A bulwark against cultural assimilation

A bulwark against cultural assimilation

Exactly 19 years ago on campus at the National University of Lesotho, a lecturer of mine from Ghana introduced me to the writings of Cheikh Antah Diop, the Senegalese scholar of note born in 1923. A historian, anthropologist, linguist, mathematician, physicist, philosopher, and Egyptologist, Cheikh Anta Diop was all of these professions through and through, in all essence making him the target of Eurocentric rivalries that saw him get his PhD belatedly despite rigorous research carried out in the writing of the doctoral thesis on the negroid origins of Egypt.

It takes the world of the ordinary man some time to see the light, and it does not matter how educated they are: the fact of the matter is that brilliant minds are not easily understood until someone comes along and makes them aware of the reality of the truth being said by the genius.

Throughout his scholarly work, Cheik Antah Diop highlighted two outstanding features of Africa’s history: first, its anteriority, in other words, its status as the source of human history and civilisation and secondly, its remarkable continuity in terms of culture and tradition.

This fact, if viewed without prejudice, soon reveals the reality that Africa never really progresses because the best of its minds are sacrificed for the aggrandisement of Western opinion that has so far managed to inculcate its condescending outlook on all that is local.

African ideas are not seen as potential drivers to progress, and the best that is done is accept all that is imposed by the West (and lately the East) as good enough to create the illusion that Africa is progressing when it is in fact going nowhere slowly.

All systems African are discarded without question with regard to their effectiveness; this is in fact part of the 300 year plan by Willie Lynch to ensure that slavery became a perpetual reality for the indigenous peoples of the world: that people should be enslaved more in mind than in body, that is, have people believe that it is right to forget one’s history and adopt the ways of the neo-colonist/slave-master.

This is the reason why anyone that comes up with a different type of truth that exposes the evils of neo-colonialism is shut down or secluded to a corner where their ideas cannot reach the general public to enlighten them on the realities of what they are going through.

Luminaries like Antah Diop are not widely known because his ideas inculcate a sense of self-awareness the neo-colonist does not want to be there in the serf-class his forebears created.

In a June, 1986 edition of West Africa (pp. 1160-1162) authored by Babacar Sall with translation from Ayi Kwei Armah, Diop’s ideas on African consciousness and cultural affinities (linguistic, religious, institutional, artistic) and similarities which he deems as the basic unit that has kept the peoples of the continent united are presented in the article as:

This basic unit is an objective reality. It is up to African thinkers and researchers to free their minds to discover it, and then, through their productive work in the continent’s institutions of learning, to make it a living part of the daily, active consciousness of Africa’s peoples. Once this begins to happen, Africa’s’ researchers, scholars and intellectuals will find themselves playing their full participatory role, laying the ideational groundwork for the necessary achievement of a federated, united Africa.

The life-work of Diop was focused on highlighting the historical continuity beneath the cultural achievements of black African societies. He did this by emphasising among other realities, the cultural unity of the black peoples and the power of the original civilisations that became the moulds for the global civilisations that came after them.
The basic assertion behind his method was that Africa’s schools of history will restore to Africans at home and abroad the lost historical consciousness.

The lost historical consciousness if regained was seen as an indispensable defence against the colonial cultural assimilation aimed at forcing the African to forget his own history and to adopt the ways of the colonist, and against the social alienation seen in the class division as instituted by systems such as apartheid.

The constant attack on the personage of the African individual in the form of denigration and subjugation to second-class or third-class citizenship status became the yeast that fermented the now pervasive threat of fatalistic spirit of resignation amongst the peoples of the continent in the face of the prevalent challenges of hunger, war, and disease that seems to have forced a large part of the continent’s population to drift into evident anomie displayed in various wretched ways that include rampant crime, immorality, and selfishness.

Diop deemed a people’s historical consciousness, once liberated and energised, as a sure driving force in the human struggle for life, in the inculcation of a sense of hope that teaches people to understand themselves and to know that they can do better than the present circumstances dictate.

Though a very broad outline the basic meaning of Cheikh Anta Diop’s lifework states that we cannot always depend on external opinion to define ourselves, that we should not wait for someone from outside the continent to tell us who we were before we got to where we are.

Through that labour of love that was for a large part of his life without reward, he helped start what Babacar Sall terms, “a necessary process of epistemological liberation.”

It was always the travail of Diop to prove to the African that the African could better understand him or herself better if they bothered to look into the historical realities as found by personal research. The truth of the matter is African history was often written from a Eurocentric perspective and therefore, some of the salient details and aspects that define the idea of Africanness were unintentionally or deliberately left out to fashion the African mind reading them to be a pliable tool in the hands of the colonist.

