I wonder if folks have considered that so-called liberal democracy may have been an ephemeral mode of governance born of a unique convergence of industrial capitalism and increasingly irrelevant monarchies. Marx’s predictions of socialism’s inevitable ascendance notwithstanding, the seamless alignment of capital and the state has shown that other configurations do emerge.
While global capitalism resulted in a diminution of the state’s relevance and power, fascism promises both the states restoration, and the reconfiguration of capitalism along nationalistic lines. Hence if globalization has resulted in the disillusionment of the laboring masses of the world, fascism represents the illusory promise of a restoration to some imagined halcyon days of dignity or greatness.
Many Africans in America express an interest in learning a language from their ancestors. In some cases this may be a daunting challenge, however Kiswahili remains one of the most accessible African languages.
- It is the most widely spoken African language in the world (based on both primary and secondary speakers). Thus it is the best example of a Pan-African language.
- It has enjoyed a rich history of writing for centuries, from an Arabic based script (Ajami) to Latin script. As such, Kiswahili has a broad body of literature.
- It reflects the cosmopolitanism of the Swahili Coast with its loan words from Gujarati, Farsi, Arabic, other Bantu languages, and so on.
- Its diffusion as a commercial language, and later as an administrative language of the colonial powers also enabled it to function as a common language for those struggling for independence. Thus, Kiswahili has been a language of liberatory struggle.
- It became the default African language of the Black Power Movement in the United States as numerous institutions, organizations, individuals, and slogans were derived from Swahili. Thus Kiswahili words and phrases such as imani, nia, uhuru sasa, and simba may already be familiar to you.
- It forms the basis of the Pan-African holiday of Kwanzaa, created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966.
- Unlike most African languages, it is non-tonal with a simple five vowel system, making it less difficult for some learners to vocalize.
- There are numerous free resources available to learn the language.
- There are many beautiful and profound proverbs that have been developed in the Swahili culture.
- It is a conceptually or philosophically rich language, containing complex and important ideas such as ujamaa (socialism or cooperative economics), kujitegemea (self-reliance), umoja (unity), ukweli (truth), utu (humanity), and so on.
This list was adapted from a list created by @SemaKiswahili
The problems of dualistic thinking are manifold. It sustains the notion of a disjuncture between the self and other, when in fact these are often entangled.
Yes, I am not part of the air, but I breath the air. My use of an automobile subtly changes its molecular composition. The air supplies oxygen, a necessary element for my body’s functioning. Every exhalation contributes carbon dioxide to the air around me. The air and I are bound in a cycle of exchange which will continue until I cease to breathe.
I am not my children, or my wife, or my parents. Yet, I am clearly a part of all of them. For some this connection is biological (to my parents and children). For all, the context of shared experience reveals the myriad ways in which we are connected. Even for my father, from whom I was mostly estranged while growing up, his struggles with respect to exemplifying a compelling standard of manhood and to live ethically provide much of my determination to transcend his shortcomings. Thus even in his error, I have found inspiration and insight in his life. My journey is merely the continuation of his.
Indeed, there is no absolute disjuncture between these varied phenomenon. They are entangled.
Of late, much of my thinking about this has consisted of continued reflection on my practice of the arts, as they do not exist outside of me. At a certain point, they became a part of me. In fact, it was during a time when I attempted to take a much narrower perspective on the arts when I became more aware of the extent to which all of these experiences had shaped me, influenced how I perceived movement, and stimulated my thinking about the inextricable links between body and mind—a connection that combat training is supposed to augment. Further, I began to understand–perhaps unconsciously, that on the level of principle, I was not talking about Capoeira, or Choy Lay Fut, or Wing Chun, or this, or that–but circular arcs of movement, linear thrusts, lateral downward movement, sidestepping, flowing, intercepting, and on and on. I began to realize that the barriers between these arts were sustained not merely in the traditions that they embodied and their respective lineages, but that these had crystalized my mind. Thus my mind became the arbiter of an imagined disjuncture between these arts, it became the border guard policing the mental/physical territories that they were supposed to inhabit.
However, there are times when these mental crystals begin to crack, when the markings at the border have been obscured, when a greater awareness of underlying principles blurred distinction, prompting a recognition of a sense of connection and unity. It is at these moments, when I have been most clear that when practicing these arts, I am not simply engaging in some discipline that exists external to me, but that they facilitate my embodiment of these underlying principles. Thus while the art exists as a particular type of kinesthetic tradition emerging out of its respective milieu, it is also a tradition that, when embodied, is expressed through me, one that becomes a part of me. And in so doing, removes the disjuncture between the practitioner and their practice. Ideally, the two become one.
