By Uduma Kalu
Stories make people; people make stories.
Until the Lion learns to tell his story, the hunt will always favour the hunter.
Instead the thinker will die in war, let the warrior die; if the warrior dies, the thinker will think out what to do!
For Africans, Germany is a very interesting place. Was it not here that Anton Wilhelm Rudolph Amo Afer of Axim (1703-c.1759) the most important African philosopher in Europe in the 18th century, by his own example, broke racial prejudices and promoted the values of the Enlightenment?
Was it not here that European powers, in 1885, gathered and divided Africa according to their whims and caprices?
That I am here today, more than 250 years after Amo, continuing the message he began, shows that there is a failure somewhere. For me, the failure rests squarely on writers of non-fiction.
They have not raised the human condition beyond the limited visions of their societies but have colluded with their amoral scientists and philosophers to lie and disgrace humanity. Worse still, they have failed to put a face, a human face we can point at as our guiding star, for any of the past centuries. Their works have promoted falsity, misery and barbarity on our Earth.
I say this, bearing in mind, Ralph Waldo Emerson? statement in Henry Miller’s Tropics of Cancer that novels, will give way to diaries and autobiographies, which he described as captivating books, if only man knew how to choose among what he calls his experiences that which is really his experience, and how to record truth truly.
We can forgive Emerson for thinking that dairies and autobiographies record truth truthfully. Has Joseph T. Brown S.J. in A Book of Non Fiction not argued of the link between non fiction and fiction?
Brown however insists that that the writer of non-fiction does not make up his stories from imagination but from facts which can be cross checked from the records. Non fiction writer, he goes on, writes to instruct, inform, entertain, amuse and persuade the reader either to believe in something or to do something.
Did writers of European non-fiction present the facts in their works? If they did, I wouldn’t be here, selecting works from personal narratives, biographies and autobiographies, serious and light essays, accounts, editorials, sermons, scientific, cultural and media reports, history, speeches and many others to put a human face for the 21st Century.
We must bear in mind what Jean-Paul Sartre said about writers: that irrespective of social demands of a writer, in terms of public taste and use of language, the mark of a great writer is he that transcends these limitations.
This statement is best captured by Chinua Achebe’s who writes that the task of a writer is to lead his people out of the mistakes of the past onto new paths and in new directions for the future.
A Nigerian scholar, E.C. Nwanze, in his book, Africa in French and German Fiction, argues also that though the writer and his society share a cultural universe, the greatest writers are those who succeed in breaking through their socio-linguistic bondage and attain a meta-language which expresses human freedom.
Sadly, in spite of the many mission statements declaring objectivity and realism, most European non fictions on Africa were nothing more than a reflection of the European prejudices against black race in general and Africa in particular. There were, in Sartre’s thinking, alienated from truth, being submissive to an ideology.
This brings me to the proverb above-stories make people. People make stories. Stories are not static. They grow, and they do so in the hands of man. Man must review his stories. In this revision is a search, also for a balance of stories, as Chinua Achebe seeks in his seminal essay, Home and Exile. This balance is what brings the truth in the narrative between the lion and the hunter. It is, however, the thinker who makes this balance possible. He mediates, between the narratives, and finds a way, unlike the warrior. Hence, the Igbo wills say, instead the thinker to die, even in times of war, let the warrior die, for he will think out a solution.
What Do African Thinkers Think?
The role of the thinker is what Amo performed here in Germany, over 250 years ago. It is a role most of us black people have donned through the years.
For example, Professor Wole Soyinka in his new book, You Must Set Forth at Dawn, gives an account of how he fought, across continents, races and oceans, to recapture, Ori Olokun, the bust of the Yoruba water deity. A white man teaching at Ife, was said to have stolen the work. He had the man detained by the police and interrogated. The teacher confessed that the bust was sold to a Brazilian. Soyinka and a friend went to that country and was able to locate the buyer, and brought the bust back to back to Africa. The bust was carbon dated and was discovered to be fake. Soyinka later learnt that the original version was at the British Museum.
Meanwhile, the British Museum had heard of the search for the Ori Olokun. The officials therefore removed it from where it was earlier kept for public viewing to an inner chamber. Till today, the museum has not returned the bust to its owners in Nigeria.
