Political Science

With Friends like These… A Critique of Pervasive Anti-Africanisms in Current African Studies Epistemology and Methodology

Oyekan Owomoyela

African Studies Review, Vol. 37, No. 3. (Dec., 1994), pp. 77-101.

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With Friends Like These. . . A Critique of Pervasive Anti-Africanisms in Current African Studies Epistemology and Methodology*

Oyekan Owomoyeln

Unlike certain area studies disciplines (Russian Studies and Oriental Studies, for example), African Studies has largely attracted scholars whose commitment to their subject transcends mere profession- alism. The sensible assumption with regard to African Africanists is, of course, that their orientation would be decidedly pro-African, but within the discipline, the notion is widespread that at least for the most part, even non-African Africanists hold a patronal attitude to- wards the continent, its peoples and cultures and their future, routinely combining the role of champions with that of students.’ This paper will argue that very often, Africanist practice, while purporting to be responsive to the best interests of Africa and Africans, in fact has the effect of perpetuating notions of an Africa that never was. It will also call attention to some significant incongruities between the methodol- ogy of African Studies and the well known relational principles that inform inter-personal commerce in African cultures. Beyond exposing these discrepancies between the expected and the actual, and the in- congruities between methodology and spirit, the discussion will argue for an infusion of the practice of the discipline with the attitudes that characterize African familial discourses.

I will warn at the outset that the ensuing argument adopts the position that one can make valid general statements about Africa, Africans, African cultures, African relational habits and the like, without necessarily suggesting a monolithic uniformity over the entire continent in any of the particulars. Furthermore, descriptions of, and as- sertions about, aspects of African life in the following pages cannot be construed as implying their eternal fixity and immutability through history. Africa is diverse, and so are its peoples and their cultures. It is also a dynamic continent that bears the marks of its passage through

Afncari Studies Rm’virw, Volume 37, Number 3 (December 1Y94), pp. 77-101.


time. That said, I would assert that the peoples and cultures that spring to the educated mind at the mention of Africa have enough that is fundamental in common to legitimize significant generalizations, al- ways with the understanding, of course, that all generalizations admit (and indeed presuppose) exceptions. Lastly, since the subject of the discussion is the attitudes of non-Africans towards Africa (and Africans), it is not irrelevant to observe that while an Akan is different from a Yoruba, attitudes towards both in many parts of the United States, for example, will be similar because of their shared African identity, and the Americans who perceive them as two of a kind would be unimpressed by fine arguments about their cultural and other differences.

Africa as Grotesque

Critiques of colonialism and colonial discourses (Hammond and Jablow 1970; Lyons 1975; Miller 1985; and Mudimbe 1988, to name only a few) dwell upon colonialists’ invention of images of Africa as the land of the grotesque–grotesque creatures with grotesque features, grotesque mentalities and grotesque habits. For the critics and for like-minded Africanists the task of reclaiming African humanity is a significant part of the process of decolonization, and also of what presumably de- fines an Africanist. Paradoxically, though, certain themes, programs and positions currently commanding attention in African Studies, while thoughtful and well intentioned, combine nonetheless to constitute a promotion of de-Africanization-by which I mean both expunging Africanness from the world’s repertory of traits, beliefs and customs, and urging upon Africans flight from what it means to be African. Put differently, even within the discipline of African Studies scholars con- tinue to propagate and popularize concepts of Africa and Africanity that are hardly distinguishable from those of Joseph de Gobineau or Captain Nollan.

Patterns of De-Africanization

Africanity as Pathology

The sometimes inadvertent anti-Africa current enjoys wide ap- peal because it presents itself in the guise of an advocacy for “development,” a code word for westernity and the polar opposite of Africanity, while also masquerading as objective scholarship. A splen- did example is ]sari: Voyage Around “Essay” (1989), in which the Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka celebrates both his father and a historic turning point in the affairs of his native village. The real drama of the

With Friends Like These

work revolves, of course, around the momentous transition from a tradi- tional African to a modem Western orientation, the change being sym- bolized by the passing of the Odemo kingship from the traditionalist Olisa faction to the westernized L i g h clan and its ex-116s. The deaths on the Olisa side of Agunrin Odubona, the ancient warrior and impla- cable opponent of Westem influences, and on the Ligbn side of fyi5 Ile Ligun, the matriarch who adamantly refused to live in a Christian household or to be buried according to Christian rites, signal the end of the old era and the dawn of the new. The added coincidence of Wade Cudeback’s arrival at tsar2 from Ashtabula (Ohio) reinforces the mil- lennial dimension of the events, for the Odogbolu oracle had a ~ o u n c e d that fulfillment for Akinyode (the chief agent of the transition) would coincide with his finding “Asabula” (246). In this instance, even though the muslim could not go to the mountain, the mountain had obligingly come to the muslim.

Akinsanya, destined to become the new Odemo, rides in triumph into the village on the white horse Bahia, while Akinyode, the agent most responsible for the Ligun success, surveys the marks of the defi- ciency of the old regime evident on the bodies of bar2 citizens and in their physical environment: yaws-eaten bodies, heads ringed by ring- worm, necks distended by goiter, and the like (258-9). In short, Akinsanya’s ascension, the triumph of the “enlightened” (216) over the retrogrades, promises an end of disease and dis-ease in i s a r ~ . ~

Stanislas Adotevi undoubtedly had traditionalists like Olisa and Odubona in mind when he wrote his now-famous opinion: “The Black person who accepts his race is a good Black, but if he forgets our fall, if he forgets himself, if he faints in mystical ecstasy, if he sees black when he should see right, he or she loses himself or herself, loses the being Black in losing perspective” (1972, 102; 1988, 37) [emphasis added]. Whatever its merit and its good intention, the comment has the misfortune of opposing blackness (read Africanness) to rightness, and of recalling the racist formula, “If you’re white you’re right; if you’re black, step back!” The point about self-acceptance is of course incontestable, but the derisive reference to fainting in mystical ecstasy is troublesome, for it is a familiar ploy for belittling Africans’ valorizing their tradition.