The process of re-Africanization, the need to heal ourselves, and the work of reality transformation are all interrelated. There is no disjuncture or hierarchy therein. They are concomitant endeavors, coterminous in their ends and implications.
What must be remembered is the critical need to draw upon African paradigms in these endeavors. As Jacob. H. Carruthers stated, “We cannot move our people by borrowing our foundations from other people.” This means that definitive movement consistent with our intended restoration of an African worldview, requires a deliberate engagement with African knowledges.
Many of us, like Sinuhe, have created homes for ourselves in foreign lands, but ultimately we must “return to the Black land”, that is reclaim our ancestral paradigms as a means of informing our cultural reclamation, our healing, and the transformation of the world.
My interest in constructed languages has been related to two queries. 1) Might we utilize a constructed language based off of African-languages to optimize language learning? 2) Can we use a mutually intelligible constructed language for intercommunication within the African world?
With respect to the first query, Afrihili or Guosa may be an examples of this. Though you have a great deal of advocacy for learning African languages in the US, few actually attain a high level of fluency. Part of the reason for this is the complexity of living languages.
My primary African language, Swahili, is a beautiful language, but none could claim that it is a grammatically simple language with its noun class system, affixes, and nature of agreement between nouns, verbs, and adjectives. In contrast, my third African language (of which I am still a rudimentary speaker), Twi, is one where I feel somewhat comfortable with grammar, but do have some difficulty with vowels, particularly tonal variation–a feature absent in the colonial language that I speak primarily.
If we look at the research pertaining to other constructed languages, particularly Esperanto, the time frames for acquisition are comparatively short. Attobrah’s creation of Afrihili, though imperfect, is an interesting model, one that could be augmented to optimize learnability.
However Dr. Edward Powe has stated that constructed languages have no natural base from which to spread. These languages spread from a speech community whose activities–economic, political, migratory–impact its diffusion. Consider the diffusion of Swahili, Twi, Hausa, or Wolof.
There is also the problem of constructed languages not fulfilling the desire present within many African Diasporan language learnings, that is connecting to specific African cultural communities–often to whom one has ancestry.
My interest in Swahili was informed by its role in Pan-African & Black Nationalist movements. My study of mdw nTr was related to it being a repository of ancient African deep thought. I learned Twi because I wanted to learn a language from West Africa, one to which I may have had an ancestral connection. This desire has also pertained to other languages of groups to which, based on my studies, I possess genetic ancestry. Thus for all of the reasons stated, I consider the prospect of constructed languages satisfying the desire for sankɔfa among African people to be exceedingly limited.
Therefore, I consider the second query to be fundamentally different. That is, “Can we use a mutually intelligible constructed language for intercommunication within the African world?” This question was quite interesting to me for a while, particularly with respect to the possibility of such a language facilitating communication among Africans who speak the colonial languages: Dutch, English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.
To this end, I was intrigued by both Interlingua and Lingua Franca Nova. However of late I have become much more interested in Papiamentu, given that it has many of the things that I like about the latter, with some degree of intelligibility for Spanish and Portuguese speakers. I wondered if, such a language could be used as a textual medium, one enabling us to communicate in literary form with other segments of the African world.
I am reminded of Ama Mazama’s translations of some African-centered works into French as being demonstrative of a need for deeper and broader engagement with communities fluent in French, Spanish, and Portuguese. The idea is that by using some interlanguage, one might find a much simplified means of communication short of learning what would otherwise be a complex language. Again, this was a consideration born of practicality, whereas ideally we would be centered in using African languages, most logically Swahili for such a task. But again, the issue of learnability must be addressed.
I do not consider learnability to be an insurmountable challenge. I look at what Native Hawaiians have done to revive their language. They have created a network of schools to create primary speakers of their ancestral tongue. Similarly, I think that we have to consider building supplementary schools focused explicitly on this problem–after-school programs, Saturday schools, rites-of-passage programs, study/conversation groups, and so forth including independent African-centered schools. My point is that if we are serious about solving the language problem, the solution will have to be institutionally-based.
A couple of weeks back Dr. Kwame Zulu Shabazz related a conversation that he had with a continental African regarding the question of the ethnic origins of Diasporan Africans. Dr. Shabazz was asked to identify his “tribe”, and his inability to do so produced some bewilderment in his interlocutor. His experience and discussion of it can be found here: http://twitter.com/kzshabazz/status/1004033728094638082. However this raises a number of interesting questions regarding the issue of Diasporan Africans and our identification with extant ethnic groups on the continent. A late comer to the conversation, I stated that folks seek to answer the “What is my ‘tribe’?” query using three means: DNA testing, divination, and simply “laying claim” to a group to whom one has some kind of affinity or attraction. I would like to briefly explore this question, that is “What is my ‘tribe’?” along with its implications.
