I listened to a lecture by Linda Tuhiwai Smith on Decolonizing Methodologies while cleaning the refrigerator. It was rather stimulating. She addressed the ways in which other peoples are grappling with the same issues of identity, political power, cultural reclamation, and survival as are Africans globally. Two points resonated with me most: the imperative of independent institutions and the utility of sub-group identities (so-called “tribes) as units of social organization.
With respect to number one, we have sought to address this since the 17th Century, though I suspect that most of us have greater affinity with and knowledge of how this has played out since the 1960s. This imperative remains. There is no cultural institution (which is any all institutions, since culture is the totality of everything that humans produce) that exists outside of our purview that seeks to restore us as Africans to who and what we were prior to our encounter with Europeans. No matter how well-meaning or “charitable” the stewards of these alien institutions may be, we are culturally colonized. What’s more, most of the institutions under our purview do not see the necessity of our cultural restoration. We (and by “we” I mean those of us who are engaged with this “culture work” or perhaps more appropriately this Sankɔfa process of re-Africanization) are mining for fragments among the ruins and foraging for food in barren lands, while simultaneously seeking to reconstruct ourselves from the best of our collective past. The only effective vehicles for the expansion and intergenerational sustainability of this work however are our own cultural institutions, those institutions that are unambiguously committed to the reclamation of our culture and the restoration of our sovereignty in the world.
With respect to the second point, we spend far too much time seeking to explain ourselves to people who are hostile to our work. While I am all for educating and building bridges to members of the African community who are like-minded or sympathetic, we need not expend precious time or energy trying to convince people who are what Baba Mwalimu Baruti calls “lost souls” of the merit of our project. To use Ayi Kwei Armah’s analogy, no amount of water diverted to the desert will make it a wetland. Such changes are often illusory and short-lived. Our work should be to maximize our structural capacity, building those systems which have the greatest potential to both establish and expand our freedom, but also to educate our people and ourselves in the actual work of nationbuilding. We need a smaller unit of analysis than the approximately 38 million Africans that exist in the U.S. We need to create viable models of what our vision for our people looks like on the scale of dozens, hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, and so on. We need to cheapen talk by demonstrating in word and deed our execution of our collective charge. We should anticipate an ever-widening circle of affinity, but make no mistake about it, at the center of that circle is the arduous toil of liberatory struggle. No amount of impassioned rhetoric, whether it is delivered oratorically or textually will suffice as a substitute. Those of us who consider ourselves nationalists, Pan-Africanists, socialists, and the like can ill-afford to believe that our works can only manifest themselves once they have gained the assent of the masses. Maroons freed themselves, fought the enemy, and created sovereign communities whilst the masses were in chains. We need to embrace maroonage as a living modality of struggle in situations where we constitute a numeric minority within a larger body. We need to embrace the cunning, work ethic, resolve, and objectives of the maroons–accepting nothing less than unfettered self-determination.
Yet we are reminded of Dr. Carruthers’s thinking about centrality of Maat as a governing principle in the affairs of humanity. Maat provided the basis for Kemetic governance, established the form and character of Kemetic deep thought, established the conceptual framework from which the Kemetyu (people of Kemet) studied the cosmos, and so on. Thus Maat’s role in the terrestrial (ty gbb or Earthly) sphere, like her role in the celestial, was the establishment of transcendent order. This is even apparent in periods of calamity or social upheaval, where Maat is invoked as the natural condition, which subsequent to the expulsion of isfet (disorder), must be restored. The ontological significance of this point cannot be understated, for while Maat is the antithesis of isfet, Maat is the natural and optimal condition of the world. Isfet is an aberration, one that can only be corrected via Maat’s reascension.
Just as Kheper represents an iterative cycle, this cycle is bound within the ethical and cosmological framework of Maat. And while the disruption of Maat may occasion the dominance of isfet during periods of crisis, isfet was always perceived as an ephemeral condition. This view was based on the worldview of the Kemetyu which viewed time on both the cosmic and social scales, cosmic time pertaining to the grand scale of happenings since the sep tepy, and social time pertaining to the affairs of humanity. These were not opposing temporal frameworks, as the sep tepy was frequently invoked as a standard via which Kemetic society could be measured. This is also evident with the invocation of weheme mesu (the repetition of the birth), which like the invocations of sep tepy called for a restoration of Maat in national life. This circumstance offers the greatest profundity with respect to the significance of these ideals for African people today.
There is an African proverb that says “We must act as if it is impossible to fail.” This means that we cannot allow fear and doubt to diminish our spirit. Success is not just a matter of physical action, but it is also a matter of mental clarity and spiritual resolve. By mental clarity I am referring to the quality of a mind that is at peace, untroubled. Spiritual resolve is the intense focus of one’s entire being, an inner resonance that delivers a sense of affirmation that one’s actions are just, one’s path true. Faith therefor is our ability to both overcome the fetters that might sap our will, in addition to our capacity to cultivate a character of determination. In this sense, faith is not simply a matter of belief, but is also a living practice, the elimination of doubt, fear, worry, disbelief, and the like through the regular engagement with and affirmation of reality.
