Sunteți pe pagina 1din 18
Afrocentricity and African Spirituality Author(s): Mambo Ama Mazama Source: Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 33,

Afrocentricity and African Spirituality Author(s): Mambo Ama Mazama Source: Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 33, No. 2, 13th Cheikh Anta Diop Conference Selected Proceedings (Nov., 2002), pp. 218-234

Published by: Sage Publications, Inc.

Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3180935 .

Accessed: 01/09/2014 04:02

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

.

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

.

information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. . Sage Publications, Inc. is collaborating with JSTOR to

Sage Publications, Inc. is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Journal of Black Studies.

http://www.jstor.org

This content downloaded from 67.115.155.19 on Mon, 1 Sep 2014 04:02:21 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

AFROCENTRICITY AND AFRICAN SPIRITUALITY

MAMBOAMA MAZAMA

TempleUniversity

Inthisarticle,theauthorseeksto arguein supportof theAfricanontological view as a validway to view theworld.Indeed,the argumentin thisworkis thatacentralroleof Afrocentricphilosophyoughttobe thereestablishment of the processby which Africansarriveat spirituality.Demonstratingthat Christianityhas oftenbeen theculpritbehindWhitesupremacy,the author suggests thatit has gone hand-in-handwith the desacralizationof African culture.

Although Afrocentricity hasbeenmostly analyzedas anintellec- tual idea whose maintenet is the centralityof the Africanexperi- ence for African people, be it historical or cultural (Mazama, 2001), I would like to arguein this articlethatAfrocentricitycan certainlynot be reducedto an epistemologicalproject.It cannot, andcertainlyshouldnot, in my view, be approachedsimply as an analyticaltool. In fact, it is precisely such a reductionthat has allowedsome to believethattheycouldbe Afrocentricsome times and then something else at other times, as if being Afrocentric couldbe apart-timeaffairleadingmaybeevento thereinforcement of the double-consciousnessthatDu Bois mentioned. In fact, Molefi Asante's own statementsabout Afrocentricity leaveno doubtabouttheultimategoal of Afrocentricity,thatis, the recovery of African freedom and creativity. In Afrocentricity (1988), forexample,hetoldus thatAfrocentricityis ultimately"the measureof ourlives."Itmustinformourapproachto everything,he continued:walking,running,loving, eating,working,andso forth. In The Afrocentric Idea (1998), Asante also assertedthatthe ulti- mate goal of Afrocentricityis our liberation,our freedom from

JOURNALOF BLACKSTUDIES,Vol. 33 No. 2, November2002 218-234 DOI: 10.1177/002193402237226

? 2002 Sage Publications

218

This content downloaded from 67.115.155.19 on Mon, 1 Sep 2014 04:02:21 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Mazama/ AFRICANSPIRITUALITY 219

oppression.He beautifullystatedthat"we are on a pilgrimageto regainourfreedom." Afrocentricity,as an emancipatorymovement, then inscribes itself within a traditionof Africanresistanceto Europeanoppres- sion. One commonlynotedfeatureof Africanresistanceis its reli- ance on spirituality.Indeed, spiritualityhas always historically playedanimportantrole in ourmanystrugglesforliberation,from Nannyin Jamaicato the HaitianrevolutionarywarandNatTurner. Why,afterall, shouldAfrocentricitydiffer? I wouldlike, however,to approachthisquestiondifferently,forI wish to make a case for the conscious andnecessaryinclusion of spiritualityaspartof theAfrocentricquest.Suchaninclusion,I will argue,is demandedby the tenetsof Afrocentricityitself. Indeed,let us rememberfirstthatAfrocentricityis a perspective on the African experience that posits Africans as subjects and agents,andwhichthereforedemandsgroundingin Africanculture andthe worldviewon which it rests. Whenwe studyAfricancultureand,moreparticularly,African philosophy,it appearsclearlythatthe fundamentalAfricanphilo- sophicalprincipleis theprincipleof theunityof being.Indeed,the majorarticulationof Africanmetaphysicsis the energyof cosmic origin thatpermeatesand lives within all thatis-human beings, animals,plants,minerals,andobjects,as well as events.Thiscom- mon energysharedby all confersa commonessence to everything in the world, and thus ensures the fundamentalunity of all that exists. Let us note in passing thatthis ontological unity is a very ancient feature of African cosmology because, according to Plumey(1975), for the AncientEgyptians,

Thewholeuniversewasalivingunity.Eventhosepartsofthephysi-

cal worldwhichwe areaccustomedto thinkof as inanimate,e.g., stones,minerals,water,fire,air,etc,partookof a commonlife in whichmenandwomenandanimalsandbirdsandfishesandinsects

andplantsandeventhegodsthemselvesshared.(p.24)

Thisenergyconstitutesthe active,dynamicprinciplethatanimates creation,andwhichcanbe identifiedas Life itself. Letus notethat this principleof ontological unity has at least two immediateand

This content downloaded from 67.115.155.19 on Mon, 1 Sep 2014 04:02:21 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

