This is a promising development. It is also somewhat unsurprising. While the Black elite has fared marginally well in the West, the suffering of the masses reflects the tenuous nature of our collective welfare. In short, our mid-20th Century forbears were buoyed by dreams of hopes that have been largely unrealizable for their descendants. What opportunities we find have and will continue to contract.
Should we look abroad for opportunity? Certainly, but we should be cautious about the dangers of feeding the unsustainable and rapacious system of global capitalism on the continent. Yes we need economic development, but we need a paradigm of economic development that reconciles human need with the capacity of the planet.
Moreover, we should be mindful that there are over 100 million people of African descent in the Western hemisphere. If our concept of economic opportunity and development consists of the globally mobile, Black cosmopolite elite absconding to Nigeria, Ghana, or elsewhere while our people still suffer under the terror that has so defined our American (North and South) experience, then our vision is deficient. The question that I have asked myself, which I have not yet been able to answer is, how do the economic development initiatives of repatriates in Africa favorably impact our communities in the diaspora? Again, to leave is not enough. Turning away from a problem does not resolve it. We need comprehensive solutions, which will be, as they always are, necessarily multifaceted.
After both participating in and observing a dialogue about spirituality and the martial arts, I was compelled to reflect upon the ethical and conceptual modalities informed by African cultural systems, and the ways in which these inform processes of social and personal transformation. These discourses have been situated in a range spaces wherein the combative implications might be explicit or implicit.
Explicit implications pertain to those discourses that explicate the context of war and struggle as reflected in the Odù Ifá, which states, “The constant soldier is never unready, even once.” (Òwónrín Otúrà, 159:1) Elsewhere it emphasizes the necessity of struggle, as a process which refines both one’s character and challenges the world.
“Fighting in front; fighting behind
If it does not lead to one’s death,
It will cause one to become a courageous person…” (Òkrànran Ká, 189:2)
As a sacred text, the Odu Ifa is a replete with references to vigilance, courage, and the importance of battle waged for the greater good.
Similarly we find these ideas expressed in other contexts within the sacred texts that are implicit references to a warrior tradition. One notable, but easily overlooked example is a text from Kemet (ancient Egypt), which the Egyptologists call The Prophesies of Neferti. Wherein it states, “iw mAat r iyt r st.s isft dr.ti r rwty”, which can I have translated as “Maat, in relation to injustice, is in her place. Cast out isfet.” The point here is that the expulsion of isfet, disorder, is not assumed to be beyond the realm of human agency. Quite the contrary, humans as expressions of nTr (phonetically netcher, which can be thought of as totality, which the Egyptologists translate as god or divinity), are charged with the task of restoring order in the wake of its imposition. Thus the maintenance of order (mAat) requires, among other things, vigilance–an implicit appeal to things martial. This becomes more explicit elsewhere in the text where it states “tw r Ssp xaw nw aHA anx tA m shA”, which translated states that people will “take up weapons of war” and that the “the land lives in turmoil”. Again, the martial tradition is invoked, but here in explicit terms, as the people themselves rise up to “Cast out isfet.”
Beyond the combative dimension, one should note that this text seeks to affirm the necessity of the people acting as the stewards of order. This is an extension of what Theophile Obenga states when he writes, “The pharaoh, in his capacity as guarantor of Maât…He was responsible for the maintenance of universal harmony.” Jacob H. Carruthers says something similar where he states, “The Niswt’s overall function, like that of Wosir, is the establishment of Maat in Tawi, i.e., to establish conditions where enlightenment will prevail over ignorance”. Niswt is the the ruler of upper and lower Kemet. Wosir is the nTr that the Greeks referred to as Osiris. Tawi is the united two lands (upper and lower Kemet). In this sense we see a shared social practice in the defense of order (mAat) extending from the highest levels of government to the denizens of the land.
In conclusion, I concur, African spirituality is replete with appeals to a warrior tradition. In fact, one might argue that spirituality is sufficiently diffuse in form as to represent a totalizing element of the culture, and that this is synergistically linked to an insistence upon vigilance, lest the structures which sustain order and the good condition be lost.