This piece from Soyinka encapsulates our struggle with the west, not only to assert our humanity but also to teach the west about Africa and humanity. Humanity is the subject of most of our non-fictions. From their first encounter with what is today modern Europe, Africans, in their non-fictions, have taken it up themselves to teach the white man some basic truths about Africa and humanity. They rile against racism and at the same time provide hope to those Africans defeated by the weapons of oppression.
I was reading, the other day, a short profile on Trevor Rhone, the Jamaican playwright, who will perform here this Sunday. The reason Rhone writes, it is said, is to “show us our true selves so that we may become better people.”
It was this same spirit that made King Afonso, the Congo King, in 1526, before the world rose up against that inhuman warfare, write to John 111 of Portugal that he no longer wanted slavery in his kingdoms.
As far back as 1789, the former Igbo slave, Olaudah Equaino, in his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African, in his fight against slavery and racism, asked Europeans “O, ye nominal Christians! might not an African ask you, |learned you this from your God, who says unto you, Do unto all men as you would men should do unto you?”
Equiano in Britain sounded just like Amo 50 years ago in Germany. Both of them, in their times, fought against slavery.
Edward Blyden in his Presidential Address at the Liberia College, in 1881, condemned racial narratives about Africa and Africans, showing, also ways our people can overcome their pitiable positions, as did J. Africanus B. Horton in Africa as the Nursery of Science and Literature.
In his best known sermon, Dr. James Emmanuel Kwegyir Aggrey, (1875-1927) told about an eagle caught and trained like chicken. The owner tamed it and wanted it to be a chicken. But the day the eagle saw the sun, higher above the land, it stretched forth its wings and flew, as an eagle. Never to return. Aggrey then told Africans that we are created in the image of God but men have made us chickens. Africans, he wrote, should reject that image as they are eagles. They should stretch further their wings and fly.
Pixley Isaka ka Seme, a South African, at a prize giving ceremony, at the Columbia University, in 1906, told his audience that identity is not measured by equality. Rather nature has bestowed on each of us, a peculiar individuality.
Marcus Garvey at the Liberty Hall, New York City, during the Second International Convention of Negroes, in August 1921 said, “… the new Negro desires a freedom that has no boundary, no limit.”
Emperor Haile Selassie, the First, in his eternal peace speech in 1963 at the UN, while reviewing the 1936 League of Nations said, “The stake of each one of us is identical – life or death. We all wish to live. We all seek a world in which men are freed of the burdens of ignorance, poverty, hunger and disease. And we shall all be hard-pressed to escape the deadly rain of nuclear fall-out should catastrophe overtake us.”
From a speech delivered at a mass meeting, which was held in the Glover Memorial Hall, Lagos, on March 5, 1947, Nnamdi Azikwe said, “The problem, which is agitating our minds today is the colour bar. We are resolved to exterminate it, in all its forms, in this country.”
Kwame Nkrumah, on the need for a united Africa said such a bloc brings forth a great power, built not on fear, envy and suspicion, nor won at the expense of others, but founded on hope, trust, friendship and directed to the good of all mankind.” And Africans because of their heritage, he said, should translate this into reality.
In his famous speech, I have a Dream, Martin Luther King longed for the day his country, America, “will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
Before his death, Steve Biko preached that racial division of society into hostile camps was a preliminary to race conflict and a strategy for change. To avoid this, Biko was convinced of the need for a continuous agitation.
Bob Marley in his highly evocative song, War, sang: “Until the philosophy which hold one race/ Superior and another inferior/ Is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned/ Everywhere is war, me say war.”
Michael Jackson continues his refrain, singing in Black or white that ” It Don? Matter If You?e /Black Or White.”
We must not forget the beautiful statement from Nelson Mandela to the Nobel Committee on December 10, 1993 on winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Mandela said he joined millions of those that fought against the ” inhuman system and sued for a speedy end to the apartheid crime against humanity.”
According him, “an injury to one is an injury to all, ” and so many people came “together in defence of justice and a common human decency.”
Mandela was therefore optimistic that one day, “all humanity will join together to celebrate one of the outstanding human victories of our century. “
Emeka Anyaoku, in his days at the Commonwealth, rallied the body against Apartheid, for global peace and economic welfare for poorer nation. Neither should we forget the effort of Kofi Annan to ensure peace, justice and democracy in the world through the UN.
