Fadeke – Episode III

Over the next couple of months, Fadeke and Tade saw each other more often. Tade was very good with brushes and pencil; he would often say that his paintings were his medium of expression as they told his story and that of others around him. Fadeke became fond of Tade; initially it was due to the fact that she wanted some paintings and other art works. After a while, it was not just the paintings, she began to look forward to seeing Tade. At first, Fadeke felt the friendship was parasitic as she had nothing to offer in return for the paintings. She hated this and once tried to offer him money in return for the paintings but he would not accept, she then offered to buy some of the frames and coloured pencils; this was fine with Tade. Fadeke was not satisfied with this. An opportunity then opened up one afternoon when Tade told her he wished he did not have to offer physics; that was her opportunity to make their friendship symbiotic and she took it. She asked him some questions and noticed that he was very poor in physics. He was practically struggling with most topics in the curriculum for that year. She was a ‘B’ student in physics unlike chemistry which was her forte but she was good enough to tutor him. Tade made art works for Fadeke and she helped him with physics. Prior to them becoming friends, Tade had done his homework; he knew where Fadeke lived, who her mother was and that she loved music.

It was usual for St John’s boys and Agnes’ girls to mingle, Tade used this to his advantage by asking the girls in Fadeke’s class. He heard from the girls in her class that Fadeke was very brilliant and had always finished top of the class. The only snag according to the girls was that she was not sharp with boys, otherwise she would have won all the boys at St. John and even some of the university students that often visited St Agnes in search of what had come to be termed as ‘big boy love’ by Agnes’ girls.  But as fate would have it, Fadeke seemed to like him, perhaps because of his artistic hands.  The socialisation between St. John’s boys and Agnes’s girls was customary, the presence of boys at Agnes or that of girls at St. John was never questioned, either because the management of the both schools did not care or they felt it was not wrong. It was therefore easy for Fadeke and Tade to meet in either of their classes after school.  Their usual meeting point was Tade’s class because Fadeke took extra classes three days a week in preparation for the West Africa Senior Secondary School Examination, which she was to write the next term. On those days, Fadeke would meet Tade in his class working on some sketch, as is his usual custom and they would talk for about one hour, so Fadeke could get home early enough to complete her homework and prepare dinner.

It was on one of those afternoons that Fadeke brought up a conversation about their future ambitions. He seemed to have concluded that he had no chance of ever attending a university or any tertiary institution. Fadeke could not understand why he would arrive at this conclusion; there were many things Fadeke did not understand about him. He never spoke about his family or background, she was not sure who his friends were and she definitely did not know where he lived. He somehow dodged her questions and focused on her plans, and for once, Fadeke failed to dig deeper. She had always wanted someone to listen to her, to ask her what she wanted to do with her life. Tade lend her his listening ears and she poured out her heart.

*********

Her Mum had drummed it into her ears how much she needed to ace her papers so she could gain admission into medical school. Fadeke was going to live her mother’s dreams. No one bothered to ask what she dreamt, how she foresaw her future, where she wanted to be, what she wanted to do. Her teachers seemed to have conspired with her mother. They simply looked at her examination results at the end of each term and tell her she was destined to be a medical doctor. No one asked if this was her dream, they simply assumed she would want to be a medical doctor. After all, she always aced her chemistry with such ease each term.

She had never been able to picture herself in white overalls walking down the long corridors typical of hospitals. Whenever she tried to imagine herself in those realities, the images that dropped in her mind were never ever clear, just blurred images of someone who looked like her, but was not her. Rather, she had always dreamt of stages and massive crowds dripping in their sweats, pushing, shoving and screaming her name out of frenzied excitement. The dreams were repetitive both at night and at daylight, they never left. She often dreamt of tours around the world, meeting her favourite artistes, watch them perform and even perform with them. She had only ever attended a live concert, one of the concerts at Liberty Park, Lagos. The images in her mind became much clearer at the concert. Initially, she was irritated at the girls behind her because they screamed so loud during the performances. She wanted to enjoy the lyrics and listen to the harmony of the instruments. These girls would not let her; they were over excited at the band playing their favourite songs, so they screamed all through. She missed some of the lyrics as a result. It was at this point she understood that musicians and artistes were performers and without the screams of the audience, performances were pointless. She wished she had more chances to attend live shows at Liberty Park but her mother would not agree, first, she would not allow her ‘waste’ her life and secondly, the shows ended late into the night. She was too young to be all alone at such ungodly hour, her mother would often say. She was only able to attend that one show because her mother had agreed after much persuasion to reward her brilliant academic performance.

