Let’s honour our African Ancestors

Modern (western) culture shuns elders 
One of the most unfortunate features of life in the western world is the way in which the elderly are treated. Such is the individualistic mentality which has successfully overtaken the European world-view (at least in the Anglo-world), many elders have little or no significant contact with their children and grandchildren. The old are almost seen as a hindrance, getting in the way of people’s enjoyment of life. Care for the old has been outsourced from families and is now largely carried out by professionals, often at purpose-built and somewhat ironically-titled ‘old people’s homes.’ I think it’s no surprise that many younger people have a fear of getting old. People want to look after themselves and the thought of having to rely on others for one’s daily care offends the individualist mindset.

Thankfully, Africans have not yet been fully absorbed into this way of living. For us, it is imperative that we look after our elders and it is a disgrace to neglect them. How can we treat our mothers and fathers and grandparents in such a way when they brought us into this world and nurtured us and cared for us when we were in need, as infants? I’m sure this is changing though, and particularly for those of us who are living in urban areas where it becomes much harder to maintain our traditional ways. But for now, it’s still rare to find families who openly fail to look after their elders.

Forgotten and neglected African ancestors
However, where we have fallen down is in our respect for our elders after they have left this realm. For thousands of years, African people gave reverence and honour to departed ancestors. These elders were not considered to be ‘dead and gone’, but were considered to be part of the family and involved in the life of the family and communities. This understanding is a central pillar of traditional African cosmologies and spiritualities. John Mbiti states in his African Religions & Philosophy that ‘African religious activities are chiefly focused upon the relationship between human beings and the departed.’ These activities differed from people to people, nation to nation, but typically included things like building shrines, pouring libations, offering gifts and even communicating directly with ancestors. Commonly, ancestors were seen as intermediaries between the living and the spiritual realm.

We are our ancestors

All of this has changed radically over the past century or so, primarily due to the influence of European Christianity and Arab Islam. The Christian theologians often had real contempt for the ways of the indigenous peoples they were helping to subjugate. When they saw the reverence that Africans and other peoples had toward their ancestors, they termed it ‘ancestor worship’ and condemned it. Africans and other indigenous peoples were required to give up any open participation in their ancient ways in order to be considered authentic converts to the newly-arrived religion. While this was partly due to genuine ignorance as to the true significance of ancestor reverence, I think it was also deliberately designed to weaken any resistance to foreign rule.

Abrahamic religions and ancestor reverence
Ironically though, ancestor reverence plays a vital role in Christianity of the Roman variety. Roman Catholics are taught to pray to other people’s ancestors (who they call saints) in order that they may in turn offer supplication to the Most High on their behalf. When Africans venerate and commune with their deceased ancestors, this is called ancestor worship. but when Roman Catholics do it, it’s pious and holy! This is just one of the many double-standards that religious apologists often when it comes to our ancient African spiritualities and systems. And in other so-called Abrahamic religions, you find Africans elevating and honouring other people’s ancestors (such as Abraham) who they call prophets, while their own ancestors are forgotten and even despised. These very same men and women sacrificed so much for us, and yet we now turn our backs on them.

How must all of this make our ancestors feel? How much resentment and hostility must they have toward their careless and ungrateful descendants? And how much of an influence could our mistreatment of our ancestors be having on our own lives, individually and collectively? I am a firm advocate of the concept of karma. It seems likely to me that as we neglect and turn our backs on our ancestors, we are planting seeds of discord, and enmity and all kinds of calamity in our own lives. Look at African history and you see that the onset and intensification of the Maafa (invasion, chattel enslavement, the middle passage, colonialism and neocolonialism) has occurred at the same time as Africans have taken on the ways of other people, and venerated other people’s ancestors and the expense of our own.

Ancestor veneration – a necessity for the African re-awakeningThe African Resurrection
For a while now, it has been clear to me that the social, political, economic and cultural resurrection of African peoples globally will depend in part on us reconnecting the our foremothers and forefathers and the heritage they passed down us. At the very least, we can take time to remember them by name and let them know that we respect them and honour them and all they have done for us. Imagine how much of a blessing it would be for them after so many years of complete silence from most of their offspring. It can’t do us any harm, and we may in fact reap the benefits of having harmonious relationships with them. In fact, having a more harmonious relationship with our ancestors is the same as being more in touch with ourselves, because we are our ancestors. But that’s a story for another post!

Where do words come from?

Have you ever wondered where words come from? And why is it that different languages have different words for the same thing?

Language started in the Garden of Eden?

Adam and Eve - The first linguists?

Creation & the Tower of Babel
If understood literally, the Hebrew Torah (aka ‘Old Testament’) suggests that the first human being was created as a fully grown adult who could speak a language. This man then used this language to give names to the animals, and to the first woman. And in the famous story of the Tower of Babel, we find that humans previously had one shared language until the Creator split them up into several different languages (or dialects?!) in an act of divine retribution. You might write these stories off as myth. But modern linguistics doesn’t have much more to add on the question of the origin of words the the multiplicity of languages.

