Many of us in our search for healing, understanding, and purpose have unwittingly taken on ideologies which cultivate aversion and hopelessness. These state that we are alienated from a broader African world community or that African men and women are stark rivals or worse, fetters on our collective welfare. These are poisonous ways of thinking.
One of the most striking challenges of living in a society with “fundamental alienation” as its asili (foundation, essence) is that it infects us on every level. Many of us, in our quest for wholeness & meaning have taken on more of this poison via the ideologies that we imbibe.
We are beset by the fact that the most accessible solutions or answers also happen to be those which are most divergent from an African worldview. As such, we should never be surprised that the most popular or progressive discourses amount to little more than celebrations of alienation. This is why Mama Marimba Ani says that “To be Afrikan is the revolutionary act of our times.” She recognizes being African as an imperative for both personal and social transformation. An African worldview not only informs how we live as individuals, but directs us to reshape the world.
Thus, if we truly understand re-Africanization then, it is not a means for conformity to or within the dominant order. It is an imperative to dismantle a social order that creates and sustains conditions of alienation and to replace it with one that creates and sustains life, power, and health. True re-Africanization then, is nothing short of revolutionary thought and practice.
On this day, January 1, 1804, Africans in Haiti declared their independence from French rule. This day served as one of the most significant historical developments of the 19th Century, not only because it served as a beacon of hope for Africans elsewhere to continue their struggle against European tyranny, not only because it demonstrated the African principle of complementarity–in that African women and men took up arms and marched side-by-side into battle, but also because the Haitian struggle was just as significant philosophically as it was militarily.
In his work The Irritated Genie, Jacob H. Carruthers discusses the philosophical implications of the liberation struggle. He recalls Bookman’s prayer, where Bookman Dutty concludes with the remark, “Throw away the likeness of the white man’s god who has so often brought us to tears and listen to liberty which speaks in all our hearts” (Carruthers 1985, 22). Regarding Bookman’s invocation Carruthers writes, “This evocation on the night of the celebration of the Voodun Spirit, Ogun, the ‘God’ of war, was more than a call to arms; it was even more a summation of the historical experience of the Blacks on the Island of Santo Domingo and indeed the diaspora in general. At the same time, this prayer was not a mere ‘Ideological’ statement, it was all of these, but more importantly it was the expression of an Afrocentric Worldview” (Carruthers 1985, 22-23).
Carruthers thus reminds us that the Haitian struggle was not merely to throw off the yoke of European dominance, but also to create conditions wherein the African way could flourish unperturbed by the military, economic, or epistemological tyranny of Europeans. This is significant because the European campaign to reorder the world has been totalizing in its effects.
The Europeans, since 1440, have been reorganizing the world. The world we now live in was organized by them. They conquered the lands of all continents and unilaterally redesigned the social and biological modes of existence. They changed the course of rivers, removed mountains, and built deserts. They created scarcity in the land of abundance. They moved populations from one continent to another. They created new races. They established themselves as the master race and all others as their servants. They made what they like good and everything else bad. In order to liberate ourselves we must take the world and then reorganize it according to our worldview. Only then will mankind be allowed to live in harmony with the universe. Only then will we be truly free. (Carruthers 1999, 261)
Those daring Africans who took part in the Haitian Revolution were driven by a belief in the possibility that if they acted to seize their freedom, then such actions might bear fruit in the world. Even as they continued to toil under the lash of the French on sugar plantations, they saw their yet unrealized goal of freedom as possible, if only they dared struggle to be free. Their actions were driven by a truth, one which was apparent to them, but not to Europeans. “The truth is that the African people will never permanently be enslaved or oppressed” (Carruther 1985, 111).
This is Imani in its clearest form. What we are struggling for is not for a place within the established order. We are seeking to bring into being a world in our image and interest. It is a struggle to make Maat, the Kemetic (ancient Egyptian) principle of order, harmony, and balance the fundamental truth of our reality. We are therefore working to concretize a vision of the world articulated in Haiti’s monumental accomplishment, a world wherein we as African people are able to determine our own destiny. This is our struggle, and we believe with all our hearts in its ultimate success.
Carruthers, Jacob H. 1985. The Irritated Genie: An Essay on the Haitian Revolution. Chicago: The Kemetic Institute.
Carruthers, Jacob H. 1999. Intellectual Warfare. Chicago: Third World Press.
The mind is endowed with infinite potential. In fact, the mind is the wellspring that has enriched human life since its inception on this planet. When we survey African history, we are continually astounded by the grand potentiality of the human mind, in particular its capacity to create ideas, objects, and conditions that optimize human life.