Chinweizu’s concern in The West and Rest of Us is a plea that we may achieve a just, non-imperialist and enduring peace, with prosperity for all humankind. Cardinal Francis Arinze, in various definitions of dialogues, seeks a mutual understanding and enrichment, in obedience to truth and respect for freedom.
Chinua Achebe in his Home and Exile writes that he seeks a balance of narratives so that no race will think that it is superior to the other.
What about the poets, L?opold S?dar Senghor, Aim? C?saire, and the critic, Franz Fanon? I can go on and on. But what links the speeches and writings of lost of Africans everywhere is that they echo their ancient philosophy on the interdependence of man, his universe and destiny, and the need to fight injustice collectively.
Africans fight injustice because in their worldview it is believed that you are human because another person is human. And if you deny any person his humanity, you lose yours too.
This is the root of African philosophy. Placide Tempel’s Bantu Philosophy provides an excellent reading of our worldview when he summarises that the African “World of forces is held like a spider’s web of which no single thread can be caused to vibrate without shaking the whole network.”
Have I not heard Salman Rushdie repeat this last year when in the essay, The Power of the Pen: Does Writing Change Anything? He explains that “A butterfly flaps its wings in India and we feel the breeze on our cheeks in New York. A throat is cleared somewhere in Africa and in California there? an answering cough.
Everything that happens affects something else?”
Among the Igbo of Nigeria, the same saying is expressed this way: when something stands, another thing stands beside it; meaning that we all depend on one another for existence. You find this expression said differently in books, mathematics, geometry, philosophies, songs etc of all Africans. As the Igbo say, Unity is Strength, which is of course is the motto of Haiti. You see it also expresses as the Izu sign on their flag as in Brazil, Ghaddafi’s tents etc. It was based on reclaiming their humanity that South Africans held the Truth Commission in 1998.
What do Western Thinkers Think?
Enough of Africans and their worldview for now. Let us look at how Western thinkers and writers see the world, beginning with their depiction of Africans in their non-fictions.
I start with Aristotle as architect of African downfall. How did he do this? Aristotle studied under Plato. Plato studied in Egypt, with Homer, who declared Egyptians as the world? first scientists. Aristotle later became teacher to Alexander, prince of Macedonia, in Greece. He had a vision that knowledge is power and that if his nation, Greece/Macedonia had to become powerful, it had to acquire scientific knowledge, like powerful nations, as Egypt. This vision was enshrined in Alexander? head, his pupil. Aristotle knew that Egypt was offering its foreign students limited knowledge to its core sciences. Worse for Egypt, Persia’s acquisition of knowledge had abolished the limited access. Aristotle therefore convinced Alexander that if he could conquer Egypt and capture its science, conquer Persia and capture its science, and that if he brought all that science together Greece, their country would become the most powerful on earth. Alexander bought the idea. He set out to Egypt, captured it, and crowned himself pharaoh, which gave him the power to command Egyptian priest-kings to bring to him the great books of Egyptian science, which he quickly shipped off to Aristotle, in Greece. Persia was to follow suit.
Dorothy Hammond and Alta Jablow published a study in their book, The Africa That Never Was, in 1992, about British writing about Sub Saharan Africa over 400 year-period, from the 16th Century to the 20th. Over 500 volumes of fiction and non- fiction were studied. Their book shows how a body of fantasy and myth with a vast storehouse of lurid images was written and handed down through the years.
In 1561, an English captain, John Lok, in his account, which helped to set the early stage of the tradition, says about Negroes thus:
A people of beastly living, without a God, lawe, religionwhose women are common for they contract no matrimonie, neither have respect to chastite?whose inhabitants dwell in caves and dennes: for these are their houses, and the flesh of serpents their meat as writeth Plinie and Diodorus and Siculus. They have no speech, but rather a grinning and chattering. They are also people without heads, having their eyes and mouth in their breasts.
A critic once noted that a detailed study of several of European philosophers who expounded universal theories of human nature reveals that these scholars also provided the theoretical bases for claiming that some people, in fact millions of them, were less than human because their skins had more colour than that of Europeans. Hegel and David Hume two of them.