Fadeke knew she was her mother’s joy and perceived ‘only hope’, she understood how much she meant to her mother, despite her sarcasm. She loved Fadeke very deeply, but she was like every average Nigerian parent. Nigerian parents dream dreams and hang the manifestation of their dreams on their children. Mrs. Onifade was not to be persuaded, her daughter would read medicine. She often rebuffed every attempt by Fadeke to turn her heart with the Yoruba proverb a fun o lobe o tami si; ogbon ju olobe lo?

*********

Fadeke sat for her examination and was confident that she was going to make excellent grades. While the examination lasted, Mrs. Onifade treated her like a baby and made sure she had no house chores. After each paper, Mrs. Onifade would ask for details and with her daughter’s confident response each day, her confidence in the dream began to take wing, ready to soar.

Unknown to Mrs. Onifade, Fadeke with the support of Tade, had put in psychology on her university matriculation examination application. Fadeke had asked Tade to accompany her to the cyber café to submit her application. They asked the cyber café attendant what course was close to medicine but less stressful. The attendant told them psychology or physiotherapy, so Tade and Fadeke told her to submit psychology. At least it was close to Mrs. Onifade’s dreams…

 

Interpretations

a fun o lobe o tami si; ogbon ju olobe lo? – We gave you some stew, you added water; you must be wiser than the cook.

 

 

Fadeke – Episode II

Read the first episode here

Mrs. Onifade’s scream jolted Fadeke out of her reverie. In frustration, she picked her school sandal, wore it and hurried off to the kitchen to carry the gas stove. She could hear her mother’s screeching hisses as she rushed out of the house.

As she walked on her street, she heard some boys made advances at her from different dark corners in the street. Fadeke lived on one of the inner streets of Lende. She had the urge to sing or at least hum a song but her mother had warned her about singing at night or doing anything at all that drew attention to her.

Lende used to be a posh area of Lagos as it had accommodated some Federal Government Parastatals when Lagos was the Federal Capital of Nigeria. Over time, Lende lost it serenity and became heavily congested following the relocation of the Federal Capital from Lagos to Abuja. Certain areas were still clean and inhabited by quiet families; however, shanties bordered most sane areas of Lende such that serenity lived side by side with insanity. While other Lagosians are asleep, Lende and many of its residents are awake, they live dusk to dawn lifestyles. Night life in Lende is ruled by fear: fear of hoodlums, rapists and thieves who lurk around dark places just to perpetrate fear. You would often see policemen everywhere but they were also part of the night life, they either encourage crime in order to receive their part or play dumb. Of course, Lende night life was nothing without the ‘quick houses’ especially those at Barbeque Junction. Barbeque Junction was never lacking in human traffic, from the customer seeking girls, to the quick gratification needy men, to the tools-providing and ever supportive business people.

Fadeke hurried past Barbeque Junction and arrived at ‘Everything Gas’,  refilling the small sized gas stove used to cost N800, but the sales boy insisted that it was now N1,000. They haggled on the price and finally settled for N900.

*********

On a bench a little distance away from Everything Gas sat three boys in the same age group as Fadeke; they sat in silence while smoky puffs lunged out of their mouths and nostrils. They noticed Fadeke as she arrived at Everything Gas and watched her as she gesticulated and rolled her eyes at the sales boy.

‘One time like that, I hear ‘Egbon’  when he talk say this girl big pass her age’ first broke the silence.

‘na true talk o, my brother too talk am so. He talk say she don dey full and ripe for plucking but say she no dey give anybody face’  The second boy contributed.

‘Me sha, I admire the girl, she dey smart and she get nice voice. See ehn, if I get opportunity like am, I no go dey follow una with this kain lifestyle’ the third boy who said in regret laden voice.

