Academic journal article Trames

Community and Human Well-Being in an African Culture

Academic journal article Trames

Community and Human Well-Being in an African Culture

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

What is community? And what role does it play in enabling individuals to achieve their goals and aspirations in the Commonweal, otherwise known as the commonwealth of people? These are questions that philosophers have grappled with from the period of antique history. But it is not only philosophers, but sociologists, anthropologists and ethnologists that have shown more than a cursory interest in community. With particular reference to philosophers, in the history of thought there have been thinkers who have questioned the relevance of community and who have expressed deviant opinions about its value and importance. A classical example is the Cynic philosophers of ancient Greek society who called for the abdication or complete abandonment of community and in its place advocated a return to nature and a renunciation of earthly pleasures and possessions. The Cynics were misanthropists; that is, haters or disparagers of society who saw community or society as a distraction and as something that hinders individuals from leading a life of primitive innocence, which in their thinking is the truly happy life. I shall return to this issue later on in the essay. Suffice it to say that the Cynics were not alone in holding a sceptical view about the relevance of community to human well-being or happiness. Alike in philosophy and in religion, there have been people who have riled at community and who have called for its renunciation or total rejection. However, these have been in the minority. Again, they have been mostly religious mystics, shamans or others whose views on community have been untoward, askew and out of kilter.

Against the views expressed by this group of people, the leading lights of the philosophical enterprise have been mostly people who recognize the ineluctable nature or great value that community possesses. Community, many great thinkers remind us, is a necessary condition for the realization of human social goals. A short list of the philosophical luminaries who have emphasized the importance of community includes people like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, to mention but a few. In the opinion of these thinkers, community life is a sine qua non for human flourishing and individual wellbeing. And as Aristotle is wont to say, the person is either a god or an animal that is able to survive outside of society, that is, the human community--here I use the words community and society interchangeably to mean one and the same thing. Without doubt, it is the co-operative instincts in humans that ensure mutual survival among them. In this same way, it is also such instincts that limit the atavistic tendencies among them that have the potential to atrophy or destroy the camaraderie feeling that individuals mutually express.

2. On the idea of the universality of culture: some tentative remarks

The introductory remarks made above set the tone for the discussion that I undertake in this paper. However, the paper has a restricted focus or scope. Rather than get into all the details about the meaning, nature and purpose of community as such, my focus in the paper is on showing the nature of the relationship that exists between the individual and community in the African world. In fulfilling this goal I have set out in the paper, I adopt as my stalking horse, the traditional Igbo viewpoint on community, as representative of the African view on that aspect of human relationship. In my choice of the Igbo culture for the analysis I undertake in the paper, I am faced with the charge of being involved in a problem that philosophers refer to as a 'category error'; in this context, the error of using the categories found in one culture to generalize about what the whole of African peoples are said to believe. I am also faced with the problem of how to coalesce into a single whole the multitudinous opinions Africans hold on the different aspects of reality. How can one meet these charges or difficulties? …

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