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Search for Indigenous African Wisdom
I was careless in my consideration of Africa when examining migration and leadership in Ch6 of the manual. This was not based on total ignorance as I am sympathetic to the historic struggles of African peoples, but I was not searching with an Indigenous lens and hence missed the remnants of Indigenous Wisdom that exist throughout black Africa.
Let me begin by recognising what my mistakes were. My understanding of the history of Africa was gleaned through the eyes of Basil Davidson and Walter Rodney – not solely see Ndeh and Omwody. Let’s begin with Basil’s important series “Africa”. This traces the history of African civilisations from early times, and is presented, in my view, with love and respect for the African peoples. Being who he was opened up doors to many Africans who cooperated in making the series yet he looks the stereotype white man in Africa.
Basil started his series with a visit to Great Zimbabwe, a place I visited and camped at for several days. It is impressive with demonstrable origins of power indicating wealth, status and power long before there were Europeans, before they came and destroyed their culture. This was the tone of Basil’s series, and it gave me my understanding of what happened in Africa – cultures with leaders being destroyed by Europe. I should mention my African teachers whose wisdom I greatly valued – Ndeh Ntumazah and Omwony Ojwok. It was these two wise people who started my political understanding. I worked and spoke more with Ndeh but amongst other talks I will always remember Omwodi telling me that we (the UK) got the vote only when they knew it didn’t matter. This discussion with Omwody was long ago (mid 80s) – 6 or 7 years before I worked in Africa. I believe it is in this book on Ndeh that there was an interview with the Young Journal published – found in Ndeh’s papers (that was me when I edited the Young Journal – YJ article on Kamerun here). I have a certain history with black people and Africans.
Returning to Basil, in the series he presented Africa as powerful but a power that was eventually destroyed by Europe. My next source was Walter Rodney who described How Europe underdeveloped Africa, a history of European economic history in Africa. So my knowledge of Africa was that she was controlled by powerful leaders in a history long before Europe yet they had been destroyed by colonisation; it was control of these powerful leaders that gives neocolonial control of Africa in general to this day.
However this was an understanding of power and wealth, and I never looked for Indigenous Wisdom. So in my search I remember something Ndeh said to me, the American Europeans (not his words) took the slaves from Africa because they were farmers, they understood agriculture. As slaves Africans were agriculturally successful with many unattributed farming inventions – appropriated by American (European) owners. So there was a farming tradition in Africa, they were connected to the land as any indigenous people.
Once my indigenous eye was opened the connections flowed in. Desertification was as a consequence of cash crops. The leaders bought off by neocolonialism force the growing of non-indigenous crops, as Ndeh used to say to me the economies of African countries (cacao) rise and fall based on the taste buds of western children. In Ethiopia there is an agricultural tradition that prevented desertification, they had indigenous knowledge. When I remember the shocking Geldorf images of the hunger consequences of desertification, I always remember that it was western cash crop economics and neocolonial control of government that caused the famine. So with just a little thought I find Indigenous Wisdom.
Then there was the wonderful Wangari Maathai whose Green Belt Movement tradition exists to this day trying to revive indigenous wisdom – it is just not called such.
Then I began to reflect on where I saw African wisdom when I was there. I felt then and now that African wisdom has been greatly bastardised by colonial intervention, I can now call it Indigenous Wisdom. In Southern Africa, I was in Botswana nearly 7 years – Nigeria for 2, the people were strongly religious but what you saw in the churches bore little resemblance to the Sale church I was forced to attend until 11. I interpreted what I saw as bastardised, as the British missionaries imposing the shell of Christianity on a people who already had an earth religion, a nature religion. There were religious practices in the churches that were more based in animism and shamanism than anything to do with the bible. In my view the people were trying to retain their culture, their African tradition, whilst having Christian ceremony imposed on them.
African peoples are close to their tribe, from the outside it seems that the tribe is integral to their life. On the rare occasions I attended parties, it was not unusual for there to be traditional dance breaking out – I mentioned the Sisters of the Long March in the Pathtivism manual Ch5. In my view this tribal link was one of the reasons for neocolonial success – control the tribal leaders control the tribe, control Africans.
. There were other aspects of traditional culture that most whites viewed as superstition, I can only recall it, I make no attempt to evaluate it because I cannot experience it – dispossessed; I therefore apologise if I unintentionally cause offence. In Southern Africa I know there was a widespread herbal tradition, I never used it so I don’t know how effective it was; for a white man such involvement would usually have been exploited. But associated with this herbal tradition would be this witchcraft, here is a critical academic discussion of witchcraft on a Nigerian forum – relevant later (I assume it is written by a Nigerian student). Much of what is written in this short essay concurs with what I have described as a colonial bastardisation process yet it was written by someone 6000 km away from Botswana.
I have some anecdotes, these anecdotes have no scientific evidence and appear to lack rationality yet what I describe is accurate. I had a good Zambian friend who used to visit me monthly. After a while he told me of this “witchcraft” on his left shoulder, I immediately recalled Castaneda’s death over left shoulder (Journey to Ixtlan). As an aside Castaneda’s book had a positive impact on my life when I read it. This was just after I had started on my path, it was all so new and wonderful I was open to anything. I was in the forests of the Ardennes, and I intentionally made myself lost – it was the Ardennes I don’t think it was dangerous but back then it would have made no difference. I walked into the forest – no paths – maybe two or three hours, was lost, and then returned to where I was staying. I walked for maybe the same length of time and it was getting towards dusk and I found a road. It was remote Ardennes so I knew the road would take me to my friend’s holiday cottage – it did a curved road of 4km. The next day on the map I guessed that I joined the road 1 km from the cottage. I got lost, trusted and found myself, then trusted civilisation and got lost again. Now I don’t trust Castaneda but there will always be some truth in Journey to Ixtlan for me.
