The Dogon and the Extra-ordinary knowledge of the Universe.

One the most amazing sources of evidence of our ancestors coming from the stars is the history of the Dogon Tribe of Africa. There are between 400,000 and 800,000 Dogon in a remote civilization in the central plateau region of Mali in Africa. The Dogon culture is known for its detailed, meaningful art and tribal customs, but the Dogon are mostly known for their ancient, accurate cosmology and the legends of their ancestors from Sirius.

The Importance of the Dogon hit the western world in 1930 when French anthropologists first heard legends from the Dogon priests. The legends were passed down through many generations and documented through artwork. The Dogon spoke of an extraterrestrial race from the Sirius Star System, referred to as the Nommos, who visited them on earth. The Nommos were an aquatic race of humanoid creatures, similar to mermaids. This was amazing to hear because the god, Isis, of Babylon is depicted as a mermaid and associated with Sirius. The Dogon say that the Nommos descended to earth from the heavens in a great boat, accompanied with extreme wind and loud noise. The Dogon explained that the Sirius system had a companion star, but it cannot be seen from earth due to the brightness of Sirius A. Researchers have found Dogon artifacts dating back over 400 years depicting orbits of these stars.

Years later, in 1970, astronomers finally had good enough telescopes to zoom in on Sirius and they photographed Sirius B. The Dogon were right! They also identified the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn without the use of a telescope. How could they know this?

Being only 8 light years away, Sirius A is the brightest Star in the Earth sky. Sirius B is an extremely heavy, dense and tiny white dwarf star, smaller than the earth, but weighing 8X more than our Sun. It is gravitationally bound to Sirius A and part of the same solar system. White dwarfs form when a star runs out of fuel. They begin to collapse on themselves, not being large enough to supernova. Going back for hundreds of years ever since the Nommos came to visit the Dogon, they have held a ceremony every 50 years to celebrate the orbit of Sirius A and Sirius B. Astronomers later confirmed their orbit to be almost exactly 50 years!





In African societies, oral tradition is the method in which history, stories, folktales and religious beliefs are passed on from generation to generation. Webster’s dictionary defines “oral” as, “spoken rather than written,” and it defines the word “tradition” as, “transmittal of elements of a culture from one generation to another especially by oral communication.”[1]

In another meaning of oral traditions much similar to the one express above it implies that, oral traditions are messages that are transmitted orally from one generation to another. The messages may be passed down through speech or song and may take the form of folktales and fables, epic histories and narrations, proverbs or sayings, and songs.[2]

According to Jan M. Vansina, the expression “oral tradition” applies both to process and its product. The products are oral messages based on previous oral messages, at least a generation old. He further explains that, the process is the transmission of such messages by word of mouth over time until the disappearance of the message. Hence any given oral tradition is but a rendering at one moment, an element in a process of oral development that began with the original communication.[3]

Oral tradition facilitate transfer of knowledge from one generation to the other, especially in pre-colonial African societies, where writing as a means of keeping records (for posterity) or passing information for immediate or future purpose was lacking in most parts of Africa. Consequently, oral tradition is a part of African culture and it forms the basis with other fundamental requisite for writing or rewriting African history.


 Oral tradition or oral evidence according to Eurocentric scholars is an inferior source material of writing history vis-à-vis written sources. They point out that, oral tradition lack absolute chronology, are extremely selective in their content, and are compromised by possible human errors.[4] William G. Clarence-Smith argued that the value of using oral traditions has been not for their intrinsic worth but sentimental, as they offer African historians the opportunity to present an independent history, “uncontaminated by colonialism.”[5] This view, as erroneous as it appears sum up the believe of the Eurocentric scholars about the role of oral tradition or evidence as source of history.

Eurocentric scholars equate history with written document that is history is synonymous with writing. They believe history only began when man take to writing as means of keeping records or otherwise. This line of reasoning or argument unfortunately, is faulty and shortsighted, because there are parts of human history that can only be accounted for or explained only through archaeological evidence, for instance Pre-history of man.