Another seemingly innocent and pro-development derogation of Africanity surfaces in discussions of literacy and non-literacy. Witness the following sentiments uttered with reference to African-American writing, but which accurately reflect the thinking of many African in- tellectuals with regard to Africa: “Without a written language, as Hegel had it, there could be no ordered repetition or memory, there


could be no history. Without history, there could be no self’ (Gates 7 ) [emphasis added]. Henry Louis Gates here repeats Paulin Hountondji’s argument that philosophy, which is history, is possible only in a liter- ate society (104). In his book, In My Father’s House: Africa i n the Philosophy of Culture (1992), Kwame Anthony Appiah indeed comes close to representing literacy as an epistemic necessity, not simply a condition for the possibility of science, history or philosophy. According to him, “it is not a sufficient condition for science, but it seems certainly necessary. What else, apart from a lot of luck, accounts for the beginnings of modem science?” He cites among other things made possi- ble by literacy the Reformation which resulted from the wider dissem- ination of the Bible (130), but offers the qualification that his claim “is not that literacy explains modern science (China is a refutation of that claim); it is that it was crucial to its possibility” (131). Of course, the contents of the Bible could have been made available to the public through means other than writing, and Appiah does mention that Asante gold weights proved efficacious as transmitters of texts (proverbs), serving, in other words, as an alternative to writing (133). Nevertheless he concludes that “the very low level of its literacy shaped the intellectllal possibilities of precolonial Africa” (131) [emphasis added]. He does not intend to suggest that intellectualism is absent in non-literate cultures, but when he asserts that “intellectual style in cultures without widely distributed literacy was for that rea- son radically different from the style of contemporary literate cultures. And, complex as the real story is, the sorts of differences I have been discussing are real and have been important” (133), the import seems unmistakably to suggest a disadvantage for non-literate cultures vis-A- vis literate ones in that regard. Along similar lines Mariama B8 has Ramatoulaye, the heroine of So Long a Letter (1989), rhapsodize books as follows:

The power of bcmks, this marvelous invention of astute human intel- ligence. Various signs associated with sound: different sounds that form the word. Thought, History, Science, Life. Sole instrument of in- terrelationsllips and of czlltzlre, unparalleled means of giving and re- ceiving. Books knit generations together in the same continuing effort that leads to progress. (32) [emphasis added].

One is encouraged that demurrals on this issue now come from the ranks of the most insistent champions of literacy, African academic philosophers, as witness Henry Odera Oruka’s recent observation, “I am not ready to follow some of my colleagues down the road of a glorifi- cation of ‘science’ at the expense of the hitherto unwritten African thought. Hountondji’s uncompromising pleas for science and identifica- tion of philosophy with disciplines like physics and algebra is philo-

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sophically dangerous” (iii); and “literacy is not a necessary condition for philosophical reflection and exposition” (16).

The Question of Race

Another subject in Appiah’s book that is even more pertinent to my argument is the question of race. His study of genetic science has led him to the important discovery that genes are not race specific: two Akan people, for example, are not necessarily more likely to be geneti- cally alike than are an Akan person and an English person; an Akan person and an English person may be genetically more similar than any two given English persons or Akan persons; morphological similarities among members of a race are not correlated with genic similarities, just as morphological differentiations between races are not correlated with genic differentiations; we have no reason to believe that the genic determinants of cultural differences are disposed in a particular way in all (or almost all) members of a race, or that this disposition is unique to the race; and so forth. The ultimate terminus of the argument is that apart from morphology, the African (a designation that is now suspect, for, as Appiah reminds us [62], and as Miller [8-131 also has, the con- cepts “Africa,” “African” and “Negro” are European inventions) is no different from the European.

In unequivocal terms Appiah declares, “The truth is that there are no races: there is nothing in the world that can do all we ask race to do for us” (45). The declaration echoes the notion Werner Sollors argues in The Invention of Ethnicity (1986), and that he points out has been applied also by Ernest Gellner to the idea of nations in his statement, “Nationalism is not the awakening of nations to self-consciousness; it invents nations where they do not exist” (Sollors xi). Again, I am con- vinced that Appiah’s intentions are laudable, for what he is about is the removal of the grounds for racism: “The disappearance of a widespread belief in the biological category of the Negro would leave nothing for racists to have an attitude toward. But it would offer, by it- self, no guarantee that the African would escape from the stigma of cen- turies” (39). He also believes that race biologizes culture, which he holds to be of paramount importance (45).

Despite his good intentions and the sound conclusion his genetic arguments yield with regard to race, I am not at ease with their impli- cations for Africa. For, having demystified the idea “Africa” as no more than a European invention for a geographical space occupied by peoples of diverse cultures, and having exposed race as a scientific fraud, what would be left as the bond that unites the peoples hitherto subsumed under those combined categories? Moreover, what is the rea- son advanced for the need to do away with racialism (or “tribalism”) in the African context? It is ostensibly because racialism is perceived as an


obstacle to the development of modern (imagined) communities, espe- cially given the mosaic nature of the “nations” in modem Africa; the desired goal is to build communities in which members would relate with one another as equals, accept a shared destiny and assume a re- sponsibility to the community as a whole. After all, the main strategy for inculcating the sort of attitude in individual members that will con- duce to the realization of the stated ideal is to invest the community with some mystical quality that commands the allegiance of the indi- viduals and compels them to the desired behavior. In other words, some rallying principle by which they identify themselves as members of an exclusive group with mutual obligations and responsibilities. Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God (1969) offers a good fictional example in the Ulu rallying principle invented by six vulnerable Igbo villages to cement their union as Umuaro (1G17). Such an organizing principle need not be scientific, and is not necessarily good or bad: it may be put to a good or a bad use, depending on the moral qualities of the decisive members of the community.

As a rallying principle and impulse towards socially acceptable behavior, race is no different from what the peoples of the United States are striving towards, something that would promote a sense of identity and mutuality among them. For them what matters is that they find themselves together at the same geographical location, faced with the necessity of group survival. What brought them to- gether in the first place is now immaterial; what is material is the principle they find to rally them, and also the institutions and prac- tices-as well as their rationalizations, philosophical, theological, etc.-that will sustain the group. That is the end common descent (or race) serves, and that is its raison d’ttre.

Similarly, we can accept the commonality of genes across racial lines and the accident of color; but ultimately genes and color are not what Africanity stresses or symbolizes. Africanity implies a certain way, a learned way, in which people relate to one another, to the envi- ronment and to the universe, what Ayi Kwei Armah has called “our way,” one that is not necessarily beyond the capacity of other people, but one that Africans have historically embraced. If race or ethnicity has come to be identified with Africanity, and therefore to be invested with some mystical quality, it is only because the people of “the way” necessarily share a geographical space, and that fact in turn results from common descent. Blood is thicker than water only because it sym- bolizes our obligation to deal in a certain way with those consan- guineous with us, not because in itself it possesses some mysterious, psy- chical potentiality to enforce particular modes of behavior. We say jjish td jisu 16j2, ara wa k6; jjksh td kd petiesi, ara w a n i (The Ijesa per- son who steals yams in the market is not one of us; the Ijesa person who

With Friends Like These .

builds a high-rise house is one of us). In other words, at the basis of de- scent relationship is consent; Ijesaness, therefore, can be suspended, va- cated or withdrawn, temporarily or permanently.