‘Abegii, na that one we go chop?   How many smart guys wey be say them  try and still dem no make am and dem come back for here dey join us weed.’ first did not sound too pleased with third’s comment “see ehn, my sister go Yabatech for one year but Malé no fit afford am, na so she withdraw come back area here dey hustle at Barbeque Junction” second concluded

“Na the same thing we dey talk, if you get opportunity go school, and you get person wey go pay for am, no joke with am”. The third boy insisted

“I agree with you. I wan get out of this lifestyle. If I fit hit one million ‘pepper’ now, I go ex from this place” first enthused. Second and third laughed and gave first a look that said ‘joker’.

They watched Fadeke as she paid the sales boy; pick up the CamGas and head home, oblivious of the three pairs of eyes staring at her and wondering different thoughts.

*********

As Fadeke passed Barbeque Junction on her way home, she noticed a girl around her age or younger whispering to a man “come, I’m very good and affordable. Just N1,000”.

“Get off you silly girl. Why will I follow you when I can have a more matured one at N500” the man responded.  It was not unusual to hear such conversation at Barbeque Junction. Each time Fadeke heard such similar conversations, her heart would beat rapidly. She hastened her steps…

*********

Tade stood up from the bench, bid the other two goodnight, and dragged himself home.  Home was a shanty under the popular Lende Bridge. There were a lot of boys around the shanty, either exchanging lighted papers or wrapping them, all the while uttering all sorts of profanities. Each night, these boys had routines, they hang around the bridge, waiting, hoping and anticipating that a car would break down. Any unlucky person who stopped or whose car broke down at that point would be attacked and robbed, sometimes without the use of force and at other times, very forcibly.

Tade was born in Ogbomosho, and until four years ago, all he knew was Ogbomosho. Four years ago, he lost his only surviving parent, his father. He had lost his mother at the age of ten. Following his father’s funeral, there was a big fight within the family regarding the custody of Tade; all the eligible persons complained that they could not afford to take Tade in. Tade’s ‘big brother’, who came all the way from Lagos, had no choice but to take Tade back to Lagos with him. Tade was very excited about the prospect of coming to Lagos, he had so much expectation. It wasn’t until they got to Lagos that his big brother explained his predicament to Tade. Tade did not exactly understand many of the things his brother told him.  What was certain to him though, was the fact that his brother was not as rich as he thought. The periodic goodies they used to receive from him during the festive periods were not evidence of his wealth but symbols of his attempts at impressing his family and displaying a successful outlook. The first night Tade spent in the shanty was one of the worst days of his life. He could not understand the bad smell oozing from the area, the noise and curses, and the giant mosquitoes.

His brother tried to do his best; he enrolled him at St. Johns High School after almost a year of inactivity. He also bought him some of the books he could find with the elderly man who sold ‘second hand’ books at the roundabout. Although Tade decided that he would not join the smoky boys, he was encouraged to take a smoke one evening during the one year of inactivity; afterwards, he simply could not resist the urge to smoke.

Thoughts of Fadeke came to his head as he struggled to stay awake. She was fortunate she had a parent who cared for her. She would never have to patronise Barbeque Junction. He knew he liked her but he dare not tell the other two. He hoped she got home safely. He would see her again.

*********

Fadeke threw yet another paper into the waste bin in her room. She tried to write again and after three lines, she got frustrated and was about to give it one more shot when the image of her mother’s disapproving eyes popped in her mind. She closed the lyrics note and picked up her chemistry text book. She had to fulfil her mother’s dream…

*********

Mrs. Onifade tossed and turned on her bed. This was the usual routine every night. She always found sleep difficult to come by. She wished her life had taken a different direction than it did. If only she had waited, she could have married the right man. She remembered how Enitan begged her to give him time. She had just returned to Lagos after obtaining a National Certificate of Education at the Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo when she met Tunde Onifade. He was older; older men were often more romantic with younger women and Tunde was no exception, or so it seemed. Tunde promised her heaven on earth. He was ready to get married and that was crucial to her at the time.

She knew she loved Enitan but there was a lot of pressure on her to get married. Enitan was not ready. He had just obtained a degree in biochemistry at the Federal University of Technology, Akure. He would often tell her that he would show her the world, if she was patient. However, she was not on friendly terms with patience, so she married Tunde. Everything went well, although she continued to nurse her love for Enitan. Eventually, she discovered that Tunde was not half the lover boy Enitan was, so all he did was the basic; provide shelter, clothing and food for her and their daughter. Things began to fall apart when she learnt that Tunde had another wife who had three kids for him. She confronted Tunde and he waved it off as nothing. She asked him whether he made provisions for them and his response was a quick no, he had no business with them.