220 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES/ NOVEMBER2002

profoundimplications,thatis, theprincipleof connectednessof all thatis, basedon a commonessence; andthe principleof harmony, based on the organicsolidarityandcomplementarityof all forms. Andwhatis the sourceof thatenergythattheYorubacall Ashe? It is Goditself. Everythingthatis sharedin thatdivineessence and is, as a result,sacred.Ndaw (1997) remindedus how

dansles poemesinspiresparla chasse,le chasseurne s'enorgueillit pasde tuer:'a1'egardduchasse,il n'exprimequelouangeet respect. Le chasseuret le chassejouent simplementleurrole dansle drame de l'existence. L'hommede broussecompose des chantspleins de charmeet de sensibilite 'ala gloire de l'antilope, qu'il chante et danseen l'honneurdela mise amort[inthepoemsinspiredby hunt- ing, thehunterdoes notbragaboutkilling.Forhis prey,he has only wordsof praiseandrespect.Themanof theforestcomposescharm- ing andsensitivesongs, glorifyingtheantelope,whichhe sings and dances at the occasion of its death].(p. 71)

In the same vein, special rituals take place before cutting trees down, for the latterare conceived of as a place of special signifi- cance for the communicationbetweenpeople andGod. It is there- fore fairto concludefromthis that,in the Africancontext,people do notconceive of themselvesas separatedfromthecosmos butas beingcompletelyintegratedintoa universethatis muchlargerthan any of them andyet is centeredaroundthem. In the samerespect,thereis no majordifferencebetweendeath andlife. Bothareperceivedasdifferentmodesof being.IntheAfri- can universe,Elungutold us (1987) that"dansl'homme, le corps n'est pasl'antithesede l'ame;le presentest chargedupasseet gros de l'avenir.Dans l'univers,le ciel et la/ terrese rejoignentet la vie naltde la mort[thebodyis nottheantithesisof thesoulormind,the presentis filled with the past and carryingthe future.In the uni- verse, the sky and the earthmeet, and life is born out of death]" (pp.23-24). Lifeis infiniteandknowsno end,andthereforedeathis simplyanotherformof existence, a riteof passagethatallows one to gainanotherexistentialstatus,thatof ancestor,thatis of a purely or almostpurelyspiritualbeing. As shouldbe expected,in such a world there can be no waterproofseparationbetween the world

This content downloaded from 67.115.155.19 on Mon, 1 Sep 2014 04:02:21 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Mazama/ AFRICANSPIRITUALITY 221

inhabitedby the spirits,be it the ancestorsandotherspiritsandthat inhabitedby theliving. BecauseLife is one,therecanbe no dichot- omybetweenso-callednaturalandsupernaturalworlds.Infact,itis generallyadmittedthatthe main differencebetween the world of the spiritsandtheworldof theliving is essentiallyone of degreeof visibility,thespiritualworldbeinglargelyinvisiblebutnonetheless quitereal.This is the veryreasonwhy in manypartsof the African worldthedead,orthosethatMbiticalledtheliving-dead,areburied withinthe familycompound,alongwithmanyof theirbelongings, so thattheymaycontinueto playapartintheirfamily'saffairs.Itis also forthesamereasonthatwe offerlibationsandfood to them,as gestures of appreciation,hospitality,and respect. If we maintain ourrelationshipwithourdepartedrelatives,itis becausewe wishto securetheirprotection.The ancestors,Mbiti remindedus (1990), are"theguardiansof familyaffairs,traditions,ethicsandactivities" (p. 82). Being closerto God,by virtueof theirspiritualnature,they arein betterpositionto petitionGod on ourbehalf,for ourprotec- tion. They are,to quoteMbitiagain,"bilingual,"speakingthe lan- guage of the living and the languageof the spirits.With us, they communicatethroughdreams,come beforeus, ortalkto us during divinationsessions. This communicationwith us is madepossible by ourown immaterialcomponent. Thiseasy andcommoncommunicationbetweentheworldof the living andthatof theliving-deadis underlinedagainby thereincar- nationof the living-dead,generallywithintheirown family.New- borns are frequentlythoughtof as ancestorswho came back, not necessarily as physical entities but as spiritualpersonalities.The newbornsare officially separatedfrom their spiritualcommunity andreintegratedinto theirliving communityduringnamingcere- monies, a week or so aftertheirphysicalbirth.Thus,once againin theAfricanworldview,life anddeath,farfrombeingopposites,are complementary.As Zahanput it (1979), "Withinthis context the limits betweenlife anddeathdo not reallyexist. Life is bornfrom deathanddeath,in turn,is theprolongationof life"(p. 45). Thecir- cle, which is the Africanspiritualsymbolparexcellence, takeson its full meaningasit standsfortheconstantrenewalof Life through deathandbirth.TheBambarahaveabeautifulsaying:"Lifemerges

This content downloaded from 67.115.155.19 on Mon, 1 Sep 2014 04:02:21 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

