Sunday, March 13, 2016

On Humanity

Previously I discussed the idea of the African people’s humanity being destroyed by the the westerners, which might have been a harsh, yet not entirely incorrect, comment.  In this discussion I would like to consider the reality of the aforementioned statement and why, or why not, it was possible to accomplish.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines humanity as, “the fact or condition of being human.”  Thus, to prove that the colonizers truly stripped the conditions of being human away, which, for the sake of this discussion, will be the humanities, chiefly literature, history, music, and philosophy.  It is clear that Africa had a rich tradition of having each of these aspects of humanity before colonization, but it becomes much less clear if these conditions survived in and through the colonial era.
The first condition I suggested was literature, which in the case of pre-colonial Africa mostly referred to oral traditions and proverbs.  There is no doubting that there are records of the stories and proverb that have been told times over in Africa, but that does not address if there was a time in which these stories were rooted out.  Colonizers made it their mission to indoctrinate the youth of Africa, and the people as a whole, to believe in the superiority of the motherland, which in many ways they were successful.  Focusing on the school system, the church was also a major institution for indoctrination but that will be discussed more in regards to philosophy, the curriculum was quite similar to that of western nations, the main exception being that the African students did not tend to learn Latin and Greek.  They learned that the only great pieces of literature were created by the western world, primarily England, and were forced to read the greats like Milton.  When they did learn about “African literature”,  is was colonial adventure literature like Conrad, which depicted the African people as animals for the most part.  Granted, the African students tended to disassociate themselves with the characters in the book because, to them, it seemed like some far off place, but the fact is by accepting this literature, they are unintentionally promoting the characterization of African inhumanity on the world stage.  Eventually, many of these students would even go on to defend the standards of literature indoctrinated into their being in the beginning stages of post independence and post colonialism.  As aforementioned in other posts, when The Palm Wine Drinkard came out as one of the first major pieces of African literature, many people, both African and westerner, criticized it heavily not on content, but on stylistic dialectical choices that are easy to understand.  Many people did not even read the book, but saw that Tutuola “bastardized” the English language.  It would be one thing for a western audience who grew up with “proper” English to criticize his dialect, but for Africans who understood that it was not the primary language of their people nor was it readily available to many Africans beyond a broken understanding to criticize the book so harshly without having read the content is proof of western indoctrination.  The Negritude movement of the early post colonial days was also an example of ingrained ideals of western superiority to the point that many African authors believed that African dialects or bastardized English paled in comparison to French and true English, thus the only way to express African humanity on the world stage.  Though there is a clear indoctrination of African literary values during the colonial era and into the very beginning of the post colonial era.  Similarly to how they indoctrinated western literary values into African thought, they also indoctrinated them with the idea that their history is non existent because, as the colonizers believed when they were “dispossessed” from their Africa, that Africa was neither the blacks nor the whites, but the animals and since the whites have been forced to secede their bid for dominance, the incapable Africans will be ruled by the animals.  This also shows, even though they are for once not compared to animals, that many westerners saw Africans as even less than animals, many times because they're “human” yet supposedly fail to achieve the western standard of the humanities, thus becoming the negation of the humanities.
African music and arts were also seen as savage, but in this case it is less universally accepted by the western world in the beginning.  Unlike the western world that preferred a slower form of music focused on hitting precise notes, African music was more focused on entrancing the whole community in reverence, it valued the ephemeral nature of its music because it was about the unique flavor that the main artists would bring to the songs and dance rather than consistency.  For the most part, African art and music would be left untouched by colonization  and the art would even go on to influence a generation of Western art, which had become stagnant.
Finally there is philosophy and this is where western religion comes into play in a major way.  Though there are many differences in philosophy and religion from tribe to tribe, one of the most prominent religions was Yoruba’s and as such, it will be used a microcosm for Africa.  The basic tenant is that each human being is filled with Ayanmo, which can be loosely be seen as western “destiny”, and one day all humans will become spiritually one with Olorun, which is the creator.  Furthermore, the thoughts and actions of each person inevitably effect and interact with all living things including nature.  By developing the spirit through positive interactions with others, personal interaction with the spirit realm, and prayer.  It is not difficult to see how Christianity is very similar to the Yoruba beliefs, thus the missionaries used this as an inroad to colonization.  By connecting on a spiritual level with the people they were able to nudge them towards Christianity, especially because there were sine exclusionary beliefs in both the society and religion that led to the outcast embracing Christianity to gain social status.  From there, the missionaries started converting more and more followers due to the lack of major belief changes between Yoruba and Christian values.  This led to several areas phasing out the old beliefs in favor of the new, it became so bad in some areas, particularly the Congo, that witch hunts were performed to weed out old believers.  Though not entirely wiped out, the old religions became outdated and looked down on by the new generation who sought to emulate the colonizers to gain power and status.
As can be seen, though the humanities unique to Africa were not completely weeded out, but they were demonized and made dormant for decades due to colonization.  However, to say that the Africa of post colonization is the same Africa as pre colonization is absolutely absurd, thus instead of saying that the humanity of the African people was either lost or never harmed, I propose it was overshadowed and made to lay in wait.  Balance is very important to African philosophy and I believe that because the west was so seemingly dominant in a cultural perspective, that their culture overtook the African culture and hid it away from the world.  This was in order to legitimize the atrocities that would be committed during colonization.  Continentally, I believe that African culture was obscured and, though they retained their humanity, there was a fog of otherness that forced the African people to constantly legitimize their humanity in the face of the “great and powerful” colonizers.  What post colonization did was lift the perception that the African people were anything but human and thus allowed them to wake their culture back up into a fully sentient state and develop it free of direct western influence.

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