Academic journal article African American Review

The African Sacrificial Kingship Ritual and Johnson's 'Middle Passage.'

Academic journal article African American Review

The African Sacrificial Kingship Ritual and Johnson's 'Middle Passage.'

Article excerpt

In a recent article, Ashraf Rushdy laments that the Allmuseri tribe and its god in Johnson's Middle Passage do not exist in this world, but rather "exist only as a fictional product of Charles Johnson's fertile imagination" (373). He reads the Allmuseri strictly as a vehicle for Johnson's Husserlian phenomenological poetics intended to resolve the "Caliban dilemma" of the black writer who has the difficult task of asserting a genuine black identity while using a language that is itself fundamentally alienating, since it is perceived to be wholly a product of white, Western European culture. Johnson's solution to this dilemma is to recommend adopting a posture of complete self-surrender, to surrender completely one's subjective experience, whereby the writer "encounter[s] the transcendence of relativism" in an appreciation of the unity of Being and the intersubjectivity of "the same cultural Lifeworld" shared by all humanity (Being 44). According to Rushdy, then, while the Allmuseri ideal "that the individual is rendered 'invisible' in the 'presence of others'" may appear to have a certain affinity to tribal communalism (377), it is in fact simply the articulation of a strongly postmodern integrationist theory, which has little or nothing to do with anything particularly African (386).

But Johnson is undoubtedly aware that his own critical disposition of self-surrender in order to bridge the gap between subject and other, in order to absorb and reflect the unity of a shared cultural Lifeworld, derives from a long history of religio-philosophical thought and mythology shared by both Africa and the West. Elaborate self-sacrifice, death, and resurrection ceremonies, for example, are central to many initiation societies throughout Africa (Zahan 128), which, as Evan Zuesse notes, are intended to bring about a "displacement of the self" by breaking down the ego and body image "into a new transcendental universe in which the center is outside the self" (152). In the popularly studied Bambara kore initiation society, the postulant sacrifices his egocentric orientation to the world, purges himself of his limited terrestrial life through symbolic death, becomes "savory nourishment" for the mouth of God (Zahan 63), and is reborn a new man "spiritually enlightened and endowed with the 'Word,' that is, possessing an immortal soul that bears the form of the universe and God himself" (Zuesse 152). This same progression of sacrifice, death, and resurrection into "direct relation with the Deity or other unifying principle of life" is also characteristic of Western mysticism and religious contemplation; it ends similarly with the knowledge of "the immanent God as dwelling within the soul . . . to be found by going deeper into one's reality" (Bridgewater 1350). This "cross-cultural experience" answers the main concern Johnson articulates in Being and Race - namely, that many of the definitions of the African personality embraced by the Black Arts Movement and Cultural Nationalism remain immersed in a Platonic legacy of the bifurcation of Mind and Body, which has become for some an all-too-rigid dividing line between the two cultures. African psychology is often interpreted as emotive, intuitive, grounded in the earthy, "sensual feeling of rhythm," whereas the psychology of the Westerner is interpreted as cold, rationalistic, analytic, lifelessly detached and abstracted from the wholesome realities of the body (18). Johnson's phenomenology and the Allmuseri of the Middle Passage are an attempt to balance the "Divided Landscape" (Being 85) of the racial world with "a nonfragmentary sense of Being" (26) that is part of the religio-philosophical history of both cultures.

Far from not existing in the real world, then, the Allmuseri, as "the Urtribe of humanity itself" in Middle Passage (61), is an amalgamation of Bambara, Dogon, and Egyptian religion and mythology. The Bambara initiation rite, the Dogon creation myth, and the Egyptian Osiris-Horus-Seth myth all employ the ritual sacrifice, death, and resurrection of the god-king through which, in many African cosmologies, the unity of the kingdom and the universe were established and continue to be sustained. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.