222 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES/ NOVEMBER2002

fromdivinitythroughbirthandmergesbackinto divinitythrough death,andthroughthiscyclicaltransformation,we achieveimmor- tality."The ancestorsmust give protectionandguidancein return for the tributespaidto themby the living, the most importantone being to keep theirnamealive. Butof course,aswe know,theancestorsarenottheonly spiritual entitiesto whom we may turnfor assistanceof whateverkind. In fact, the Africanspiritualworldis densely populated.Next to the ancestralspirits,forexample,arethoseof peoplewho, fora variety of reasons,did not makeit to the ancestralcommunity.However, those spiritsI am mostinterestedin arethe spiritsof divineorigin, who theYorubacall orisha andVodoupractitionerscall boa.Those spiritscoverall aspectsof natureandhumanexistence.Theorisha, FarrisThompsontold us (1984), "arethe messengersandembodi- mentsof ashe,spiritualcommand,thepower-to-make-things-happen, God's own enablinglight renderedaccessibleto men andwomen" (p. 5). The sameauthorcontinuedthatto be possessedby anorisha is to " 'makethe god,' to capturenuminousflowing force within one'sbody"(p.9). Thesameholdstrueaboutpossessionby theloa. Infact,theexistenceof whatareoftenreferredto as secondarydei- ties is quitecommonin Africa,andwe thusfindthefollowingonto- logical hierarchy,startingfromthe bottom,with naturalelements, animals,theliving, ancestors,andabovethem,theorishaorloa, all underthe supremeauthorityof God.Theimplicationsof this onto- logical order are of paramountimportancefor African people. Indeed,when we think of African selves, we cannotbe satisfied withanindividualisticapproachbutmustunderstandthatwe arean organicpartof a whole thatincludesdiversespiritualandphysical entities.Wecertainlycannotthinkof reclaimingourlives outsideof this ontologicalorderif at the end of thatreclamationprocesswe areto be whole again,as demandedby Afrocentricity.As I men- tioned earlier,the ancestorsprovide guidance;they will send us messagesabouthowto operateinthislife, inthisworld,if we honor them. Unless we do just this, unless we do not allow theirname, their suffering,and their sacrifices to be forgotten,then we will standalonein thisworld,lost. AndI amafraidthatthisis just what has happenedto so manyof us. Havingturnedourbacksonto our

This content downloaded from 67.115.155.19 on Mon, 1 Sep 2014 04:02:21 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Mazama/ AFRICANSPIRITUALITY 223

ancestors,we havefallenin a stateof incredibleconfusion.Having acceptedthe idea thatourdeities could not be truemessengersof God,we havediscardedthem,only to embracesomeoneelse's god andits messenger. Theroleplayedby Christianityin thistragicstateof affairscan- not be underestimated.The biggest crimeof Christianity,as faras Africanpeople areconcerned,has been the desacralizationof the African spiritualspace, that is, of African Life, given the para- mount importanceof spiritualityfor African people. Although manyof us attempttoreconcilewhatcannotbe reconciledandrefer to ourselvesasAfrocentricChristians,thosetwotermsarenonethe- less incompatible,asI will tryto showhere.Indeed,onecannotpre- tendto be relocatedanddefendAfricanagency while at the same time continuing to embrace one of the pillars of Western supremacy. Indeed,Christianity,it must be understood,has been partand parcel of the White supremacy project, to whose demise Afrocentricity is fundamentallycommitted. Christianityis, as Nantambu(1996) correctlystated,

a derivedway of life andbelief system promulgatedand manipu- lated by Europeansfor Europeansso as to facilitateand advance theirreligioussupremacy.Itis todayoneof themost,if notthemost, potentreligious weapon in the arsenalof Europeansupremacyto exercise theirpsycho-politicalpowercontrolover Afrikanpeople. (p. 65)

It is no secret that Europeanshave imposed themselves on the world,andusinparticular,throughtheuse of "organizedviolence," as one of them,Huntington(1996, p. 51), recognized.In this con- text,it is thereforenotparadoxicalatall thatChristianityshouldbe responsiblefor moremiseryandsufferingthananyotherreligion, as troublesomeas this assertionmay soundto those who insistthat Christianityis foremosta religionpromotingpeace andlove. Such a belief flies in the face of the evidence, for we can only honestly ask with Wood (1990), "Howmany 'infidels'have been killed or enslaved in the name of the Christ"(p. 27)? Millions, without a doubt.