Language is arbitrary?
The dominant theory on these questions was popularised by Ferdinand de Saussure in the early 1900s. It argues that the connection between words and meanings is essentially arbitrary. There is no natural connection between them. This is allegedly proven by the fact that there are many different languages, which would not be possible if each meaning could only necessarily have one word. It is argued that the only thing that gives any logic to the creation of new words is conventions of languages. But these conventions (syntax, phonology, etc.) are ultimately arbitrary because they are made up of arbitrary words and rules.

When I first came across this idea, I was quite underwhelmed. I wondered if linguists had done any real work to look into whether the creation and development of words and languages could be connected to human physiology. For example, could it be that objects or ideas prompt certain psychological responses in humans and that the words we create are reflections of those impulses? If so, this would mean that there is a natural connection between words and meanings. And I wondered if the existence of different languages could be because different people groups have different kinds of internal responses to stimuli.

Language is not arbitrary, but “embodied”
As I’ve been reading around, I’m happy to see that a small but growing band of academics are making these exact points. One such commentator, Robin Allott uses the term Embodied Language to describe this idea. He writes the following:

Words, syntax and speech-sounds are not arbitrary. They are determined by anatomical, physiological and neurological structures. For each language, the structures of the language are derived from and directly related to other major segments of human behaviour (perception and action). The selection made by a language-community of its specific syntax, words and speech-sounds is not arbitrary or purely conventional but a selection from a range of possible sounds, words and syntaxes, with the community’s preferences being determined by the pooling of genetic features of the population over time. Stability of a language is a result of stability in the genetic composition of the population coupled with the acquisition of a child’s particular language by a process analogous to imprinting in animals and depending on the special character of the language as human behaviour. [Source]

In other words, the words and conventions which comprise our different languages emerged from the biological make up of the different people groups. To support this proposition, Allott refers to a large scale study done in the late 1980s which pointed out the following: ‘Linguistic families correspond to groups of populations with very few, easily understood overlaps, and their origin can be given a time frame. Linguistic superfamilies show remarkable correspondence with the two major clusters, indicating considerable parallelism between genetic and linguistic evolution.’ [Source]

To me, these are much more convincing as possible answers to the origin of words and the multiplicity of languages than the theory of arbitrariness. They could also have some fascinating implications for how we understand the world.

Language and race
For example, if all of this is true, maybe languages can reveal much about the characteristics racial groups? I often hear it pointed out that different languages embody a specific way of looking at the world, of understanding social and familial relations, of relating to our environment, of our perception of the spiritual realm and so on. Perhaps these differences in worldview are not just learned, but are actually derived from our differences on a genetic level?

Language and our ‘true’ selves?
Less controversially, perhaps if our languages are actually based on our genetic make up, this could suggest that people who are able to speak their mother languages are perhaps more in tune with their true selves on a physiological level. And conversely, perhaps someone who is unable to speak their mother tongue, or any languages closely related to it, is biologically alienated from themselves.

What is Language?

The more I read around the subject of language, the more I realise that the study of language is in fact the study of humanity. Language is at the heart of what it means to be a human being. It is one of the things that makes us different from all other creatures on this planet. Some would perhaps say it is the evidence of a ‘divine spark’ within each of us. Language is the prism through which we understand the cosmos and the means by which we interact with each other. But before getting into all this, it makes sense to consider what we mean by the term ‘language’.

Signs, meanings and syntax
I find it useful to think of language in terms of signs, meanings and syntax. Signs are things like sounds, letters and gestures which are given certain meanings. These signs are necessarily limited, for example by the range of sounds that humans are able to produce with our vocal chords and this could severely limit our ability to communicate. But we are able to put these signs together into sentences and thus use them to express a wider and wider range of ideas, thoughts, feelings and opinions. We call the system that puts these signs together syntax; “a mechanism that enables human beings to utter or understand an infinite number of sentences constructed from a finite number of building blocks.” [reference] Different languages have their own range of signs and meanings and their own syntax which have developed over time in different places and in different social, economic and cultural contexts.

Value judgements and armies
All languages are spoken but only about a third of them are written. For example, relatively few African languages have been written down and of those few, most were written in very recent times and using characters from other languages. The fact that a language is not written is sometimes interpreted to mean that its speakers are backward. Another closely connected, and equally arrogant, value judgement is the notion that oral spiritual systems and religions are inferior to those centred around sacred writings. This is just one of a number of fascinating discussions in the field of linguistics – the study of language.

Another interesting debate relates to how we distinguish languages from dialects. You might think that there are some clear scientific steps for doing this. Dialects are often thought of as ‘sub-languages‘, forms of communication which are not distinct or formalised enough to qualify as fully-fledged languages. But in reality, these labels depend much more on power relations between groups of people than on any technical criteria. For example, during the European colonisation of Africa, the colonialists decided that the languages spoken in Africa were actually just dialects whereas European tongues were the only proper languages. This has persisted beyond the end of regular colonialism in Africa. As you’ll see elsewhere on this site, there is much truth in the idea that “a language is a dialect with an army and a navy.”

