African spirituality and the warrior tradition

After both participating in and observing a dialogue about spirituality and the martial arts, I was compelled to reflect upon the ethical and conceptual modalities informed by African cultural systems, and the ways in which these inform processes of social and personal transformation. These discourses have been situated in a range spaces wherein the combative implications might be explicit or implicit.

Explicit implications pertain to those discourses that explicate the context of war and struggle as reflected in the Odù Ifá, which states, “The constant soldier is never unready, even once.” (Òwónrín Otúrà, 159:1) Elsewhere it emphasizes the necessity of struggle, as a process which refines both one’s character and challenges the world.
“Fighting in front; fighting behind
If it does not lead to one’s death,
It will cause one to become a courageous person…” (Òkrànran Ká, 189:2)
As a sacred text, the Odu Ifa is a replete with references to vigilance, courage, and the importance of battle waged for the greater good.

Similarly we find these ideas expressed in other contexts within the sacred texts that are implicit references to a warrior tradition. One notable, but easily overlooked example is a text from Kemet (ancient Egypt), which the Egyptologists call The Prophesies of Neferti. Wherein it states, “iw mAat r iyt r st.s isft dr.ti r rwty”, which can I have translated as “Maat, in relation to injustice, is in her place. Cast out isfet.” The point here is that the expulsion of isfet, disorder, is not assumed to be beyond the realm of human agency. Quite the contrary, humans as expressions of nTr (phonetically netcher, which can be thought of as totality, which the Egyptologists translate as god or divinity), are charged with the task of restoring order in the wake of its imposition. Thus the maintenance of order (mAat) requires, among other things, vigilance–an implicit appeal to things martial. This becomes more explicit elsewhere in the text where it states “tw r Ssp xaw nw aHA anx tA m shA”, which translated states that people will “take up weapons of war” and that the “the land lives in turmoil”. Again, the martial tradition is invoked, but here in explicit terms, as the people themselves rise up to “Cast out isfet.”

Beyond the combative dimension, one should note that this text seeks to affirm the necessity of the people acting as the stewards of order. This is an extension of what Theophile Obenga states when he writes, “The pharaoh, in his capacity as guarantor of Maât…He was responsible for the maintenance of universal harmony.” Jacob H. Carruthers says something similar where he states, “The Niswt’s overall function, like that of Wosir, is the establishment of Maat in Tawi, i.e., to establish conditions where enlightenment will prevail over ignorance”. Niswt is the the ruler of upper and lower Kemet. Wosir is the nTr that the Greeks referred to as Osiris. Tawi is the united two lands (upper and lower Kemet). In this sense we see a shared social practice in the defense of order (mAat) extending from the highest levels of government to the denizens of the land.

In conclusion, I concur, African spirituality is replete with appeals to a warrior tradition. In fact, one might argue that spirituality is sufficiently diffuse in form as to represent a totalizing element of the culture, and that this is synergistically linked to an insistence upon vigilance, lest the structures which sustain order and the good condition be lost.

Here I offer some thoughts on what one such idea, mAat, means as a form of liberatory praxis: