Culture, socialization, and community

It should be noted that in the African worldview, though each individual has a their own destiny, such a path and its fulfillment becomes a communal obligation. This means that the community is charged with maximizing the development of its members. Since it is believed that one’s maximal development is best expressed by one’s discovery and fulfillment of their purpose, it is then the duty of the family and community to ensure this. This is why the Akan proverb states, “Woforo dua pa a na yepia wo,” that is, “It is when you climb a good tree that we push you.” Such wisdom is found throughout the African continent, including among the Kongo. As shown in the below excerpt.

“For the Bântu, in general, and the Kôngo, in particular, the coming of a child in the community is the rising of a new and unique ‘living sun’ into it. It is the responsibility of the community as a whole and of ndezi, in particular to help this ‘living sun’ to shine and grow in its earliest stage” (taken from K. Kia Bunseki Fu-Kiau and A.M. Lukondo-Wamba’s Kindezi: The Kôngo Art of Babysitting).

Ndezi are those who facilitate the socialization of the child within the Kongo institution known as Kindezi, which is charged with the comprehensive development of the child into adulthood. Kindezi functions on the basis of the interdependency of the family and community. While one’s parents are critical to one’s development, the Kongo recognized that the rearing of children and their acquisition of the various domains of knowledge required of them to be effective adults within Kongo society required the support of everyone. Therein, all, at some point or another, serve as ndezi–a most sacred role. One who has been properly socialized is one who has fully learned their culture and who is then prepared to transmit it to future generations.
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When an elder dies: Reflections on Ahati Kilindi Iyi’s life and legacy

I first met Ahati Kilindi Iyi in 2005. My encounter with him came after years of wanting to study the African fighting arts, but not being certain how. By this time I had studied Wing Chun, Choy Lay Fut, mixed martial arts, Kendo, and Kali. While I did feel confident in my training, that is in its practicality, what was lacking was a sense of connection to the fighting traditions of my ancestors.

So in April 2005, after watching his two video tapes “The World of African Martial Arts”, I decided to send him an email inquiring about additional training materials. In his response he told me about an upcoming martial arts training in June, which I was fortunate enough to be able to attend.

The camp was edifying, providing a great deal of clarity pertaining to things that I saw in his videos, while also exposing me to other arts—such as Capoeira Angola de Sao Bento Grande via Mestre Preto Velho. I returned from the camp energized, determined to continue to grow in the African fighting arts. I also continued to stay in contact with Ahati Kilindi.

Inspired by his example, I too sought to become an exponent of the African arts and in 2007 I was able to invite Ahati Kilindi to Saint Louis, Missouri where I was a sociology professor at Saint Louis Community College. This was the first of two programs that I coordinated in the hopes of exposing more members of our community to the African fighting arts.

Later that year I travelled to Detroit to attend his World African Martial Arts conference. It was a great opportunity to see the national and international community of scholars and practitioners interested in and devoted to the African arts.

In the ensuing years I would converse with him via social media and see him occasionally at conferences. The last time that I saw him was at the 2019 conference of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations in Brooklyn, NY. We had an interesting conversation about African American styles of prison fighting. He told me about a Michigan prison, Jackson State Prison, that was renowned for being a hotbed of skilled fighters. He went on to link the popular expression “Jack you up” to the prison’s legacy.

In 2018 I helped to coordinate an interview with him via Abibitumi. It was a good dialog about the African combat arts and their revitalization and popularization today.

Ahati Kilindi Iyi was one of the people that gave me a foundation in the African arts. Two of the styles of stick-fighting that he taught continue to be foundational to my practice. What’s more, I have been able to share this and other knowledge pertaining to the African arts with youth in my community. I would impress upon them that these were our traditions, our combat arts, and that we should both cherish them and build upon the foundation that they represent. I would often think of Ahati Kilindi Iyi, inspired by his example, and contemplate ways that I could both continue to grow my knowledge of African combative traditions while also working to institutionalize these arts in our community.

His passing is truly a monumental loss for our community. It is as A. Hampâte Bâ said, that every time an elder dies, it is as if a library has burned to the ground. Ahati Kilindi Iyi was a cultural treasure, and it is most appropriate that we reflect on his legacy and seek ways to expand it and to build upon it by creating a place for the African martial arts in our communities globally.

Asante sana Ahati Kilindi Iyi for your many contributions to our cultural revitalization. We will seek to honor that legacy in both word and deed.

A folly of amusements: A short reflection on the politics of anti-African rhetoric

If things African are deemed worthy of contempt and ridicule, where does such a political orientation point those ill-equipped to see through such a campaign? That is, if our culture is an object for amusement, then whose do we regard with seriousness, as being worthy of respect?