For us this reality is quite simple. Watu wetu ni katika vita! Our people are at war, and have been since the beginning of the Maafa—the interrelated processes of slavery, colonialism, and their aftermath. Imani or faith provides the resolve and clarity to press on, to carry on struggle, to thrive to succeed despite the seemingly impossible odds against us. Imani is a belief in our highest potential, a belief that nothing can stand against us. It is a belief that we, when fully determined, are incapable of failure.
Heri za Kwanzaa.
Each of us, no matter how small, how young, how old, and so forth possess unique talents, gifts, insights, and abilities that if directed towards the aim of our liberation provides a rich and valued contribution. This is part of Kuumba, acknowledging that we all have role to play in our struggle, and dedicating ourselves to this. Some of us will contribute as storytellers, musicians, and poets. Some of us will contribute as architects, scientists, and doctors. Others will contribute as lawyers, educators, scholars, and so forth. Ultimately, whatever the form of our contribution, we must all aim to leave our community better as a result of our efforts.
This is particularly significant if we look at the principle of Kuumba historically. When Marcus Garvey had assessed the paucity of African power and determined to change this by creating the Universal Negro Improvement Association, this was applied Kuumba. His example is notable because he sought to build all of the social systems needed to ensure the survival of African people. We would do well to study the legacy of Garvey and the many others who have applied their genius to solving the malaise of the African World Community.
Kuumba is the application of creative intelligence to the transformation of the African world.
Heri za Kwanzaa (Happy Kwanzaa)!
“Dr. Anderson Thompson states for a people to lose their culture – the knowledge of who they are – they lose the very foundations upon which their individual existence and their society is based. For African people, this loss must be offset by way of the African Principle. The African Principle equips and guides each African person with a grand vision of the future; this is a vision extending beyond personal interests. As such it becomes the embodiment of the vital interests and moral foundations of the African world community. Ultimately, the African Principle equips and guides each African person towards a grand vision of the future.
This grand vision of the future articulates where we are going as a people. It provides a framework via which each of us might understand our role and contribution. It provides a focal point for our collective consciousness—attuning us to the most pressing questions that we face, and marshaling our intellectual and material resources to address them. A grand vision of the future moves us beyond the tendency to drift aimlessly in a sea of other people’s priorities and worldview. It places us squarely on African ground, from which we can define reality for ourselves, and from this point of clarity—reshape the world.”
I have often lamented the fact that I went through undergrad and grad school (two times) and came out at the end of each process looking for a job. I’m not saying that seeking employment was equivalent to failure, but no job will provide the type of economic development that OUR communities need anywhere in the world.
Our communities are characterized by what Walter Rodney called “underdevelopment”. They have been exploited by the avarice white supremacy and capitalism. Many of us, stricken by the psycho-social malady that Kobi Kambon calls “cultural mis-orientation”, in addition to physical assaults, displacement, and structural change have been constrained in our ability to martial a collective response to this condition. Nonetheless, we know, just as our ancestors in the late 19th and early 20th centuries knew, that our collective fortunes, our ability to be self-sufficient, our ability to refine and defend ourselves and our culture is contingent on us controlling our economies.
Thus Ujamaa–cooperative economics–is and remains an imperative, one that we must model in our families, our educational institutions, our religious institutions, and in every space that we inhabit. This does not have to be an abstract affair. Growing food in a garden teaches us the importance of feeding ourselves on a larger scale. What’s more, it teaches the skills, that when scaled up, enable for us to cobble together a potential food system. Studying “alternative medicine”, creating programmatic and institutional models for promoting physical and mental well-being enables us to begin building a community-based health system, one that when networked to other systems–including allopathic systems with Black healthcare professionals–teaches us the value and necessity of caring for ourselves. Ultimately, whether we are focused on any of the six levels of institution building (as taught by the Council of Independent Black Institutions)–education, food, shelter, clothing, health care, and defense–we are engaged in the process of nationbuilding. This is what Ujamaa teaches. This is what it necessitates. Taking small steps now can lead to magnificent accomplishments in the future.
Heri za Kwanzaa Jamaa (Happy Kwanzaa Family)!
Our families, our organizations, our institutions, and our state formations all reach their highest potential when guided by the principle of Ujima–recognizing that our well-being, our happiness, and our very fates are mutually entangled.
Heri za Kwanzaa Jamaa (Happy Kwanzaa family)! A long, long time ago, when I was first introduced to Kwanzaa and the Nguzo Saba this is how I learned Umoja: To strive for and maintain unity on seven levels: self, family, neighborhood, community, nation, race, and world.
Let’s practice Umoja in all that we do, recognizing that unity is strength, and that the various differences between us are not unbridgeable chasms. They are a ground of struggle that enables us to forge even stronger bonds that steel our resolve against our enemies, both internal and external, who would act to undermine the well-being of our people.