In Hegel’s words, “Africa proper, as far as History goes back, has remained-for all purposes of connection with the rest of the World-shut up; it is the Gold-land compressed within itself-the land of childhood, which lying beyond the day of history, is enveloped in the dark mantle of Night. Its isolated character originates, not merely in its tropical nature, but essentially in its geographical condition? “
The Negro,” Hegel wrote, “exhibits the natural man in his completely wild and untamed state.”
In 1753, Hume finished writing an essay, “Of National Characters,” by adding the following footnote:
I am apt to suspect the negroes and in general all the other species of men (for there are four or five different kinds) to be naturally inferior to the whites. There never was a civilised nation of any other complexion than white, nor even any individual eminent either in action or speculation. No ingenious manufactures amongst them, no arts, no sciences. On the other hand, the most rude and barbarous of the whites, such as the ancient Germans, the present Tartars, have still something eminent about them, in their valour, form of government, or some other particular. Such a uniform and constant difference could not happen, in so many countries and ages, if nature had not made an original distinction betwixt these breeds of men. Not to mention our colonies, there are Negroe slaves dispersed all over Europe, of which none ever discovered any symptoms of ingenuity; tho?low people, without education, will start up amongst us, and distinguish themselves in every profession. In Jamaica indeed they talk of one negroe as a man of parts and learning; but ?is likely he is admired for very slender accomplishments, like a parrot, who speaks a few words plainly.”
Hear Immanuel Kant: “At the risk of arousing the resentment of my brothers of colour, I shall say that the Black is not a human… The human is not just a possibility of reprise, of negation… The Black is a black man; that is to say that as the result of a series of aberrations of affect, [the black man] is established at the core of a universe from which he must be extricated… We propose nothing less than the liberation of the man of colour from himself. We shall go very slowly, because there are two camps: the white and the black. Tenaciously, we shall interrogate the two metaphysics, and we shall see that they are frequently extremely solvent.”
John Locke was one of the greatest philosophers of Europe. He wrote that all people are born free, and the attempt to enslave any person creates a state of war (as opposed to the state of nature). Yet Locke himself invested in slavery and wrote laws for Carolina in 1669, which granted absolute power over slaves. This conflict is not Locke’s alone; it represents the national conflict of theory and practice, of espousing freedom while profiting from the slave traffic. Thomas Jefferson who wrote the American constitution saying all men are created equal, also kept slaves and had children by them whom he denied, and went ahead to make laws against freedom for slaves ,even against any white woman who had a child by a negro. He later wrote in his book “Notes on Virginia” that Africans are intellectually inferior and cannot understand mathematics.
In 1862, as found in several speeches and autobiographies, Abraham Lincoln said, “I can conceive of no greater calamity than the assimilation of the Negro into our social and political life as our equal?
Walter Russell in his book on the Congo called Africans ‘savage’.
Dalzel, the writer, prefaced his work with an apologia for slavery: ” Whatever evils the slave trade may be attended withit is mercyto the poor wretches, whowould otherwise suffer from the butcher? knife.”
The dehumanised manner in which people began to see Africans began when Lok by way of force and other means brought 20 Africans to England. Since then, as Dorothy Hammond and Alta Jablow write, Europeans got used to seeing Africans as inferior and fit only for the chains. It is no wonder that in 1814 Sara Baartmen was taken to France, and became the object of exhibition, scientific and medical research that formed the bedrock of European ideas about black female sexuality. She died the next year. But even after her death, Sara Baartman remained an object of imperialist scientific investigation. In the name of science, her sexual organs and brain were displayed in the Musee de l’Homme in Paris until as recently as 1985.
It was the same fate that befell Ota Benga who was taken to the United States in 1906 as object of curiosity and placed in a zoo among monkeys, chimpanzees and other wild animals. The exhibition was attractive to the whites. New York Times of September 18, 1906, in a piece entitled, “Ota Benga: The Pygmy in the Zoo, said, “There were 40,000 visitors to the park on Sunday. Nearly every man, woman and child of this crowd made for the monkey house to see the star attraction in the park – the wild man from Africa. They chased him about the grounds all day, howling, jeering, and yelling. Some of them poked him in the ribs, others tripped him up, all laughed at him.”
As I am talking today animated cartoons of Ota Benga are still a star attraction in the US.
