Apparently African philosophy is not recognised by academia as a discipline. Western, Chinese and Indian philosophies are for example, recognised as academic disciplines and a lot has been written on those. You can grudgingly count African Philosophers with your one hand.
Our culture and traditions is one that has been handed from mouth to mouth through the centuries and as a result all the philosophical concepts and thoughts have been handed down through oral tradition.
As an example when growing up we were told that in the olden days there used to be a place called Lowe (pronounced lo-we). It used to be a place of great wisdom and vision. Different cultures and traditions of African people were formed and perfected by the great wise men who lived during this time. These wise African men (and I also include women in this meaning) came up with great proverbs and idioms as a guide to the way of living during those times. These proverbs and idioms have withstood the test of time and are now part of our written languages.
I would like to believe that these idioms and proverbs reflect the philosophy and cultural practices of Africans ancient and present. They were coined as a result of observing and trying to understand human behavior. These proverbs were used to explain human behavior and to try and prescribe how individuals and societies should behave.
I call all these great people who lived during the time of Lowe philosophers, African philosophers to be precise and I would like to believe that the philosophy they espoused was existential in nature. Existentialism is a philosophy that posits that individuals create the meaning and essence of their lives, as opposed to deities or authorities creating it for them. Now we know that Jean Paul Sartre, to mention but one, is one of the famous 20th century existentialist philosophers.
Sartre, the French philosopher, had this to say about man (human being) “Man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world - and defines himself afterwards". Contrast this with the Setswana proverb “Moremogolo go betlwa wa taola, wa motho o a ipetla”. In a nutshell this Setswana saying means exactly what Sartre is saying. Very loosely translated it means that while masterpieces can be created by man, man alone is a master of his destiny. He has to design his own destiny in this world of hours. Basically you are a master of your own destiny.
Moremogolo is one of the most important and precious bones that are used by traditional doctors (healers, councilors?) to heal their patients. It has to be crafted in a certain way in order to be a masterpiece.
If you look at all the other proverbs you will see a recurrent theme of existentialism in them. Perhaps somebody might argue that it is a different kind of philosophy but philosophical these sayings are. I believe that this is a discourse that can be debated and arguments for and against advanced. There is a need for us to take a deliberate effort in advancing our culture and I believe looking at it from this perspective is a way to go.
I call this consciousness raising and pursued vigorously it can come to occupy the consciousness of the people. Feminism, as an example, is a recent movement which raised the consciousness of the people of the world and it has come to occupy an important space. Whether one agrees with it or not it has entered the world’s outlook. Ubuntu (botho) is one such concept that is gaining momentum. In fact you could also contrast Ubuntu with another strand of philosophy which is called humanism and you will find that they share the same basic principles.
There is therefore a need for consciousness raising when it comes to our culture and traditions. We need to elevate them to the status of other philosophies. Before Christianity our forefathers had their way of life that were based on the principles of Ubuntu and making the best of yourself. If we do not call those philosophical views perhaps somebody can venture an apt description.
In order to uphold our dignity we need to plant these seeds of consciousness raising and nurture them to fruition. That way we can become equal citizens of the world, with proud histories and cultures.
P.S This post was first published in MoaFrika's blog and is being reproduced here