdom Knot): Toward an African Philosophy of Education. New York, NY: Routledge.

Shujaa, Mwalimu J. 2003. “The Widening Gap between Education and Schooling in the Post 9/11 Era.” Journal of Negro Education 72 (2):179-189.

Woodson, Carter G. 1990. The Mis-Education of the Negro. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.

 

Healing

Ani, Marimba. 2004. “To Be Afrikan: Toward the Healing, Rebirth and Reconstruction of Afrikan Civilization: Maat/Maafa/Sankofa.” In State of the Race, edited by Jemadari Kamara and Tony Menelik Van Der Meer, 137-165. Boston: Diaspora Press.

Armah, Ayi Kwei. 1978. The Healers. Popenguine, Senegal: Per Ankh.

Fu-Kiau, K. Kia Bunseki. 1991. Self-Healing Power and Therapy. Baltimore: Imprint Editions.

Maasi, Shaha Mfundishi. 2008. Essential Warrior: Living Beyond Doubt and Fear. Baltimore, MD: MD&H Publications, LLC.

Somé, Sobonfu E. 2003. Falling Out of Grace: Meditation on Loss, Healing and Wisdom. El Sobrante, CA: North Bay Books.

 

History

Carruthers, Jacob H. 1985. The Irritated Genie: An Essay on the Haitian Revolution. Chicago: The Kemetic Institute.

Carruthers, Jacob H. 2007. “Kush and Kemet: The Pillars of African Centered Thought.” In Contemporary Africana Theory, Thought and Action, edited by Clenora Hudson-Weems, 43-57. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.

Price, Richard. 1996. Maroon Societies: Rebel Slave Communities in the Americas. 3rd ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

 

Nationalism, Pan-Africanism, and revolutionary struggle

Armah, Ayi Kwei. 2010. Remembering the Dismembered Continent. Popenguine, Senegal: Per Ankh.

Baruti, Mwalimu A. Bomani. 2006. Notes Toward Higher Ideals in Afrikan Intellectual Liberation. Atlanta: Akoben House.

Delany, Martin. 1993. The Condition, Elevation, Emigration and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States Politically Considered. Baltimore: Black Classic Press.

Garvey, Amy Jacques. 1986. The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey. Dover, MA: The Majority Press.

Karenga, Maulana. 1980. “Kawaida: An Introduction.” Kawaida Institute of Pan-African Studies, Los Angeles.

Martin, Tony. 1976. Race First: The Ideological and Organization Struggles of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Imporvement Association, The New Marcus Garvey Library. Dover, MA: The Majority Press.

Nkrumah, Kwame. 1963. Africa Must Unite. New York: Praeger Publisher.

 

Proverbs and stories

Bâ, A. Hampaté. 1988. Kaidara. Translated by Daniel Whitman. Washington, DC: Three Continents Press.

Opoku, Kofi Asare. 1997. Hearing and Keeping: Akan Proverbs. Pretoria, South Africa: Unisa Press.

Owomoyela, Oyekan. 2005. Yoruba Proverbs. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

 

Psychology

Kambon, Kobi Kazembe Kalongi. 1992. The African Personality in America: An African-Centered Framework. Tallahassee: Nubian Nation Publications.

Kambon, Kobi Kazembe Kalongi. 2003. Cultural Misorientation: The Greatest Threat to the Survival of the Black Race in the 21st Century. Tallahassee: Nubian Nation Publications.

 

Social, political, and economic organization

Fu-Kiau, K. K. Bunseki. 2007. Mbôngi: An African Traditional Political Institution. Atlanta, GA: Afrikan Djeli Publishers.

 

Spirituality

Adofo, Dalian and Verona Spence. 2017. Ancestral Voices: Spirit is Eternal. United Kingdom: Longbelly Entertainment.Amen, Rkhty. 2012. A Life Centered Life Living Maat.

Ani, Marimba. 1980. Let the Circle Be Unbroken: The Implications of African Spirituality in the Diaspora. New York: Nkonimfo.

Mbiti, John S. 1969. African Religions and Philosophy. London: Heinemann.

Weeks, James. 2019. Meditations Across the King’s River: African-Inspired Wisdom for Life’s Journey. Bloomington, IN: Balboa Press.

