Blackness (Part 3): Black people need to read more

Three things make slavery in the Americas horrendous and different: (1) It was instutionalized (2) It was extremely inhumane, slaves were treated as animals (3) It was continentwide and organised. When the ship docked and the slaves were brought out in tattered clothes – men, women and children, the first thing a slave master normally does is to crash the slaves’ spirit by killing one right in front of them. That way he effectively puts a stop to their desire to reason. Reason is salvation because it tells the slave to attack his master in order earn his freedom. But as a result of crashing their spirit, for the next 400 years the slaves had to stop reasoning in order to preserve their own lives. They simply obeyed instructions. When the master needed more hands on the farm he simply put one man together with a dozen women in a shack and forced them to copulate.

Today, some try to justify slavery by arguing that it existed in Africa long before the slave trade. That may be correct but indigenous African slavery was completely different: (1) Slaves were not worked to death (2) Slaves were released upon expiration of their term of service (3) A brave slave who fought in defence of his master’s tribe could rise to become a king and (4) African slavery was not institutionalized or codified. It was  a tribal affair. No slave was wilfully released or granted any rights in the west until the late 19th century. They were kept to work on the farm and were forbidden to read. A slave risks being killed for reading a book. Many people also quite unnecessarily differentiate between slavery and colonialism. Both are fueled by same motives: hegemony and exploitation. The only difference is the venue. Slavery took place away from Africa. Colonialism took place in Africa.

After the slave trade and slavery the black race lost its dignity. Today, all over the world, Africans or people of African descent are not accorded any genuine respect. It’s partly due to slavery and also due to the behaviour of some black people. In the days of slavery, they did provide clothes, shoes, a farm house, a language, a name, a religion, a culture, a god, a civilization (actually humanization according to them) and even today they continue to provide all of these including skin lightening creams etc. so in case one wanted to actually look white, one could do that. Did Africans not have a history, a culture, a language, a religion and a beautiful black skin before they arived in the new world? The black race must understand who they are, where they are from and where they are going. To do this they need to read more and with all due respect, turn the ‘reason switch’ back on.

Further reading: The works of  Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. Dubois etc.

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At the museum 

I visited a museum this week where an exhibition was being held. It was called the Museum of Science and Technology. I knew some of the artists who exhibited and I was happy to see them again. 

By the way, what is the role of art in society? To excite, inspire, communicate or provoke change? Enjoy!


I really liked this ink sketch of a girl carrying yams. It was done in I think 1940. I like the crude and original look of the work.


Another indigenous theme of ‘pouring palmwine’. I think the beauty of painting lies in a certain sensitivity of the artist that translates into capturing everyday activity in an exceptional form.


Market scene. Ghanaian markets are very overcrowded and this artist captured that perfectly. Actually it was done by a very renowned painter who I read about in my art history class in high school.


Pencil drawing by a younger artist. I think the subject matter here is beauty. You can clearly see differences in themes between the young and old artists.


Indigenous clay masks. These look like they are singing.


Clay Sculptures – possibly ancestral figures


Another sculture. I like this one, his eyes are partially closed and he does look like a politician I know.


Dyed fabric depicting a fat woman. In Ghana, gaining weight and looking curvy is trendy.


A model of a ship


At first I thought these were live snails crawling up to the ceiling but I realised they were shells glued by the artist to the pillar and the ceiling.


British colonial relic. It must have been used in WW1.

This is the entrance to the Museum of Science and Technology. Happy weekend to especially you. You know yourself. That’s all folks.

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. 

Contemporary Paintings

I visited an art gallery very recently and felt the influence of Europeanisation even on African art. I didn’t feel a deep connection with our arts anymore. Although these visual artists seem very creative, only few retained indigenous African themes such as libation, warfare, hunting, weaving, farming, fertility etc in their paintings. I think the appropriate term for these paintings should be “Europeanised paintings.” But maybe I’m wrong. It could also be that the artists are focusing on commercial appeal. Whatever the issue is we cannot blame the artist as he or she is simply mirroring society. The images have been added below for your viewing pleasure.

I think these are fishing boats at the shore.

Landscape

Abstract 

African woman (notice the backside)

This depicts an annual deer hunting festival by one of the tribes in Ghana. Can you see the live deer on their shoulders? 