Recall that African culture and people have been objects of derision since the inception of enslavement. This campaign was not without purpose. The savage exploitation that our ancestors were subjected to was seen as being fit only for non-human things. Thus, our ancestors were depicted as inhuman and were politically constructed as instruments of capital, as chattel.

In a context where some of us have identified our history and culture as sources of renewal and transformation, it is not surprising that such efforts have also been under consistent assault as characterized by coups, assassinations, and on-going anti-African propaganda. Thus, despite the triviality ascribed to African expressions agency in the impoverished discourses of social media, these actions have been regarded as anything but inconsequential in the broader sphere.

Dr. Anderson Thompson referred to “funny wars”, wars where Africans become proxies of European interests. Some of us have failed to learn the lessons of history and it shows. Today the assault on Africa has been “democratized” as the denizens of social media happily play their part. Dr. Carter G. Woodson noted this sad pattern in his day when he wrote, “The very service which this racial toady renders hardens him to the extent that he loses his soul. He becomes equal to any task the oppressor may impose upon him and at the same time he becomes artful enough to press his case convincingly before the thoughtless multitude. What is right is sacrificed because everything that is right is not expedient; and what is expedient soon becomes unnecessary.”Dr. Thompson reminds us that our actions should be focused on a “grand vision of the future”. In this formulation we can ill afford to be short-term in our planning or superficial in our thinking. Sadly, the impoverished discourse of our day predisposes many of us to just this.

I’ll close with Dr. Marimba Ani’s wisdom. She writes, “Sankofa is the healing ritual which transforms the disharmony, fragmentation, dishonesty, discontinuity, disconnectedness, and chaos of the Maafa, into harmony, wholeness, truth, continuity, connectedness, and order of Maat.” She reminds us that Sankɔfa is a means for us to restore ourselves. Moreover, it is a paradigm that animates our resistance. When we truly understand the power of our culture, we will know that it is not an object of amusement, but a matter of our very survival as a people.

 

Universalist assumptions and social theory

When Marx declared that class struggle was the central element in all of human history, he made an ontological claim. This claim has been repeated in other discourses, some substituting gender for class. However, such claims are vulnerable due to their reliance on Eurocentric assumptions about the nature of reality.
 
When we examine, for instance, the social organization of many traditional societies, say the Igbo or the Ewe, we find that class and class antagonisms were absent. This is not to say that status differences did not exist. They did. But there was no such thing as a “proletariat” or “bourgeoisie” as self-interested classes.
 
Also, when we study the oral tradition of the Yorùbá or the Akan, we find conceptions of gender that reflect what some African-centered scholars have called complementarity. This is especially evident in the cosmology of the Yorùbá wherein women are a noted as a necessary and fundamental element to the creation of good in the world–not women apart from men, but the work and lives of men and women in concert.
 
Thus, it behooves African intellectuals to engage in a deep study of African traditions, rather than relying on Eurocentric paradigms which are ill-fitting to both describe African history or to provide frameworks for future possibility. All ideas are, inevitably, weighted by the ontological assumptions of the cultures that fostered them. As our ancestor Jacob H. Carruthers has taught us, “We cannot move our people by borrowing our foundations from other people.”

Reflecting on the 2019 conference of ASCAC’s Midwest Region

Day One

Mama Ife Carruthers’s libation reminded us of our connection to our ancestors and reiterated the charge of our association.

Dr. Conrad Worrill presented an insightful presentation on Jacob H. Carruthers and Anderson Thompson as the “twin engines” of the African-centered idea. He captured the intellectual synergy between these two African thinkers.

Afterwards, he was joined by myself and the young men of Akoben Rites-of-Passage Society as we engaged with one another on a panel titled “Beginning an Intergenerational Conversation”.

At one point, Dr. Harold Pates asked about the importance of “African” as a basis of identity. I, Akoben, and Dr. Worrill offered responses. I began by asking the brothers of Akoben to perform their opening ritual, wherein they recite their pledge. This is a pledge that they wrote about six years ago when we began the program. They end their pledge by saying, “We will struggle to recover our traditions and create a new world in an African worldview.” They were around the ages of 11 and 12 when they wrote this. I then addressed Dr. Pates’ question with the following: “When we reject an African identity we impoverish our imaginations by failing to plant our ideas, our work in the fertile soil of African history and tradition.” Dr. Worrill concluded by offering the rich insights of our ancestor Dr. John Henrik Clarke about identity confusion among African people. He remarked on how our confusion about who we are confounds our efforts to find our way to liberation.

Day Two

We began with Baba Larry Crowe discussing the current focus on 1619. One insight that he shared was the remark by Henry Clay, that “The free negro is a menace.” It would seem that this notion still informs social conceptions of African people in US society.

Dr. Josef Ben Levi discussed the tradition of “Black scrappers”. I learned of a number of 19th Century Black intellectuals whom I knew little or nothing about. His presentation was a reminder that African American history is too a deep well.