I do not wish to pursue the argument on race at undue length, but I should stress, with regard to the scientific argument against it, that race in popular conception has never had a scientific basis, only a per- ceptual one. Racists might have resorted to bogus science to justify their prejudices, but it was always a ruse to rationalize existing attitudes, not the generator of them. In matters of race we are operating in an irra- tional, social and popular sphere, not a rational, scholarly or scientific one. What all this means is that ultimately culture and race do similar duties, and culture is no less susceptible of manipulation as a basis for discrimination than race. Any excuse that can be used for boundary de- marcation can be a ground for irrational prejudices.

Objective Ethnography and Its Parodies

To greet the emergence of independent nations out of the European colonies in Africa, the Italian filmmakers of Mondo Cane fame, Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi, as if to alert the European world to the nature of the monster it was letting loose, released their film Africa Addio (1966), a film that gave full play to its makers’ nat- uralistic fascination with morbidity and grotesqueness. It portrays an Africa in which its people, seemingly demented, engage in an orgy of mass murder, and having satiated themselves on human blood, turn with equal manic fury on the continent’s wildlife. John Cohen’s literary rendition of the film in a book of the same title thus describes a repre- sentative scene:

A black body lies face down on a muddy forest floor. A huge red gash slices across the head, laying open the white of brains. His out- stretched arms end abruptly in two pools of blood-the hands have been hacked off at the wrists.

The hands lie about a foot from the outstretched arms. There are not just two hands; there are 52, each severed neatly at the wrist, each long-fingered and slender. The pile of hands is about two feet high, stacked so carefully that it seems like an exhibit in a wax museum.

Above the pile of hands is the chopping block-a broad, low limb of a large tree. It is chipped and scarred deeply where the executioners’ machetes whacked down, and blood has stained the white of the slashed wood a brilliant red. (1966, 29)

A reader ibmorant of the source of the quote might reasonably guess that he was reading a passage out of V. S. Naipaul’s “A New King for the Congo” (1980) or A Bend in the River (1979), or indeed,


most unfortunately, out of Wole Soyinka’s Season of A n o m y (1974). That, I suggest, is an indication of the problem of representation con- fronting Africa and Africans.

Africans have had to endure, and have consequently become ac- customed to, gratuitous muckraking travels and slanders of all things African by the likes of V. S. Naipaul, but Naipaulism in professed (or professional) Africanists rankles, even when it claims to be disinter- ested scholarship. Sharon Stichter and Jane Parpart’s Patriarchy and C l a s s (1988) is published in the African Modernization and Development Series, but reading it one cannot help feeling that more than anything it argues Africans’ innate perversity, especially in gen- der relations and sexual matters. The studies in the book show evidence of what Peter Rigby describes as “the burden of bourgeois categories and concepts, such as ‘property’, ‘ownership’, ‘capital’, ‘profit’, the ‘buying’, ‘selling’ of livestock and women, and numerous other cliches such as . . . ‘patriarchy”‘ (16). Jeanne Koopman Henn’s chapter “The Material Basis of Sexism: A Mode of Production Analysis,” for exam- ple, intends to offer a mode of production analysis of Beti gender rela- tions (27-59) but reduces all relationships among the Beti (and by ex- tension among Africans) to excuses for mutual exploitation. One sentence epitomizes her understanding of African family dynamics: “One society even required male initiates to beat their mothers as testimony to their ability to dissociate themselves from the world of women” (44).

Not very different in spirit from Henn’s chapter is Luise White’s ethnography of prostitution in Nairobi, “Domestic Labor in a Colonial City: Prostitution in Nairobi, 190(?-1952.” While establishing that by and large the women involved chose their trade and that there was no male pimping, she yet manages to suggest that ultimately the benefi- ciaries from the trade were the men who patronized the prostitutes, not the prostitutes themselves. In her view the gender relation at work was one in which “men earned and women provided” (144), and she con- cludes that “prostitution refinanced and subsidized a generation of fa- thers” (148) [emphasis added].

In the same tradition as Patriarchy and Class is W o m e n and Slavery in Africa (1983), edited by Claire Robertson anci Martin Klein. They effectively rewrite the African experience of slavery, establish- ing the practice as routine and widespread in traditional Africa, women being the overwhelming victims. They do say in their opening chapter, “Women’s Importance in African Slave Systems,” that apart from the erroneous assumption that slavers were exclusively male, “many accounts assume that the owners and users of slaves were male. It may be that most slave owners were male, but a large percentage of the users were female” (3). Incidentally, the statement contradicts Ama Ata Aidoo’s insistence in Anowa (1970) that men perversely engaged in slaving while women implacably opposed it.

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Robertson and Klein assure themselves of considerable latitude by adopting a rather broad definition of slavery: “the slave is involun- tarily servile, has a marginal position within her social unit, and is subject to the control of another” (34).This formulation would embrace groups and individuals in traditional Africa to whom their community would not apply whatever word they had for slaves. For example, the definition would apply to several members of the compound in which I grew up-apprentices learning carpentry and cabinet making from my father, domestic servants my father’s wives employed as help in their petty trading and young relatives of various members of the family serving the members as omo ddi, (ward). These relatives were there in accordance with the Yoruba practice of removing youths from parental care and submitting them instead to relatives who would be strict with them, thus obviating the risk that the youths would be spoiled by their parents. In many cases these different classes of “servile” people had no say in the process by which they wound up in the compound but acted only according to their parents’ directives. But no one regarded them as erli, the Yoruba word for slave. Indeed, in all the years I lived in the Yoruba world I never once met an erli; yet according to the Robertson- Klein definition, I grew up in a compound chock-full of people in one type or more of Yoruba “slave systems.” With their liberal definition of what a slave is it is no wonder that of the three slave markets they identify in Africa (“in terms of sex ratios”), (i), the European export slave market, which purchased male slaves by a ratio of at least two to one; (ii), the Muslim market of the Arab world, which absorbed pri- marily female slaves; and (iii), the internal African market, which absorbed mostly women and children, they suggest the last was proba- bly the largest (4).

