The African Experience: A Curse or Blessing

The African Experience: A Curse or Blessing

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The African Experience: A Curse or Blessing

The native African places an immense amount of
importance and respect on Nature. Its effects determine
certain predicaments that control and direct African lives,
and how outsiders, especially Westerners, perceive them.
Never before has a group of people followed so religiously
and faithfully a baffling phenomenon such as nature. Nature
worship has deep roots in the African tradition and is now a
full and indispensable branch of the African heritage. Nature
defines Africa to the world as the “Cradle of Mankind.” To the
African, Nature also acts as a mediator between the gods in
the heavens and man on earth. This relationship, I feel, has
been greatly misinterpreted by the vacuous and ethnocentric
civilized world: it has been tagged as ‘black magic,’ ‘voodoo,’
and other meager figments of unfortunately parochial
imaginations. What an insult! Oh may the gods forgive them,
for they know not what they do.

“In the beginning was the water, and the water
was with god, and the water was god.” This quote clearly
defines how the natural elements such as land (earth), sun,
moon, lightning, and, in this case, water are considered not
just as the vital necessities that help sustain life but as the
gods of life. They are built honorary shrines as an act of
appreciation and appeasement. In Egypt, in northeast Africa,
a great temple was built for Isis, the water god. This temple
was built so flamboyantly as an attempt to try and reflect
architecturally how important the Nile is to the people of
Egypt. Without the Nile, Egypt would have been a barren,
desolate place, incapable of supporting life; just an eastern
extension of the Sahara Desert. Therefore, the great river is
considered a miracle, a miracle from the gods, given in order
that man may continue to exist and not be annihilated. Hence
the magnificence of the Temple of Isis.

African peoples had a lot of mysteries in their
continent which they tried to explain. And once again,
they turned to their superiors in the supernatural world, the
gods. For example, if lightning should strike, that would be
an ominous sight, implying that the gods are angry with
the people; an extraordinary harvest or rain after a long,
intolerably dry season would be considered as an act of
favor towards man by the gods. All this was the Africans’
way of trying to understand the unexpected and to explain
the inexplicable, functioning much as science does in
contemporary Western society. Why, then, does this entire
system connote barbarism or a rustic, undeveloped mentality
when used in its original context, or when approached by the

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perspective the Western world chooses to adopt?

Africans’ spiritual theory of nature hindered them
from exploring the rest of the earth in search of other
phenomena and unvisited lands. Another reason why
early Africans refused to explore the rest of the earth was
a common belief that “what was near was dear.” Therefore,
they believed that the rivers and oceans should be used
as a means of sustenance and not necessarily exploited as
a means of access to conquer and dominate others. As a
result, foreign knowledge of Africa was very slight, hence
the name, “The Dark Continent;” Africa was always instantly
prejudged in any conversation as a continent full of mystic,
eccentric values, heretic to the rest of the human race; a
continent sweltering in nebulous and inhumane activities; a
pandemonium of savage tribes sprawling on a soil soaked in
fratricidal blood (Chinua Achebe). What I personally find so
exasperating is how the Western world refuses to appreciate
or at least consider our views on how we Africans feel nature
should be respected. Instead, Westerners resolve that the
African man is so uncivilized and undeveloped that he does
not have the ability to sail the seven seas like Magellan did
or invent machines that fly over the Atlantic Ocean like the
Wright brothers did. What a pity!

In Africa, culture is considered an interaction or
interplay between Nature and basic human needs. There is
no fundamental separation between community, Nature, and
human beings. The only differences are the degree to and
ways in which all these interrelate. Amongst many things,
Nature helps illuminate the separate values and position of
men and women both traditionally and economically. For
instance, along the coastline of Senegal, in northwest Africa,
the primary industry at the middle of the twentieth century
was fishing. This activity was the economic backbone of
the family and the whole community. It was a common
occurrence for the men to go out into the seas with their
boats and nets while back on the beach the women sold
the fish caught. Therefore, we see the cultural, social, and
economic balance created by nature in this society. Without
culture here, these lively, beautiful beaches would have been
just uncultivated piles of sand, stretching over hundreds of
meters, creating a wilderness across the horizon.

“All that starts with Nature ends with Nature.” To the
Africans, life is a cycle, a cycle that continually revolves around
and within Nature. Without human life, Nature would lose
some of its meaning, and without Nature, human life would
also lose some of its meaning. Each works hand in hand
with the other to enhance and ensure the survival of both.
This perpetual and diligent implementation of the cycle is
what primarily earned us the tags, “barbarians,” “eccentrics,”
“savages”--and the list continues. Why does the Western
system of science and technology deprecate the African
concept of Nature and awe for it? Is it because it is inferior
and simply not good enough? Can there not be a cohesion
or mediation of some kind sought whereby both civilizations
interact and truly learn from each other for the benefit and
advancement of mankind and his natural surroundings? To
that question there is a resounding cry: “Amen!” from the
African camp.

This essay is a response to the work of Ali Mazrui, and
unless otherwise noted, all quotations are from his video.

References

Achebe, Chinua. The Trouble with Nigeria. Exeter, NH:
Heinemann Educational Books, 1984.

Mazrui, Ali Al’Amin, dir. The Africans. Part I: “The Nature of a Continent.”
Videocassette. BBC/WETA-TV, 1987.
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