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What do you expect would come to the minds of many, assuming you stand on Mountain Everest and shout the word “Africa” to the hearing of all mankind? Arguably, many (especially Westerners) would immediately succumb to the idea that Africa is a place of tribal slaughters, massacres, urban slums, skeletal children, people infested with AIDS; a place where the earth is dry and cracked, a place of endless stream of refugees without a place to call home, without clothing, medicine, food or water, plus other images of savagery, inferiority complex and hunger. According to Ezine Newsletter:
Those are the only images we see in C.N.N during the nightly news, during times of crisis and then there is nothing until the next war, skirmish or famine. Limited, selective images that make a continent look like it is always in upheaval.1
But these images about Africa are not only associated with the C.N.N. nightly news, they have permeated for hundreds of years in the West’s perception of Africa. Lending weight to this, the same Ezine Newsletter (African insight) on African images, opines:
For hundreds of years, Africa was a blank spot on Western maps, a place that did not exist and then during the Middle Ages it became a dark spot. It was referred to as the “dark continent”, where primitive people without history and civilization dwelled. Where chaos was the norm, even the capacity for an African to love was questioned since a savage being was not capable of love or Christian charity2.
In concrete, Africans, especially Blacks, having been besmirched with these subhuman statuses, it was as easy as rolling off a log to take this Dark continent filled with savages and ship them to ends of the earth as slaves. This explains the 16th Century African Slave trade, when Bartoleme de Las Casas (Bishop of Chiapas) threw off Christian anthropology aboard and made a clarion call for African slaves, who would replace the emaciated Indians in Hispaniola, Spain, 1517. It was also easy to plunder the riches of Africa, its people and resources, and to colonize them under the guise of bringing civilization and Christianity. No wonder, Jomo Kenyatta opined in his book, ‘Facing Mount Kenya’:
The missionaries came with the Bible in their hand and we had the land. They taught us to pray with our eyes closed, and then when we opened them we had the Bible in our hand, and they had the land.3
But a critical mind would ask, why was it Europe, rather than Africa that conquered and plundered? This, I shall briefly explain in chapter three of this project, while focusing on the main point of my project.
Today, we could see the same tune played and danced according to the old methods. We could see veiled distorted images of African continent and “neo-asphyxiating colonialism”4 in the relations of Africa with the West. These we see in most actions of U.N, G-8 club, C.N.N news and other Western means.
Thus, in chapter one of this project, I will expose the views or distorted images about Africans starting from the Ancient to the Contemporary period. Chapter two of this project will navigate on Martin Heidegger’s task in his “Being and Time”, his idea of the fundamental ontology and his concept of phenomenology, which I will use to interpret these African experiences. Chapter three will dwell on African distorted images vis-à-vis the causes of African predicament. Later, I will use Martin Heidegger’s concept of phenomenology to interpret these distorted images. Chapter four will be on critical evaluation and conclusion.
PURPOSE OF STUDY
My purpose of this project is to showcase and bring to “more” conscious awareness the varied distorted images with which Africans are labeled. These distorted images, though as old as the continent itself, have continued to form ominous clouds of hatred in the mental skies of most Westerners. The notion that Africans, especially Black Africans, are inferior has implicitly continued to petrify in the African relationship with the West. For instance, “eighty five years after the witch hunt against the African soldiers in Liverpool, Anthony Walker, a promising young black student from Liverpool was viciously murdered with an axe on 29 June, 2005 by white youths who were angered by the fact that Walker had a white girlfriend”.5 Imagine this.
To hedge West’s sheer and implicit distortion of Africans as inferior, Africans themselves have unconsciously submerged themselves to this status–quo. Very soon, they will become “untouchables”.
As a result of the above, this project is not only aimed at show-casing, but is also geared towards salvaging the tainted images of the Africans. It is aimed at confronting Euro centric superiority by asserting the fact that “we are all humans, irrespective of color, skin and race. Again, my intent is that there is more to complexification (coming together) than there is to particularization. Pierre Telhard de Chardin hit the truth when he remarked:
It is precisely this state of isolation that will end if we begin to discover in each other not merely the elements of one and the same thing but of a single spirit in search of itself.6
Again, like every other project on African experience, this project is an attempt to unmask the “un-freedom” of Africans hobbled by many “positive” and ‘’negative’’ elements (slavery, colonialism et cetera) as a result of the sub-human status created for them.
I shall interpret these images about African continent, using Martin Heidegger’s concept of phenomenology in his “Being and Time”. Remember, I am not using this concept as benchmark to African situation; instead, I am only interpreting his concept of phenomenology and situating it to African situation. Again, I shall not relegate to the limbo his question of the meaning of being by which he arrived at the fundamental ontology: ‘’Dasein’’-man. Thus “Dasein” is the gateway to other ontologies. It is because of the centrality of Dasein with its existentials that this project focuses on the distortions of African “Being ness”.
THE SCOPE OF STUDY
The scope of this project covers the whole of African continent, especially the black Africans, bearing in mind that some Africans like Egyptians are white in complexion. It covers the whole of African continent, because the word “Africa” already connotes negative undertones for most Western minds. Hear what was written on “milestones”, December 26, 2005 ‘Time magazine’, vol 166 no.25, captioned “The persons of the year”, with reports by Illa Garger, about Africa 13 years ago:
Africa has become the basket case of the planet, the “third world of the third world’’, a vast continent in free fall…. Africa has a genius for extremes, for the beginning and the end. It seems simultaneously connected to some memory of Eden and to some foretaste of apocalypse. Nowhere is day more vivid or night darker. Nowhere are forests more luxuriant. Nowhere is there a continent more miserable. Africa-sub-Saharan Africa, at least – has begun to look like an immense illustration of chaos theory, although some hope is forming on the margins. Much of the continent has turned into a battleground of contending doom . . .7
Even though, the reporter might have some reservations (Egypt or some nations of North Africa), he painted the whole continent black. Therefore the scope of this project is the African continent. But distinctions will be made when necessary.
The method of this project is expository, analytical and hermeneutical. By expository and analytical method, I will carefully expose the varied distorted images of Africans, starting from the ancient period to the contemporary period, with analysis when necessary. And by the method of hermeneutics, I will interpretatively unmask these distorted images of Africans using Martin Heidegger’s concept of “phenomenology” in order to see what lies behind them.
1.0 LITERATURE REVIEW
The vastness and diversity of Africa has made it difficult to determine whom we do refer when we talk of “the distorted images of African continent”. This is not unconnected with the fact that there are some African countries like Egypt, which because of their complexion a times are erased off from the Traitor’s book. Nevertheless, according to Joseph Harris in his book “Africans and their history”:
The history of African is relevant to the history of Black people throughout the world, and partly because of the general derogatory image “Africans” and Black people everywhere have inherited from Western history.1
Upon scientific evidence, the concept of Black inferiority and racism continues to thrive in many minds. It is appropriate that this project should present an analysis of the effects of historical myths and stereotypes, views and literatures about racial Africa before delving into the main corpus of the work.
1.1 ANCIENT VIEW ABOUT AFRICA
In examining ancient characterizations, we shall see how the roots of racial prejudice became interwoven in Western culture, which internationalized the concept of black inferiority and colonized Africa’s history. Joseph Harris appropriately hedge to the last sentence when he said:
The denigration of Africans can be traced back beyond the Christian era into antiquity, and in later times anyone who wished to employ degrading stereotypes about black people could easily establish reference points in classical times when outstanding scholars and writers described Africans as strange and primitive creatures. Many of those descriptions have remained with us and have contributed immeasurably to the perpetuation of denigratory myths about Africans, and black people generally.2
Joseph Harris, foremost in exposing ancient “distorted” views about Africa, went further to pull the bull by the horns:
Although the father of History, Herodotus, made significant contributions towards the evolution of history as a field of study, in attempting to describe African culture which was so different from his own, sowed seeds of racial prejudice that shaped black–white images for centuries to come. He frequently referred to Africans as “barbarians” and characterized the people of Libya by saying “their speech resembles the shrieking of a Bat rather than the language of men3.
He went further to say of another ancient writer:
Pliny the elder discussed of Africans who by report “have no heads but mouth and eyes both in their breast”, and others, who crawled instead of walking.4
A most decisive derogatory racial tradition stems from the biblical interpretation of Africa. Some of this went back to the biblical interpretation of Noah’s curse on Ham. We find this in Thomas F. Gossett’s book “Race: The history of an Idea in America”, where a collection of Jewish oral traditions in the Babylonian Talmud from the second to the sixth century A.D, holds that: “The descendants of Ham were cursed by being black”5 Robert Graves and Raphael Patai also report in their book titled ‘Hebrew Myths”:
It must be Canaan, your firstborn, whom they enslaved - - - - - Canaan’s children shall be born ugly and Black! Your grand children’s hair shall be twisted into kinks - - - (their lips) shall “swell”. Men of this race are called Negroes; their forefather Canaan commanded them to love theft and fornication, to be banded together in hatred of their masters and never to tell the truth6
The itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela by Robert Hess reports:
There are a people - - - who like animals, eat of the herbs that grow on the banks of the Nile and in the fields. They go about naked and have not the intelligence of ordinary men. They co-habit with their sisters and anyone they find …these sons of Ham are black slaves7
In Greco-Roman Times, Harris made one allusion, concerning their distinction of colors and race. It is, he said in reference to Ethiopia: “to wash Ethiopia white” 8
Most of these descriptions and stereotypes are myths, and by critical analysis may not hold water. Again, how come they (the ancients) were able to distort African image, since according to Modern History, Black Africa was discovered in 16th century, perhaps after the great leaps made by Christopher Columbus, Francis Pizzaro and other great explorers?
1.2 MEDIEVAL VIEW ABOUT AFRICA:
“The medieval Age was a humble and magnanimous age”.9 It was the age when the most fundamental principle, the universal brotherhood of all men and the fatherhood of God, was upheld. As such, there were no smears on African image. This was coupled with the facts that very limited knowledge was had about Africa, except perhaps North Africa from where St. Augustine came and also the city of Alexandria, but not sub Saharan Africa. Nevertheless most of the medieval thinkers like St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine had some views concerning slavery, which later burst out in the Missionaries treatment of Africans in the 16th century. Thus, according to J.Obi Oguejiofor in his book” Philosophy and African predicament”:
Unlike St. Augustine who sees slavery as due to the evil of the fall (original sin), Thomas Aquinas describes slavery as a positive institution. For him, it was devised by human reason, along with the convention of personal possession for the benefit of human life.10
As a consequent,
The image of Africans as inferiors was reinforced further by arguments of several Christian missionaries, ministers, and others who explained that an African was better off a slave in a Christian society than free in “African savagery”. One is reminded that most missionaries or other Europeans did not visit the greater part of Africa until the later part of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; but all the same Africa was presumed to be savage.11
The Christian missionaries also argued that the Bible spoke of slavery without condemning it. No doubt these arguments were convincing rationalizations to many Europeans especially during the era of slave Trade. Several writers on the slave trade illustrate the trend that conversion of an African slave did not necessitate manumission and that Africans are inferior. Hear John Houston in his book “Some New and Accurate observations of the coast of Guinea”, in which he described Africans thus:
They (Africans) exactly resemble their fellow creatures and natives, the monkeys12.
One is reminded of the note of irony expressed by the French philosopher, Charles de Montesquieu in 1748:
It is impossible for us to suppose these creatures to be men because allowing them to be men, a suspicion will follow that we ourselves are not Christians13.
1.3 MODERN VIEW ABOUT AFRICA
African or black inferiority as a concept reached its apex of negativity when it became intellectualized by philosophers of the Enlightenment Period that incorporates both Rationalists and empiricists. No wonder in a footnote to his essay entitled “Of National Character”, which appeared in his article and Treatises (1768), the empiricist and influential Scot philosopher David Hume wrote:
I am apt to suspect the Negroes… to be naturally inferior to the white. There never was a civilized nation of any other complexion than white, nor even any individual eminent either in action or speculation. No ingenious manufactures amongst them, no arts, no sciences.14
Hume probably did not realize how monumental his ignorance was; but it was doubtful that such a philosopher did not realize his great contribution to the stereotypic image of black people.
Another modern ignominious pronouncement came from the German philosopher, Georg Hegel in his philosophy of History. After a cursory discussion of Africa, he noted:
It is manifest that want of self-control distinguishes the character of the Negroes. This condition is capable of no development or culture, and as we have seen them at this day, such have they always been . . . At this point we leave Africa not to mention it again. For it is no historical part of the world; it has no movement or development to exhibit.15
This was Hegel’s remark in trying to depict the movement of the Absolute spirit in History. Most of these “myths” were formulated long before anything like serious relationships were established between Africans and Europeans. One can only surmise the impact of those “myths” on Europeans’ attitudes toward blacks, and one can imagine what the early European sailors and explorers thought when they landed in Africa and saw the objects of those centuries-old stereotypes. Here, are some of the reports of early Europeans & explorers of Africa.
Sebastine Munster in his “Cosmographia” witnessed falsely that “the inhabitants of Gulata (the present West African country of Mauritania) live like animals, have no government, no idea of agriculture, no one has a wife”16
I.A Corveia in his “Le Sens Moral Chez Ibos du Nigeria”, admitted that ‘Igbo’s’ have a moral heritage, but reduces it to “lowest grade of moral consciousness”17.
Hence, according to J. Ekei, ‘’here the notion of “hierarchy” of consciousness is introduced, analogous to Levy Bruhl who spoke of the ‘mentalite primitive prelogique”18
Other European Explorers include, Jurgen Andersen, Peter Kolb, and E. B. Taylor who called Africans “puerile minds”, Lord Averbury etc. One need not overlook the remarks of the American John C. Calhoun who helped stigmatize blacks during the era of slavery in the United States, and the counter remarks made by Kwame Nkrumah in which he cited the case of a Columbia University Zulu student’s speech. Calhoun: “If I could find a black man who could understand Greek syntax, I would consider the Black race human”. Nkrumah: what might have kindled the Greek syntax in the mind of the famous southerner, I have so far been unable to discover, but… I could show him among black men of pure African blood those who could repeat the Koran from memory, skilled in Latin, Greek and Hebrew, Arabic and Chaldaic’’19.
1.4 CONTEMPORARY VIEW ABOUT AFRICA
The views of the thinkers and explorers of the modern period as seen above have been perpetuated in this contemporary time. These are witnessed in the C.N.N. and B.B.C news during crisis in Africa, in the actions of U.N; in the deceptive strategies of the G-8 club, plus other western means.
The C.N.N and B.B.C will not, for once, tell their public the positive images of Africans. They will continue to show Africa as a place of AIDS infected people (though Aids developed from Europe), strife prone continent, a place full of wildlife, where earth is cracked and dry, plus other negative images. No wonder, Ikhenemho Okomilo reports on the back page of New Age
Newspaper, Tuesday, April 5. 2005 in his article titled ‘’Love in the climate of half-truths and damned lies’’: “…the corporation’s (B.B.C) governors are suddenly announcing they will devote an entire week in July to programmes that would redress its concentration in the negative aspects of Africa. The aim according to B.B.C Television controller, Loraine Heggessey, is to prompt viewers to “see the continent in a different light’’. We will help viewers to discover the real Africa, showing there is more to it than war, famine and diseases’’. Wonderful!
Speaking on the U.N actions in most African nations, V.Lenin depicted Africa (the third world) as the “sandbox of U.N”. The film on Hutu-Tutsi ethnic cleansing of 1994 in Rwanda brings home the inhuman and malicious actions of the so- called U.N.
Also, these distorted images have continued to smolder in the way Africans are treated today all over the world. Commenting on September 2005 Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Howard Dean who was defeated in 2004 democratic presidential primaries in U.S.A, added:
But we must come to terms with the ugly truth that skin, colour, age and economics played a deadly role in who survived and who did not.20
On the other hand most contemporary writings have discriminatory undertones. Consider when Karen Blixen wrote in her book “Out of Africa”, during her expeditions in Kenya:
The Somali bring much trouble upon themselves by their terrible tribal quarrels. In this matter they feel and reason differently from other people21.
But Karen Blixen forgot that ethnic conflagration cuts across the breadth and length of every continent. Consider the Holocaust camps of tribal Nazi Germany in the 20th century, the inhuman treatments meted out to the Kurds in Syria since March 2004, and the ethnic conflicts in Kosovo, Yugoslavia in the last 20th century.
Keith Reichburg, an African American writer, wrote in regards to the genocide of Rwanda in his book “A Black man confronts Africa”:
Fully evolved human Beings in the 20th century don’t do things like that.22
But fully evolved Western human beings killed 6 million Jews under Hitler. Stalin eliminated 20 million soviets and the Japanese imperial troops machine-gunned, bayoneted and raped 300,000 Chinese Civilians in the Rape of Nanking.
Examples of contemporary writings on African image flow like the river Euphrates.
The film, ‘’Gods must be crazy” is even a targeted missile on Africas’ image.
Having exposed the Ancient, medieval, modern and contemporary views about Africa, I shall now go straight to Martin Heidegger’s “Being and time” in order to use his concept of “phenomenology” to interpret these views about Africa since these views hinge on the Beingness of Africans.
Nevertheless, I am not enthralling his philosophy, which is not without flaws, but only using his concepts of “phenomenology” to interpret African situation.
1 Ezine Newsletter.African Images, (November 2002-african Insights) p.1
4 T. Serequerberham, TheHermeneutics of African philosophy: horizon and discourse (New York: Rout ledge, 1994) p.15.
5 O. Boateng, “How Africa developed Europe, U.S.A”, New African (Oct. 2005 No.444) p.22
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