Trio women feature a lot in paintings by Ghanaian painters. I don’t know what the obsession is with a woman’s backside. Almost every painting I saw depicting a full size woman showed the back of the woman. Maybe it’s true that Black/African men love women with big booty. Personally, I can’t say I care about size of booty.

This is a ghetto scene

Another abstract

Metal Figurines (drummers)

Looks like cubism. I don’t know what you see but I see sorrow.

Fabric, I think it’s hand woven.

African women are known to be very hardworking and I think they must be depicted as such not just making faces as seen in the painting. Our art has moved from communicating essence to simply communicating pleasure or evoking emotion…… And who is this guy in the shot? 

O it’s me.

This is the entrance to the gallery. The name of the gallery is Nubuke Foundation. They have been commited to preserving and promoting art in Ghana for over ten years and they always offer a friendly and warm environment for all visitors. That’s all folks.

Metamorphous Agents in the African Universe

The indegenous non-westernised African cares not much for the significance of celestial bodies. It’s clear from where the sun rises every morning and where it sets. It’s clear whether it’s a full moon or it’s half or a crescent. But he makes no clear connection between these objects and an evolving universe. There was never a sun god or a moon god in any African tribal theological constructs. Instead, concerntration was on immediate surroundings – the trees, the rivers, the sea, the animals and rocks etc. In fact they believed in something which could be immedietely experienced such as peace, love, success, fertility, health and they had gods of such attributes. We could say that everything in African world at the time was a social construct. Objectivity was still subject to interpretations.

Mythologies, fables and fairy tales involving animal characters informs us that our ancestors sensed a connection between humans and animals long before genetics descovered that. Their actions guided by animalistic totems implied that they viewed the animal society as an extension of the human society. All organisms are possessed by a life force called ‘spirit’. Spirits could take possesion of anything they desired. Even today the typical indegenous African considers certain animals as an embodiment of spirits or higher ancestral beings. A bird standing at the window could be an anamorphous spirit agent visiting the family and carrying a message. Ofcourse this notion is completely fallacious to the scientific mind but there are interesting observations similar to those supplied by the theory of evolution. This concerns the metamorphosis of organisms. Whereas Darwin’s theory claims that phylogenesis is gradual and takes millions of years, our ancestors believed such transformations are instantaneous. But bottom line is transformations do occur.

These ideas extend even to what we call the world of ancestors, the netherworld or hades or the grave which we all dread. To the African the world of the dead is not far. It’s like a basement or an area below the deck of the ship of existence which one could shuffle anytime in a spiritual sense. Therefore our dead ancestors are not believed to be really dead, they have just changed form from physical to spiritual. The spiritual forms the substructure for the physical. The interesting thing is that these ancestors do not wait to rise in the future and save the living. Instead, they rise everyday, they metamorphose into other creatures everyday, they aid and guide the living everyday. A cat, a bird or a lizard or even a beetle etc. are not just animals one could disregard and exterminate. They are all metamorphous agents having a connection to humans. As someone who likes nature I find this concept more inspiring.

Why do African universities teach Kant as a “moral philosopher?”

Immanuel Kant as a moral philosopher? Please tell me this is a joke. What moral precepts did he contribute to the molding of the African personality, consciousness and existence? Would you label someone who called you an ox, who said you should be driven apart with thrashings a moral philosopher?  Yet this is what Kant said of Black Africans.

Worst still, would you take someone seriously if he wrote voluminously about how married couples should relate to each other when in fact he himself never had the courage to marry? Kant may be a giant in European philosophy, fair enough why shouldn’t he be, but to teach one concept and live the other is unethical.

One enters the department of philosophy in a typical African university and they are teaching Kant, Hegel, Locke, Rousseau, Hume, Descartes etc. The irony in all this epistemological blunders is that there are probably more sages in Africa than there are elsewhere. Why not primarily teach the aphorisms of African sages as African philosophy. Wouldn’t that be more plausible and logical and even meritorious to Africa?