This means that the reading of such standing-on-the-outside-looking-in histories in the present day carries the danger of further polluting the young African mind into believing that we Africans never had a glorious history before the advent of colonialism, or, that the colonial legacy has actually ended when in fact it is still present as portrayed in the tendencies of the ‘educated’ or upper classes of the continent. This is the primary reason that Cheik Antah Diop made the call for Africans to appropriate their history and made the statement that:

It is the challenge of Africa’s intellectuals, scientists, researchers to complete that process by sharpening in ourselves the capacity to uncover buried scientific truths, by becoming intellectually tough enough to break with old slavish habits of dependence on alien approval, by accepting fully our responsibility to achieve scientific autonomy, and by identifying relevant classificatory criteria springing from our own daily living realities, from the necessities of our own world, and from aspirations born of our own highest dreams.

This was the basis on which Cheikh Anta Diop worked, striving really hard to be an intellectual liberator fighting against the falsification of history, constantly fighting against academic charlatanism that saw him receive his doctor’s degree after 10 years of struggles with ‘academics’ in the universities of France.

Such was the sadness of his campaign that meant that life in the pursuit of his work was done in terrible solitude. Babacar Sall shows that old-guard Africanist scholars were hostile to his ideas, and one can safely guess that the lead reason is that Diop’s argument rattled the can of colonialism within which their minds were fashioned.

One finds this old guard still present in current times, standing as gatekeepers to protect colonial interests at the expense of the mental liberation of young African scholars that somehow have found the light through the reading of the works of such figures as Cheik Antah Diop.

Any scholar expects support from their alma mater when it comes to the presentation of some new perspective found in the course of research, Diop got none from Dakar University, against the expectation that they were the institution which ought to have given him the strongest support.

In the writing of his research paper, all he got for the effort was 20 long years of deliberate, calculated frustration from the academic quarters of the universities and his political opponents subjected him to the full power of their enmity.

In all senses, Cheikh Anta Diop can be seen to have died a martyr (at age 62 in 1986), worn out by constant hassling from well-placed mediocrities, as is the usual practice in Africa where doctors without letters or articles present themselves as authorities that can either block a paper on the basis of their not liking the author or accepting it because the author agrees to lick their boots.

The fact of the matter is that the truth is what it is, true despite or in spite of difference in opinion and outlook. Truth remains what it is no matter what popular opinion would wish it to be in this day and age where the truth is often sacrificed at the altars erected by pseudo-literatis.

It is a common mistake made by people that are not privy to the gist of the information found in research or areas of concern to believe that the scientific theories given by the teachers or the media of the time to be the absolute or final word on the subject. This process of misinformation often starts because it is taken as it is presented by the media without question.

This type of approach get the facts all messed up, and before we know it, everybody believes it and begins to formulate fallacious arguments around it.

The history of the continent has taught us that Africans were sub-humans, ignorant, and not able to govern themselves or their systems of knowledge.

This fact was especially exacerbated by the appointed leaders of the native establishment, who encouraged their subjects to take kindly to change and new information without question.

When the new age of African intellectuals arrived in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, facts previously taught by the colonists began to be questioned and new knowledge began to be gained and the peoples of the continent began to become enlightened to the real truth of the matter.

The sad reality however, is that this knowledge was lost once again as the political and academic class with private interests went back again to distorting information for the sake of driving private agendas. Salient aspects of history got lost in the process, replaced by information meant to chain the African mind for the benefit of the personal interests of the elite.

One would have thought that the words of Cheik Antah Diop would have faded in the deluge of misinformation as is found on the web, but it seems that he has stood the test of time as one begins to question the realities unfolding on the continent of Africa.

It seems we are facing a new type of colonialism that is largely driven by the simple fact that the individual is more concerned with immediate challenges the outsider promises to erase.

Africans have always been a hardworking people able to fashion their world from the thin air which they breathe, what vexes one’s understanding is why the modern African seems to hold the false notion that innovation and aid will come from other parts of the world other than the mineral and human resource rich continent.

Understanding ourselves means that we know for a fact that our continent was once great, and that it can be great again if we bother to get to the gist of the information as is presented in the histories of this land.
It is a fact that most of the documents related to history have been lost or stolen for reasons unknown, but this does not mean that we cannot draw a clear enough picture from the scraps and vestiges of information that remain in archives or libraries and individuals that were there when it all happened.

A creative writing lecturer gave me the name of the best African scholar that ever lived, I read the works he penned, understood the depth of his research, and came out the other side of the wall of knowledge a better individual that understood not only himself but the full breadth of the wisdom of the African continent long hidden in Eurocentric colonial agendas meant to subjugate my mind to the status of the serf native. We can only understand ourselves if we diligently seek the understanding hidden in our history.

B: Tšepiso S. Mothibi

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