When Fadeke was twelve, and three months after they moved to the apartment at Lende, Tunde moved out of the house and never came back. The next time they heard about him, he was with some other woman who was heavy with his baby. Mrs. Onifade decided to let go and move on with her life. Unfortunately, she had relied on Tunde for most of their needs so life became a real struggle from the point of his exit. Fadeke was her crown, the only joy from her union with Tunde.

Gradually she felt herself move to the other realm where she dreamt of Dr. Fadeke and her big hospital…

 

Translations

“Egbon” – Big Brother

“Malé” – Mother

“Pepper” – Nigerian slang for money

 

To be continued….

 

Remember to share your thoughts and critique of this series,  using the comments box below. Thank you

Fadeke – Episode I

“NEPA!” Just 25minutes ehn, na wa o! She hissed as she groped in the dark. Despite the fact that the electricity authority was privatised and had been sold to several investors with different names, most Nigerians still referred to the successor companies as NEPA. She hissed again in frustration. There was a spark as a small flicker of fire came on after she struck a match stick against the box. As she did, the acoustics of Mathias Piano Man’s ‘a spark of light’ came to her mind and she hummed it joyfully. She lit the candle sitting idly on her reading table and after three attempts, the candle agreed to stand on a Milo tin. The Milo tin had huge candle waxes which had built over months.

“This foolish people will soon bring their stupid bill even when there’s never light. This country is so annoying” She ranted as she fooled around with the candle wax moulding some of it into a figure resembling guitar strings.

‘Fadeke! Her mother’s voice called ‘Fadeke!!!

‘I’m in my room’, she grumbly responded.

‘Ok, so I should come to your room abi? She heard her mother respond sarcastically.

She knew that it was wrong the way she treated her mother on some days. The woman had given and continued to give everything to ensure that she got educated. She dragged herself from the bed which creaked noisily as she did. She remembered vividly when the frame for the bed was set up; it used to be a very beautiful bed, which had now become a shadow of its glorious self. Everything in the two room apartment bore a sign of old age, all worn out despite obvious effort at keeping them clean and neat.

“We need gas ma. If you won’t do the cooking at least help make the job easy for me. You didn’t notice the gas was low when you warmed your food this afternoon abi?

‘I was trying to finish my assignments ma”

‘ehn, now is the time to do your assignment. What have you been doing all day? She looked at her and saw she was weary and aging really fast. She felt bad at being the cause of most of the grey strands of hairs appearing on her mother’s head. She was too young to be greying. Fadeke knew she could not lie, her mother was better than a lie detector, it was as if she had a gift of discernment; she could tell when a person is lying and being deceptive. St. Agnes Girls Secondary School was a mere stone throw from the house. The school closed at 3pm, and within 10 minutes she ought to be home. If she got home by 3.30pm, her assignments should have been completed latest by 7pm. Her mother got home at 8.15pm. There was no possible lie.

‘Errm….I was tired so I took a nap’

‘You’re either tired or singing, every time. At some point, you will understand how serious life is. It is your life o, it is your life. Anyway, take money from my purse, and refill the gas cylinder. If you like sleep there o’ Sarcasm and Nigerian mothers, rather than tell you very simply what they want, they say it the other way round and God save you if you take them literally.

Fadeke hurried off to her room in search of her slippers, she searched the room and could not find her slippers, frustration began to set in when she heard her mother call again “Fadeke, akuko ko, ole pose. How long will it take you to get out of your room ehn?” She knew full well that whenever her mother dished Yoruba proverbs, it was often out of some deep emotion, ranging from anger to frustration, and sometimes simply out of amazement.

“Mummy I’m coming now, I cannot find my slippers” Fadeke responded with some great effort at hiding her irritation.

“Why won’t you look for your slippers when your room is full of junk and punk?” Her Mum threw back. Fadeke took a quick look around her room, and her head told her that her mother was right; her heart responded that her room was merely artistic and represented her personality. On the wall of her room hung several portraits of female artistes and musical bands whose music ruled the airwaves during the 90’s. Directly on top of her reading table hung a black and white portrait of the Brownstone, an American female contemporary R&B group that was popular during the mid-1990s. Next to the portrait was yet another Brownstone painting; this one had the Brownstone girls standing by the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. She had read all about the Brownstone, from its formation in Los Angeles to present day life. The Brownstone did not last on the scene but she loved them passionately; she loved Nicci best. She also had an antique guitar which she bought off some of the junkies in her area. She saved any money she received from her mum for these types of items; she was not so much into all the girly indulgences. She had very few friends; most of her neighbours felt she was a weird teenage girl. She once asked Tade, a talented boy in the SS2 class of St. Johns High School, an all-boys secondary school sharing boundary with her school to make an artistic calligraphy of Lauryn Hill’s Can’t Take My Eyes off you. The poor boy did not know who Lauryn Hill was, but because he wanted to impress the pretty SSS3 girl at ‘Agnes Girls’, he agreed to make the calligraphy. He frantically asked everyone, none knew who Lauryn Hill was, so in frustration and thinking he had lost the chance to impress Fadeke, he told her he was sorry he could not make the piece. Fadeke was not to be put off easily, so she dug into the reason behind his rejection. When she discovered it was because he did not know the lyrics, she laughed at him and told him she was sorry, she ought to have written out the lyrics for him. She picked a piece of paper and wrote the entire lyrics on the paper without a pause. Tade was impressed and gave the calligraphy his best shot, Fadeke totally loved it. It hung nicely above her bed. She remembered she needed to see Tade the next day, she needed a sketch …

“Fadeeeekeeeee!!!!!!

 

Translations

“Abi” – right?

“Akuko ko, ole pose” – the cock crows, the lazy man is displeased.

“Ehn” – A Yoruba exclamation

 

 

To be continued….

 

Remember to share your thoughts and critique of this series,  using the comments box below. Thank you

TATAALO ADAMU: The Invention of African Intellectual Tradition

Illustrious members of the high Table and the table not so high, distinguished members of the audience, notable and budding philosophers, Professor Sophie Oluwole, the keynote speaker who is also the moving spirit behind the whole event, it gives me great joy to be here as the chairman of this interactive session on the occasion of the World Philosophy Day. I must particularly thank the Centre for African Culture and Development for putting the issue of Africa’s lost intellectual heritage on the front burner of discourse again.

Given the multifarious problems confronting humanity, it is only sensible that once a year, a day should be set aside for sober philosophical reflections on the state of the human society and the prospects for the survival of the species. Some of these concerns are not to be taken lightly or dismissed glibly. As Claude Levi-Strauss, the great French Structuralist anthropologist, has put it with caustic relish, “the world began without man and will end without him”.

I am not by any stretch of the imagination a professional philosopher. But there is a philosopher in everybody. The ability to think and to think through problems is what distinguishes human-beings from our animal cousins. If prostitution is the oldest human profession, philosophy must come a very close second. It is impossible to conceive of a human society without thinking of its thinkers and savants. These are the wise people, the cognoscenti, the visionary dreamers and conceptual pathfinders without which the great strides and the epic feats of knowledge and self-knowledge recorded by humanity would have been impossible. Without philosophers, a society must atrophy and perish.

This year’s World Philosophy Day is coming against a background of great global unease, of human eruptions on a revolutionary scale and scope, of a fierce contention between man and a capitalist machine that no longer recognizes even its own. There is a trans-societal struggle to bring to heels a world in which inequity and inequality among classes, races, hemispheres and nations have assumed a staggering and idiotic proportion.

A consensus appears to have emerged that the world cannot continue along the lines of the present economic disorder and disequilibrium. After almost six hundred years of unrivalled hegemony, the World Order imposed by the capitalist mode of production and its twin bye products of liberal democracy and the nation-state paradigm appears to be at the end of its historic tether.

It is hard to predict what will follow, but it is a profound irony that while the system bequeathed to the world by western modernity is unraveling at the seams; while the philosophical and intellectual assumptions that underpin and power its baleful hegemony are being daily rubbished by new and novel imperatives, Africa is bogged down at the level of clearing the intellectual debris of misconceptions and misinformation imposed and inflicted on it by the expiring World Order. In a classic case of double jeopardy most of Africa has joined Europe and the west on the road to economic and political ruination without being able to develop the substantial infrastructural insurance of the capitalist metropole.

The misconceptions about Africa’s intellectual heritage are many indeed; the orchestrated misinformation very scary. But intellectual misconceptions do not just arise in a vacuum or out of a void. There is always a philosophical fundament which underlies and structures such misconceptions. In the particular case of intellectual misconceptions of Africa, It might have started out as mere prejudice colouring the worldview of sea-faring merchants and buccaneering adventurers, but it was later to receive its philosophical ballast and intellectual scaffolding from dominant western intellectuals and thinkers as a means of providing rationale for the project of modernity and its systematic brutalization of the human species from Africa.

Let us now put the matter as crudely and as graphically as possible. Can the Blackman philosophize? At face value, this appears to be a particularly inane and vexing question. How can there be a people who cannot philosophize? But by philosophizing, we do not mean stringing together witticisms and wise-sayings into a coherent cosmogony or worldview. We are talking of the capacity for conceptual formulation and rigorous abstractions; the ability for sustained intellection and paradigmatic speculation.

A whole retinue of western thinkers and intellectuals are united in the belief that beyond empty story telling and the regurgitation of received wisdom, the African is incapable of sustained abstractions. From Hegel to Karl Marx and down to Hugh Trevor-Roper who noted that African history is a dark void and an embarrassment to humanity, these western intellectuals are unanimous in the notion that Africa has no cultural or intellectual heritage worth talking about.

In an infamous passage from his Notes on the State of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson, a founding father and Third President of America, noted thus of the African American: “It appears to me that in memory they are equal to whites: in reason much inferior, as I think one could scarcely be found capable of tracing and comprehending the investigations of Euclid; and that in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous”.

It is note-worthy and interesting that whatever the ideological temperament of these western intellectuals, they were all united in their denigration of Africa’s cultural and intellectual heritage. The project of modernity, being a “national” project that transcends individual ideological proclivity, does not brook intellectual dissension. The discursive formation behind the formulation of western hegemony suffers from its own tyranny of the mother culture.

Karl Marx, for example, thought that pre-historic societies, such as was the case with all societies preoccupied with mythology, tried to dominate nature in and around the imagination and that this fixation with idiotic superstitions gives way once humankind masters his environment through scientific certitude and the knowledge that comes with enlightenment.

To be sure, it is possible that at the time of the colonial incursion, the African continent might have suffered a brutal and catastrophic regression into the state of nature. But it does appear that what we are dealing with here is the substitution of one set of superstitions for another. The absence of western-type formal academies of learning from Africa at the time of colonial conquest does not invalidate the African capacity to learn and to philosophise at the most rarefied level of abstraction.

In the twelfth century, there was a university in Timbuktu which had an attendance of twenty five thousand students in a city of a hundred thousand, although this might have owed its provenance to the dominant Islamic culture. Ibn Khaldun, the fourteenth century Tunis-born Arab African philosopher and globally acclaimed political theorist, anticipated most of Marx and Vico’s theories about the cyclical nature of historical evolution. His notion of asabiyah, or group coherence and bonding in conditions of exacting harshness, showed a remarkable insight into the construction and deconstruction of tribal hegemonies.

Although there were no formal schools in pre-colonial Africa in the sense that we have come to know them, traditional African societies had their own informal system of education which produced the requisite elite to man the institutions. It was a capillary network of politicians, diplomats, historians, judges, spies, shamans, votaries, savants, psychiatrists, native healers, astrologers, information gurus among other traditional professions.

Indeed the extant ideological apparatuses of the pre-colonial African states still retain an efficacy and power of compliance long after their political and material basis and rationale have been subverted by the colonial irruption. It was not for nothing that Peter Morton described the Yoruba Ogboni confraternity as “mystery-mongering greybeards.”

Even if we are to put all this aside, even we are to concede that medieval Africa did suffer a terrible regression to the savagery of the state of nature, the roots and foundation of western modernity in the ancient African civilisation of Egypt cannot be denied. The myth of the black savage shambling about in the cave of cultural and intellectual darkness is just that: a myth rooted in intellectual superstition.

In order to deal with the conquered and subjugated people of Africa, but, more importantly, in order to explain away the systematic cruelties of western colonisation, western intellectual tradition had to “reinvent” the native African cultural heritage to suit their preconceived notion. Terence Ranger, following the conceptual breakthrough of Eric Hobsbawm in his landmark study of European elite, has written copiously and eloquently on this reinvention of African tradition by the colonialists.