Today, African people find themselves living in a world shaped by the Maafa—the interrelated process of slavery, colonization, and its legacy. We reside in a world that has been shaped by tyranny and plunder, one wherein the deprivations, campaigns of destabilization, and alienation continue characterize our existence.
We are even taught that we are bereft of possibility, that we have arrived at the end of history, and that the established order—despite its inescapable problems—represents the best possible expression of human potentiality. All of these messages are not happenstance, but have been devised specifically to impoverish our imaginations and deaden our creativity.
However, for those of us who know our history, we know that these things are untrue. We know that our history provides a testament of African ingenuity, and that, as Marcus Garvey has said, “Whatsoever things common to man, that man has done, man can do.” Garvey reminds us that history, beyond being a chronicle of the past, is also a measure of human capacity. Our history is no different, for its reveals to us that we are capable of building vast cities, maintaining effective and just governance, developing ecologically-balanced food systems, preparing our youth to be the stewards of our future, devising profound and stirring art forms, and creating practices and principles that gives the people a powerful and expansive sense of identity, purpose, and direction. In effect, history teaches us what we have been and what we might become. It is the deep well of knowledge that fuels the imagination, and enlivens our creativity, a creativity that once awakened, is boundless in what it can achieve. This is the essence of Kuumba.
We are not living at the apex of African civilization. In fact, we must face the unfortunate reality that our civilizations, our societies have been reduced and that their resources—intellectual and material—have been usurped to serve as a foundation for the current world order. Our orientation towards the present condition is most instructive as to our vision for the prospects of the African world–meaning do we acquiesce to our oppressors, or do we resist and join a struggle to achieve our restoration?
Nia challenges us to choose the latter path. It challenges us to understand that we are not struggling for the sake of our personal aggrandizement or for a place within the established order, but are struggling “to restore our people to their traditional greatness”. The question of restoration raises urgent questions about the “source material” that informs our efforts. In 1987, speaking in Aswan at the Conference of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations, Jacob H. Carruthers stated, “We cannot move our people by borrowing our foundations from other people.” Carruthers challenges us to draw fully and deeply from the deep well of African thought, and to apply these insights to the malaise confronting us, recognizing that our history, our culture carries within it the seed of our potential renewal.
Nia also challenges us to realize that the restoration of our people must be the driving force in our lives. It is work that must animate our thoughts and give purpose to our actions. We recognize that though our enemies are legion, that each act of resistance is a victory in that it defies the lie that we are a people bereft of a history and future possibility, and that the key is to sustain such resistance, enabling it to grow in scale and intensity until victory is achieved.
Ultimately, Nia is a challenge for us to live lives that makes us worthy of remembrance, to be like those ancestors whom we call upon when we pour libations, true exemplars of our determination to be free, true models of African excellence.
Eric Williams’s monumental work Capitalism and Slavery captures the synergistic links between the rise of modern capitalism and white racism. In it, Williams argues that racism, as an ideological framework that argued for and sought to concretize in the realm of social relations the subordination of Africans and the superordination of Europeans, emerged as a necessary by-product of the system of chattel slavery. Williams’s analysis thus shows that racism cannot be delinked from capitalism, and that from this vantage point, the struggle against racism must also necessarily entail a struggle against the malformations of capitalism.
In Kawaida Theory (the body of ideas that spawned both the Nguzo Saba and Kwanzaa), there are seven areas of culture. These are: “history, religion (ethics and spirituality), social organization, economic organization, political organization, creative production, and ethos” (Karenga 1997, 10). Of these, economic organization, offers valuable lessons pertaining to the form and character of our liberation struggle, and is directly related to the principle of Ujamaa, “Cooperative Economics”.
There are two dimensions to be discussed here. First, it is critical that we control the economics of our communities. This means that we must produce, distribute, and consume goods and services produced by ourselves for ourselves. No sovereign people, nor any people aspiring to sovereignty, can attain such a status so long as they remain dependent on another for their basic, day-to-day necessities.
Second, it is necessary that our economic institutions do not reproduce the malformations of the dominant society—that is extreme forms of stratification and dispossession. Ours must be a humanizing system, that is a system that respects the rights and dignity of people over that of capital, profit, and greed, and that seeks to enable people to achieve their maximum development. And as an African people, such systems must also be Africanizing, that is that they must facilitate our process of cultural reclamation and renewal, and reflect the African value system.