This content downloaded from 67.115.155.19 on Mon, 1 Sep 2014 04:02:21 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

224 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES/

NOVEMBER2002

It may be necessary,before proceedingany further,to realize that a religion "representsthe deification of a people's cultural experiences,politics andpoliticalpowercontrolintent,"not to be confused with spirituality, which "represents a direct connectedness/inter-relatednesswith nature,the cosmos, the uni- verse and thatspiritualGod-force,Amen-Ra, 'the giver of life' " (Nantambu,1996, p. 22). Therefore,a religionthatwould be uni-

versaldoesnotandcannotexistbecauseanyandeveryreligionnec-

essarily expresses a particularexperience and worldview. The impositionof Christianityis partandparcelof theimpositionof the European experience on other people whose experience and worldviewareoften quitedifferent.The merefactthatthe birthof JesusChristshouldserve as the fundamentalchronologicalrefer- ence point by a large portionof the world (becauseeverythingis orderedbeforeor afterhis presumeddateof birth)is quitereveal- ing, it seems to me, of the dominantEurocentrichistoriography, one basedon andreinforcingWhite supremacy. Althoughbornoutsideof theboundariesof theWest,Christian- ity becamenonethelessclosely associatedwithit since atleast 333 when, on the initiativeof Constantine,it became the official reli- gion of the RomanEmpire.In 325, Constantinehadinvitedall the bishops to Nicea, Turkey.The bishops, after having denounced some popularheresiesthen,agreedon a textthatdefinedChristian beliefs. It is in fact essentially for political reasons (not spiritual ones)-namely, the consolidationof the RomanEmpire-that the Councilof Nicea took place andthatChristianitybecamethe offi- cialRomanreligion.Infact,accordingtoTrevor-Roper(1968), this decision to make Christianitythe official Westernreligion con- ferredto Constantinea very specialplace in Westernhistory:

By his double decision to accept Christianityand to build a new, impregnablecapitalon the Bosphorus,Constantineexercised,per- haps,the greatestinfluenceon Westernhistorythananymansince Christ. Who can even guess what would have happenedto the world, or to Christianity,if the Roman Empire had not become Christian,or if Constantinoplehad not preservedRomanlaw and Greekculturethroughtheyearsof barbarianandMoslemconquest? (p. 34).

This content downloaded from 67.115.155.19 on Mon, 1 Sep 2014 04:02:21 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Mazama/ AFRICANSPIRITUALITY 225

The official adoptionof Christianitygeneratedthreephenomena:

thefurthercodificationof thereligion,the suppressionof rivalreli- gions, andthefalsificationof historyso thattheWestandChristian- ity wouldcoincide.As farasthefirstone is concerned,it was along andslow process.Forexample,thetitleof "pope"was givento any

bishopuntilthe4thcentury,whenitbecamereservedforthebishop

of Rome who hadmanagedto imposehis politicalauthorityon his colleagues.Inthesamevein,theclergywereauthorizedto get mar-

rieduntilthe5thcentury,atwhichdatetheyweredeniedsuchprivi-

lege. As faras theeradicationof rivalreligionsis concerned,a war was waged in particularagainstthe ancientreligious systems of Egypt,andin 527 the lastEgyptiantempleclosed down(Browder, 1992, p. 65). Whatwas at stake(andthis leads us to the thirdphe- nomenon listed above) was the establishmentof Jesus Christ's supremacyon all of his potentialrivals,andthe establishmentof a close correspondencebetween the West and Christianity.Jesus, who in realityhadbeenprecededby at least 16 otherprophetswho hadbeencrucified(Nantambu,1996,p. 20), became"the"prophet, the only one capableof saving the world.Then it was a matterof WhiteningJesus andChristianity.It is well-knownthatJesus was not a European,thathe neverset foot in Europe,andthat,conse- quently,he couldnothavehadtheWhiteskin,blondhair,andblue eyes thatwe knowhimto havetoday.However,therepresentations of Jesusmadehimthequintessenceof Whiteness,metamorphosing him froma Semiteintoa prototypicalAryan,a truehistoricalaber- ration,thanksinparticularto theworkof theItalianpainterMichel- angelo (Wood, 1990, p. 51). Let us turnnow to some of the Christiantenetsthathaveproven most harmfulto us. I owe muchof my analysisto Wood's (1990) brillianttreatmentof the arroganceand fundamentalracism of Christianity.Thefirstmostnoticeablecharacteristicof Christianity is its dogmatism.Thereis and can be only one god, the Christian god;andonly one way to achievesalvationandexperienceimmor- tality, throughobserving the teachings of Jesus Christ,the only child of the Christiangod. Otherreligions are automaticallycon- demnedas false and all otherbeliefs are reducedto the statusof meresuperstitions.Inaddition,the strictmonotheismof Christian-

This content downloaded from 67.115.155.19 on Mon, 1 Sep 2014 04:02:21 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

226 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES/ NOVEMBER2002

ity makes the vilification of other religions' gods even easier becausethelatter,in theChristiancontext,become simplyandcon- venientlyassimilatedto Satanhimself. Inreligionsthatrely on the

densely populatedspiritualuniverse, as is the case in Africa, a bipolarizationbetween an incarnationof good and bad does not apply. In fact, the same spiritualforce that can protect can also destroy.However,it is not simply the gods of otherreligions that

