Non-Western Educational Traditions: Indigenous Approaches to Educational Thought and Practice

By Timothy Reagan | Go to book overview

3
“A Wise Child Is Talked to in Proverbs”:
Indigenous African Educational
Thought and Practice

Africa has never been cut off from the crosscurrents of world history. It was the source of the earliest human biological and cultural developments and the point from which some of the most essential elements of human society and growth were derived…. As early as the first millennium A. D., Africans participated in a busy Indian Ocean trading system dealing with distant places in Arabia, India, Persia, and China, and they exported gold and other commodities across the Sahara Desert to Europe. The Middle East and Europe were also in contact with Africa, exchanging scholars and ideas with important centers of learning in the Arabic-speaking world. Thus, long before the better-known contacts between Europe and Africa that started in the fifteenth century, parts of Africa had interacted continuously with other world areas for centuries.

—Martin and O'Meara (1995, p. 6)

Africa is immense, not only in terms of its size and geographic diversity but, more important, with respect to the cultural, linguistic, and ethnic diversity that characterizes the people who live in its various parts. As Richard Olaniyan observed, “With almost a thousand separate language groups, a variety of climatic regions and greatly different levels of social and economic development … Africa is a continent of bewildering diversity and extraordinary dynamism. ” 1 This immensity and diversity might lead one to believe that it is not possible for us to discuss traditional “African” educational thought and practice in any meaningful way because there is bound to be considerable variation on such a topic from one group to another throughout the continent. This is an important issue, as Meyer Fortes made clear:

Take, to begin with, the idea of African culture: by what criteria can we include, under this rubric, both the culture of the Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari— those gentle, peaceful, propertyless, hunting and collecting folk who have been

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