I often say that of all our strivings the most consequential are the reclamation of our culture and the restoration of sovereignty. Here I am not presenting these as de-linked or sequential processes, but rather as processes which are inextricably linked and concurrent. As Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers has written, “The process of Africanization and transformation cannot be separated neatly into two stages-they overlap. To transform the world according to an African-centered worldview means establishing a new African culture and a new African world civilization.” In fact, it is our culture that provides the basis for our efforts to actualize sovereignty. Here I will offer a brief summary of its significance.
Before preceding, it is necessary to define culture. Culture consists of the totality of human thought and action. It entails our concepts and behavior. It includes our creations, be they physical or non-physical. As such, culture includes abstract notions such as “freedom”. It also is the process that we execute in its pursuit. In fact, culture, in its totality, determines the very parameters of both concept and process. Below I offer three areas wherein African culture is both valuable and important in our live.
First, culture is the basis of identity. It tells us who we are and who we must be. Given that culture is the product of peoples, that is a culturally distinct collective, it is the sum of their traditions, and expresses their worldview. Our culture, African culture, grounds us in an understanding of who we are as African individuals and orients us towards our people, their past and future. Thus, it must be noted that identity within the traditional context was not solely an individual matter, but rather found its basis within the group’s consciousness and experience. Naming traditions, rites-of-passage, and other processes served as anchors of such a collectively-oriented identity. Often the individual would be given a name (or names) that would serve as anchors of this identity. Divinatory rituals might be used to reveal their unique destiny, which was never solely concerned with them as singular entities, but rather their purpose within the larger community.
Herein, only one’s own culture is capable of fulfilling such a role, as only one’s own culture can anchor one’s identity within the collective experience of their people, thus providing the framework wherein their own individual expression emerges. To base one’s identity on alien paradigms is to be culturally mis-oriented, which in the African worldview represents one’s estrangement from the ancestors, the community, and ultimately oneself.
Second, as Dr. Marimba Ani has noted “culture carries rules for thinking”, thus culture is the basis of consciousness. This means that all modes of thinking, all modes of conceiving reality are essentially based in culture. To be African and to be estranged from your culture is to navigate the world with an alien worldview. This means that not only do we perceive the world through a lens that is ultimately alien to us, this framework constrains what we see and what we do. Thus no people can truly free themselves on the basis of an alien worldview. They can create political and economic changes, but those changes merely serve to concretize systems based on the conceptual and social traditions of other peoples, rather than their own. The fruits of such labor is impoverished as it never allows them to draw fully and deeply from the “deep well” of African thought and to create a world based on the wisdom of our ancestors.
Third, culture is the foundation upon which all social organization exists. Thus when we look at the social systems that have been devised to maximize the misery of African people, whether it is the system of de-education and mis-education which serves to nullify our capacity to attain a critical consciousness, or the system of coercive control which surveils, represses, detains, and executes African people, or the system of capitalism which has enshrined avarice as the highest expression of human striving and has based its accumulation on incessant violence for centuries we must recognize that all of these are reflections of a worldview, one which is both alien and antithetical to African life–and in truth to all life.
When we embrace our culture we are then able to draw upon our traditions for models of excellence. Such knowledge enables us to glean the insights of African people regarding such challenges as the socialization of African youth into healthy standards of adulthood, or to understand the dynamics of social life in the traditional society that strove to negate alienation and to implement these knowledges as the basis for a restored sense of community, or to draw upon African models of economic development–models that at their best prioritized human flourishing above profit.
Therefore, when we are advocating for re-Africanization or sankɔfa, that is the reclamation of our culture, we are insisting on the reconceptualization of identity from the atomistic individual and the coercive hyperrelativism associated with it, to a more expansive sense of the self, one that finds its basis within the best of one’s traditions, one that derives its purpose from such communal concerns. We are also seeking to free our minds from the “conceptual incarceration” of oppressive and alien paradigms. Just as the maroons provided an audacious example of struggle during the era of enslavement, it should be noted that their resistance was grounded upon a rejection of the European worldview and any notions of legitimacy wherein they could only exist as chattel. In seeking to actualize their sovereignty, and in ensuring the survival of their culture they demonstrate of power of minds decoupled from the locus of European control. Finally, when we cease to gaze upon European (and other) institutions as universal or optimal models for African people, we are able to draw upon and apply the wisdom of our ancestors to our efforts to actualize a future based on the best of who we are, upon our image and interests as a people.
Ultimately we must recognize that freedom on the basis of an alien culture is unattainable. At best it represents a slight adjustment of the locus or methods of control. African freedom must be conceived upon, strove for, and actualized on the basis of an African worldview if we are to be sovereign in all domains.
