The Cultural Unity of Black Africa?

EDITORIAL, 1 Nov 2010

#136 | Johan Galtung

Douala, Cameroun:  That is the title of the fascinating book by Cheikh Anta Diop (1923-86), published by Presence Africaine in Paris and Dakar first time in 1959.  A very original doctoral thesis presented at the Sorbonne in 1954, and it passed the test: it was refused by some minor French character.  After that, Diop published a number of books on related themes till his demise in 1986, arguing a federal United States of Africa, with 700 million inhabitants, eight natural regions, incredibly rich.

His approach to unity is based on the theses of a Swiss lawyer-macrohistorian, Johan Bachofen, a US anthropologist, Lewis M. Morgan, a German macrohistorian, Friedrich Engels, and deep knowledge of Greek drama.  Why the latter? Because it reflects the matriarchy-patriarchy contradiction after the first form recognized by Bachofen, promiscuity.  They are all variations on the perennial theme “mama’s baby, papa’s maybe”.  The uterine connection is undeniable, giving the mother strong prominence as the source of life, and matriarchy an equally solid basis.  What could challenge that?

The factor usually referred to is the muscular edge men have over women, selecting men for hunting rather than gathering.  The months before and after birth are often mentioned, tying women to the house, whether in nomadic or sedentary societies.  Care for the ill and weak may be shared, but easily goes together with care for the newborn.

Hunting selects men for long distance nomadism, violence and warfare.  Material abundance calls for women caring for all, sharing and less for men.  In times of scarcity–drought, basic climate change, men are mobilized, and with them patriarchy.  And most black Africa had abundance before colonialism came from a Europe laboring under harsh climates, scarcity, competition.  They killed and enslaved the males, and found something around which to build scarcity.

Megatraumas they inflicted, but they did not destroy Black Africa completely.  Concludes Chekh Anta Diop (pp. 185-186):  “–the Southern cradle of humanity on the black/African continent is characterized by matriarchy as family system–, xenophilia, cosmopolitanism, some kind of social collectivism that has as a consequence a quietness bordering on little worry for tomorrow, a material solidarity as the right of everybody which has made material and spiritual misery unknown up to our days; there are poor people, but nobody feels left alone, nobody is anguished.  In the moral domain the ideals are peace, justice, goodness, and optimism that eliminate feelings of guilt and original sin from religion and metaphysics.  The favorite types of literature are the novel, the story, the fable, and the comedy.

“The Nordic cradle in Greece and Rome is characterized by patriarchy as family system,–, xenophobia, individualism, moral and material loneliness, the distaste for existence, the material around which modern literature is built, which philosophically is nothing more than an expression of the distaste for life–are emanations from this cradle /like/ wars, violence, crime, conquests inherited from nomadic life, together with feelings of guilt and original sin as the basis for religious and metaphysical constructions.  Technical progress, modern life and gradual emancipation of women under this individualism –.  The favored literary expression is the tragedy, the drama.”

Strong words.  And one wonders whether the militancy that came with christianity under the Roman empires and the crusades are related to the scarcity of the temperate zone, and for islam to the desert context.  And whether a buddhism rooted in lush tropical abundance simply had to preach “neither too little, nor too much” to pave the way for spiritual growth, and whether African religion did the same.  Reductionism to nature, natural determinism?  As one factor, yes.  With gender biology as one factor in that one factor discourse.

Professor of IR, peace and development at the Protestant University of Central Africa, Célestin Tagou, has lived in many parts of Africa, like Rwanda.  White people rejected African superstitions and brought their own.  The German colonizers were fascinated with anthropometry and found the Tutsis closer to German stature and physiognomy than the Hutus, and appointed them higher in evolution.  In fact, the Hutus were farmers and the Tutsis herdsmen and had more access to milk–.  The Belgian successors to the Germans found the Hutus more numerous than the Tutsis and appointed them the basis for majority democracy.  Strong ideas that found their 1994 expressions.

We can add another Western superstition: the idea of progress, projected on the world to report less, underdeveloped, and more, developed, societies, and developing societies, as facts, data; referring to that as science.  What is missing, what escaped attention given their superstition?  Overdeveloped societies, of course.  And underdeveloping societies, the idea of regress, right now hitting Anglo-America whence these ideas came, and the PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Spain)–but they also happen to the recipients of much assistance from the EC-EU Development Fund, meaning much non-organic growth.  Strong forces that may call for African assistance.

Passing review for our eyes is lush abundance, the majestic Mt Cameroun (4,100 meters) next to the rich Atlantic coast, plentiful food, beautiful clothing, bad housing, healthy people, much schooling.  And a community (CEMAC – Communaute Economique et Monetaire de l’Afrique Centrale) of six states, Cameroun surrounded by the smaller Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Tchad, Central African Republic and Congo-Brazzaville, open borders, free flow of labor and a single currency, the franc, long before the euro.  Peace, Work, Fatherland is a slogan.  And I see for my inner eyes a three months old baby, father Célestin, mother Gladys, named Galtung Tagou Nephane (heavenly).  And I dedicate this editorial to him.  May he make Africa more African.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 1 Nov 2010.

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2 Responses to “The Cultural Unity of Black Africa?”

  1. David Tiomajou says:

    Prof. Galtung has now visited Cameroon twice, which is both a blessing and a honnor given what he has so far offer, can offer and will offer as word class scholar, peace legend and professor. He has helped PUCA thanks to Dr. Celestin Tagou, a forward thinking university young professor to get off the ground what I may call a promisiong foundatiuon for a Peace Studies Institute in Central Africa.

    David Tiomajou