Exhibition of Africans in European cities as animals was common in the 19th century. Even to this day it persists. About this time last year in Ausburg Zoo in Bavara the world rose up against exhibition of Africans. And a court in that state upheld the decision to do that. In the United Kingdom, similar exhibits were planned in London and Seattle. Germany, in late 19th and early 20th centuries, exhibited Africans in its country as wild animals and put them in unfriendly conditions and fed them poorly. Most of them died.
Effects of Western Science and Worldview on the World
European prejudices against Africa were based on a number of false theories and myths. Especially, the sciences chief of whom was Darwinism, the theory established by Charles Darwin who in his famous work, On the Origin of species?states, among other things, the law of natural selection and survival of the fittest.
For the writers of this period thus used the theory to look at Africa as a land of monkeys, apes and immobility.
Another doctrine of the age which influenced their writing was Gobinism. This propounds the theory of the inequality of races as proclaimed by the Comte Gobineay. According to him, only the white race is capable of creating culture and that there is a grading among races, which can be easily proved by history, anthropology and philology. Of course, the white race is again at the top of this grade. But this time, the Aryans are innately superior; but the Germanic race, not the so-called Germans, are the pure race. Again, other races are under the white race.
Next is Levy-Brhul? ideas which divided the world, that Europeanised are civilised, without telling us how and why he went ahead to study what he called the thought process of savage and primitive. The primitive thought is not intellectual. He is an animal, along with his religion.
Quoting the missionary, W. H. Bentley? Pioneering in the Congo, he writes, “The African, Negro or Bantu, does not think, does not reflect, does not reason, if he can avoid itdrawing up a plan seriously of using inductive reasoning-that is beyond him.”
Western countries have a reason for seeing people of colour as inferior. It is based on certain factors found in their world view. The European worldview is best revealed in the Papal Bull of Alexander VI, which granted by right the lands of the “new world” to Spain and Portugal for the “spread of the Catholic faith.” This document reveals both Church and State? belief in the legal and divine right of the powerful to take the lands of the less powerful. Europeans saw themselves as the superior culture bringing civilisation to an inferior culture… For the Europeans the beliefs of the native peoples were pagan. As noted by Renny Golden in Dangerous Memories and Cultural Resistance, the impetus which drove the invading wars was the desire to expand empire; accumulate treasure, land and cheap labour. According to him, the worldview which converted bare economic self interest into noble, even moral, motives was a notion of Christianity as the one redemptive religion which demands fealty from all cultures. It for this reason that over 10 millions Africans were killed in the Congo by King Leopold of Belgium. For this over 20 million African slaves were sold for over 351 years, of which up to 20% of those chained in the holds of the slave ships died before they even destination. In Europe, slavery was often justified by the state on philanthropic grounds. They argued that Africans taken into captivity could then be “saved” by conversion to Christianity.
However, Europe did not have a monopoly on slavery. Muslim traders also exported as many as 17 million slaves to the coast of the Indian Ocean, the Middle East, and North Africa.
Some historians say that between the years 1500 and 1900, five million African slaves were transported via the Red Sea, the Sahara and East Africa to other parts of the world.
In Africa, unknown numbers of people – according to some estimates at least four million – died in wars and forced marches before ever being shipped to another continent.
It is this worldview that led to the extermination of six million Jews in Germany. The aborigines in Australia, Native Americans, among others. This worldview shaped apartheid, and the colonial policies of Europe on their colonies, even when they wanted to grant independence. For example, through the eyes and experiences of a British citizen and former colonial officer (1955-1960) familiar with the creation of Nigeria and the surrounding politics, we learn finally what went wrong with Nigeria at least from the British side. Treachery is one compelling theme throughout Mr. Harold Smith’s writings–the treachery of the British government at the time, demonstrated by helping rig the first elections in Nigeria in 1959, in the favour of Northern Nigeria , among other evils,
That led to the war against Biafra, resulting in the starvation of two million Biafrans; continuing meddling in the affairs of the failing country of Nigeria.
Does this remind us of Rwanda? As the United Nations agreed, the war in Rwanda was neglected while attention was focused on European war in Yugoslavia. Before Rwanda could be remembered, over 800,000 lives had been lost. And to think that it was the German and Belgian colonisers who through their policies with the ethnic groups triggered this genocide.