This latter point takes us to the root of the word ujamaa itself, which is jamaa. Jamaa translates into English as “family”. Ujamaa translates as “familyhood”, and denotes a collective interest or concern. This is part of why the word ujamaa has been employed to refer to socialism—an economic system emphasizing shared resources and shared profit in the interest of all. This was not due to a reliance on the ideas of any European theorist, but due to the values inherent in the economic systems of traditional African society, which entailed concerns about the collective welfare, the greater good. Thus, while the pursuit of profit was welcomed and envouraged, the values of compassion and generosity were also enforced. Such a sentiment is born out in the ancestral wisdom which states, “Ubepari ni unyama,” which translates as “Capitalism [exploitation] is animalistic”, that is, savage. A just economy, must enhance our humanity, not negate it.
Karenga, Maulana. 1997. Kawaida Theory: A Communitarian African Philosophy. Los Angeles: University of Sankore Press.
Williams, Eric. 1994. Capitalism and Slavery. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.
One message of the dominant culture is the ethos of atomistic individualism. This is the notion that we are all solitary individuals, having no obligations beyond our own person, wherein our own preferences take greater priority over any imagined collective interests, and that in fact the very notion of collective interests is in fact oppressive.
It should go without saying that thought and practice based on such premises is antithetical to the African worldview. This is borne out in the deep thought of our ancestors which teaches us that there is no separation between the individual and the collective, in fact the individual is merely an extension or expression of it. The Zulu put it this way, “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”, that is, “A person is a person through other persons (or people)” (Karenga 2015, A6). This teaches that our humanity is bound up in the humanity of others, hence we are all connected and interdependent. In fact, this statement articulates the ethos of ubuntu or humanity in the African worldview.
By contrast, we are also forcefully reminded that those who rule the world, enforce their power through collective means, particularly through institutions built in the image and interest of their hegemony. Many of our wise ancestors and elders including the Honorable Marcus Garvey, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, Baba Hannibal Afrik, and others recognized the following truths:
- That we are capable of liberating ourselves
- That our capacity to achieve liberation is dependent on our ability to engage in collective actions, including the building of organizations and institutions dedicated to African redemption
It is this message of collective struggle that the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party so wonderfully articulates in their insistence that all African people should be a part of an organization dedicated to struggle. This is the essence of the third principle of the Nguzo Saba—Ujima: Collective Work and Responsibility.
Ujima is not merely a principle of those who advocate for revolutionary social change (though it is an imperative of such possibility), it is also present in the ancestral wisdom. The Akan put it this way, “Nsa baako nkukuru adesoa, which translates into English as “One hand cannot lift a [heavy] load.” Ujima teaches us that those who would dare to take on the audacious aim of liberating their people, must necessarily share such work. It is impossible to succeed by doing otherwise.
Karenga, Maulana. 2015. “The Ideal and Ethics of Ubuntu: A Kawaida Conversation”. Los Angeles Sentinel. April 9, 2015. Accessed January 23, 2017. http://www.us-organization.org/position/documents/TheIdealandEthicsofUbuntu04-09-10.pdf
Part of the genius of the Nguzo Saba is the necessity of each of its principles to the attainment of African liberation. From a foundational point of view, liberation in any meaningful sense is unattainable without umoja, unity. Furthermore, any people striving for freedom must, on every level, practice kujichagula, self-determination.
Kujichagula is a practice evident throughout our history. When Nubians under the leadership of Piankhi pushed into Kemet, expelling the Assyrians and initiating the so-called 25th Dynasty, they restored Kemetic sovereignty and affirmed the spirit of umoja between the two nations—Kemet and Nubia. Their actions evidence a spirit of kujichagulia.
When Nzingha rejected Portuguese hegemony and raised the people to resist their rule, she committed herself to a decades-long struggle for African sovereignty. Her actions provide a potent example of a people engaged in a deep practice of kujichagulia.
When Africans stole away from the plantations of Brazil, and fled into the hinterland, creating the quilombo (maroon society) of Palmares, a community that stood for a century, they resolved that their freedom was insufficient so long as other African people remained oppressed. As a result, they fought tirelessly against that system, and in their struggle immortalized Zumbi—one of their leaders—as an icon of African kujichagula.
And when the ancestors of our movement in this country—in formations as diverse as the Shule ya Watoto, The East, The Republic of New Africa, the Congress of African People, the Institute of Positive Education, NationHouse, the Organization Us, and others—declared that we were an African people, and began to struggle towards the reclamation of our culture and the restoration of our sovereignty, they were engaged in the practice of Kujichagulia.
We stand on the shoulders of all of these ancestors. Their practice of Kujichagulia continues to inform ours, because no people can fully express their humanity when it is defined by their oppressors. No people can choose and fulfill their destiny under the tyranny of alien ideas.
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