Jacob H. Carruthers and the Restoration of an African Worldview: Finding Our Way through the Desert

Finding Our Way Through the Desert: Jacob H. Carruthers and the Restoration of an African Worldview offers a critical examination of the ideas and work of Carruthers, a key architect of the African-centered paradigm and a major contributor to its application to the study of Nile Valley culture and civilization. Herein, Kamau Rashid explicates some of Carruthers’s principal contributions, the theoretical and practical implications of his work, and how Carruthers’s work is situated in the stream of Black intellectual genealogy. Essential to this book are Carruthers’s concerns about the vital importance of Black intellectuals in the illumination of new visions of future possibility for African people. The centrality of African history and culture as resources in the transformation of consciousness and ultimately the revitalization of an African worldview were key elements in Carruthers’s conceptualization of two interrelated imperatives—the re-Africanization of Black consciousness and the transformation of reality. Composed of three parts, this book discusses various themes including Black education, disciplinary knowledge and knowledge construction, indigenous African cosmologies, African deep thought, institutional formation, revolutionary struggle, history and historiography to explore the implications of Carruthers’s thinking to the ongoing malaise of African people globally.

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Spirituality and revolution

There is an imperative for social change that is articulated in the spiritual systems of many African cultures. The demands for honesty, righteous character, service to one’s community, frugality and restraint, reciprocity, discernment, and sacrifice are not merely matters of personal, spiritual cultivation. Nor are they born of a lack of concern for the physical world that we inhabit. These are commitments that require a parallel commitment to self-transformation and the revisioning of the world.

For instance, to be mAa xrw (true of voice) in a world awash in the currency of lies can be costly. But this is a necessary disposition if isft (wrong-doing) is to be appropriately understood and corrected. To strive towards the practice of mdw nTr (divine speech) is not only a matter of seeking to build bridges between the kmtwy (African/Black people) of the present world and the deep thought of their ancestors. mdw nTr, as a body of living practice, requires that the world be refashioned wherein alienation is not an inevitable outcome of the human condition.

There are other, innumerable examples, but I submit to you that only WE can save us, and that our culture is one of the most underutilized assets in this struggle.

To be African is the revolutionary act of our time

One sees movements of re-indigenization occurring all over the world. Herein groups seek to reclaim cultural and historical knowledge lost as a consequence of colonization. These movements rest upon a foundation of clarity about who they are and who their ancestors were. In fact the effectiveness of such movements rely upon both the coherence of their cultural orientations and the institutional capacity (i.e., power) that they can effect to sustain and expand this endeavor.

Due to a variety of factors, internal and external, some of us (African/Black people) are often bereft of such clarity. The resulting cultural mis-orientation does not simply produce a multiplicity of perspectives, but ultimately results in confusion, which denies us the necessary unity that can be marshaled into augmenting our structural capacity (i.e., power).

The historical subjugation of our ancestors and the resulting cultural suppression which was employed as an instrument control has left lasting fissures in our identity. Further, the imposition of an alien worldview, whether through language, religion, social organization, and so forth effectively orients many of us to seek our identity within the strictures of the Eurasian paradigms that surround us, rather than outside of them. Herein, our African ancestry is regarded with shame, ambivalence, and for the truly lost, denial and rejection. As such there are those who would contrive all manner of fantastic tales that would make us everything and anything but African. The denialist propensity for myth-making is reflected in the Swahili proverb which states “Habari ya uwongo ina ncha saba.” This is translated as “A false story has seven endings.” This means that a lie, because of its avoidance of the true, must endlessly morph to sustain itself in the face of the truth. The beauty of historical truth is that it requires no such fabrication. An Akan proverb states “Nokware mu nni abra,” which translates as “There is no fraud in truth.” This is because it rests upon a foundation of surety.

There is little power that can be derived from our forays along contrived paths. These may have an ephemeral effect for some, but the falsehoods and mis-orientation that undergirds them undermines the necessary unity needed for us to transform our condition the world over. To be African is not only an acknowledgement of our ancestral identity, it is also a political assertion of connection to our ancestors and our resolve to restore that which has been taken from us. The embrace re-Africanization enables us to draw upon the vast wisdom and knowledge of our ancestors, wherein their strengths become our own, and become instruments that we can use to heal and empower ourselves in the present.

Mama Marimba Ani says that “To be African is the revolutionary act of our time.” She maintains that such an identity tells us not only who we are, but how we must exist, and what we must do. She recognizes that the foundational clarity of our ancestral identity necessarily orients us towards certain political objectives including the transformation of our minds, our communities, our societies, and–ultimately–the world, because to truly be African in the most expansive sense of social possibility requires the nullification of those forces inimical to Africa and African people. There is no other identity that orients our people, both towards such an expansive vision as well as to our peoplehood as its highest form of expression.

The decadence of consumer culture on a warming planet

Popular media seeks to focus our attention on an innumerable number of unimportant things. You would hardly think that, as a consequence of resource scarcity and climate change, that the very survival of our species is imperiled.

Consumer capitalism is a maladaptive system. Sadly we will continue to confront this reality as the chasm between real imperatives and manufactured concerns widens.

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.