Apart from the fact that the Eurocentric view of oral evidence is shortsighted, it also has racist undertones. It must be recalled that the Eurocentric scholar had initially denied that Africans/Africa has no history. For instance, Professor Huge Trevor-Roper, a Professor of modern history at Oxford University, once said:

It is fashionable to speak today as if European history were devalued: as if historians, in the past, have paid too much attention to it; and as if, nowadays, we should pay less. Undergraduates, seduced, as always, by the changing breath of journalistic fashion, demand that they should be taught the history of black Africa. Perhaps, in the future, there will be some African history to teach. But at present there is none, or very little: there is only the history of the Europeans in Africa. The rest is largely darkness, like the history of pre-European, pre-Columbian America. And darkness is not a subject for history.[6]

G.W.F. Hegel also had this to say of African history:

At this point we leave Africa, not to mention it again. For it is no historical part of the World; it has no movement or development to exhibit. Historical movements in it—that is in its northern part—belong to the Asiatic or European World.[7]

The assertion that Africa has no history is a complete negation on the uniqueness and values of oral tradition as a very rich source of history and ultimately the complete denial of it existence. Also the profoundly warped, trite and bias assessment of oral tradition by William G. Clarence-Smith, stated above is unfounded and acutely short of merit.

While it must be admitted that oral evidence or oral tradition as source material of writing history has it weaknesses and not infallible like every other sources of history, it is not in any way inferior to written source or any other source of history, as sources of history complement one another to achieve maximum result.



Among the various kinds of historical sources traditions occupy a special place.[8] While interviews with members of social and political elites have complemented existing documentary sources, the most distinctive contribution of oral history has been to include within the historical record the experiences and perspectives of groups of people who might otherwise have been hidden from history.[9]

Oral tradition has played and still playing a very important role in writing and rewriting of African history. For centuries it has helped preserved vital and very important traditions of various African societies.

Oral tradition has enriched the knowledge of African scholars about their various societies in writing African history through the African perspective and not bereft of objectivity nor short of creativity. In an era where African history was denied and ridiculed, African scholars through various oral traditions have re-position Africa, historically.






[1] African Oral Tradition by Sharon Wilson, Chicago, IL.


[3] Oral Tradition as History (Ed) Jan M. Vansina, University of Wisconsin Press, Google Books, P. 3

[4] Oral Traditions- The use of Oral Traditions and its critics

[5] Ibid.

[6] There is no African History

[7] Eurocentric view about African culture and civilization

[8] Opcite XI

[9] The Oral History Reader (Ed) Robert Perks Google Books

Selected Facts You Probably Don’t Know About Africa II

31. West Africa had bling culture in 1067 AD. One source mentions that when the Emperor of Ghana gives audience to his people: “he sits in a pavilion around which stand his horses caparisoned in cloth of gold: behind him stand ten pages holding shields and gold-mounted swords: and on his right hand are the sons of the princes of his empire, splendidly clad and with gold plaited into their hair . . . The gate of the chamber is guarded by dogs of an excellent breed . . . they wear collars of gold and silver.”

32. Glass windows existed at that time. The residence of the Ghanaian Emperor in 1116 AD was: “A well-built castle, thoroughly fortified, decorated inside with sculptures and pictures, and having glass windows.”

33. The Grand Mosque in the Malian city of Djenné, described as “the largest adobe [clay] building in the world”, was first raised in 1204 AD. It was built on a square plan where each side is 56 metres in length. It has three large towers on one side, each with projecting wooden buttresses.

34. One of the great achievements of the Yoruba was their urban culture. “By the year A.D. 1300,” says a modern scholar, “the Yoruba people built numerous walled cities surrounded by farms”. The cities were Owu, Oyo, Ijebu, Ijesa, Ketu, Popo, Egba, Sabe, Dassa, Egbado, Igbomina, the sixteen Ekiti principalities, Owo and Ondo.

35. Yoruba metal art of the mediaeval period was of world class. One scholar wrote that Yoruba art “would stand comparison with anything which Ancient Egypt, Classical Greece and Rome, or Renaissance Europe had to offer.”

36. In the Malian city of Gao stands the Mausoleum of Askia the Great, a weird sixteenth century edifice that resembles a step pyramid.

37. Thousands of mediaeval tumuli have been found across West Africa. Nearly 7,000 were discovered in north-west Senegal alone spread over nearly 1,500 sites. They were probably built between 1000 and 1300 AD.

38. Excavations at the Malian city of Gao carried out by Cambridge University revealed glass windows. One of the finds was entitled: “Fragments of alabaster window surrounds and a piece of pink window glass, Gao 10th – 14th century.”

