Illusions of knowing leads to trouble
To continue a conversation that began with writing an introduction to the bookfair of Yoruba books taking place in Akure in April 2018, may mine not disappear in ours. This prayer had been forced into the intro by my friend asking for a line against globalisation. Understanding that globalisation is a generalisation based on some limited contributions, there is need to wonder where mine is in ours. This need to know has led to other highways and bye-ways of searching.
Reading an essay “China’s Secret Weapon: TAO” by Jan Krikke, the following quote was encountered: “A large part of humanity has already developed a ‘global consciousness’ through cultural cross-fertilisation. Europe affected global consciousness through science, East Asia through Esther I said, India through spiritual practices, and Africa through the soul of its music. Having been ‘exported’, these cultural developments are often reimported after having been modified abroad. Western economies embraced ‘application technology’ in the 1980s, which had a great impact on global economy. African musicians now play ‘world music’, and many Indians have embraced modern Western approaches to meditation techniques of yoga.” Mr. Krikke concludes his essay by quoting Kenji Ekuan: “The world has seen great dramas in the past – the French Revolution, the American Revolution, the Russian Revolution. But now the world is awaiting a new drama. I call it the drama of material world.”
The first quote from the essay calls for serious questioning. The second insists on filling a huge gap in the know of Ekuan, the essay writer and people like them. That missing gap is the Haitian Revolution of 1789 – 1804, the first successful slave revolt in human history. In spite of tons books and essays and pamphlets inspired by this unique revolution, the world of globalised knowledge ignores the importance and impact of this revolution.
Haiti (or Ayiti) as it is called in Creole) was not the scene of the first slave revolt. Anywhere and everywhere Africans were held in slavery to revolted. A lot of writers like to ethnicise slave revolts. All through the plantations in the Caribbean, in the American colonies in the south, in the area between the Rivers Tigris and Euphrates, slaves revolted against their inhuman conditions. In Iraq, in the land between the two rivers slaves were used to clear the salt petre in preparation for the planting of sugar cane. This was, in the ninth century CE one of the bloodiest until then, slave revolts took place. The state that was set up lasted for thirteen years before it was destroyed by the Umayyads.
Western knowledge markets have deliberately ignored these slave revolts, perhaps because, although there were white slaves, there does not seem to exist records of white slave revolts. The French Revolution, the American Revolution, the French Revolution were all revolts led by Class suicides or ideologues bent on proving the validity of their social theories. That a revolt led by slaves for the liberation of slaves could succeed still baffles western knowledge store keepers. But back to our original wonder: the place of mine in ours.
So much has been written in the last two decades or so on the trauma caused by identity doubts. We go from the joke of the big man or woman who, not accorded the reception that she or he is used to getting, asks ‘do you know who I am?’ to children abandoned at birth who have made good and would not bother searching for their biological mothers. The question of who am I arises when I look around and I do not see another human who looks like me in the gathering.
It is like living in Cape Town in the last years of apartheid and being invited to public events where you and your wife were the only blacks in a gathering numbering hundreds. On one particular occasion, the issue had to be raised especially because, on that occasion, a book dealing with black people in South Africa written by a white colleague was being launched. The question arises: What is my own here? And when I cannot find my own in a place or in a space I get worried.
Yet, I have always found the numerous books written on so-called Black achievements difficult to read. Africans invented everything. Africans discovered everything. This is an exaggeration that is countering the other exaggeration that Africans invented nothing. Africans discovered nothing. In fact, they say, Africans had no history until their encounter with the Europeans. Such statements come from ignorance of human survival tactics around the earth.
Unfortunately, many Africans have accepted the white supremacist propaganda of an Africa that achieved nothing in the past, is achieving nothing at present and will achieve nothing in the future. Globalisation has so concentrated everyone’s mind on material achievement of the sciences and the technologies that it would seem nothing else matters to living on earth.
Yet, material well being is not the totality of well being. Late President Senghor, poet and statesman, and his Negritude ideologues made the case for African soul music and dance. But they made a case for more than African soul music and dance. Aime Cesaire (born 1913) in his seminal long poem Return to my Native Land first published in 1956 says:
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