Robertson and Kline further write of “slaves” being acquired to build up lineages; as “kinless wives and concubines”; and as submissive female sex objects easily assimilated into the family and clan (6). One wonders how the children of these “slaves” felt about their slaves/mothers and related to them, and how the husbands/owners felt about the women who bred lineage members for them? Did the children not feel any filial bond with their slaves/mothers but only regarded them as mere objects of exploitation? What was the real nature of this curious institution of slavery, given the information that Dahomean rulers were “routinely descended from slave wives of their predeces- sors”? (8)

The editors’ description of procreative arrangements for the pur- pose of building up the lineage is of course consistent with Marxist fem- inists’ misrepresentation of marriage as the exchange of women by men, among men, with a view to breeding means of production for the benefit of men, except that the African version is here constructed as more per- verse that the Western, where the women in the arrangement are not


portrayed as slaves. The Robertson-Klein attack is aimed right at the heart of the vaunted African principle of communalism, which is after all based on kinship. Kinship becomes devalued since it supposedly rests on the rotten foundation of slavery. If one doubts their intention in this regard one need only attend to their stunning explanation for the importance Africans attach to kinship. Having stated that “male slaves often preferred the acquisition of a slave or a second wife to the purchase of their own freedom” (6), they go on to assert that kinship is important for Africans especially because it “allowed the transfer of rights over people and . . . permitted the development of dependent re- lationships that in certain situations collld lead to slavery” (6-7) [emphasis added]. They also speak of a “lack of opposition between kinship and exploitation,” citing Buchi Emecheta’s The Slave Girl to support their point: in Ibuza, they say, only females without kinship ties are truly free; to have kin is to be in danger of enslavement!

I will not argue that a fictional piece is necessarily worthless as authority on which to rest scientific deductions, but, incidentally, Emecheta’s Ibuza is located in the same Western Igbo area whose ex- emplary dual-sex political system, which protects women’s interests and ensures their full and free participation in the life of the commu- nity, Kamene Okonjo has documented in “The Dual-Sex Political System in Operation: Igbo Women and Community Politics in Midwestern Nigeria” (1976). Emecheta herself paints a very different picture of Ibuza women and their relations with their men in her pre- sentation at the Second African Writers’ conference in Stockholm in 1986. The incident she describes in the following passage is eloquent enough:

I was in my bedroom in Ibuza listening to a conversation. It was cool and damp and I was deciding whether to get up from my bed or not. I knew it was about six in the morning. I did not have to look at the clock. I just knew because I could hear the songs of the morning, children on their way to fetch water, a cock crowing here and there. Then the penetrating voice of Nwango, the senior wife of Obike came into my thoughts. ‘Go away you stinking beast. Why will you not let me sleep? I have a full day ahead of me and you come harassing me so early in the morning. You are shameless. You don’t even care that the children sleep next-door. You beast. Why don’t you go to your new wife.’ Now the man: ‘All I have from you is your loud mouth. You are never around to cook for me, and when I come to your bed, you send me away. What did I pay the bride-price for?’ The voice of Obike was slow and full of righteous anger. ‘Go to your wife.’ ‘She is pregnant,’ said Obike. ‘So what, get another woman. I need my en- ergy for my farm, and my trading, and today is the market-day,’ Nwango insisted. (Petersen 176)

Nwango does not sound like a subdued slave, nor as a woman who regards polygyny as disadvantageous to her. She is assertive and self-

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sufficient, able to fend off her husband’s sexual advances, and by all in- dications able to sustain herself and her children without his assis- tance. Emecheta indeed points out that the Ibuza woman and “the women of Africa” come from the same mold that produced the fighters of the 1929 Aba women’s war (180; Van Allen 1976).

Werner Sollors (1986) has observed that American social histori- ans confronted with their country’s heritage of slavery find that it con- tradicts many of their generalizations of American life, and are still groping for “a moral and theoretical framework within which slavery can be understood and indicted” (37). Some of the strategies have been to minimize the impact of the slave trade on Africa and Africans, as James A. Rawley does in The Transatlantic Slave Trade: A History (1981), another has been to establish that slavery in its most pernicious form was the order of the day in Africa before the intrusion of Europeans into the scene, as Women and Slavery in Africa does, and yet another contends that slavery continues to be endemic even in contempo- rary Africa, as a recent issue of Newsweek does (May 4, 1992).

If Africans conceive of the most intimate of personal relations in exploitative and predatory terms (children exploiting their mothers even), then there can be little validity to the claim they lay to recip- rocative communalism. More importantly, if slavery was rampant in Africa before the arrival of Europeans and one of the chief results of colonialism was to put an end to that social cancer, how then can anyone who values humanism (and humanity) not be grateful to the colonizers? If one of the chief differences between the African and the European is the former’s tolerance for, and even addiction to, the enslavement of even his/her closest relatives (by blood) and the latter’s abhorrence of the enslavement of anyone, how can one not prefer the European way of being to the African? (One troublesome question remains, though: how does one account for the trans-Atlantic slave trade?) How can one ques- tion the assertion that Europeans introduced coherence to the African world? How can one gainsay those who speak with disdain and embar- rassment about “garrulous negrism” (Hountondji 159) and call for the de- struction of African “traditional idols,” for Africans to “welcome and assimilate the spirit of Europe” (172), as the cure for the African disease?

A few final comments on the practice of ethnography and its pos- sible repercussions are in order. Africans who grew up in their cultures and who were attentive to the way relationships were regulated know what range of actions was permissible among members of the commu- nity, and between members and strangers. Even non-African scholars have not missed the essential impulses and considerations. For exam- ple, Mudimbe cites Henri Maurier’s perceptive reading of what he (Maurier) believes forms the foundation of African philosophy–an an- thropocentrism which is “community-oriented insofar as the African


individual is perceived as a member of a specific community, that is to say, his or her being-for-itself can only be linked to his or her being- with-others.” The individual, he continues, “is essentially a relational being who gets significance and pertinence by his or her integration in a given human community” (1991,63). That being the case it would be in the best interests of the individual to desist from any action that might jeopardize his or her acceptance within the c~mrnuni ty .~ For strangers (or visitors) the imperative of good behavior is also powerful, for peo- ple are under obligation to be hospitable to strangers, who are in turn obliged to refrain from actions that might compromise the quality of re- ception later visitors would encounter. Slanderous ethnographic works that result from non-African Africanists’ field work among Africans who receive them with open arms and hearts, who freely offer them in- formation and access to their private thoughts and private lives, are monuments to the spiritual chasm between professed Africanists and the African spirit.

