Grounding Kawaida Womanism: A Sankofa Reading of Ancient Sources

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

The governing interest of this paper is to offer a careful and considered sankofa reading of two ancient sacred texts, the Husia of the Maatian tradition and the Odu Ifa of the Ifa tradition which provide essential cultural and ethical grounding for Kawaida womanism (Karenga, T, 2010, 2000, 1996; Tembo, 1996a, 1996b). By a sankofa reading is meant an interpretive initiative directed toward a critical retrieval of classical African ideas, insights, paradigms and practices which serve as fruitful resources for addressing the major issues and life conditions of our times. And key to this project of recovery is establishing and explicating classical cultural and ethical grounding for defining and affirming women's equal dignity, rights, and role in the world and elucidating essential modes of relating by which women and men can live and work together in the most moral, meaningful and mutually beneficial ways. Kawaida womanism is by self-conscious and self-determined decision anchored in Kawaida philosophy which defines itself as ala ongoing synthesis of the best of African thought and practice in constant exchange with the world and which has as a fundamental tenet the cultural importance and intellectual imperative of dialoguing with African culture (Karenga, M. 1997; 2008a).

The sacred texts of classical African civilization and cultures provide rich and vital resources for sankofa initiatives and interpretive practices. It is to start at the dawn of human culture and human conscience, and achieve the essential cultural and ethical grounding Kawaida calls for and requires as an African-centered philosophy and practice. For from a Kawaida perspective, an African-centered womanism is and must be a culturally distinct, self-determined and self-standing intellectual and social project, not needing to turnor refer to others for vision, values or validation. Thus, T. Karenga (2007, p. 14) states, "womanism as an intellectual, ethical and social practice has its origins in the thought and practice of ancient African women and finds its self-conscious reconstruction in the history of African women in the United States during the Holocaust of enslavement" (Richardson, 1979; Logan, 1999). Moreover, she asserts, "Kawaida womanism roots itself first in the ancient texts of Africa, such as the Husia of ancient Egypt and the Odu Ifa of ancient Yorubaland (Karenga, M., 1984, 1999)." And "From these, it extracts the voices and portraits of African women which offer models of thought and practice fundamental to modern African women's self-definition and self-assertion in the world" (Ibid.) In this critical inquiry and appropriation, she states, "especially important is the evidence of women's agency, their relationship with men, their dignity-affirming practices and the vital and powerful roles they play in the construction and maintenance of society."

This paper embraces and pursues this understanding, engaging in the intellectual archaeology every critical sankofa search and retrieval requires. And again, the Husia and Odu Ifa are inexhaustible sources for essential insights and practices concerned with and committed to being African, woman, man and human in the world, as well as, vital dignity-affirming and life-enhancing ways for women and men to live and work together and to build and sustain the good world we all want and deserve to live in. No claim is made here of total equality between women and men in ancient Africa or of a perfect ideal life. For male domination, defined as patriarchy, sexism, chauvinism and various other forms of oppression and power over women have existed throughout human history and societies, with the possible exception of small communal societies, and it remains a fundamental moral and social problem of our time in every society. What is argued here is that in the sacred texts and social practices of these two societies, ancient Egypt and ancient Yorubaland, there are ideals and paradigms Of moral and social excellence and achievement that are useful for profound and productive reflection, critical discussion, and personal and collective practices central to engaging and overcoming this historical and current problem. …