Understanding Essentialism as Fundamental: The Centered African Perspective on the Nature of Prototypical Human Nature: Cosmological Ka (Spirit)

By Azibo, Daudi Ajani Ya | The Western Journal of Black Studies, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Understanding Essentialism as Fundamental: The Centered African Perspective on the Nature of Prototypical Human Nature: Cosmological Ka (Spirit)


Azibo, Daudi Ajani Ya, The Western Journal of Black Studies


Psychology has been described as a truly Western enterprise (Murphy and Kovach, 1972). Western psychology, in turn, has been accused of attending only to its own view myopically (Azibo, 2006a) suggesting an academic narcissism (Hilliard, 1991). This "eliminate[s] from consideration avenues of knowing not necessarily consistent with [the West's]" (Finch, 1998, 261). Western philosophy has been criticized similarly (Ani, 1994; Asante, 1987; Caruthers, 1995; Diop, 1991; Karenga, 1984; Keita, 1993; Kudadjie, 1997; Osei, 1970).

Regarding the nature of human nature (NOHN) subject, centered African perspectives seem to be almost nonexistent in Western-based periodicals and even more so in textbooks. It is not sufficient for multicultural competence to approach and write about African descent people with sensitivity with only Western models of what it is to be human. It is also not the best practice to engage studying Caucasian living without something of a non-Western knowledge base, especially where the NOHN is a central concern. Paradoxically, culture-focusing would seem requisite for multi-cultural competence in today's global village. This seems to be the case in psychology (Azibo, 2003), especially post-modern (Benjafield, 1996, chap. 15) and critical (Fox and Prilleltensky, 1997) psychology.

So to Africa itself and its deep thinking or philosophy we turn for a non-Western view on the NOHN (Abraham, 1962; Carruthers, 1984, 1995, 1999, chap. 17; Gyekye, 1995; Griaule, 1965; Obenga, 1992). There we find a trove of general ideas about African human nature deriving from African's self-conscious study of themselves (e.g., Akbar, 1985, 1996; Azibo, 1996b; Erny, 1973;Grills and Ajei, 2002; Hallen and Sodipu, 1994; Karenga, 1984, 1990, chap. 1; Nobles, 1986b; Osei, 1970, 1981) and the contemporary applicability of these ideas (Atwell and Azibo, 1991; Azibo, 1989; I. Carruthers, 1980; Nobles, 1998). Williams (1981) points out African-centered views of African human nature are at once theses about the human prototype. Therefore I will use the nature of prototypical human nature (NOPHN) term.

A few concrete models of African personality have been generated by African deep thinking on the NOPHN (Azibo, 1990, 1991, 2001b; Baldwin, 1981; Holdstock, 2000; Kambon, 1992; Khoapa, 1980; Schultz, 2003; Sofola, 1973; Williams, 1981). These models constitute a large part of The Heresy of African-centered Psychology (Kwate, 2005) relative to Western psychology from whose tenets they significantly depart (Azibo, 1996a; Jackson, 1979; Karenga, 1982, chap. 8). Perforce the models are African-centered/Africentric because the concepts they use actually are located in, i.e., they derive from, African deep thinking or philosophy. This actual location is the sine qua non of irrefragable epistemological African-centeredness (Azibo, 2001a) and pillars this paper.

Spirit Presupposes Essentialism

Essentialism is a philosophical doctrine that all things of a given kind possess an essence or ideal nature that is independent of and prior to their existence. Non-or anti-essentialism maintains that for things of a given kind there are no essences or ideal natures that they must possess. Centered African models of personality are unavoidably, unabashedly, and unapologetically essentialist. This is so because cosmological spirit/spiritualistic energy (Carruthers, 1984, 1995, 1999, chap. 17; Grills and Ajei, 2002; Myers, 1985) is incorporated in these models as a construct. The centered African view on the NOPHN is founded on "the study of the soul, immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause" (Myers, 1988, 23) which perforce implicates being rooted in an ideal nature.

Presumably, it is this spirituality in the sense of energy (to be distinguished from religiosity) which fueled or provided the motivational basis of personality functioning in the prototypical human and their descendents. Via the procreant function, say the African-centered models, all African descent people (ADP) receive essential spirit (Osei, 1981) and thereby are to be construed as consubstantial in this spiritual essence. …

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