To sum up, women in African cultures were always full partici- pants in the life of their communities. Society did not have the option of not acknowledging their rights and interests, nor was the question one of some imaginary entity exclusive of women gran tins them indulgences as a favor. The Aba women’s war happened because the women’s tradi- tional socialization made it inconceivable that they would cave in to any authority that regarded their wishes as inconsequential. It is grat- ifying and reassuring, I think, that the editors of Women and Slavery in Africa complain that they had difficulty securing “significant African participation” in their project (4, n2)-one instance in which thoughtful Africans, sensing an effort destined to distort Africa’s rela- tional tradition, refused to collaborate in the demolition of their own fathers’ houses.

Africanists, Feminists and the African Spirit

The foregoing brief comments on Patriarchy and Class serve well as a lead into a discussion of some ways in which two entirely compati- ble aspirations have needlessly become cast as implacably or essen- tially contradictory. I refer, of course, to the development by which militant feminists have come to see Africanity as synonymous with misogyny. To take one instance at random, in Woman, Native, Other (1989) Trinh (Minh-ha) uses terminology typical of the unfortunate development. Criticizing hegemonic anthropologists she gives the impression that their ranks are constituted of males only: “he has,” she writes of the anthropologist, “invaded the homes of the wise and left his rottenness in every piece of land he set foot on” (49) [emphases added]. Of course, women have not conceded the field of anthropology to men. The sentiment that formulation represents stokes the fire of

With Friends Like These . .

gender antagonism, and with regard to Africa becomes another reason for pathologizing Africanity, and the cause for resorting in African Studies to patterns of behavior that are at variance with the African spirit. It has led, for example, to attempts by militant feminists to silence male voices in the discussion of gender in Africa, simply because these voices raise doubts about the stereotype of traditional Africa as manifesting the quintessence of exploitative patriarchy.

At a women’s forum at the start of the 1991 African Studies Association meeting in St. Louis, the panelists, all women, spoke elo- quently about the various forms of victimization African women and women in general were subject to at the hands of men, and suggested ways to confront them. When they invited comments from the audience, one of the men, a Nigerian scholar who had only recently migrated to the United States, differed with some of the panelists’ points and ex- pressed some doubt about the accuracy of the view that African cultures systematically degraded women. That the panelists engaged him was not surprising; what was, and what was distressing, though, was the withering intensity of the ganged assault on his perceptive and inter- pretive faculties, which conjured up images of the offending Pentheus among the Maenads. He was effectively silenced, as were the other men in the audience, and thus ended the possibility of dialogue, under- standing or accommodation between (or among) the genders.

The incident is pertinent because the passionate antipathy be- tween the sexes it expresses is patently un-African, for in general the communalism of traditional African societies succeeded precisely be- cause it afforded opportunities for open discussion and resolution of even the most fractious of matters of concern to the entire community. That is not to dispute the existence of exclusive women’s forums in which mat- ters of exclusive interest to women were discussed, or instances in which women waged war against offending men, as in the Igbo “sitting on” (1976, 61) and the Bamenda anlu (Konde 1990). But these were extreme measures directed against individual offenders after they had proved incorrigible and unredeemable. So also were the class actions directed against men in general; they too followed failure to arrive at ac- commodation through less confrontational means. The African way was never to preempt oppositional expression but to encourage dialogue, the airing of all views and to negotiate a consensus based on the accommo- dation of all views. Van Allen quotes the apt proverb, “A case forbids no one” (65).

A recent event demonstrates the potential danger to meaningful dialogue posed by entrenched gender militancy. A paper questioning some leftist feminist representations of traditional African gender rela- tions and the tendency of modern-day African feminists to uncritically adopt them came into the hands of two militantly feminist readers for a journal. The author explains at the outset that he will use a variety


of sources to argue his case, including literary sources, proverbs and oc- casional conjectures, provided they are consistent with known facts. One of the readers was obviously quite offended by the paper’s main argu- ment, and her anger came through in the language of her critique. Citing the passage in which the author outlined his sources she com- mented:

The above is hardly evidence of good scholarship or even good sense. The effect is like listening to one who keeps throwing out Biblical verses in an intellectual argument. While there is strength to proverb usage, in this case, the proverbs are applied in ways which fix interpretation from his point of view . . . (her emphasis). He seems to have missed the boat on a lot of new knowledge. The writer needs to be more informed before he proceeds to speak with any authority.

She also objected that the author had not cited enough written sources, especially ones by women. The second reader was less irate but she also objected that proverbs were “impressionistic” and therefore un- scholarly, and that the ones used in the article could support other val- ues or interpretations than the author assigned to them.

These readers did not challenge the real substance of essay, viz, that the ascription of misogyny to traditional African systems unfairly and uncritically repeated the misinformed views of non-African femi- nists. They passed in silence over the author’s citation of the switch by an influential African woman from her early position of blaming the disadvantageous social and economic status African women now suffer vis-a-vis men on colonial distortions of traditional arrangements, to a later (more fashionable) one of attributing it to African men’s innate depravity. The author’s conjecture that the shift was probably cat- alyzed by certain trends in Western feminism is of course open to debate, but it certainly is plausible and defensible. After all, can we deny even today that we Africans remain subject to powerful influences from the West, whether we acknowledge them or not, and whether we are aware of them or not?

On several grounds the readers’ positions, by insisting on hege- monic knowledge and modalities, undermine the advance we have made in legitimizing African knowledge and expression, in liberating the hitherto suppressed voice of the Other. The author’s privileging of proverbs rather than published texts they take as an indication that he had missed the boat on a lot of new knowledge. Proverbs are for them synonymous with “old” (read “African”) knowledge, which does not have the value or “sense” of “new” (read “book,” or “Western”) knowledge. Proverbs, being “impressionistic,” are inherently unschol- arly, whereas published texts are necessarily objective (or analytical), and inherently scholarly. Knowledge can be located only in written

With Friends Like These .

texts, and discussion that is not properly festooned with references to them does not make good sense.

Moreover, the author stated that he intended to discuss tradi- tional ideas about gender and how they were acted out in gender rela- tions. He announced, also, that he would draw on his lived experiences growing up in a transitional African family, one that remained largely traditional while being nominally and formally Christian, in which relationships continued to be regulated by traditional values, and in which life crises were observed in both traditional and modern (Christian) ways. When the reviewer chides him to become better in- formed before he can speak with any authority on traditional African gender matters, what she questions is that lived experience, which she discounts in favor of book knowledge that a researcher might have skimmed in a few months or years of doing the African university or field circuit. The disparagement of direct experience as qualification to speak on the experience itself, and preference instead for mediated tes- timony, amount to a curious and perverted scheme for hierarchizing ev- idence, especially considering the fact that the author in question would qualify as a reliable informant for field workers researching the subject at issue.