Cleptocracy, Kakistocracy and Elite Capture in Africa

Although this post is specifically about Ghana, most African nations share same problems associated with governance and economic development. The term elite capture simply describes a situation where resources designated for the benefit of the larger population are usurped by a few individuals of superior status –be it economic, political, educational, ethnic, or otherwise. Typically, individuals or groups take advantage of government programs aimed at distributing resources or funds to the general public by using their elite influence to direct such assistance in such a way that it primarily benefits the elite group. In some cases it benefits their own associates, family members or friends. Cleptocracy on the other hand, is a rule by thieves and Kakistocracy is a rule by the most unqualified or the morally corrupt in society.

Ghana is a country of make-believe. Even little kids acquire this instinct of crafting lies for no apparent reason. The entire society is organised around  speculations, superstitions and farcical ideas. Facts and truths have no grip on the Ghanaian mind. The quickest and most effective way of influencing the Ghanaian is through music, the least effective is through the written word. Books influence only a thin stratum of intellectuals. The politicians know the people so well that during every election all the major political parties compose music that plays countless times on the airwaves. They know that the average man or woman on the street is not really interested in lengthy manifestos. Just give them music and entertainment. Added to this is the problem of ethnocentrism. You can visit a typical Ghanaian organisation and notice that almost everyone in a particular office, unit or department belong to one tribe. And when tribal affiliations set in there is absolutely no room for reason.

The most corrupt people in Ghana and Africa for that matter, also happen to be the elite class, most with doctorates. They form the core of the cleptocrats. Their luxurious lifestyles often cost the state more than necessary but nobody takes any action to stop this lunacy. Let me explain that a PhD in Ghana does not necessarily mean the holder has contributed anything to the field of knowledge. Here, a certificate simply designates a title. The worst mistake one can ever make as a subordinate is to try to report an allegedly corrupt official to one’s overall boss. One will be reporting to the ‘thief executive officer’ and thereby identifying oneself as a traitor in the organisation. This can cost you a promotion or salary increment etc considering that firing a public servant in Ghana is not a straight forward procedure. The thieves, supported by the ignorant masses, continue to rule in Africa.

Intellectualism and Pseudo-Intellectualism

I looked up the definition of ‘intellectual’ after I was labelled by some co-bloggers as indulging in ‘false intellectualism.’ I didn’t know what that phrase meant, neither did I think anyone could successfully pretended to be intelligent or clever without ultimately making a fool out of himself. Intelligence is inborn – arising from the genes, so it’s either one knows something based one’s experience or one simply does not know. Moreover, I don’t blog to prove anything to anyone, truth is self evident. I just blog because I love to share my thoughts and ideas.

The dictionary came up with the following definitions:

Intellectual: Of or associated with or requiring the use of the mind. 

Intellectual: Possessing or showing intellect or mental capacity, especially to a high degree.

Intellectual: Appealing to or using the intellect or a person who uses the mind creatively.

Intellectualism (philosophy): The doctrine that knowledge is acquired by reason alone without resort to experience

Of the last definition which could easily pass for truth, I nonetheless disagree with that philosophical doctrine. I believe all knowledge is derived from sensory perception and therefore from experience. But it is the intellect that discloses the true meaning of an experience and sends the message to the individual. Without the experience or stimuli, there will be no message. Even with much experience, the message could be weak.

If someone writes a good essay or a poem or an article, is he not using his or her  mind creatively? Is that not an intellectual activity. So what at all do they mean by pseudo-intellectualism? Do we need to acquire PhDs in order to confer intellectualism on ourselves, because I know people who have acquired doctorates but apart from their dissertation, they have not written even a pamphlet. They simply sit in lousy offices and enforce unexplainable rules. Being an intellectual is not something that is inherited through degrees. One is born with it and it’s exhibited from childhood and probably only validated through high academic qualifications. Even then the biggest problems of this world were solved and are continuously being solved by people who did not even have any definitive education. That’s probably why the Academia is now, more than ever, admittable of people who can demonstrate practical knowledge of a field but without necessary certification. Misdirected education is a waste of time but it also doesn’t mean dropping out of college and putting the cart before the horse. That is regrettable.

Maybe my critics will label me differently once I complete my masters degree and inform them to that effect. But…wait a minute! maybe it’s not about my education. People who call me pseud-intellectual may actually be doing so because I am a black African living in the jungles of Africa – I am not supposed to discern much or speak with an intellectual or rational voice. Is that right? Well, here is the good thing: I am quite impervious to criticisms – in fact I welcome them.