Christianityassimilatesto

are not Christian.Wood (1990) reportedhow "colonialdepreda- tions againstIndianswere often based on the assumptionthatthe natives,with theirred skin color, were agentsof Satanwhose red coloring and association with fire had been one of the popular mythologies of medieval Europe" (p. 95). Similarly, the demonificationof the colorblack,to thisday,is a well-knownfact that does not require any further elaboration. Wood rightly denouncedthe arroganceof Christianitywhen he wrotethat"reli- gion is man'ssearchforGod,Christianslikedto say,butChristian- ity is God's searchfor man, a reminderthatthe arrogancefaithis not easily set aside"(p. 23). ThesecondproblematicChristianprincipleis thatChristianityis a revealedreligion throughits prophet,so only Jesus would have hadaccess to thewordandwill of God.Thus,to avoideternaldam- nation,one must necessarilyfollow Jesus'steachings,as exposed in theBible. Theonly problem,of course,is thattheBible was nev- erthelesswrittenby humanbeings (e.g., the firstfive books of the Old Testamentwere writtenby Moses). To acceptthe Bible as the truewordof Godis thereforenotdictatedby anycompellinghistor- ical evidence, but rests simply on an act of faith,which, unfortu- nately,is quickto occultitself as such.Anotherrelatedissue is that raisedby the notionof a chosen people, a statusthatthe Jews and afterthemthe Christiansassignedto themselves.Why shouldGod have thus discriminated against other people? Whatever the answer, however, "It should not be difficult,"as Wood (1990) wrote,"tounderstandhow a religionthathadin its originsa neces- saryelementof ethnicselectioncouldcontinueto conveyandeven encourage a posture of cultural arrogance toward outsiders" (p. 208). Given that attitude,the exclusion of other people as

Satan,but the people themselves who

This content downloaded from 67.115.155.19 on Mon, 1 Sep 2014 04:02:21 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Mazama/ AFRICANSPIRITUALITY 227

nonchosen is self-explanatory:We were not worthy of being chosen.

The thirdandhighly problematicfeatureof Christianityis that the latteris an evangelical religion. Indeed, one of the demands allegedly placedby Jesus on his followers is the preachingof the Gospel, that is, the teachings of Jesus as reportedby Matthew, Mark,Luke, and John.In Matthew(28:19-20), for example, one can read,"Goingthereforeteachye all nations;baptizingthemin the name of the Fatherand of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Teachingthemto observeall thingswhatsoeverI havecommanded you," or in Mark(16:15), "Preachthe gospel to every creature" (cited in O'Brien, 1943, pp. 175-176). The propagationof Chris- tianity is thereforea duty to which any Christianworthy of the namemustsubmit,becausetheinfidelsmustbe saved,againsttheir ownwill if needbe-Satan mustbe extractedfromtheirsoulatany price.Onceagain,one canonlyrealizethearroganceof suchapos- tureandtheintoleranceon whichitrests,aswell astheapriorijusti- ficationsof unspeakableatrocities. Therehavebeen atleastthreegreatChristianevangelicalwaves outsideof Westernboundaries.The firstone is knownas the Cru- sades.The firstCrusadetook place in 1096 againstMuslimTurks. Itwas followedby six othersimilarventures.Forthe Crusaders,as suggestedby Trevor-Roper(1968), "TheTurksweretheinfamous, accursedunbelievers,'God's enemies andours', while the Chris- tianswho perishedin battlewentupto Heavento be robedin white andreceivethepalmof martyrdom"(p.101). Thesameauthorcites theJesuitpriest,LouisMaimbourg,who tookanobviousandgreat pleasurein describinghow once the Christianwere in chargeof Jerusalem,"Everywhereone could see nothingbut heads flying,

legs hackedoff, armscut down,bodies in slices

verychildrenin theirmothers'armsto exterminate,if possible,that accursed race, as God formerly wished should be done to the Amalekites"(pp. 101-102). However,it is generallyadmittedthat theCrusades,whose goalwastorecapturetheholy siteof Palestine, largelyfailed. The same cannotbe said, unfortunately,aboutthe invasionof America,the second evangelicalthrust.Thatinvasionresultedin

theykilled the

This content downloaded from 67.115.155.19 on Mon, 1 Sep 2014 04:02:21 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

228 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES/ NOVEMBER2002

the rapidgenocide of the indigenouspopulationsandthe deporta- tion and enslavementof tens of millions of Africans. Although O'Brien(1943), a Christianapologist,triedin vainto convinceus

that"theIndianswerenotwipedoutorpushedback,butwerecon-

vertedandprotectedfromslavery"(p. 429), the truthof the matter remainsthatthe immense majorityof the so-called Indianswere rapidlyand systematicallyexterminated.Most Europeanssaw in this developmenta furtherconfirmationof theirManifestDestiny. GodhadchosenChristiansandwasexterminatingthenativepeople to makeroomforthem.In 1500, althoughtherewereabout80 mil- lionnativepeopleintheAmericas,theyhadbeenreducedto 10mil- lion only 50 yearslater.Accordingto Todorov(cited in Plumelle- Uribe,2001), "Noneof the big massacresof the twentiethcentury can be comparedto this genocide"(p. 36). But all this was easily justifiedby mostChristians.Similarly,theyhadno majorobjection to the deportation,enslavement,andcrueltreatmentof millions of Africans later on. The observationsand statementsof Pelleprat (1655, pp. 55-56), a Catholicpriestin Guadeloupe,locatedin the Caribbean,in the 17thcentury,arequiterevealingof theirgeneral state of mind. After noting how "la condition des esclaves est extremementrude[thelivingconditionsof theslavesareextremely harsh],"and thatthey were used "commedes betes de charge [as beasts of burden],"he nonetheless continued that "toutes ces disgraces leur sont l'occasion d'un bonheurinestimablepuisque dansleuresclavageilsjouissentdelalibertedesenfantsdeDieu [all thatmisfortuneallowsthem(theAfricans)to experienceapriceless joy since in their state of enslavementthey enjoy the freedomof