Finally, citing proverbs to advance an argument is certainly con- sistent with traditional African discourse strategy, and the community of Africanists the author was addressing should appreciate the inser- tion of something of Africa into a discussion about Africa. Furthermore, the complaint that the author used his proverbs to support his own point of view is both inexplicable and baffling; whose point of view would he use them to advance otherwise? And if some of the proverbs were humorous, that quality of African proverbs and of their usage should be no news to informed Africanists. The scriptocentric and Eurocentric sneer at this traditional verbal device is insupportable, and fails to distinguish between satire and proverbial humor.

The Constitution of Authority

The reader’s comments raise the issue of the changing patterns of constituting authority, and call for some comment in turn. A Yoruba scholar has criticized this tendency in the West to anoint as authori- ties on African matters only persons who have undergone apprentice- ship in Western fashions and to disqualify those versed in old-fash- ioned, traditional experience. In matters of religion, for example, the Reverend E. Bolaji Idowu, English educated and one-time Patriarch of the Methodist church in Nigeria, is internationally recognized as a font of knowledge on Yoruba religion, while Fela Sowande, who is equally well educated but rates If6 authority on the subject as superior to information garnered in field research, is virtually unknown. On


Idowufs story of Atowoda in Olddumart?: God in Yoruba Belief (1963) giving his etymology of the word brisli (god or divinity), and conse- quently the genesis of the multiple gods of the Yoruba pantheon, Sowande remarks, “the story of Atowoda given by Idowu sounds as though someone has been having a quiet chuckle at his expense! The same holds for the story of Olurombi as told by him. A childless Yoruba woman who longed for a child, would not go to the Iroko Tree to ask for a child and then offer that child in sacrifice as a gesture of apprecia- tion” (44).4 The Yoruba, especially those without Western education, assert their intellectual competence by saying that while they might lack book knowledge they are versed in ogbdn inu (innate knowledge). The saying is a rebuff to book-besotted pedants who overvalue the written word and disparage direct experiences that do not support or validate preconceived notions. The impact of such an attitude on African Studies and knowledge about Africa can be disastrous, espe- cially in view of the continuing task of reconstructing authentic truths from the jumble of colonial misrepresentations. Concerns such as the ones I have raised led Sowande to urge that “there ought to be a law prohibiting Universities abroad from granting Doctorate degrees on subjects about which they are as un-informed as the candidates they examine are mis-informed” (15). While we need not propose a law, we might nonetheless agree that there ought to be a commitment among Africanists to be sensitive to tile nuances of the choices and pronounce- ments they make in the pursuit of their expertise.

Global Sisterhood and the Expectancy of Conflict

It seems that in certain feminist circles the “expectancy” of scorched-earth gender warfare holds sway, an eventuality that would necessitate their subordinating all other interests, identities and affil- iations to those of global sisterhood in order to engage the enemy. African women who subscribe to that view must accordingly sacrifice their African identity and their loyalty to it to the feminist cause. Facilitating the development of the requisite state of mind is the strat- egy of feminist whiggism that demonizes Africanity by rewriting the African past as always gender conflicted, and characterized by a per- versely inhuman patriarchal system. The St. Louis incident, the read- ers’ reaction to the paper cited above and the other instances I have alluded to, suggest that Africa and African Studies have become casu- alties of the gender wars, and that single-issue feminism has become enlisted, unwittingly perhaps, in the campaign against Africa and Africanity.

African feminists admittedly face a dilemma of identity (as women, as Africans and as Africanists) and of prioritizing their alle-

With Friends Like These . . .

giances, a dilemma non-African feminists do not have to face. Trinh puts the problem in the following terms:

whenever a woman of color takes up the feminist fight, she immedi- ately qualifies for three possible “betrayals”: she can be accused of betraying either man (the “man-hater”), or her community (“people of color should stay together to fight racism”), or woman herself (“you should fight first on the women’s side”) (104).

The accusation, she says, is a ruse to mask either racism or sexism, “as if oppression only comes in separate, monolithic forms.” Her obser- vation should certainly prompt those who share my concerns to hon- estly consider whether we might not simply be expressing our misogyny in the guise of championing Africanity, but I believe that Trinh mis- states the crucial problem. It is not that the feminist of color qualifies for these betrayals in the sense that she becomes a target of spurious charges, but that she might, in her honest enthusiasm for the feminist cause, be blindsided into positions and actions that are in effect tanta- mount to such betrayals. While Trinh’s observation should prompt us to examine our motives for possible misogynist tendencies, it should also prompt African feminists to reflect on the implications of their asser- tion that sisterhood is global, especially its implied suggestion that all other identities and allegiances should be subordinated to global sisterhood. It is not insignificant that global sisterhood did not gener- ate European women’s opposition to the enslavement of African women, nor did it ensure better treatment for colonized African women at the hands of female colonists. Miriam Tlali’s testimony in Muriel at Metropolitan is that in South Africa’s apartheid system white women are just as mistress-racist towards African women as white men are master-racist towards African men. Mr. Bloch is even much friendlier towards Muriel than Mrs. Kuhn is.

My point is that women, in fighting for their empowerment, should not inadvertently or in any way undermine the continuing strug- gle for African emancipation by confirming and reinforcing the notion of African pathology and sub-humanity, for without the vindication of Africamess, African women themselves cannot be vindicated. I do sym- pathize, of course, with Molara Ogundipe-Leslie’s objection (to Felix Mnthali) that the fight for women’s rights cannot be deferred until Africa and Africans have come into their own (499-500). The two strug- gles are compatible and must be concurrent. To quote Cheryl Johnson- Odim, “If the feminist movement does not address itself also to issues of race, class, and imperialism, i t cannot be relevant to alleviating the oppression of most of the women of the world” (1991,322).


The Afrocentric Gaze

The direction in which a significant segment of the African dias- pora looks when it turns its gaze “homeward” is highly relevant to this discussion of flight from Africanity. I speak of those whose eyes are towards a home that is out of Africa. I do not have in mind the unfortu- nate few like the born-again Nebraskan African-American student I had a few years ago, who believed that the trans-Atlantic slave trade saved millions of Africans from the filthy godlessness of Africa and de- livered them to the glorious Christian salvation of America. The stu- dent was obviously not an isolated case, for he is reminiscent of Paul Cuffee, an African American who wanted to colonize Sierra Leone, and of whom Nathan Huggins observes:

. . .Cuffee was not “going back to Africa” in the sense that he was reclaiming his heritage, nor was he abandoning that which he had come to be. He expected Afro-Americans to go to Africa as they were, products of the New World-new men-and, as such, instruments through which Africa itself would be transformed into a Christian commonwealth (Sollors 1986, 48-9).

