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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A New Beginning

New beginning...

Photo credit: alexkess

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doctors and Scientists do not know everything,

They condemn that which they do not understand,

And fix meaning where there is none,

Many times, doctors give people death sentences,

When in fact there is a new life ahead,

They say it’s the age of reason,

But the more rational we become,

The more problems we create,

I do not know what your worry is,

Maybe you have a health condition,

Or maybe you have lost a loved one,

Or you are simply on the wrong side of life,

Whatever it is,

Take a look, deep down into the depths of your soul,

And perhaps, just when you understand ”Why me?”,

You will be healed and that will be a new beginning.

African Idea of the Universe

In indigenous African societies, God is thought of as a giver, a protector and a liberator. He has personal qualities such as wisdom, eternity, invisibility, omnipresence and most importantly justice. He reveals himself through earthly and heavenly things such as the sun, the moon, the stars, rocks, trees, rivers and rains. It is obviously beyond the scope of this article to delve deep into African Philosophy mainly because each African tribe has slightly different belief systems as regards nature and origin of life. I shall however try turn every stone in an attempt to find the most common element that runs through all tribes and draw conclusions.

Among most tribes, God is believed to be the father of all men. He is the almighty, the Supreme Being and though Africans appear to offer sacrifices to lesser gods, ancestors and deities, we revere him most. The Ewe tribe of south-eastern Ghana, parts of Togo and Benin call him ‘Mawuga Sogbolisa’ meaning ‘The Undefeatable’. The Akan of central Ghana and parts of Ivory Coast call him ‘Nyame’or ‘Nyankropong’ meaning the universe and the Yoruba’s of Nigeria call him Chukwu.

According to the myth of the Bantu tribe (scattered all over the West African sub-region), the universe begun precisely with the Supreme Being stepping a foot on the ground and out of his foot stump arose men, women, trees and in fact any object in the universe. The Akan has it that God lived in the Sky, so close to us that whenever an old woman pounded fufu ( boiled cassava) her pestle constantly kept hitting God. Angered and frustrated, God moved far away into the heavens hence the great distance between the sky and the earth.

Among the Ewe, God is said to have created mankind and hid him in a cave. He then sent the deities (lesser gods) to go and cleanse the earth of all evil forces or objects. While the cleansing was going, man became increasingly impatient in his cave and finally came out without the approval of God. This explains why men are always susceptible to evil spirits.

Another Ewe tribe has it that in the beginning God created mankind and presented him with three gourds from which to choose his destiny. One contained stones, the other salt and the third contained jewellery and happiness. After some time of deliberation, man went away with the second gourd but realizing that it contained salt, he brought it back and asked God to replace it with happiness. God declined and that’s how come happiness has eluded mankind. Another story which is particularly interesting is that God created and presented man with two gourds. One looked beautiful and shiny on the outside but contained only sand and stone, the other dirty and worn out but contained a lot of good things. Mankind, in a haste and without much forethought immediately chose the beautiful gourd and discovered the sand and stones – and such was his destiny.

I assume that so far so good and maybe to some extent, these stories make little sense to the reader. There are probably a dozen other such stories but lets pause and see what our ancestors are trying to tell us with these stories.  In my opinion,  they are surely telling us about a certain failing inherent in all men. Now let us turn the mental compass towards the inner world of the individual, to subject the stories to the test of truth – the absence of logic notwithstanding.

1. All over the world, life is considered a journey. This journey as we can see in the first myth started with God by his stepping on the ground and we arising out of his step. The myth simply tells mankind that we must walk in the path of righteousness laid for us by God.

2. It is interesting to note that God did not punish the old woman in the second myth but rather chose to resign into the skies. The myth tells us that God desires to be close to us if only we are ready to behave appropriately to please him.

3. Talking about humans coming out of a cave is no news. I think this myth can survive even a scientific test. For the earth is considered a mother goddess among most African tribes. She is called ‘Asaase Yaa’ by the Akans. During libation, the fetish priest addresses the Supreme God, followed by the Earth Goddess and then finally the Ancestors. All of these have specific roles and rankings which I shall expound on in my subsequent posts.

If the earth is a goddess and female at that, then it is reasonable that all humans came out of her uterus which more or less is a hole ( with all due respect to womenfolks). The primitive man’s idea of the origin of the universe stems from his own birthing process. This was the case with the aborigines of Australia and the Bushmen of the Kalahari.

I will like to now turn my attention to what is happening today under our own eyes. The other day, I read that Scientists say the universe came about as a result of a certain ‘Big Bang’ that occurred millions of years ago. A ‘Bang’, I came to know, means copulation but of course Scientists meant a completely different thing. The same of such thing applies to the primitive man. The numerous cave paintings found in Lascaux in France, parts of North Africa and even records of Greek and Roman mythologies speak  sometimes directly, of intercourse between two forces of nature ( usually male and female gods). The female god if not degraded into particles, then gives rise to mortals or in some cases immortals. It is obvious, whatever the case that there can never be a ‘Big Bang’ without two counteracting forces. The primitive man called these forces male and female.

Forgive me if I have not done enough justice to the topic. To  summarize,  mythologies reveal the deepest of truths about instinctive thought patterns and feelings of mankind but most of us dismiss them as false because our rational mind cannot handle them. The absence of reason is not the absence of truth.