God's children]."The trickwas so simple. It is then for our own good thatthe Europeansimposedon us the worsttreatments,and we shouldbe happyandeternallygratefulto themfor sucha favor. Intheend,oursufferingwill havebeenthe (relativelylow) priceto pay to know the realgod, the only god, the Christiangod, andhis

son, our blond-haired,blue-eyed alleged savior.In fact, as Wood

try to

explainthe so-calledcontradictionbetween Christianityandslav-

(1990) quite correctly argued,in my view, it is futile to

ery becausethereis none:

This content downloaded from 67.115.155.19 on Mon, 1 Sep 2014 04:02:21 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Mazama/ AFRICANSPIRITUALITY 229

It was Christianity,a cornerstoneof those "large"and"cruel"slave systems, thatpervertedthe African'squalityof life. Since Europe- ansjustified enslavementon religious grounds,the most "philan- thropic"thingtheChristiancouldhavedonefortheAfricanswould havebeen to leave themalone.Not leavingthemalonewas thereal tragedy.Since Christianityhad always providedan ideal rationale for enslavement,why shouldit be so "ironic"thata predominantly Christiannationnurturedslavery.Thecontradictionso oftenseenin the presenceof slaveryin a democraticsociety may not havebeen much of a contradiction after all. English North Americans embracedslaverybecause they were Christians,not in spite of it. (p. 38)

It is a well-knownfact thattheEuropeanslavetradeoccurredwith papalblessing andthatChristianmissionarieswereamongthefirst andlargestplantationowners.Thisunderscoresthe role playedby Christianityin the establishment and reinforcement of White supremacy,not only at the religiouslevel butalso at the economic level. In fact, both work hand in hand. As Trevor-Roper(1968) remindedus, the EuropeansinvadedAmerica,afterall, to "serve Godandbecomerich"(p. 129),a motivationquitesimilarto thatof the Crusadersa few centuriesearlier.We, in the meantime,were supposedto continueto sufferin silenceandwithgratitude.Yetit is difficultnot to be deeply touchedby C. L. R. James's(1963) vivid descriptionof whatit meanttobe enslavedby ChristianEuropeans:

Theslavesreceivedthewhipwithmorecertaintyandregularitythan theyreceivedtheirfood. Itwas theincentiveto workandtheguard- ian of discipline.Buttherewas no ingenuitythatfearora depraved imaginationcoulddevisewhichwasnotemployedtobreaktheirspirit andsatisfythelustsandresentmentof theirownersandguardians- irons on the handsand feet, blocks of wood thatthe slaves had to dragbehindthemwherevertheywent,thetin-platemasksdesigned to preventthe slaves from eating the sugar-cane,the iron collar. Whippingwasinterruptedinorderto passapiece of hotwoodonthe buttocksof the victim; salt, pepper,citron,cinders,aloes, andhot ashes werepouredon the bleedingwounds.Mutilationswere com- mon, limbs, ears,andsometimesthe privateparts,to deprivethem of thepleasureswhichtheycouldindulgein withoutexpense.Their masterspouredburningwax on theirarmsandhandsandshoulders,

This content downloaded from 67.115.155.19 on Mon, 1 Sep 2014 04:02:21 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

230 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES/ NOVEMBER2002

emptiedtheboiling cane sugarovertheirheads,burnedthemalive, roastedthemwith gunpowderandblew themupwith a match,bur- ied themupto the neck andsmearedtheirheadswith sugarthatthe flies might devour them; fastened them near to nests of ants or wasps;madethemeattheirexcrement,drinktheirurine,andlick the salivaof otherslaves. (pp. 12-13)

Jamesfurtherarguedthatthose cruel treatmentswere not excep- tional but part of everydayexperience.There were specific and well-known names for the different tortures endured most frequently:

Thetortureof thewhip,forinstance,had"athousandrefinements," buttherewereregularvarietiesthathadspecialnames,so common were they.Whenthe handsandarmswere tied to fourposts on the ground,the slave was said to undergo"thefour post."If the slave was tied to a ladderit was "thetortureof the ladder;"if he was sus- pendedby fourlimbsit was the "hammock,"etc. Eventhepregnant womanwas not sparedher"four-post."A hole was dugin theearth to accommodatethe unbornchild. (p. 13)