39. In 1999 the BBC produced a television series entitled Millennium. The programme devoted to the fourteenth century opens with the following disclosure: “In the fourteenth century, the century of the scythe, natural disasters threatened civilisations with extinction. The Black Death kills more people in Europe, Asia and North Africa than any catastrophe has before. Civilisations which avoid the plague thrive. In West Africa the Empire of Mali becomes the richest in the world.”

40. Malian sailors got to America in 1311 AD, 181 years before Columbus. An Egyptian scholar, Ibn Fadl Al-Umari, published on this sometime around 1342. In the tenth chapter of his book, there is an account of two large maritime voyages ordered by the predecessor of Mansa Musa, a king who inherited the Malian throne in 1312. This mariner king is not named by Al-Umari, but modern writers identify him as Mansa Abubakari II.

41. On a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324 AD, a Malian ruler, Mansa Musa, brought so much money with him that his visit resulted in the collapse of gold prices in Egypt and Arabia. It took twelve years for the economies of the region to normalise.

42. West African gold mining took place on a vast scale. One modern writer said that: “It is estimated that the total amount of gold mined in West Africa up to 1500 was 3,500 tons, worth more than $30 billion in today’s market.”

43. The old Malian capital of Niani had a 14th century building called the Hall of Audience. It was an surmounted by a dome, adorned with arabesques of striking colours. The windows of an upper floor were plated with wood and framed in silver; those of a lower floor were plated with wood, framed in gold.

44. Mali in the 14th century was highly urbanised. Sergio Domian, an Italian art and architecture scholar, wrote the following about this period: “Thus was laid the foundation of an urban civilisation. At the height of its power, Mali had at least 400 cities, and the interior of the Niger Delta was very densely populated”.

45. The Malian city of Timbuktu had a 14th century population of 115,000 – 5 times larger than mediaeval London. Mansa Musa, built the Djinguerebere Mosque in the fourteenth century. There was the University Mosque in which 25,000 students studied and the Oratory of Sidi Yayia. There were over 150 Koran schools in which 20,000 children were instructed. London, by contrast, had a total 14th century population of 20,000 people.

46. National Geographic recently described Timbuktu as the Paris of the mediaeval world, on account of its intellectual culture. According to Professor Henry Louis Gates, 25,000 university students studied there.

47. Many old West African families have private library collections that go back hundreds of years. The Mauritanian cities of Chinguetti and Oudane have a total of 3,450 hand written mediaeval books. There may be another 6,000 books still surviving in the other city of Walata. Some date back to the 8th century AD. There are 11,000 books in private collections in Niger. Finally, in Timbuktu, Mali, there are about 700,000 surviving books.

48. A collection of one thousand six hundred books was considered a small library for a West African scholar of the 16th century. Professor Ahmed Baba of Timbuktu is recorded as saying that he had the smallest library of any of his friends – he had only 1600 volumes.

49. Concerning these old manuscripts, Michael Palin, in his TV series Sahara, said the imam of Timbuktu “has a collection of scientific texts that clearly show the planets circling the sun. They date back hundreds of years . . . Its convincing evidence that the scholars of Timbuktu knew a lot more than their counterparts in Europe. In the fifteenth century in Timbuktu the mathematicians knew about the rotation of the planets, knew about the details of the eclipse, they knew things which we had to wait for 150 almost 200 years to know in Europe when Galileo and Copernicus came up with these same calculations and were given a very hard time for it.”

50. The Songhai Empire of 16th century West Africa had a government position called Minister for Etiquette and Protocol.

51. The mediaeval Nigerian city of Benin was built to “a scale comparable with the Great Wall of China”. There was a vast system of defensive walling totalling 10,000 miles in all. Even before the full extent of the city walling had become apparent the Guinness Book of Records carried an entry in the 1974 edition that described the city as: “The largest earthworks in the world carried out prior to the mechanical era.”

52. Benin art of the Middle Ages was of the highest quality. An official of the Berlin Museum für Völkerkunde once stated that: “These works from Benin are equal to the very finest examples of European casting technique. Benvenuto Cellini could not have cast them better, nor could anyone else before or after him . . . Technically, these bronzes represent the very highest possible achievement.”

53. Winwood Reade described his visit to the Ashanti Royal Palace of Kumasi in 1874: “We went to the king’s palace, which consists of many courtyards, each surrounded with alcoves and verandahs, and having two gates or doors, so that each yard was a thoroughfare . . . But the part of the palace fronting the street was a stone house, Moorish in its style . . . with a flat roof and a parapet, and suites of apartments on the first floor. It was built by Fanti masons many years ago. The rooms upstairs remind me of Wardour Street. Each was a perfect Old Curiosity Shop. Books in many languages, Bohemian glass, clocks, silver plate, old furniture, Persian rugs, Kidderminster carpets, pictures and engravings, numberless chests and coffers. A sword bearing the inscription From Queen Victoria to the King of Ashantee. A copy of the Times, 17 October 1843. With these were many specimens of Moorish and Ashanti handicraft.”

54. In the mid-nineteenth century, William Clarke, an English visitor to Nigeria, remarked that: “As good an article of cloth can be woven by the Yoruba weavers as by any people . . . in durability, their cloths far excel the prints and home-spuns of Manchester.”

55. The recently discovered 9th century Nigerian city of Eredo was found to be surrounded by a wall that was 100 miles long and seventy feet high in places. The internal area was a staggering 400 square miles.

56. On the subject of cloth, Kongolese textiles were also distinguished. Various European writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries wrote of the delicate crafts of the peoples living in eastern Kongo and adjacent regions who manufactured damasks, sarcenets, satins, taffeta, cloth of tissue and velvet. Professor DeGraft-Johnson made the curious observation that: “Their brocades, both high and low, were far more valuable than the Italian.”

57. On Kongolese metallurgy of the Middle Ages, one modern scholar wrote that: “There is no doubting . . . the existence of an expert metallurgical art in the ancient Kongo . . . The Bakongo were aware of the toxicity of lead vapours. They devised preventative and curative methods, both pharmacological (massive doses of pawpaw and palm oil) and mechanical (exerting of pressure to free the digestive tract), for combating lead poisoning.”

58. In Nigeria, the royal palace in the city of Kano dates back to the fifteenth century. Begun by Muhammad Rumfa (ruled 1463-99) it has gradually evolved over generations into a very imposing complex. A colonial report of the city from 1902, described it as “a network of buildings covering an area of 33 acres and surrounded by a wall 20 to 30 feet high outside and 15 feet inside . . . in itself no mean citadel”.

59. A sixteenth century traveller visited the central African civilisation of Kanem-Borno and commented that the emperor’s cavalry had golden “stirrups, spurs, bits and buckles.” Even the ruler’s dogs had “chains of the finest gold”.

60. One of the government positions in mediaeval Kanem-Borno was Astronomer Royal.


Book of the Month: Civilization or Barbarism: An Authentic Anthropology

Civilization or Barbarism: An Authentic Anthropology

By Chiekh Anta Diop


I dedicate this book to the memory of

Ailoune Diop

who died on the battlefield of African culture.

Alioune, you knew what you came to do on this earth: A life entirely dedicated to others, nothing for yourself, everything for others, a heart filled with goodness and generosity, a soul stepped in nobility, a spirit always serene, simplicity personified!

Did the demiurge want to provide us with an example, an ideal of perfection, by calling you into existence?

Alas, the terrestrial community, to which you knew how to convey, better than anyone else, the message of human truthfulness that sprang from the inmost depths of your being, was deprived of you too soon. But the remembrance of you will never be erased from the memory of African peoples, to whom you dedicated your life.

This is why I am dedicating this book to your memory, in witness to a brotherly friendship that is stronger than time.

Chiekh Anta Diop

Dakar, Senegal.

Book of the Month- Black Africa: The Economic and Cultural Basis for a Federated State

Black Africa: The Economic and Cultural Basis for a Federated State

Interview With Chiekh Anta Diop by Carlos Moore

Africa’s Political Unity

AFRISCOPE: Since the early 1960’s the African Continent has shown itself to be coup prone. How do you account for the growing political instability of African regimes? DIOP: I had foreseen the ‘South-Americanization’ of the African continent and in my work, Les Fondaments culturels, techniques et industriels d’un future etat federal d’Afrique noire (Presence Africaine, 1960), I alluded to this phenomenon.

Earlier, in 1956, I also touched on the subject in an article “Alerta sous les tropiques” (Presence Africaine, No. 5, Jan. 1956), warning that unless we took care the African continent upon independence would go down the road of ‘South-Americanization.’ No matter how much we may claim that history doesn’t repeat itself, I have nonetheless been haunted by Simon Bolivar’s failure to unite the South American continent in a single bloc. It can no longer be denied that Africa is the victim of  ‘South-Americanization.’ That Africa is ‘politically unstable’ is a fact. We can’t even talk anymore about ‘balkanization’ since the Balkan regimes are stable, whereas in Africa we have change of regime almost every week or every month. At any rate, every year. And this instability is growing.

In my opinion, what has been lacking are national leaderships which could set an example. Had this been the case, military overthrows would have been made much more difficult. At any rate, Stability in Africa would have been much greater. Political selfishness is killing Africa; it’s the basis of the problem. Once African interests become merely a pretext for individuals selfishness, instability necessarily rears its head. When the only organized force in the county-the army-ceases to respect the civilians in power, it will seize power for itself.

(Click the link below to get book on google books).


Chi in Igbo cosmology
Language and the Destiny of Man.

By Chinua Achebe

In his long evolutionary history, man has scored few greater success that his creation of human society. For it is on that primeval achievement that he has built hose special qualities of mind and of behavior which, in his own view at least, separate him from lower forms of life. If we sometimes tend to overlook this fact it is only because we have lived so under the protective ambience of society that we have come to take its benefits for granted. Which, in a way, might be called the ultimate tribute, rather like the unspoken worship and thanksgiving which man renders with every breath he draws.  If it were different we would not be men but angels, incapable of boredom.

Unquestionably, language was crucial to the creation of society. There is no way in which human society could exist without speech. By society we do not, of course, mean the mechanical and mindless association of the beehive or the anthill which employs certain rudimentary forms of communication to achieve an unvarying, instinctual purpose, but a community where man “doomed to be free” – to use Joyce Cary’s remarkable phrase – is yet able to challenge that peculiar and perilous destiny with an even chance of wresting from it a purposeful, creative existence.

Speech too, like society itself, seems so natural that we rarely give much thought to it or contemplate man’s circumstance before its invention. But we know that language is not inherent in man – the capacity for language, yes; but not language. Therefore, there must have been a time in the very distant past when our ancestors did not have it. Let us imagine a very simple incident in those days. A man strays into a rock shelter without knowing that another is there finishing a meal in the dark interior. The first hint our newcomer gets of this fact is a loose rock hurled at his head. In a different kind of situation which we shall call (with all kinds of guilt reservations) human, that confrontation might have been resolved les destructively by the simple question: What do you want? Or even angry: Get out of here!

Nobody is, of course, going to be so naïve as to claim for language the power to dispose of all, or even most, violence. After all, man is not less violent than other animals but more – apparently the only animal which consistently visits violence on its own kind. Yet in spite of this (or perhaps because of it) one does have a feeling that without language we should have long been extinct.

Many people following the fascinating progress of Dr. L. S. B. Leakey’s famous excavations in the Olduvai Gorge in Eastern Africa in the 1950s were shocked by his claim that the so-called “pre-Zinjanthropus” child, the discovery of whose remains stirred many hearts and was one of the highlights of modern palaeontology, was probably murdered aged about twelve. Another excavator, Professor Raymond Dart, working further south, has collected much similar evidence of homicide in the caves of Transvaal. But we should not have been surprised or shocked unless we had overlooked the psychological probability of the murder outside the Garden of Eden.

Let us take a second and quite different kind of example. Let us imagine an infant crying. Its mother assumes that it is hungry offers it food; but it refuses to eat and goes on crying. Is it wet? Does it have pain? If so, where? Has an ant crawled into its dress and bitten it? Does it want to sleep? etc., etc. Thus the mother, especially if she lacks experience (as more and more mothers tend to do), will grope from one impulse to another, from one possibility to its opposite, until she stumbles on the right one. Meanwhile the child suffers distress and mental anguish. In other words, because of a child’s inadequate vocabulary even its simplest needs cannot be quickly known and satisfied. From which rather silly example we can see, I hope, the value of language in facilitating the affairs and transactions of society by enabling its members to pass on their message quickly and exactly.

In small closely-knit societies such as we often call primitive the importance of language is seen in pristine clarity. For instance, in the creation myths of the Hebrews, God made the world by word of mouth; and in the Christian myth as recorded in St. John’s Gospel the Word became God Himself.

African societies in the past held similar notions about language and the potency of words. Writing about Igbo society in Nigeria, Igwe and Green had this to say:

a speaker who could use language effectively and had a good command of idioms and proverbs was respected by his fellows and was often a leader in the community.