Reluctance or inability to credit or embrace traditional African religions, and conviction that Africa needs the importation and im- plantation of hegemonic religions, in my view, explains the orientation of the thoughtful adherents of Afrocentricity, whose ideas about re- trieving their heritage have resulted in the irony of some adopting Islamic and Arabic names, and laying claim to an Egyptian heritage. One must view their orientation in the light of the facts that even to- day, Africa is the most productive prospecting terrain for both Christianity and Islam, while traditional religions continue to lan- guish, and that African intellectuals unabashedly advocate abandon- ing Africanity to embrace the spirit of Europe. Nevertheless, the amount of effort the adherents of Afrocentricity have expended in claiming Egypt for Africa and asserting their claim to the Egyptian history justifies the suggestion that their movement would be better de- scribed as Egyptocentricity, for it is in effect largely Afrocentricity without A f r i ~ a . ~ I do not wish to suggest that it is entirely without an African dimension. For example, in Molefi Kete Asante’s Njia,tenets include recognizable Africanisms as, “Never listen to those who scoff at your ancestors. They understand neither history nor truth,” and “No child belongs only to the parents. All children are yours; treat them kindly and with great respect” (110).

It would be easy to explain the attraction of Egypt in terms of the tangibility of monuments like pyramids and hieroglyphic records, the likes of which “Black” Africa cannot boast. That would be to fall prey to the error of elevating historical contingencies to the level of necessi-

With Friends Like These . . .

ties, the error we have already visited in the discussion of literacy. The richness of “Black” Africa in verbal monuments is nothing to be taken slightly.

Recuperative Africanism

What I have been arguing in this paper is that more and more po- sitions that spell a move away from Africanity creep into African Studies, and that we need to consciously embark on the business of re- turning “home.” At the outset, I expressed the view that what defined an Africanist included embracing the task of reclaiming African hu- manity. For many Africanists, it also includes the championship of Africa’s interests in all their ramifications. That at least was a widespread belief among members of the ASA in the 1960s, and what motivated the revolt of the group of radicals who styled themselves the Africa Research Group and produced a booklet with the title African Studies in America: The Extended Family. They enlivened the 1969 joint meeting in Montreal of the Association and the Committee on African Studies in Canada. These scholars, many of them drawn to African Studies as a result of stints as Peace Corps volunteers in Africa, were dismayed that (quoting Joham Galtung) “most U. S. Africanists [were] engaged in perpetuating a form of scientific colonialism, a pro- cess . . . ‘whereby the center of gravity for the acquisition of knowledge about the nation is located outside the nation itself”‘ (2). The booklet also quotes Stanley Diamond to the effect that

Africa . . . has been a laboratory for too many American careers; too many papers and books are simply status symbols in the social sys- tem, the social struggle of the domestic academy, shaped by that sys- tem and couched in its limited and evasive language . . . . African Studies has been careerist or merely fashionable; concern has been less with the subject of study, with the condition, needs and poten- tial of African people, than with the abstract problems that quali- fied a student as an academic expert or Africanist; the latter certification presumably indicating a certain control over data but by no means guaranteeing the application of general intelligence to the problems of the sub-continent (4).

The same assumptions that led the group to argue that Africanists violated their calling when they engaged in research funded by hegemonic interests, research explicitly designed to facili- tate the continued subjection of Africa and Africans, resurfaced among the Association’s members in the 1970s and early 1980 (if ever they were put to rest), the issue those times primarily concerning the boycott of South Africa.

Like the radicals of the Africa Research Group, most African members of the Association see themselves as belonging to an area stud-


ies association different from other such bodies, the centers and insti- tutes created during the cold war in the United States for the study of China and the now-defunct Soviet Union, for instance. They view the Association and the discipline it represents as radically different from Orientalism, which Edward Said described as “a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient” (1979, 3), with regard to its object of study. While Orientalists served as the agents of empire in dismembering their object (223), African Studies (at least the African Studies Association) has traditionally professed to be primarily interested in promoting knowledge about Africa for purposes other than its exploitation, certainly not to satisfy muckraking, voyeuristic impulses. Presumably one of the practical dividends of such increased knowledge would be the contribution African ways could make to the world’s repertoire of cultures, especially in the area of hu- man relations.

Without doubt, in this enterprise non-African Africanists who are patriotic in their nations’ causes face a dilemma. One must consider their difficulties, along with the assumptions Africans who are also patriots are entitled to make, when non-Africans engaged in field research invite them to be informants. With regard to patriotic non- African Africanists, any requirement that they display or cultivate supervailing loyalty to Africa and regard i t as more than simply a subject would seem absurd. One would be foolish, for example, to expect that Africanists who are citizens of the United States would vacate their patriotism when their country’s and Africa’s interests conflict. They are caught, in the colonialist and neo-colonialist economy, in the bind of having to hunt with the hounds while at the same time running with the fox.

Given the reality of that dilemma, perhaps the surest way of getting Africa back into African Studies is to get African Studies back to Africa. Unfortunately African institutions are proving increasingly in- capable of providing the resources to credibly return the center of the discipline to the continent. The academics necessary for such a center continue (justifiably) to flee the continent in droves to be incorporated into better endowed institutions in First World countries. Important support institutions inevitably follow in their wake, a good instance be- ing the recent transition of Transition. Michael Echeruo has astutely commented on the re-emergence of the journal, describing it as “a journal of Africa, not an African journal,” and underscoring the view that its passage is symptomatic of our “beta-discourse1′-the impulse at the same time to separate from and identify with the European Other. It is, in his view, the demise of an African voice and its reincarnation as “a kind of universal voice with an Africanist twang to it” (136-7).

But, even if we cannot return African Studies to Africa in geo- graphical terms, we could do so at least epistemologically and

With Friends Like These .

paradigmatically. The modalities of the discipline, especially with respect to field research and its uses, could certainly be informed by African relational conventions. Whereas Naipaul could remark, apro- pos of his unconcern over his slanderous representation of C6te dlIvoire, “I wasn’t going to pass that way again” (1984, 168), the Yoruba visitor, for example, would be mindful of the cautionary proverbs, A b mo ibi orf mba’ es2 re (We know not where the head will follow the lead of the legs), and Asesilt lribbwdbd; eni su silt d bb wd bisinsin (What one leaves behind is what one finds on return; whoever leaves feces behind will return to find swarming flies). In plain language, in Africa a visitor does not partake of a host’s hospitality (eat the host’s salt) and then dump manure on him/her and his/her home. It should not have escaped our notice that African scholars have not made a habit of doing field work digging up dirt and grotesqueness in First World countries. To be sure we have had such works as John Pepper Clark’s America, Their America (1964) and Ayi Kwei Armah’s Why Are We So Blest? (1972), but these are autobiographies describing the authors’ disillusionment with their American experiences.