I first met Ahati Kilindi Iyi in 2005. My encounter with him came after years of wanting to study the African fighting arts, but not being certain how. By this time I had studied Wing Chun, Choy Lay Fut, mixed martial arts, Kendo, and Kali. While I did feel confident in my training, that is in its practicality, what was lacking was a sense of connection to the fighting traditions of my ancestors.
So in April 2005, after watching his two video tapes “The World of African Martial Arts”, I decided to send him an email inquiring about additional training materials. In his response he told me about an upcoming martial arts training in June, which I was fortunate enough to be able to attend.
The camp was edifying, providing a great deal of clarity pertaining to things that I saw in his videos, while also exposing me to other arts—such as Capoeira Angola de Sao Bento Grande via Mestre Preto Velho. I returned from the camp energized, determined to continue to grow in the African fighting arts. I also continued to stay in contact with Ahati Kilindi.
Inspired by his example, I too sought to become an exponent of the African arts and in 2007 I was able to invite Ahati Kilindi to Saint Louis, Missouri where I was a sociology professor at Saint Louis Community College. This was the first of two programs that I coordinated in the hopes of exposing more members of our community to the African fighting arts.
Later that year I travelled to Detroit to attend his World African Martial Arts conference. It was a great opportunity to see the national and international community of scholars and practitioners interested in and devoted to the African arts.
In the ensuing years I would converse with him via social media and see him occasionally at conferences. The last time that I saw him was at the 2019 conference of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations in Brooklyn, NY. We had an interesting conversation about African American styles of prison fighting. He told me about a Michigan prison, Jackson State Prison, that was renowned for being a hotbed of skilled fighters. He went on to link the popular expression “Jack you up” to the prison’s legacy.
In 2018 I helped to coordinate an interview with him via Abibitumi. It was a good dialog about the African combat arts and their revitalization and popularization today.
Ahati Kilindi Iyi was one of the people that gave me a foundation in the African arts. Two of the styles of stick-fighting that he taught continue to be foundational to my practice. What’s more, I have been able to share this and other knowledge pertaining to the African arts with youth in my community. I would impress upon them that these were our traditions, our combat arts, and that we should both cherish them and build upon the foundation that they represent. I would often think of Ahati Kilindi Iyi, inspired by his example, and contemplate ways that I could both continue to grow my knowledge of African combative traditions while also working to institutionalize these arts in our community.
His passing is truly a monumental loss for our community. It is as A. Hampâte Bâ said, that every time an elder dies, it is as if a library has burned to the ground. Ahati Kilindi Iyi was a cultural treasure, and it is most appropriate that we reflect on his legacy and seek ways to expand it and to build upon it by creating a place for the African martial arts in our communities globally.
Asante sana Ahati Kilindi Iyi for your many contributions to our cultural revitalization. We will seek to honor that legacy in both word and deed.
Mama Ife Carruthers’s libation reminded us of our connection to our ancestors and reiterated the charge of our association.
Dr. Conrad Worrill presented an insightful presentation on Jacob H. Carruthers and Anderson Thompson as the “twin engines” of the African-centered idea. He captured the intellectual synergy between these two African thinkers.
Afterwards, he was joined by myself and the young men of Akoben Rites-of-Passage Society as we engaged with one another on a panel titled “Beginning an Intergenerational Conversation”.
At one point, Dr. Harold Pates asked about the importance of “African” as a basis of identity. I, Akoben, and Dr. Worrill offered responses. I began by asking the brothers of Akoben to perform their opening ritual, wherein they recite their pledge. This is a pledge that they wrote about six years ago when we began the program. They end their pledge by saying, “We will struggle to recover our traditions and create a new world in an African worldview.” They were around the ages of 11 and 12 when they wrote this. I then addressed Dr. Pates’ question with the following: “When we reject an African identity we impoverish our imaginations by failing to plant our ideas, our work in the fertile soil of African history and tradition.” Dr. Worrill concluded by offering the rich insights of our ancestor Dr. John Henrik Clarke about identity confusion among African people. He remarked on how our confusion about who we are confounds our efforts to find our way to liberation.
We began with Baba Larry Crowe discussing the current focus on 1619. One insight that he shared was the remark by Henry Clay, that “The free negro is a menace.” It would seem that this notion still informs social conceptions of African people in US society.
Dr. Josef Ben Levi discussed the tradition of “Black scrappers”. I learned of a number of 19th Century Black intellectuals whom I knew little or nothing about. His presentation was a reminder that African American history is too a deep well.
Heru Aquil discussed the saga of Thornton and Lucy Blackburn, a couple that fled enslavement in Kentucky to Michigan and finally to Michigan. Later on they moved to Canada where Thornton became a very successful businessman. Later he returned to Kentucky for his mother.
Baba Abdul-Musawwir Aquil provided some critical insights about the role of the study group process to the redemption of African consciousness, particularly to achieve that task that Dr. Conrad Worrill noted in his presentation–the training of intellectual warriors.
Professor Yvonne Jones discussed the sbAyt (sebayet) of Dr. Anderson Thompson. She noted that Dr. Thompson made any setting any occasion a classroom, that he was a consummate teacher whose good works lives on in his many, many students.
Baba Kwadwo Oppong-Wadie provided a powerful discussion of the role of symbols as repositories of cultural memory. His presentation examined Adinkra and their presence among African Americans. He highlighted their ubiquity in Chicago’s Black communities.
Professor Arthur Amaker presented on the maroon tradition in the US and Brazil. His presentation highlighted the centrality of the tradition of maroonage to the retention of African cultural patterns. This is a very compelling historical connection.
The young men of Akoben Rites-of-Passage Society returned to discuss their efforts to create an timeline of African history using a wiki platform. They (along with Heru Aquil) demonstrated the ways in which our youth can not only learn our history, but become its purveyors.
Mama Muriel Balla discussed the benefits membership in ASCAC. She noted that the greatest benefits have been the opportunity to work on behalf of African liberation while also being in a community of scholars, artists, and educators united in purpose.
My presentation sought to explore Nubia, given Dr. Thompson’s interest in this area. Among other things, I highlighted the efforts to revitalize the Nubian language and to recovery Nubia’s ancient history. This presentation is the basis for a number of my current and future efforts.
Our commissions had critical conversations and began hatching bountiful plans. African people are on the move in determined ways.
Finally, we concluded with a spiritual service from The Temple of the African Community of Chicago. hm nTr (Priest) iri pianxi xprw provided a discussion Piankhi’s victory stela relating it to the personal and social challenges of African people.
The Essential Warrior: Living Beyond Doubt and Fear by Shaha Mfundishi Maasi is a timely treatise on the African condition. He captures the centrality of the warrior path to the regeneration of the African spirit in the world. He illuminates how the combat arts are not only bodies of technical knowledge, but also a path towards personal transformation.
One dimension that he focuses on are the challenges posed by fear. Herein, he argues that the combat arts are a potent tool for personal transformation. He writes, “The discipline of the warrior path speaks directly to the life that one lives within oneself. The muntu must face his or her fears, need and desires in order to become productive members of the society in which they live and hold responsibility.” Thus, the warrior path provides the pathway to the transcendence of fear, and such transformation is critical with regards to the warrior’s embrace of a higher struggle—the transformation of their community, and beyond this to the healing of the African world. Such a striving is affirmed by Shaha Mfundishi where he writes, “The purpose of warriorship is to develop an enlightened being who is a human vortex of positive energy.” Thus the warrior, via their applied discipline, becomes the exemplar or the embodiment of personal transformation—illustrating the sebayet (teaching) of the ancient Kemetic philosopher Ptah Hotep who wrote, “Everyman teaches as he acts.”
Centering his analysis in the tradition of the Kongo people, Shaha Mfundishi illuminates the Kongo conception of time and space, and with this, the various transformative possibilities that it communicates. His approach simultaneously demonstrates the multiple dimensions implicit in the Kongo paradigm, while also explicating the applicability of such knowledge to the regeneration of African people. As such, he illuminates the malleability and relevance of the African tradition, that is its adaptability and suitability for the contemporary malaise of the African world.
The mind occupies a prominent place in Shaha Mfundishi’s analysis. The mind is the medium of our engagement with reality. Absent a disciplined mind, chaos reigns. Shaha Mfundish articulates the ways in which the mind and its cultivation via meditation are an effective means towards true transformation or awakening. He writes, “The mind is likened to water; and therein lies the key to liberation. In the body of murky water, the image cannot be seen, yet in clear water the image is readily discernible. Meditation stirs the murkiness of the unawakened mind, clearing it so that one is able to see clearly, free of the impediments which prevent clear vision.” Further, the disciplining of the mind enables both wakefulness and the maintenance of kinenga—balance—the means by which “the warrior maintains focus when moving among the unawakened who languish in the dream state.”
Shaha Mfundishi Maasi’s Essential Warrior is a powerful and unique contribution that spans multiple disciplinary domains including martial arts, spirituality, mindfulness, and Africana Studies. He articulates a sebayet (an instruction) that if fully apprehended can lead to awakening, and if fully actualized in our communities—can lead to a higher ideal of life.
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.