From another part of Africa a Kenyan, Mugo Getheru, in his autobiographical book gives even stronger testimony from his people: “among the Kikuyu those who speak well have always been honoured, and the very word chief means good talker.”
There is a remarkable creation myth among the Wapangwa people in Tanzania which begins thus:

The sky was large, white, and very clear. It was empty; there were no stars and no moons; only a tree stood in the air and there was wind. This tree fed on the atmosphere and ants lived on it. Wind, tree, ants, and atmosphere were controlled by the power of the Word, but the Word was not something that could be seen. It was a force that enabled one thing to create another.

But although contemporary societies in Africa and elsewhere have moved away from beliefs and attitudes which had invested language with such ritual qualities, we can still find remain of the old dignity in certain places and circumstances. In his famous autobiography, Camara Laye records the survival of such an attitude in the Guinea of his boyhood, the strong impression that the traditional village could make on the visitor from the town:

In everything, I noticed a kind of dignity which was often lacking in town life . . . And if their minds seemed to work slower in the country, that was because they always spoke only after due reflection, and because speech itself was a most serious matter.

And finally, from a totally different environment, these lines of a traditional Eskimo poem, “Magic Words,” from Jerome Rothenberg’s excellent anthology, Shaking the Pumpkin:

That was the time when words were like magic
The human mind had mysterious powers.
A word spoken by chance
might have strange consequences.
It would suddenly come alive
and what people wanted to happen could happen
all you had to do was say it.

In small and self-sufficient societies, such as gave birth to these myths, the integrity of language is safeguarded by the fact that what goes on in the community can easily be ascertained, understood and evaluated by all. The line between truth and falsehood thus tends to be sharp, when a man addresses his fellows they know already what kind of person he is, whether (as Igbo people would put it) he is one with whose words something can be done; or else one who, if he tells you to stand, you know you must immediately flee!

But as society becomes larger and more complex we find that we can no longer be in command of all the facts but are obliged to take a good deal of what we hear on trust. We delegate to others the power to take certain decision on our behalf, and they may not always be people we know or can vouch for. I shall return shortly to a consideration of this phenomenon. But first I shall consider a different, though related, problem – the pressure to which language is subjected by the mere fact that it can never change fast enough to deal with every new factor in the environment, to describe every new perception, every new detail in the ever-increasing complexity of the life of the community, to say nothing of the private perceptions and idiosyncrasies of particular speakers. T. S. Eliot comes readily to mind with those memorable lines from the Four Quartets in which he suggests to us the constant struggle, frustration and anguish which this situation imposes on a poet:

Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure . . .

Of course one might wonder whether this problem was a real one for ordinary people like ourselves or a peculiar species of self-flagellation by a high-strung devotee seeking through torment to become worthy of his deity. For when Eliot goes on to celebrate the “sentence that is right” his words do assume accents of holy intoxication:

The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together . . .

This curious mix of high purpose and carnival jollity may leave us a little puzzled, but there is no doubt whatever about Eliot’s concern and solicitude for the integrity of words. And let us not imagine, even the most prosaic Eliot advocates are appropriate only to poets. For we all stand to lose when language is debased, just as every one of us is affected when the nation’s currency is devalued; not just the Secretary to the Treasury or controllers of our banks.

Talking about Secretaries of the Treasury and devaluation, there was an amusing quotation by Professor Douglas Bush in an essay entitled “Polluting our Language” in the spring 1972 issue of The American Scholar. The secretary of the Treasury, John Connally, had said: “In the early sixties we were strong, we were virulent.” Clearly, that was only a slip, albeit of a kind that might interest Freudians. But it might not be entirely unfair to see a tendency to devaluation inherent in certain occupations!

We must now turn from considering the necessary struggle with language arising, as it were, from its very nature and the nature of the society it serves to the more ominous threat to its integrity brought about neither by its innate inadequacy nor yet by the incompetence and carelessness of its ordinary users, but rather engineered deliberately by those who will manipulate words for their own ends.

It has long been known that language, like any other human invention, can be abused, can be turned from its original purpose into something useless or even deadly. George Orwell, who was very much concerned in his writings with this modern menace, reminds us that language can be used not only for expressing thought but for concealing thought or even preventing thought. I guess we are all too familiar with this – from the mild assault of the sales pitch which exhorts you: “Be progressive! Use ABC toothpaste! Or invites you to a “saving spree” in a department store; through the mystifications of learned people jealously guarding the precincts of their secret societies with such shibboleths as:

“Bilateral mastectomy was performed” instead of “Both breasts were removed”; to the politician who employs government prose to keep you in the dark about affairs on which your life or the lives of your children may depend or the official statistician who assures you that crime rates “are increasing at a decreasing rate of increase.” I shall not waste your time about this well-known fact of modern life. But let me round off this aspect of the matter by quoting a little of the comment made by W. H. Auden in an interview published by the New York Times (19 October 1971):

As a poet – not as a citizen – there is only one political duty, and that is to defend one’s language from corruption. And that is particularly serious now. It’s being so quickly corrupted. When it is corrupted people lose faith in what they hear, and this leads to violence.

