By Mfuniselwa J. Bhengu
One of the most difficult chapters of African history to understand and place in perspective is the one which involves the developing relations between Africa and Europe after 1400. From that general period onward, Africa, previously encompassing great societies whose influence was felt abroad and whose innovative characteristics greatly enriched African culture, was eclipsed at the very time when certain European states not only achieved national unity but made great technological advances that led to an overseas expansion which further increased Europe’s economic and technological capacities. Much of this progress resulted from years of trade with Africans for gold which helped to finance European technological advance and overseas expansion (Joseph E. Harris, Africans and Their History, 1972).
The encounter between ancient Egyptian civilization and Greco-Roman civilization created a unique fusion of cultures which benefitted both civilizations, although not equally. It is this inequality that is referred to as a gap between social and technological innovation, and it was created by the fact that some cultures were ‘museumized’ and others were made to be active and dominant. Integral Afrikology is inclusive and integrative. It is universal and recognizes all sources of knowledge as valid within their historical, cultural or social contexts and seeks to engage them into a dialogue that can lead to better knowledge for all. It recognizes peoples’ traditions as a fundamental pillar in the creation of such cross-cultural understandings. It is an epistemology that is not necessarily Afrocentric.
Indeed, as Cheikh Anta Diop has pointed out, in so far as the African-Egyptian civilization is the “distant mother” of western cultures and sciences, most ideas we may call foreign or European are often nothing but “mixed up, reversed, modified, elaborated images of the creations of our African ancestors.” These ideas include religious ideas as well as philosophic and scientific ideas. Concepts that appear in Judaism, Christianity, Islam- all have their origin in the African past. Also modern philosophic and scientific ideas such as dialectics, the theory of being, the exact sciences, arithmetic, geometry, mechanical engineering, astronomy, medicine, literature, architecture, the arts, etc, all have a common origin in the development of knowledge in Africa. So the universality of knowledge is not just philosophical, it is real with its base in Africa.
Afrikology must proceed from the proposition that it is a true philosophy of knowledge and wisdom based on African cosmogonies because it is Afri- in that it is inspired by the ideas originally produced from the cradle of humankind located in Africa. It is not Afrikology because it is African but it is Afri- because it emanates from the Source of the Universal system of knowledge in Africa. The product is therefore not relativistic to Africa but universalistic with its base in Africa. It is – (co)logy because it is based on logos- the word from which the Universe arose. From the word emerged consciousness and from consciousness emerged humanity who produced language from the word.
From this logos, the word, and the signs of the hieroglyphs, the African Egyptians were able to develop knowledge in all directions and branches, which the Greeks and Romans later learnt from by acknowledging its attribution to the authorship of the Egyptian god Thoth whom they called Herms Trismegistus, who became a composite god of the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans. Thus the Egyptian god Thoth became a civilizing influence on the Greeks and the rest of the world.
Afrikology draws its scientificity and uniqueness from the fact that it is based on an all-embracing philosophy of humankind originating in Egypt and updated by the lived experiences of all humanity, who still continue to draw on its deep-rooted wisdom. It is based on a philosophy that is conscious of itself, conscious of its own existence as thought, and which although originally based in myth was able to separate itself from. In concretizing this view, Cheikh Anta Diop, in The African Origin of Civilization, posits that the principle feature of the mechanistic order was that the world was regarded as constituted of entities, which existed outside of each other, independent in their existence in time and space, and could only interact through forces that do not bring about changes in the natures. For Diop: ‘By contrast, in a living organism, each part grows in the context of the whole, so that it does not exists independently, nor can it be said that it merely interacts with others, without itself being essentially affected in the relationship’.
Egypt played the same role that Greco-Latin civilization played vis-à-vis the rest of Europe.
But let me return to Thoth, the African Egyptian god of all knowledge. As we have seen, Thoth was an Egyptian powerful national god who had certain specialities and local associations. He was regarded as a counsellor and secretary to the solar divinity Ra, and of the moon as the ruler of the stars, which distinguishes seasons, months and years thus becoming the lord and multiplier of Time, and the regulator of individual destinies.
As a divine scribe and inventor of writing and lord of wisdom, the Egyptian priesthood attributed much of the sacred literature to him and parts of the authorship of the Book of the Dead were attributed to him. He was also acknowledged as the source of occult knowledge and the lord of knowledge in general as well as language and science. He conducted the dead to the kingdom of the gods, and participated in the judgement of their souls. He played a role in the drama of creation itself.
Our interest in Thoth here is that he is in fact the representation of the African collective knowledge and wisdom. The attribution of all knowledge and wisdom to Thoth arose out of the fact that the milieu in which Egyptian knowledge developed did not encourage personal or literary individualism. The knowledge and texts attributed to Thoth gained weight and popularity.
This is especially important because Thothism, as we can now prefer to call this collectivity of African knowledge and wisdom, is widespread in African written and oral literature and texts, painted mural art, masks, stories, songs, philosophical proverbs and general folklore, with which we have to deal as researchers and teachers.
In short, Thothism is an open-ended approach to knowledge creation, interpretation and application. As such it is also a dialectical and historical with both long-dated and short-dated horizons. Thus although our understanding of knowledge and reality as we apply it is finite, the source from which we draw this knowledge and wisdom are infinite in horizon.
It is, therefore, important that build on the innovations of the past to shape a better future, and this is informed by the fact that the greater revolution of our generation is the discovery that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives. But we can achieve this if we increase the awareness of our indigenous knowledge systems, and thus begin to develop a concrete social cohesion for our society.
Undoubtedly, our relational form of integrative humanism was born and bred, grounded and originated, naturally and communally, religiously and socially, in the heart of Africa. In fact we can find the roots of such in the concept of Maat, which we find in ancient Egypt, and from Ubuntu, which we find in modern, Southern Africa. Maat in its most expansive sense represents rightness in and of the world, giving rightful attention to self, society and the world as an interrelated order. The ongoing quest, then, is to maintain, renew, repair and enhance this order as self-conscious creators and bringers of the good in the world in a process and practice of restoring, repairing and renewing the world.
As Huntington (1996) argues that “…for an African civilization to have universal power, it would have to have a strong African-oriented economic philosophy, rooted in an African idiom. We believe that Africa has a relatively strong universal power, but still economically weak”. In other words, he sees a gap between African philosophy, culture, traditions, and business enterprise praxis. Any African-oriented philosophy, if it seeks to have a universal power, it would have to internalize the concept of an Integral Afrikology, which is, in our terms, local is as important as global, and vice versa. Afrikology should serve as a bed-rock of our African civilization. Our universal power should be premised on Afrikology. Our African-oriented economic philosophy should be informed by the constitutive rules of Afrikology.
Therefore, Integral Afrikology, is, in a sense, about recontextualizing global processes; creating a globally oriented, yet indigenously rooted future, and in returning to the roots with a future oriented point of view.
Joseph E. Harris, Africans and Their History, 1972
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