InAfricaitself, wherethethirdwaveof Christianevangelization thatconcernsus took place (in particularduringthe 18thand 19th centuries),Africanswere not sparedthe impositionof the "true" god, theChristiangod. InAfrica,Christianmissionariesundertook to exorcise Africangods and the rites associatedwith them from Africanculture.This againis quiteconsistentwith Christianarro- gance, which cannotentertain,even for a second,the idea thatthe gods of theAfricanpantheonsandourAfricanspiritualbeliefs and practicescouldmeetourneeds.As usual,differencewas translated intoadeficiencythatcouldonlybe remediedthroughconversionto Christianity.But also, as usual, "Wherethe Christiancross went, theredeath,destruction,and devastationoccurred"(Belhag & el- Kabir,1986, p. 19). Belhag andel-Kabir(1986) continuedthatthe Christianmissionaries"calledthemselvesChristiansoldiers;they even establisheda popularhymnthatcan still be heardin virtually any missionary church in Africa: "OnwardChristianSoldiers/ Marchingas to War"(p. 21). Even when they pretendedto offer specialservices(e.g., healthcare)totheAfricans,totakeadvantage

This content downloaded from 67.115.155.19 on Mon, 1 Sep 2014 04:02:21 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Mazama/ AFRICANSPIRITUALITY 231

of those services the latterhadto provebeforeandaftertreatment their knowledge of basic Christianprinciples,as well as pledge theirsubmissionto the Christiangod. However,it is especially in the numerous schools that the missionaries set up throughout Africa, for the purpose of "educating"us, that the devastating effects of Christianitywere most obvious (Nukunya,1986, p. 87). Indeed,what occurredtherecan only be describedas a thorough brain-washingprocessbasedon the systematicdepreciationof the African cultural experience and the no less systematic hyper- valorizationof Europeanculture.In thatrespect,Africanspiritual beliefs andpracticeswerereducedto the statusof sorcery;the sac- rificesthatwe hadofferedto ourancestorsastokensof ourappreci- ation and gratitudewere now described, at best, as pagan and detestablesuperstitions,whereason the whole,

Africansweretaughtthecolonialcode of behavior-apingtheways of thecolonizersanddespisingthe Africansof thevillage, appreci- ating Europeanarts and considering African songs, dances and sculptureas primitiveandpaganarts.The end resultwas the cre- ationof a new type of Africanpersonalityfaithfulandobedientto foreignvalues andaesthetics.(Mutambaka,1986, pp. 66-67)

Whomeverwould still have anydoubtaboutthe intrinsicviolence of Christianityin Africawouldbe well inspiredto readthemoving andrevoltingautobiographywrittenby MalidomaSome, Of Water and the Spirit(1994). In thatbook, Some tells us how he was kid- nappedat the tenderage of 4 by a FrenchJesuit in what is now known as BurkinaFaso, West Africa. Some remembersthe first timehe askedhis kidnapper,FatherMaillot,whyhe hadbeentaken awayfromhis home,forwhichhe naturallylongeddeeply,andwas locked in a room:

I bangedon the door so hardand so long thatin the end someone openedit. Itwas a catechistandbehindhimwasFatherMaillot.The

catechisthada whipin his hand

Thecatechistbeganto lashout

at me. I could see FatherMaillot smiling broadlyand I screamed insultsathim,buttheyweredilutedby pain.This was the firsttime

anyonehadeverhitme so hard.Thepainof thefirstblow was so bad thatI didn'teven notice the manyothertimes the whip struckmy

This content downloaded from 67.115.155.19 on Mon, 1 Sep 2014 04:02:21 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

232 JOURNALOF BLACKSTUDIES/ NOVEMBER2002

body.VerysoonI doubledover,thenlay flaton thefloor.My nerves were so tightlystrungI could notproducea sound.I realizedI was suffocatingandI felt as if I were going to die. (p. 90)

Infact,thewholemissionaryschooloperatedon themodeof terror. The children were forbiddento speak their native African lan- guages andwere remindeddaily,with the use of physical force if necessary,thatas Africansthey "werebornandhadgrownin sin." But not only was Some regularlybeaten,he was also repeatedly molestedby one of thepedophilicpriests.Itis only attheage of 20, aftergettinginto a fightwith a priestwho hadhumiliatedhim, that Some foundhis way backto his people, only to realizethathe did

not quite fit in his originalcommunityany longer because of

profoundacculturationprocess to which he had been submitted while at the missionary school. In his misfortune,nonetheless,

Somefoundenoughinsightto analyzeandreflectonhis experience correctly.However,how many of us remainthe unconsciousvic- tims of White supremacy,justifying,denying,andparticipatingin ourown oppression?As Nantambu(1996) correctlyremarked,

the

If Afrikanpeople areto mounta verypotentchallengeto European religioussupremacy,we cannotaffordto be bi-centric-we cannot affordto talkandcomplainaboutwhiteracism,gangviolence in the African-AmericancommunityfromMondaythroughSaturdayand thenon Sundaymorningwe go to churchandkneeldownandwor- ship a white, EuropeanGod who doesn't look like us. (p. 21)