Here I offer some thoughts on what one such idea, mAat, means as a form of liberatory praxis:
As if America has ever had any regard for Black folks or Black mothers. The subtext of this is that the current Baltimore rebellion and protests are devoid of legitimacy, and that the participants are unruly thugs bereft of sound parenting. That “safe negroes” would patiently wait for the proper authorities to deliver justice for Freddie Gray (something that we all know will not likely occur). I’d love to see the mother of one of Gray’s violent killers berating him or her publicly. But of course we’ll never see that. Agents of the state, even when they are murderers, are always given the benefit of the doubt. Their violent actions are dismissed as “lapses of judgement”, or worse, they are portrayed as isolated actors, aberrations of an otherwise functioning system.
This cover suggests that order needs to be restored. Rather than positing that the true source of disorder is the state, which daily meets out physical and psychological violence against Black people, it invokes the image of Black youth. This is why I argue that Black youth are viewed as a social malignancy. We see this in the schools, the streets, the media, and prisons. This mother then becomes the imagined antidote for that condition. She is juxtaposed to the unseen, but still symbolically present “bad mother” who supposedly births violent criminals.
I won’t weigh in on the debates that either champion, critique, or explain this mother’s actions. I will say that this event, and those that have proceeded it teach us that youth are the makers of revolution. We need to seize the fervor of this occasion and direct it towards both confronting this social order and actualizing a new emancipatory one. Therein this young man’s energy would be well served, and perhaps this mother’s love/fear/anger might be purposefully directed toward building a better world, rather than simply attempting to shield our children from the existing one–the one that seeks to obliterate them simply for existing.
I suspect that the debates regarding authenticity & African martial arts stem from the maafa and its assault on African culture in the U.S. The idea that only traditional African combat arts are authentic suggests that African American cultural production is somehow less African. To suggest that Africans in the U.S. lack this form of cultural agency is a specious notion to say the least.
Tradition expresses itself in two forms. First, it is expressed in cultural traditions that are contiguous through time. For now we’ll call these “contiguous traditions”, that is, traditions whose intergenerational transferral have been seamless. However there are also traditions that are reconstituted in a different time and place from their initial formulation. These “reclaimed traditions” are often characterized by broken lines of transmission. Yet while they may appear to die off, “reclaimed traditions” are informed by contexts, collective wills, and various forms of cultural memory that enables their reformulation.
The whm msw in ancient kmt, the founding of the Ashanti Federation, and Palmares could all be argued as examples of “reclaimed traditions”. The whm msw sought to restore kmt to its magnificence from the Old Kingdom. The founding of Ashanti initiated a period of expansion that echoes the glories of the great Ghana Empire. Palmares represents an effort to reconstitute African state formations in the midst of the Maafa. In each of these contexts people looked to their past for some indicator of what their future should be. Having identified an instructive historical paradigm, they sought to institutionalize that model in their present.
Despite the passage of time and the pain of spatial dislocations, traditions can be reclaimed. Africans in the U.S. in the 1950s-1970s created martial systems which were, in effect, attempts to reclaim a martial tradition thought long-suppressed by the Maafa. Once these “reclaimed traditions” were juxtaposed with “contiguous traditions” these claims of inauthenticity gained expression. However I argue that to cede the question of legitimacy only to “contiguous traditions” is to deny the Africanness of Africans in the U.S. It is to deny our own cultural agency, and suggests that U.S. born Africans have been both dispossessed of authentic cultural knowledge, and further, have been dispossessed of the capacity to reconstruct and reclaim that knowledge. Much of the work of many U.S. born Africans, from the 1950s to the present has involved an on-going effort best expressed by the Akan concept SankOfa–that is an attempt to reclaim that which has been lost. This process has produced many emergent traditions, both contiguous and reclaimed that convey what the African-Centered psychologists have called the African personality, and what others have called the African Worldview. This suggests that these two parallel traditional forms are not oppositional, in fact they may be complimentary, for in any society, contiguous and reclaimed traditions can coexist and contribute to the forward flow history.
With regards to African martial arts, I suspect that there is room for both these notable traditions. To respect the “reclaimed traditions” is to affirm the legitimacy and dignity of our struggle for self-determination and those Africans who sought to craft dynamic solutions to this problem. Furthermore, to respect the “contiguous traditions” is to honor our esteemed ancestors and their struggle for self-determination, as they to sought to apply their martial knowledge in the service of African liberation. In both instances an African warrior tradition was invoked as a necessary element in our liberation struggle. The African maroons of Jamaica, the denizens of the dismal swamp, and the cultural nationalists of the Black Power Era were all drawn to a similar call, what the Akoto’s refer to as “an ancestral summons”, to recognize “the reality of war” and to steel their bodies and minds for struggle that lay ahead.