And leads also full circle to the caveman situation with which we began. And the heart of my purpose is to suggest that our remote ancestors who made and preserved language for us, who, you might say, crossed the first threshold from bestiality to humanness, left us also adequate warning, wrapped in symbols, against its misuse.

Every people has a body of myths or sacred tales received from its antiquity. They are supernatural stories which man created to explain the problems and mysteries of life and death – his attempt to make sense of the bewildering complexity of existence. There is a proud, nomadic people, the Fulani, who inhabit the northern savannah of Western Africa from Cameroon and Nigeria westwards to Mali and Senegal. They are very much attached to their cattle, whose milk is their staff of life. Here is a Fulani myth of creation from Mali:

At the beginning there was a huge drop of milk.
Then Doondari came and he created the stone.
Then the stone created iron;
And iron created fire;
And fire created water;
And water created air.

Then Doondari descended the second time.
And he took the five elements
And he shaped them into man.
But man was proud.
Then Doondari created blindness and blindness defeated man.
But when blindness became too proud,
Doondari created sleep, and sleep defeated blindness;
But when sleep became too proud,
Doondari created worry, and worry defeated sleep;
But when worry became too proud,
Doondari created death, and death defeated worry;

But when death became too proud, Doondari descended for the third time,
And he came as Gueno, the eternal one
And Gueno defeated death.

You notice, don’t you, how in the second section of that poem, after the creation of man, we have that phrase “became too proud” coming back again and again like the recurrence of a dominant beat in rhythmic music? Clearly the makers of that myth intended us not to miss it. So it was at the very heart of their purpose. Man is destroyed by pride. It is said over and over again; it is shouted like a message across vast distances until the man at the other end of the savannah has definitely got it, despite the noise of rushing winds. Or if you prefer a modern metaphor, it is like making a long-distance call when the line is faulty or in bad weather. You shout your message and repeat it again and again just to make sure.

Claude Levi-Strauss, the French structural anthropologist, has indeed sought to explain the repetitive factor in myth in this way, relating it to general information theory. Our forefathers and ancestors are seen in the role of senders of the message; and we, the novices of society, as receivers. The ancestors are sending us signals from the long history and experience of bygone days about the meaning of life, the qualities we should cultivate and the values that are important. Because they are so far away and because we are surrounded by the tumult and distractions daily life they have to shout and repeat themselves not only in phrase after phrase but also in myth after myth, varying the form slightly now and again until the central message goes home.

If this interpretation is right then Fulani myth of creation not only delivers a particular message on the danger of pride but also exemplifies beautifully the general intention and purpose of myths.

Let us now look at another short myth from the Igbo people in Nigeria which bears more directly on the question of language:

When death first entered the world, men sent a messenger to Chuku, asking him whether the dead could not be restored to life and sent back to their old homes. They chose the dog as their messenger.

The dog, however, did not go straight to Chuku, and dallied on the way. The toad had overhead the message, and as he wished to punish mankind, he overtook the dog and reached Chuku first. He said he had been sent by men to say that after death they had no desire at all to return to the world. Chuku declared that he would respect their wishes, and when the dog arrived with the true message he refused to alter his decision.

Thus although a human being may be born again, he cannot return with the same body and the same personality.

It has been pointed out that there are more than seven hundred different versions of this myth all over Africa. Thus, the element of repetition which we have seen in the form of a phrase recurring in time within one myth takes on the formidable power of spatial dispersion across a continent. Clearly the ancestral senders regard this particular signal as of desperate importance, hence its ubiquity and the profuse variations on its theme. Sometimes the messenger is the dog; sometimes the chameleon or the lizard, or some other animal. In some variations the message is garbled through the incompetence of the messenger, or through his calculated malice against man. In others, man in his impatience sends a second messenger to God who in anger withdraws the gift of immortality. But whatever variations in the detail the dominant theme remains: Men send a messenger to their creator with a plea for immortality and He is disposed to grant their request. But something goes wrong with the message at the last moment. And this bounty which mankind has all but held in its grasp, this monumental gift that would have made man more like the gods, is snatched from him forever. And he knows that there is a way to hell even from the gates of heaven!

