African Concept of Human Personality

In this post I shall briefly explain how our African ancestors conceived of human personality and personhood. First of all, our ancestors were ideologically both creationists and evolutionists. They believe that the supreme God (Mawu) and his servant gods created the universe and everything in it. Man was created as an imperfect being and kept in a cave. Initially he could not speak but could only growl or make grunting noises like an animal. With time man emerged out of his cave and acquired human qualities such as bipedal locomotion, speech, thought, reason, conscience and virtue etc. This implies that the earliest man was probably a hominid. This concept contrasts sharply with the Christian creation story at Genesis 1, where everything was said to have been created almost instantly and perfectly. How then do we explain genetic defects such as premordial dwarfism, hunchbacks etc. and when I was Little I knew a man with twelve toes and twelve fingers. I bet all this people will wish they were not “perfect.”

Within African setup, when a baby is born, he or she is considered a non human visitor until after eight days. If the baby dies before the 8th day no funeral was held and no one was expected to cry or weep. The idea is that the baby is an animal – comprising pure ID (Instinctual Drives in freudian terms) and not fully human yet. Within the child’s ID is the mother’s blood, the father’ spirit and a soul from God. So the child is formed by three components coming from three different sources. The child’s life, as he survives and grows, is perpertually animated by these three factors. When he or she grows old and eventually dies, he loses the blood and spirit which he acquired from his parents but his soul is not lost. It returns to Mawu (the Supreme God) who is believed to dwell beyond the stars. The servant gods that dwell among the people and take possesion of animals, trees, rocks and rivers are never called “Mawu” but rather “Trorwo” meaning deities.

Please note that the practices described here are carried out by the Ewe tribe to which I belong. Different tribes have different ideas and practices though the differences are not very drastic. Also there are two forms of African personality: Indigenous African personality lived by our ancestors and contemporary post colonial personality emphatically espoused by Kwame Nkrumah, Leopold Senghor, Julius Nyerere etc. which stems from indigenous roots. 

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