Back in Africa talking with my Zambian friend. This is a man who had a Ph D from Moscow (so he said and I have no reason to disbelieve him – not an uncommon Cold War practice, Africa was very divided by the Cold War and each side offered candy). But he couldn’t get work. He told me that it was because of this entity on his left shoulder. He told me he was a prince in his tribe, and family rivalries had led to someone using witchcraft to prevent him from being successful as part of this rivalry. At job interviews he became so flustered because of this entity, he failed. This anecdote is easily dismissed. People will ask - what did he have to gain? Maybe fooling a white man. He used to say to me that I must think him crazy because white men aren’t affected by witchcraft. What was real to me was that psychologically this witchcraft had him beaten. I used to try all the western hocus pocus of self-realisation with him, and I think he benefitted but he never got rid of the entity as he saw it. Witchcraft was far and wide throughout Southern Africa. Zimbabweans were quite powerful but he wanted to go to Malawi because he thought the most powerful were there.
I have a sad story about the ignorance associated with this witchcraft. I introduced this lady to a friend, and they lived together happily. At the time Botswana was the AIDS capital of the world. Soon after they were together, they had blood tests, and she was found positive. My friend came up with a dubious rationalisation for the results that enabled them to delude each other together, and they were happy together practising safe sex for a few years. Then she became ill, the AIDS had kicked in. My friend was prepared for this, and out of his love he had worked out how he would look after her during her death. However her superstition, African wisdom?, took over. Encouraged by family and friends she sought a healer. As the story goes some young boy claiming to be a healer (I never met him) told her she had to vomit out the AIDS and bring the vomit to him. So she was buying plastic buckets and making herself sick. This made her thinner and more desperate. She heard of a healer in nearby Zimbabwe, and disappeared in the back of beyond in Plumtree until a few weeks later my friend heard she was dead. The way she treated him (and me) towards the end, I apologised and told him I could not attend the funeral; his eulogy demonstrated love.
In Botswana muti is powerful, and I have no idea what it is. Whilst I was there, there was the case of Segametsi Mogomotsi. It was all rumour and maybe some discussion to me; I did not understand. Here is what was described. This poor schoolgirl was killed because some rich guy wanted her muti (muti was supposedly strong in young schoolgirls). The investigation was going nowhere so there were schoolkid protests throughout that region (Gabs) of Botswana. They rejected the findings of the investigation because they believed that the government had been bought off by the powerful man who had killed her for her muti. The students were only appeased when Scotland Yard were brought in, but who would be discussing muti with a mo-kweri-kweri (white man). Reading the wiki page they found the perpetrators but they got away with it.
I have one final positive anecdote, this time in Nigeria. My driver had a young baby girl who was diagnosed with a fatal disease – I cannot remember the name but I do remember having a talk with a friend who said that babies with this disease always died. My driver took the girl to the hospital and they told him she would die. As a father he was distraught, the hospital had given up in line with what my friend had said. My driver was all over the place looking for a solution trying one thing and then another. Then there was a knock at the door, he had found a solution that would cost 9000 naira. I loaned him the money – it wasn’t a loan, and I expected it to be a waste. It cured the little girl and she is alive today; I was so happy for him.
This is all about Africa and its indigenous wisdom - not religion. The people in South Africa were Christians, my driver in Lagos was quite a devout Muslim. But these religions were patched onto a culture that was deep and had survived centuries. This indigenous wisdom involved relationships with Gaia, included Wangari’s understandings of the Green Belt movement, has a strong herbal tradition, but also has this shaman/animism/witchcraft that has so much dubiousness and superstition attached to it. Whilst Africa’s leaders might partake of this wisdom, there are no leaders who are attempting to lead through this Wisdom – I perceive that there are leaders amongst other indigenous peoples such as Winona Laduke and the Fourth Way.
Did Wangari Maathai align herself with Indigenous peoples? I don’t know. Would the Green Belt Movement? Whilst 80-100 million Africans were not killed off by contacts with white viruses, as many if not more were taken as slaves (many who did not survive the Atlantic). Africans were still too many to marginalise in reservations but Europeans were only in Africa to use African Labour to exploit resources – not to rule over the continent, something the US hegemony is doing to this day. Given what Africans have gone through and yet have still retained this amount of their historic wisdom shows the tradition is meaningful. I doubt whether the 1% will allow sufficient refurbishment of that wisdom. But it is there, distorted by the dispossessed but still there. Only parts are what the leaders want, they are too invested in being puppets of the 1%-satrapy and its academic offshoots to promote the investment in this African Indigenous Wisdom. Uniting behind such Wisdom would be of benefit to Africa as being empowered in their own traditions would provide the armoury against neocolonialism. But it would take a wary and wise leader to understand witchcraft enough to accept it as Indigenous Wisdom.
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