This, to my mind, is the great myth about language and the destiny of man. Its lesson should be clear to all. Its lesson should be clear to all. It is as though the ancestors who made language and knew from what bestiality its use rescued them are saying to us: Beware of interfering with, when it is disjoined from truth, be it from mere incompetence or worse, from malice, horrors can descend again on mankind.

Colonial Mentality II

Fela Abami Eda

“Imperialism leaves behind germs of rot which we must clinically detect and remove from our land but from our minds as well.”
Frantz Fanon

Colonial mentality means actions, thinking, behaviors, ideals, philosophies, and other characteristics (visible to the eyes and perceptive to mind) identified with benighted forces of belated colonialism in it various forms political, economic, and socio-cultural, and subsequently internalized by Africans after decades of colonial domination through it institutions and education. Colonial mentality is a kind of disease bedeviling most African countries; it’s a kind of ghost hunting African psyche and rubbing Africans of political, economic, and socio-cultural commonsense, contributing to Africa’s edifice of perennial problems confronting the continent since independence.

There’s no gainsaying the fact that most African problems stems from colonialism, giving the post-colonial situations Africans have to adapt to (like the change of political system from monarchical system of government to western parliamentarian system of government, coupled with redefinition of legitimacy i.e legitimacy to rule is no longer achieved through the traditional system reserved for the royalties and nobles but through ballot by any qualified members of the society) and incorporation of African economy into world’s economy as source of raw materials and market for finish goods, but the seemingly inabilities of Africa and her “well-wishers” to solve these problems lies majorly in applying the same kind of extremely exploitative colonial thinking that created this problems to solving them.

The fact that the colonist, at the threshold of Africa’s independence surreptitiously created a backdoor to further the controlling of Africa’s resources through other channels without necessary application of overt brute force, to ensure some kind of servile and blind loyalty from the African countries whose independence loomed cannot be overstated, It is colonialism by other means. This salient fact is underscored by the scenarios that unfolded in the post-colonial Africa, of which prime example was majority of the new African leaders abandoned their populist slogans and worldview adopted during the anti-colonial era to pursue dreams not palatable with the aspirations of the people they governed. In other words they became the neo-colonist.

It is only fair that a tree is judged by the fruits it bore, colonialism means reckless and ruthless exploitation without redress. As Frantz Fanon aptly point that, colonialism is body of violence not capable of reason and only gives in when confronted with greater violence. This explain the wave of coup d’tat and counter coup, and civil wars that engulfed majority of African countries shortly independence. In other words African states move from European colonialism to indigenous elite colonialism in contrivance with the former masters. Even the youngest country in Africa South Sudan is not spared of this madness, just couple of years of independence from the “tyranny” of North the country has plunged itself into war after conflagration between the leaders.

Africa’s dilemma is that her leaders were schooled in the colonist institutions of learning, taught by the colonist, in the colonist home country and inculcated the colonist values and norms. Consequently, they became mentally predispose to act as would the colonist. With the exception of some great African leaders, majority of them came back to Africa not as Africans but as “Black-Europeans”, though they paraded themselves as Pan-Africans. They ruled as Black-European, they ruled with contempt and disregard for the people and the constitution, their utmost desires are to perpetuate their stay in office like the political gangsters in Burundi and South Sudan irrespective of the outcome of their actions, to loot the treasury of the state like the political armed robbers in Nigeria, to keep their people in obscene poverty, to safeguard the interest of their European counterpart at the expense of their own country, a trend common to most African states etc.

Since the dawn of independence on the African continent achieved through relentless struggle to this moment African countries have taken and apply every bit of IMF, World Bank economic recipe perfectly formulated for Africa, to help achieve economic growth and development, yet Africa remain underdeveloped. While it has become brazen and apparent that the tailored for Africa economic fads are in true sense of the word rags that exposes the cleavages and plunged the continent into debts, African leaders continue this arrangement.

At the moment Africa is governed by leaders whose ideals and principles are rooted in colonial thought even though their rhetoric sometimes echo Pan-Africanism, their actions are anti-Africa.Will Africa in the nearest or distance future achieved true independence and governed by leaders whose dedication to the service of the people is of utmost importance? Time will tell.