Such glaringinconsistencycan only happen,andthis takesme backto thebeginningof my article,if one reducesthe Afrocentric questto a pureandsuperficialintellectualexercisewhereone will become knowledgeableabout African culture and history, wear some Kentecloth, andmaybeeven takeon an Africannamewith- out havingthe courageor enoughinsightto drawthe full implica- tions of the Afrocentricidea. As for me, I see no shortcut:EmbracingAfrocentricityentails being fully and consciously in tune with Africanmetaphysics.If Afrocentricityis aboutthe restorationof ourintegrityas Africans, andbecausewe do notexistin isolationbutaspartof anontological

This content downloaded from 67.115.155.19 on Mon, 1 Sep 2014 04:02:21 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Mazama/ AFRICANSPIRITUALITY 233

orderthatincludesentitieson a higherspiritualplanethanus, then could therepossibly be a moreprofoundway to reclaimour total selves andreassertourlove forAfricaandourcommitmentto our- selves as Africanpeople thanto honorAfricangods and spirits?

REFERENCES

Asante,M. (1988). Afrocentricity.Trenton,NJ:AfricaWorldPress. Asante,M. (1998). TheAfrocentricidea. Philadelphia:TempleUniversityPress. Belhag,R., &el-Kabir,Y A. (Eds.).(1986). Christianmissionarismandthealienationof the African.Tripoli,Libya:The AfricanSociety of Social Sciences.

Browder,A. (1992). Nile Valleycontributionsto civilization:Explodingthe myths(Vol. 1). Washington,DC: The Instituteof KarmicGuidance. Elungu,P.E. A. (1987). TraditionAfricaineet rationalitemoderne.Paris:L'Harmattan. FarrisThompson,R. (1984). Flash of thespirit:AfricanandAfro-Americanartandphiloso- phy. New York:Vintage. Huntington,S. (1996). Theclashof civilizationsandtheremakingof worldorderNew York:

Simon & Schuster. James,C. L. R. (1963). TheBlackJacobins: ToussaintL'Ouvertureand the San Domingo Revolution.New York:RandomHouse.

 

Mazama,A. (2001). The Afrocentricparadigm:Contoursanddefinitions.Journalof Black Studies,31(4), 387-405. Mbiti,J. (1990). Africanreligionandphilosophy.GardenCity,NJ:Doubleday. Mutambaka,P.(1986). Christianity and the underdevelopmentof the African mind. In

R. Belhag& Y.A. el-Kabir(Eds.),Christianmissionarismandthealienationof theAfri-

can (pp. 63-69). Tripoli,Libya:The AfricanSociety of Social Sciences.

Nantambu,K. (1996). Egypt & Afrocentricgeopolitics: Essays on Europeansupremacy.

Kent,OH:Imhotep.

Ndaw,A. (1997). Lapense'eAfricaine:Recherchessur lesfondementsde la pens&eNkgro-

Africaine.Dakar,Africa:Les Nouvelles EditionsAfricainesdu S6negal.

Nukunya,G. K. (1986). Westerneducation andsocial change in Africa: An overview. In

R. Belhag& Y.A. el-Kabir(Eds.),ChristianmissionarismandthealienationoftheAfri-

can (pp. 87-98). Tripoli,Libya:The AfricanSociety of Social Sciences. O'Brien,A. (1943). Europebeforemoderntimes:Anancientandmedievalhistory.Chicago:

Loyola UniversityPress. Pelleprat,P.(1655). Relationdes missionsdesperes de la compagniede Jesusdansles isles et dans la terreferme de l'Ame'riqueme'ridionaledivise'een deux parties. Paris:

Cramoisy& Cie. Plumelle-Uribe,R. A. (2001). Laferocite blanche:Des non-Blancsand non-Aryens.Geno- cides Occultesde 1492 a nosjours. Paris:Albin Michel. Plumey,J. M. (1975). Thecosmologyof ancientEgypt:Ancientcosmologies (C. Blacker& M. Lowe, Eds.). London:Allen andUnwin. Some,M. P.(1994). Ofwaterandthespirit:Ritual,magic,andinitiationinthelife ofanAfri- can shaman.New York:Putnam.

This content downloaded from 67.115.155.19 on Mon, 1 Sep 2014 04:02:21 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

234 JOURNALOF BLACK STUDIES/ NOVEMBER2002

Trevor-Roper,H. (1968). Theriseof ChristianEurope.London:Harcourt,Brace&World. Wood,F.(1990). Thearroganceoffaith: Christianityandrace inAmericafromthecolonial era to the twentiethcentury.New York:Alfred Knopf. Zahan,D. (1979). Thereligion,spirituality,andthoughtof traditionalAfrica.Chicago:Uni- versityof ChicagoPress.

MamboAmaMazama,Ph.D., is an associateprofessorin theDepartmentofAfrican AmericanStudiesat TempleUniversity.Her researchinterestsincludeAfrocentric theory,languageandAfricandecolonization,andAfricancultureintheCaribbean.

This content downloaded from 67.115.155.19 on Mon, 1 Sep 2014 04:02:21 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions