African Cosmology and the Duality of Western Hegemony: The Search for an African Identity

Article excerpt

Introduction

The long time colonial relationship between Europe and Africa saw the dehumanization that gave birth to the enslavement of the African people for the sole reason of economic exploitation and the perpetuation of racial and cultural stereotypes. This rendered Africans an epitome of barbarism, morons, primitives, and sexual perverts among other binary oppositions. Africa was not only viewed as a dark continent but also seen as "a land of despotic civilizations with no legacy of those democratic principles that have been so clear to the West's self image" (Mengara, 2001:1). This colonial encounter has led to what Mudimbe calls the "invention of Africa" as opposed to the Africans' Africa, with the negative characterization based on the Aristotelian paradigms of a chain of binary oppositions that seek to affirm the duality of Western hegemony. Aristotelian categorization of Africa has what Daniel Mengara (Ibid: 2) calls "the systematic and systemic manufacturing of a continent" labeling it on the basis of "superiority versus inferiority, civilized versus uncivilized, pre-logical versus logical, mythical versus scientific among other epithets". Such philosophical prejudices against Africans have continued to be circulated and recycled by many other European scholars in this modern day without stopping to check the facts.

The concept of color as a distinctive criterion of racial classification was more pronounced within the Western universe. Mengara (Ibid) thinks that, the rain started to beat Africa on the Berlin conference of 1885 that signaled the "scramble" for territorial ownership of Africa for the following predictable scenarios of:

* "the European empire's long attested desire to own portions of the world as a way of signifyingtheir hegemonic grandeur.

* the transfer of their secular European rivalries onto virgin grounds where imperial wars could be indirectly fought; and

* a capitalist fervour that the colonial 'discoveries" of rich lands in Africa and America, the slave trade and the development of commerce with the Eastern and middle Eastern worlds had helped to trigger".

For the process of colonization to appear to be a noble undertaking to the European's perception, it needed justification by expropriating the Africans' being by turning their minds into western objects. This resulted into the invention of a European-made Africa. It was out of Europe's explorations and expropriations that it embarked on a mission to re-map, re-shape, re-name Africa according to how it viewed the world. In the expropriation process, African as judged by indigenous African standards was replaced by a single monolithic African identity as was specifically reworked by the European empires. Names of towns, streets and institutions bore foreign designations and nature was not spared either as shall be discussed later. It is not fair that Africa was forced to imbibe and accept values and cultures of her conqueror at her own peril. The world tends to lose much when we forget that Africa remembers that, in the words of Patrice Lumumba's famous speech during a Congolese independence ceremony:

   We were insulted; we had to suffer beatings, morning, noon and
   evening because we were niggers. Who is going to forget that a
   black person would be addressed tu, not of course, because that is
   how one addresses a friend but rather because the respectful vous
   was reserved to Whites only.

African Cosmology

In its most general and widely used sense the term cosmology refers to a people's worldview hence one can speak of the Shona cosmology, the Dogon cosmology or as in this case the African cosmology. However as with so many other issues about Africa it is important, as Ikuenobe (1999) noted, to remind readers that while there are many cultures in Africa it is almost acceptable in the philosophical literature that whenever a 'thought' or 'tradition' is predicated of Africa it does not connote homogeneity of cultures, but reference is only being made to dominant themes, in the sense of common generative themes in African cultures. …