Heru Aquil discussed the saga of Thornton and Lucy Blackburn, a couple that fled enslavement in Kentucky to Michigan and finally to Michigan. Later on they moved to Canada where Thornton became a very successful businessman. Later he returned to Kentucky for his mother.

Baba  Abdul-Musawwir Aquil provided some critical insights about the role of the study group process to the redemption of African consciousness, particularly to achieve that task that Dr. Conrad Worrill noted in his presentation–the training of intellectual warriors.

Professor Yvonne Jones discussed the sbAyt (sebayet) of Dr. Anderson Thompson. She noted that Dr. Thompson made any setting any occasion a classroom, that he was a consummate teacher whose good works lives on in his many, many students.

Baba Kwadwo Oppong-Wadie provided a powerful discussion of the role of symbols as repositories of cultural memory. His presentation examined Adinkra and their presence among African Americans. He highlighted their ubiquity in Chicago’s Black communities.

Professor Arthur Amaker presented on the maroon tradition in the US and Brazil. His presentation highlighted the centrality of the tradition of maroonage to the retention of African cultural patterns. This is a very compelling historical connection.

The young men of Akoben Rites-of-Passage Society returned to discuss their efforts to create an timeline of African history using a wiki platform. They (along with Heru Aquil) demonstrated the ways in which our youth can not only learn our history, but become its purveyors.

Day Three

Mama Muriel Balla discussed the benefits membership in ASCAC. She noted that the greatest benefits have been the opportunity to work on behalf of African liberation while also being in a community of scholars, artists, and educators united in purpose.

My presentation sought to explore Nubia, given Dr. Thompson’s interest in this area. Among other things, I highlighted the efforts to revitalize the Nubian language and to recovery Nubia’s ancient history. This presentation is the basis for a number of my current and future efforts.

Our commissions had critical conversations and began hatching bountiful plans. African people are on the move in determined ways.

Finally, we concluded with a spiritual service from The Temple of the African Community of Chicago. hm nTr (Priest) iri pianxi xprw provided a discussion Piankhi’s victory stela relating it to the personal and social challenges of African people.

 

Abandoning tradition for alienation

In the Epic of Sundiata we find that Sundiata’s conceptions of reality were not based on any set of ideological premises, but rather were the product of his own ancient Malian tradition. This pattern we see throughout the traditional African society, tradition as one’s grounding.
 
This is interesting given that today we are compelled to abandon any notions of tradition, to discard them as encumbrances on our individual freedom in order to embrace Western ideologies that are themselves products of fundamental alienation.
 
Of course tradition is imperfect. This is why it evolves. Our task should not be the wholesale embrace of tradition for tradition’s sake, but a process that synthesizes tradition and reason–that is critical discernment which informs our effective adaptation of traditional practices to present circumstance.
 
We recognize that African culture must be the basis of our regeneration as a people, if not, then we are merely instruments for the propagation of alien paradigms.

Overcoming alienation

Many of us in our search for healing, understanding, and purpose have unwittingly taken on ideologies which cultivate aversion and hopelessness. These state that we are alienated from a broader African world community or that African men and women are stark rivals or worse, fetters on our collective welfare. These are poisonous ways of thinking.

One of the most striking challenges of living in a society with “fundamental alienation” as its asili (foundation, essence) is that it infects us on every level. Many of us, in our quest for wholeness & meaning have taken on more of this poison via the ideologies that we imbibe.

We are beset by the fact that the most accessible solutions or answers also happen to be those which are most divergent from an African worldview. As such, we should never be surprised that the most popular or progressive discourses amount to little more than celebrations of alienation. This is why Mama Marimba Ani says that “To be Afrikan is the revolutionary act of our times.” She recognizes being African as an imperative for both personal and social transformation. An African worldview not only informs how we live as individuals, but directs us to reshape the world.

Thus, if we truly understand re-Africanization then, it is not a means for conformity to or within the dominant order. It is an imperative to dismantle a social order that creates and sustains conditions of alienation and to replace it with one that creates and sustains life, power, and health. True re-Africanization then, is nothing short of revolutionary thought and practice.

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.

Culture and sovereignty: An evaluative criteria

The reclamation of our culture and the restoration of African sovereignty in the world are two of the highest struggles that we can engage in. The first enables a fuller realization of and engagement with our humanity. The second makes us the shapers of our collective destiny.

All of our politics should be evaluated through the lens of how and whether they support these two goals: Does this achieve the restoration of our culture? Does this achieve our actual sovereignty in all spheres of life? If not, then these politics are, at best, insufficient.

Far too many of us have made vacuous investments. We’ve gone down the rabbit hole of alien paradigms that can in no way inform or produce an African reality, but merely a caricature of a European one.