The main argument in this paper, to reiterate, is that in many ways African Studies and Africanists have wittingly or unwittingly engaged in projects that amount to the pathologization of Africanity, sometimes while passing themselves off as champions of African inter- ests. I anticipate objections, like the one that hardly any thoughtful commentator advocates the wholesale abandonment of all traits and habits African, that in fact, advocates of African modernization recog- nize the peculiar values of Africanity that could benefit the modern- ized, industrialized I suggest that valid though such objections may be, they too should be closely scrutinized, for, pressed for examples of salvageable Africanisms, those who make the objections are most likely to cite those traits Maurier has posited as the basis for an African philosophy-community orientation by which the individu- al’s being is meaningful only in its relation to the welfare of the com- munity and its other constituent individuals. The orientation is ex- pressed in African attitudes to family and kinship. But, as I have demonstrated, it is precisely this orientation that writers like Henn and Robertson and Klein have called into question. I have no doubt that whatever other examples of possible African contributions to the im- provement of the human condition we may advance, some enterprising ethnographer will emerge to debunk them.

I could be naive in my assumptions about what the intentions of Africanists are or should be. In retrospect, seeing the path we have


taken since 1969, one might also wonder if the idealists of the Africa Research Group were not themselves somewhat naive, if they did not misunderstand the realities and politics of African Studies. As I have acknowledged above, it is naive to assume that all Africanists would feel the same level of commitment to the continent and its people, or that they would all place Africa’s interests above all others. But Africans, whether they are Africanists or not, are not subject to the non- Africans’ dilemma, and when they engage in anti-Africanisms they do so either believing that they are engaged in ameliorative chastisement or as a result of a colonized mentality. According to African form, though, ameliorative chastisement belongs in the hearth, in the pres- ence and to the hearing of members of the community only, not in the open, broadcast to all and sundry. I t follows, therefore, that Africans must cease pointing out their fathers’ houses with their left hands, and desist from supplying information about their lives to scholars whose main interest is to demonstrate the pathological otherness of Africanity. After all, even American jurisprudence protects people against self-incrimination.

One final word. I stated at the outset that my generalizations about Africa, its people and cultures, do not imply that the continent is an unchanging monolith. Such caveats should by now be unnecessary in discussions among serious Africanists. The proponents of African same- ness and changelessness were (are?) characteristically agents of em- pire, and their misperception has been sufficiently exposed by serious scholars, some of whom I invoked at the start of this essay. For that reason, one might suggest that insistence that whoever writes in general terms on matters bearing on Africa as a whole defend his or her opting to do so amounts to a diversion that unintentionally tends to preempt engagement of fundamental issues.


* This essay was originally presented at the 1992 annual meeting of the African Studies Association in Seattle, Washington with the title, “Exploring the ‘Africa’ in African Studies.”

1. African philosophers like Paulin Hountondji remind us that African Studies, like Orientalism, was a European invention designed to facilitate the subjugation and col- onization of the non-European (Hontondji 1983, 52). But we can safely assert that since the 1960s at least, African Studies has been in the main non-hegemonic and anti-colonial.

2. I concede the availability of another reading of the plot. Akinyode’s fond hope was always to emulate his model Cudeback and travel, to Britain in particular, in the belief that only thus would he really earn the means to affect his present and guarantee for himself a future. His success in affecting the succession, and Cudeback’s seeking him out to confinn his importance, demonstrate that he can indeed find his “Asabula” without traveling out of )sari. Unfortunately that sense of vindication is presented as a consolation, as second best.

With Friends Like These . . .

3. In “Proverbc-Exploration of an African Philosophy of Social Communication”(l981), I discussed the constraints placed on interpersonal behavior in Yoruba society (as an example) by the imperative lifelong co-occupation of the same limited geographical space, and how proverbs help in preserving harmony and keeping the peace. See also my “Chinua Achebe on the Individual in Society” (1985).

4. Idowu explains the word brisri as a contraction of ohun t i a risri (objects that we found and gathered). The accompanying story is that Atowoda, a servant to Olodumare (God), while working on the hill above his master, in anger dislodged a huge bolder that rolled down and crushed him. The resultant pieces of Olodumare’s carcass gath- ered themselves up and became individual gods (1963, 59-60). The story Idowu offers regarding Olurombi is tliat a mother desperate for a child sought the aid of the trbkb (the ir6kb tree), promising that if she was favored she would offer the child in thanksgiving to the tree (1963,122). Sowande says the story actually comes from Irete- Osa, and that the three persons involved were Onikjluk6, Onikiluku and Olurbmbi. They were having difficulties making ends meet and so went to Irbkb for help, promising in return a goat, a lamb and the first-born son respectively. The tree spirit gave them what they sought and demanded the promised sacrifices. All comply, except 016rbmbi. In consternation, she went to a babala’wo for help. He asked her to sacrifice seven animals, which she did. esu thereupon went to trbkb and told him, “when things get to a certain impasse, one must consider alternatives; it has become tabu for a first-born to be sacrificed to the trbkb Tree Spirit.” The spirit relented and accepted the seven animals sacrificed in place of the first-born son.

5. 1 am aware that Afrocentricity concerns itself with Kemet and proving that it was a black African civilization whose noble heritage (including the pyramids and obelisks) was later usurped by the Semitic race that now prevails in Egypt. My argument would still stand, though, tliat fixation on that long lost civilization smacks of a repu- diation of what i s , what has subsisted, in “Black” Africa.

6. It is relevant here to cite a heartening development Appiah records in his discussion of living conditions in Ghana. Where the modern state has failed to provide good government, the people have resorted to the communal self-help strategies that char- acterized traditional Africa, and the government has gratefully endorsed them. Appiah’s reappraisal of the much maligned concept of “tribe” is worth quoting: “. . . it has always been true that in large parts of Africa, ‘tribalismf-what, in Ivory Coast, is half-humorously called geopolitics, the politics of geographical regions, the mobiliza- tion and management of ethtuc balancing-far from being an obstacle to governance, is what makes possible any government at all. And we can see this new role asfacilita- tor-acknowledging the associations of society rather than trying to dominate to ig- nore or eradicate them-as an extension of this established pattern” (170).


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