It should be noted from the outset that “tribe” is problematic nomenclature for African ethnic groups. However, I will anchor my remarks to it for the sake of this discussion, given that this is the context in which this query was framed. Do note that terms such as ethnic group, society, people, or even nation are better descriptors of African peoples who are often discussed under the heading of “tribes”.
The most obvious reality, and this is borne out in the studies of the genomes of Africans in America, is that we are an admixed population, that is we possess genetic ancestry from a variety of African ethnic groups. This same research reveals that some places feature populations who possess a greater proportion of ancestry from specific African regions. Examples of this would include the presence of people with significant proportions of Akan ancestry in Jamaica and parts of the Virgin Islands. Other studies have suggested that the Igbo and Yorùbá (who possess notable genetic similarities) comprise a significant portion of the genetic makeup of many Africans in the United States. However, even in these cases, some degree of admixture is generally still present. As such, Africans today who are descended from enslaved Africans generally possess ancestral linkages to living groups such as the Bakongo, Fulani, Ewe and other Gbe-speaking peoples, Hausa, Akan, Yorùbá, Mandé peoples, and so on.
This admixing is paralleled by the cultural syncretism that emerged among Africans in the Diaspora, that is the intermixing of cultures from various ethnicities resulting in the formation of various “new” African cultures in the Americas. Brazil, Haiti, Cuba, Trinidad, the United States, and other parts of the Americas evidence the contributions of many African ethnicities. Brazil is an interesting case in point where the fighting traditions of Bantu peoples contributed to shaping Capoeira and Yorùbá and Bakongo spiritual traditions gave rise to Candomblé. Haiti also shows this same pattern, featuring Bakongo-influenced iconography, a spiritual tradition with significant influence from the Fon and other Gbe-speaking peoples, as well as the Yorùbá. The point is that preceding the question of “What is my ‘tribe’?” for Diasporan Africans, is the question of “Who are Diasporan Africans?”, a query that reveals various populations of African peoples who are essentially a genetic and cultural composite.
Elsewhere I have written that “The longing for home is most acute among a people dispossessed of one.” Here I was using home to refer to a place of affinity, belonging, one’s foundation in dimensions that are both spatial and cultural. Thus the question of “What is my ‘tribe’?” is most notably a question of home, and this has not been an idle query. In fact there have been several means that Diasporan Africans have utilized in response to it. In my response to Dr. Shabazz’s thread I stated that divination, DNA testing, and a sense of affinity have been bases of ethnic group identification that have been utilized by Africans in the US.
The first, divination or the revealing of one’s “ethnic root” occurs in consultation with mwaguzi (diviner) of the traditional African spiritual traditions. This special type of “reading” is intended to identify the particular ethnic group from whom one’s mzimu (“soul”) descends. Central to this process is the idea found in various West African cultures that the mzimu reincarnates further down the clan line, creating and maintaining continuity between the living mtu (person) and their wakale (ancestors).
The second, DNA testing has grown in popularity in tandem with advances with genetic genealogical research. The most advanced service, the one that has been customized specifically for Africans in the Americas, is African Ancestry, whose database contains 33,000 samples of mitochondrial (mtDNA) and Y-DNA from various African and non-African groups. Their service essentially identifies extant populations who share DNA with their customers. According to African Ancestry, the top five groups that they match test-takers with are Mende, Tikar, Fulani, Yorùbá, and Temne and the top five countries are Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau and Senegal. It should be noted that there is a great deal of overlap between these top five groups and countries as shown in the table below.
|Sierra Leone||Mende, Temne|
For those who receive one match, this may indeed satisfy the “What is my ‘tribe’?” question. However, research on the African American genome and its matches to African haplogroups (specific clusters of mtDNA and Y-DNA) often reveal matches to multiple groups, thus possibly complicating such a question. Also, it should be noted that while these types of DNA may be useful for obtaining some degree of specificity in terms of one’s genetic ancestry, they also represent a very minute portion of one’s DNA, thus basing one’s conception of one’s “tribe” on such a small sample of one’s larger genetic profile may or may not be problematic.
The third, affinity or attraction, appears to be based on a sense of connection to some extant African ethnic group and is not necessarily based on the two above instruments of investigation. Some people express feeling a strong connection to specific groups. This feeling may be based on a number of tangible and intangible things, but nonetheless provides a type of attraction.
