The enlightened society: The fruits of struggle

Of course culture has been a core concern of a number of African intellectuals in this country. This has been more than something born of an an undue preoccupation with questions of identity, but has been centrally concerned with questions of epistemology and ideation.

Who are we? What sources inform this knowing? What special contribution might our cultural distinctiveness offer in our efforts to both envision and reshape the world in which we live? How does our degree of cultural grounding facilitate our ability to be discerning, that is critically engaged with the universalist creep of ideas ideas that are not only alien to our ancestors’ cultures, but also potentially corrosive to that which we seek to (re)establish. I fear that in our fervor to embrace increasingly shallow notions of progress, we are constantly stripping ourselves of the potential to know and move from a cultural center of our own, one requiring no sanction or approval from others.

I think of this, not only in relation to, but occasionally because of the spectacles of confusion that abound in our communities. The almost daily sight of young men walking about, pants sagging, shouting expletives in unison with the sounds streaming through their headphones, walking through the L-train selling marijuana, and seemingly bereft of an evaluative criteria of manhood outside of the empty and chronologically-determined manhood of this society is troubling. Of course this is nothing new, our confusion that is. This society has been devised to perpetuate it, to render it normal, desirable, and inescapable.

However I do not despair in the face of these things. This is not because I believe in some grand destiny where we will inevitably transform our condition, but because I see some of us, many of us doing this work using tools such as Capoeira, rites-of-passage, study groups, agriculture, language instruction, meditation, and so forth. It reminds me that processes of transformation do not necessarily begin on a scale that is grand equal to their aims. Their beginnings might be quite humble, their progress slow but inexorable. We too know this. We know that “Aendaye polepole hana budi afikile”, that is that “the person who walks with calm and care will arrive without fail”. We will arrive, at that place to which we desire to be, one wherein the reclamation of our culture and the restoration of our sovereignty are ends, and from there to even greater works which lay beyond. Works animated by the vision of sp tpy and whm mswt, that is the actualization of the cosmological and sociological ideal of a truly enlightened society.

Progressive perfection

The goal is progressive perfection and the teachings thus express the assumption of human perfectibility. As noted above in the section on ontology, this conception of progressive perfection is best expressed by the concept of ḫprt or khepert the perpetual process of becoming, perpetual striving, going through stages of moral achievement, self-mastery, reciprocity and all the other virtues or excellences (iḳrw, mnḫw, nfrw). Again, this anthropological concept is more aspiration than announcement of final achievement and evolves from a concept of progressive perfection rather than one of static perfection. In a word, it is an unfolding and becoming at ever higher levels, not a finished state of static completion.

-Maulana Karenga, Maat: The Moral Ideal in Ancient Egypt

On the abuse and misuse of Htp (hotep)

I recently learned of a t-shirt that shows a derivation of the word Htp and precedes to link the term with a range of problematic behaviors which are counter-productive to the interests of the Black community. I wonder how many people will wear the shirt, but can’t read this text below:
Htp001. This is the word Htp. It is a noun, and is defined by Dr. Rkhty Amen in her book Mejat Wefa as “Offerings, satisfaction, peace, greetings.”

I’m all for critiquing shallow and superficial thinking, but the term Htp (some pronounce it hotep or hetep) emerged out of one of the most vibrant Black intellectual movements of the late 20th Century. It was but one of a host of concepts borrowed from Nile Valley Culture and Civilization that was used in an attempt to understand more deeply the grand historical and cultural arc of African people as captured in the works of Cheikh Anta Diop and others. It was utilized as one small means of reviving the language of kmt or ancient Egypt, a language which Diop and Theophile Obenga shows exhibits strong connections with extant African languages. Diop’s research noted the same thing with regards to the culture of kmt and corresponding practices in pre-colonial and modern African cultures. In this way, ancient Egypt can be viewed as a vital component in the historical chain of events linking people of African descent today to their ancient past.

That this term is also used by some people who may be limited in their understanding or commitment to broader visions of social transformation does not invalidate the original thrust that gave rise to the invocation of terms such as Htp in the 1970s and 1980s from scholars such as Jacob H. Carruthers, Rkhty Amen, and so many others. Nor does it make these specious derivations (hotepping, hoteps, etc.) the most logical, appropriate, or intelligent terms to critique contradictory behaviors born of our shared oppression. Decolonizing one’s consciousness requires a new language, and can be achieved without a visceral and ahistorical rejection of one’s past.