This was the same phenomenon observed by Edward Said, the late Palestinian American cultural theorist , in his path-breaking study of the colonial imaginary in the orient. In order to handle better and justify the brutal decimation of India and the orient, a particular notion of the orient has to be invented and erected in place of the real thing. Thus orientalism, or the reinvention of the orient by the colonial imagination, has little to do with the real orient just as the reinvention of African intellectual tradition has little to do with the real Africa.

 

Western modernity had to resort to this fictional and ideological reconstruction of reality because it was first and foremost a power project based on the application and manipulation of knowledge. In order to cast itself as the unique bearer of a new universal order and an emergent world-historical rationality, it has had to deny what went before it and to suppress what is contemporaneous with it.

Yet there was nothing divinely pre-ordained or inevitable about its subsequent global dominance. Before its ascendancy, there were other competing projects of modernity. For example before it succumbed to internal disorder, China was the leading world nation around the twelfth century. Portugal was the first truly modern nation-state. The old kingdom of Benin had a representative in the court at Lisbon by the middle of the fifteenth century.

But it is one thing to uncover the roots of misbegotten representation, it is another thing to know how to go about reclaiming a lost heritage. The power of knowledge cannot be confronted by the power of superstition. As Terry Eagleton famously noted, “one sure thing about the organic community is that it is always gone”. The myth of the organic community is the cudgel we employ to beat a recalcitrant and hostile contemporary reality into place.

Much as we idealize and romanticize the ancient African community and our lost heritage, it is virtually impossible to reclaim that mythical past. Yet, the greatest problem facing the Black race collectively and as people sequestered within strange and alienating nation-states is the reconstitution and reconstruction of the colonial subject from a serf of colonialism to a citizen of the post-colonial realm of freedom.

The question is: is it possible to philosophize in a strange language? It is to be noted that countries and societies such as China, Japan, India and the oriental tigers, while enduring the odd colonial infraction or even brutal decimation, never surrendered the cultural and intellectual initiative to the colonialists. They swiftly reverted to their indigenous cultures and powerful philosophies once the colonial masters departed. Buddhism, Confucianism and Shintoism acted as binding glues for these societies helping them to survive and even leverage to their advantage the worst of the psychic and cultural atrocities of colonization.

In the particular case of colonial Africa, it is a major historical tragedy that there was no major or dominant African culture strong and resilient enough to withstand the ravages of colonization and to subsequently act as a cultural and philosophic hub for the rest of the continent. A feeble attempt to impose the Swahili language as this pan-African cultural hub could not even get off the ground probably because the Swahili culture itself emerged from the crucible of Arab colonization in Africa.

The urgent task at hand, then, is how to salvage what is still crucial and important about Africa’s cultural past without going completely “native”. Much as we may wish, we can never return to that old world and the pre-colonial African society. It is gone forever. No human society can wish away six hundred years of its history.

We must now turn the adversities of alienation into great advantages as famously echoed in Abiola Irele’s inaugural lecture. But while enjoying the paradoxical bounties of creative alienation we must also warily patrol the field in order not to turn out as metropolitan mimic-men or hybridized trapeze artists permanently walking a cultural tight rope just for the sake of grudging applause from our former masters.

This is an urgent task for African knowledge producers and the pan-African cultural and intellectual elite. The world does not wait for anybody. Even as the old order is crumbling and collapsing before our very eyes, the extant dominant powers are furiously and frenetically reconstructing the vanishing world to suit their interests and permanent prejudices. The NATO-led liquidation of Gaddafi’s Libya, America’s renewed military interests in Africa, France’s not so covert military intervention that saw off the ancien regime in Cote D’Ivoire, are all pointers to a ceaseless power project even in the face of historical superannuation.

Knowledge is both power and self-empowerment. Before political subjugation comes intellectual subordination. African elite must seize the day and the initiative to invent the continent anew as the past and possible future of humanity. Otherwise, it will be done for them and Africa will be reinvented once again by the emergent masters of the universe with even greater and more drastic consequences. As we have seen with western colonisation, if the adversary wins not even the dead or their heritage are safe. I thank you all.

Being an article written by Tataalo Alamu, culled from the Nation’s Newspaper on 20/11/2011