Capoeira and the distant horizon

I set a rule for myself some years back that I should be training in a martial art for about twice the amount of time that I teach it. This is not easy to maintain, especially given all of the things that have been happening of late. However, tonight I set myself up about 30 minutes before teaching my Capoeira class to practice and decided to start with the music. I became fixated on perfecting the timing of a variation of one particular toque (rhythm) and spent the whole time working on it.

Recently, another malandro reminded me of a quote from our teacher (Mestre Preto Velho) that essentially says that Capoeira is a jealous companion. I believe it. I have realized that I could spend all of my time working on some movement or another, or on the music, or on studying the philosophy, and so on. Capoeira is a world unto itself. It isn’t a vacuum, but rather is vast sea whose waters are fed by the ancient tributaries of our people’s history and culture.

I was once content to play on the beach and to stick close to the shore. But now I find myself drawn to the distant horizon. Of course, that horizon is only a reminder of the unattainability of that totality of knowledge. It is like the Swahili proverb which states, “Elimu ni kama bahari haina sahili” (Knowledge is like an ocean that has no shore).

On the expansive meaning of Malcolm X

Malcolm X’s ideas contributed greatly to the formation of cultural and territorial nationalism among Africans in the US. He famously stated, “Revolution is based on land. Land is the basis for all independence. Land is the basis of freedom, justice, and equality.” This idea greatly informed the New African Independence Movement that called for the formation of an independent Black nation in the US states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.

He also was a proponent of revolutionary struggle. He spoke at length about the myopia of Black leaders.

Revolution is bloody, revolution is hostile, revolution knows no compromise, revolution overturns and destroys everything that gets in its way. And you, sitting around here like a knot on the way, saying, “I’m going to love these folks no matter how much they hate me,” No, you need a revolution. Whoever heard of a revolution where they lock arms….singing “We Shall Overcome?” You don’t do that in a revolution. You don’t do any singing, you’re too busy swinging. It’s based on land. A revolutionary wants land so he can set up his own nation, an independent nation. These Negroes aren’t asking for any nation — they’re trying to crawl back on the plantation.

Thus, he had a profound influence on the revolutionary discourses in the 60s and beyond, as well as on the Black Power formations that advocated revolutionary struggle.

Further, Malcolm’s Pan-Africanism made his message resonate with African peoples the world over. He would often remark on the impact of anti-colonial leaders on the African continent, such as Patrice Lumumba and Kwame Nkrumah. He remarked on the exploitation of Congo as a consequence of US imperialism, noting that the same settler colonial state responsible for the oppression of Africans in the US, was responsible for the oppression of Africans abroad.

His anti-colonialism continues to be drawn upon as an example of international solidarity between oppressed peoples. Whether it was Africa, Asia, or Latin America, he recognized the folly of subdividing the struggle against western domination, instead emphasizing that “We have a common oppressor.” His remarks on the Bandung Conference expressed focused on the coming together of revolutionary forces to forge a future for themselves de-linked from the hegemony of the West. In a related vein, socialists have emphasized Malcolm’s anti-capitalism, emphasizing that Malcolm recognized that capitalism lay at the foundation of Western imperialism.

Malcolm X’s icon has been used variously to promote Islam in the Black community, as some have sought to link Malcolm’s faith with his politics, and in so doing have promoted Islam as a vehicle of both political consciousness and spiritual awakening. Further, his thinking doubtlessly contributed to religious nationalism among Africans/Blacks in the US across the theological spectrum.

Finally, he provides an ideal of African/Black manhood, whose righteous character and convictions were the driving forces in his life.

In short, the meaning of Malcolm X is rich and varied. His life is replete with lessons that have informed the consciousness of African/Black peoples and many others in the decades since his assassination. He lives on as an exemplary ancestor, whose good character and commitment to African freedom and social transformation endure as an example worthy of both study and emulation.

Science and oppression

I have noticed a number of African thinkers who present themselves as African-centered, as advocates of re-Africanization, who emphasize the imperative of us reclaiming our culture and restoring our sovereignty, while also positing Western science as the path to our redemption. I am puzzled as to how an appreciation of the former does not generate a more critical view of the latter position. Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers’s essay, Science and Oppression offers a very concise, yet incisive critique of this. Given that state of the world–the loss of species, global warming, ecological degradation, and the like–clearly the “master’s tools”, the products of Western culture, are they themselves reflective of a broader cultural ethos of alienation. Hence, the need to move beyond the tepid ground of “decolonization” to the imperative of Africanization and the revitalization of African “sciences” as tools of knowledge construction, cultural reorientation, and ecological restoration.