Years ago, in my own quest to answer this question I availed myself of the services of a mwaguzi, who told me that my mzimu descended from the Ewe people. At some point this knowledge became the basis of further study and investigation into this group’s utamaduni (culture) and kale (history). Three features of the Ewe experience that struck me was the centrality of migration to their history, the absence of the formation of a centralized Ewe state along with the kind of political relations that existed between these, and the open-texturedness of Ewe culture with respect to their absorption of influences from other peoples—especially the Yorùbá and Akan. My occasional use of “day name” was also partially informed by this knowledge given that the Ewe has adopted this naming convention from the Akan.
More recently, I turned to DNA testing to revisit this question in the hopes of gaining a fuller understanding of my family’s history. My mtDNA matched the Tikar, Hausa, and Fulani of Cameroon and the Bubi people of Equatorial Guinea (my Y-DNA is non-African in origin). In my studies, I have focused on the language of the Hausa and the philosophy and history, particularly the intellectual history of the Fulani. The Hausa language is one of the most widely spoken languages in Africa. Like the Swahili language, it possesses many Arabic loanwords, which has also been useful for me in terms of informing my word recognition. Also, the Fulani’s contributions to the intellectual tradition in West Africa has been notable and inspiring. The Fulani were prominent among the scholars at Timbuktu, which is inspiring given my current profession, and that I am carrying forward this intellectual tradition.
Further, while I cannot say that I have felt a connection to any particular African group, I have been inspired and attracted to the cultures of various groups—the Igbo, Akan, Yorùbá, Bakongo, as well as the ancient Nile Valley. Thus, I have been and continue to be drawn to the wisdom and history of our people in ways that are both general and specific.
In closing, I think that the question “What is my ‘tribe’?” will be a recurring one due to our people’s continued estrangement from our land of origins, and with this, our history and ancestral traditions. I maintain that our response to this query must ultimately be reconciled alongside a conception of a Pan-African identity, that is an identity that recognizes the diverse African heritage of Diasporan Africans, while also seeking substantive connections to extant African cultures that enrich our culture and also provide the healing inherent in regaining a sense of historical continuity. Furthermore, I think that our efforts to answer this question can be enriched by each of the above methods as both the first (the “roots reading”) and third (affinity and attraction) align with the epistemologies of traditional Africa, while the second provides a useful tool in the reconstruction of African Diasporan genealogies. Thus I am not proposing one over the other, but rather elaborating upon what each potentially provides in both answering this question, but also transcending it.
Shaha Mfundishi Maasi emphasizes the implications of the fighting arts as tools of transformation. He states, “When one attempts to understand martial culture strictly from the confining standpoint of technical practice, they will one day learn and find themselves in a blind alley. Principle is the mother of technique.” Here he argues that understanding the underlying principles of the combat arts enables one to see these as wholistic tools or methods focused on the refinement of not only the shujaa’s (warrior’s) skills, but also his/her character. He also states that “The purpose of warriorship is to develop and enlightened being who is a human vortex of positive energy.” These insights have weighty implications for the conceptualization of practice, as many fail to employ their teaching to such critical ends.
Here I’ll offer two such examples. Mestre Preto Velho argues that Capoeira is not merely a means of self-defense, but also a vehicle for cultural transformation. He states “We can use things from our own culture to heal ourselves.” This includes Capoeira as a tool of empowerment, of cultural reorientation and revitalization. He adds, “We’ve been damaged. We have assimilated other people’s cultural norms. Gangsters are not part of African culture. There were no pimps and prostitutes on the slave ships. Culture defines the parameters of a people’s behavior.” Thus Capoeira (and other African fighting traditions) is not just a means of self-preservation, but also one of cultural transformation, that is social transformation.
Further, in his work to build the Federacao Autónoma da Capoeira Africana, Dr. Edward Powe has articulated the potential role of Capoeira as a tool of political education for Black people. He has noted his use of Umlabalaba (or “Zulu Chess”) as a means of mental training and Capoeira as one of politicization. This is a compelling end, one that seeks to elevate one’s concept of the art beyond its superficial aspects (that is it’s movements and the game), to the transformation of consciousness. And while some scholars (such as Downey) elaborate on the role of the art in re-patterning the practitioner kinesthetically, considerably more is at play–such as a burgeoning identification with Africa as the cradle for all Black culture, an appreciation for the resistance traditions of African peoples–that is our fight for self-determination, and the cultivation of a community of practitioners who represent the nucleus for the regeneration of the Black community–people who see and understand their practice as informing our transformation.
Again, as Shaha Mfundishi states, kicking and punching are necessary, but not sufficient. The shujaa must be emblematic of the type of personal transformation necessary for the reorientation of the community as a whole. S/he must be a model of the “new” African man or woman in whose image we seek to refashion the world.
The idea that we should approach African traditions as ways of being capable of transforming the consciousness of our people is a critical imperative. However re-Africanization is not merely a project of psychological reorientation, but is also an effort to re-pattern the world.