Image of Africa before Slavery
I am not saying that all western writers and thinker saw africans objects to oppress or humour. For example, Mark Twain, objecting to the wat blacks were treated, said, “In many countries we have chained the savage and starved him to deathin many countries we have burned the savage at the stakewe have hunted the savage and his little children and their mother with dogs and gunsin many countries we have taken the savage? land from him, and made him our slave, and lashed him everyday, and broken his pride and made death his only friend, and overworked him till he dropped in his tracks?
Again, he writes:
Whenever remember Hitler? six millions and the gas chambers at Dachau, we should in fairness remember the most Christian King Leopold11? 10 million Congolese of a half century earlier, and his pyramids of choffed-off hands and feet
There are many humorous things in the world, among them the white man? notion that he is less savage than other savages.
Another writer, Chaumel, explains why te writers chjose to write about africa negatively thus:
If you tell them simply that over there you eat and skinny haunch of a kid, you are called imbecile and you fail to arouse their interest?If we tell the truth, no one wants to believe us.
Poor European perception of Africa was not in vogue in the ancient days. Because as noted by Apuleius, in his book, The Golden Ass, through poem, A Vision of Isis, the Africans developed the clearest concept of science based on laws of nature, alone. Homer supports this in his Odyssey that the world? first scientists were Africans. Europeans claim that their science came through the Greeks, from Egypt, which is undoubtable a part of Africa nearest to them. But the ancient Egyptians, in turn claim that the origin of their civilisation is from the deep, inside of Africa.
Horton, in his West African Countries and Peoples and A Vindication of the African Race, published in 1868, says ancient Africa was nursery of science and literature, a teaching popular in Greece and Rome, such that it is said ancient Greeks modelled their goddess of wisdom-Minerva, as an African princess. Pilgrimages were made to Africa in search of knowledge by such eminent men as Solon, Plato, Pythogoras. Several others came to listen to the African Euclid, then head of the then most mathematical school in the world and who flourished 300 years before the birth of Christ. The Great African conqueror, Hannibal, made his closest friend and confidant, the African poet, Terence, who was taken to Rome and educated there. It is written that the “the young African soon acquired reputation for talent he displayed in his comedies.”
Many people today deny that Origen, Tertullian, Augustine, Clemens Alexandrinus, and Cyril, fathers and writers of the ancient church, were twany African bishops of apostolic renown. But many eminent writers and historians agree that these ancient Ethiopians were Negroes.
Herodotus, who travelled in Egypt, as well other writers, settled the question that they were Africans. Herodutus describes them as woolly-haired blacks, with projecting lips. The people of Colchis, he says, were ?lack in complexion and wooly haired. “
Even the sphinx, excavated by M. Vagila has its face ?f the Negro cast.” The statement adds that “If it be not admitted that these nations were black, they were undoubtedly of very dark complexion, having much of the Negro physiognomy, as depicted in ancient Egyptian sculpture and painting, and from them the Negro population and indeed Africa, have sprung. Say not, then, I repeat it, that Africa is without her heraldry science and fame?” . Africans once governed Egypt attacked the most famous and flourishing city, Rome, had universities, churches and centres of learning and science.
Further confirmation of these statements is illustrated in the word, chemistry. The modern chemist is not aware that the word “chemistry” meant “black man’s science.” According to Philip Emeagwali, the computer wizard and one of the fathers of the Internet, the word chemistry was derived from the word “Kemet”. Kemet is the ancient name for the land of Egypt. Kemet translates as “land of the blacks.”
Isaac Asimov, in one his books called “Biographical Encyclopedia of Science,” confirms that mathematics, science and technology are the gift of ancient Africans to the modern world. The book confirms that an African named Imhotep is the Father of Medicine; that an African is the Father of Architecture, first scientist in recorded history, that the earliest Greek scientists were educated in Africa by Africans. That they lived and worked in Africa. That they were even born in Africa. Emeagwali tells of the oldest mathematics textbooks called the Rhind, Moscow and Berlin papyri. The ancient papyri are our primary source of information about the mathematics of Nile Valley civilisation. A page from Ahmes papyrus which is about one foot tall and 18 feet long. This book was renamed