The power of language
Another fascinating linguistic discussion centres on how language affects the way we see and understand the world and how does it shape our behaviour? Some argue that language completely determines these things, while others suggest more plausibly that the influence is only partially. Several studies have been done in this area. There is some evidence that speakers of Chinese languages may be less able to think in hypothetical terms because the grammar of these languages lacks a clear way of expressing such concepts. Another study suggested that speakers of east Asian languages may have an advantage over English speakers in mathematics because their numbering systems are more transparent.

With a basic definition of language, the next question to ask is where do words come from?






Why some Africans can’t speak African languages

Like many Africans living in Britain, I can only speak one language fluently – English – and I’m not happy about this.

Lost my tongue
Part of this is not my fault really. I was born in Kenya to Ugandan parents and spent the first few years of my life in Nairobi. I’m told that by the time we moved to London I was a talkative 4 year old showing decent skills in Kiswahili which is spoken by millions of people in East and Central Africa.

Unfortunately, this didn’t last. My parents spoke English with me and my brothers at home and we of course spoke English every else we went. The only language I actually remember speaking in my early life is English. We still used a few ‘remnant’ Kiswahili words. So we called the end slices of bread “kwanza.” When dinner was ready, my parents would announce that “chakula tiari.” But none of us was able to converse in Kiswahili.

An added complication to our experience is that Kiswahili is not even our main mother tongue. We come from a nation of people called the Bagisu in eastern Uganda and our ‘native tongue’ is Lugisu. Strangely, our parents would speak to each other in Lugisu, but they didn’t teach it to us. This meant that whenever family members would come and visit from home we would have to endure the routine embarrassment of not even sharing the Lugisu greetings.

Language and immigrant assimilation
I think the main reason my parents didn’t teach us our language is because they wanted to make it as easy as possible for us to settle into life in the UK. This is a familiar story I hear from my fellow diasporan friends from other African countries. Many of our parents had the idea that their children would be hopelessly confused by speaking more languages than just English. But I had loads of classmates of Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Turkish (etc.) backgrounds who were just as proficient in English as I was, but were also able to switch to their own languages when speaking with family and friends. They didn’t seem all that confused!

Blending in with the crowd!
I also share the blame for this. I can distinctly remember as a youngster distancing myself from my African identity. I knew I was different from white people and even from other black people whose parents were from the Caribbean. My parents had a different accent. Even me and my brothers had a slightly different accent when we spoke English to our parents. As soon as I became aware of this, I made a conscious effort to speak to my parents using the same accent as the one I used on the streets. And being different as a child in school is like having a “kick me” sign on your back. My older brothers tell me that they got into quite a few fights when they first went to school here. So the ongoing challenge was to blend in as quickly as possible! This attitude continued as I got older and I made no effort to really get to know anything about my Ugandan heritage, our language, our food, our customs, nothing. So me and my parents were co-conspirators my linguistic disenfranchisement!

Back to the linguistic future!
Sadly, many Africans in the diaspora will be able to relate to this story. And they will probably agree that when you don’t have knowledge of your mother tongue, you also miss out on the connection the language gives to your culture and heritage. But the good news is, we don’t have to be prisoners of our personal histories! As long as we are still breathing and there are people who speak our language – we can still learn!

That’s exactly what I plan to do. I’ll be using this website to keep you updated on my efforts to become vaguely competent in either Lugisu, Luganda or Kiswahili.

Skin Bleaching versus Melanin Wealth

The Skin Bleaching epidemic
In late 2014, a Cameroonian former model Irene Major gained some notoriety for her skin bleaching exploits. She did an interview on a UK TV show where she explained why she spends upwards of £2000 a year on changing her skin shade. The interview is classic car-crash viewing with Major coming across as quite shallow and somewhat deluded.

Irene Major- Before & After

The current face of skin bleaching – Irene Major.

Skin bleaching is a massive problem among Black African women (and men) around the world. For example, it’s estimated that close to 80% of women in Nigeria bleach their skin. In discussing this phenomenon, there are many social, economic, political and even spiritual angles we can take. This article will focus on the one thing that skin bleachers are actively trying to hide – melanin!

We will look at just a few of the many extremely important functions that melanin plays in our bodies. In particular, we will focus on some of the physiological and psychological advantages and benefits that the melanin wealth gives to Black African people – by which I mean Black people wherever they are located in the world (see Peter Tosh’s song African for more on this). I believe that we should embrace and celebrate our melanin wealth rather than trying to suppress it by skin and hair bleaching. Everything written in this article is backed up by scientific literature which is properly referenced, and at the bottom of the page you will find a bibliography including several articles you can view on-line in full.

What is Melanin anyway?
Melanin is a substance (technically, it’s called a ‘polymer’) that is distributed widely through the animal and plant cosmos. It occurs in various parts of the human body where it gives pigmentation. There are actually three main types of melanin to be found in our bodies, eumelanin which provides black, brown, blonde and grey colours, pheomelanin which is responsible for reddish colours, and neuromelanin. [reference].

Deep blackness

Black Africans produce more of the ‘good melanin’ in our skin!

All human beings produce more eumelanin than pheomelanin. But Black African people produce 3 times as much eumelanin as Asians, and 6 times as much as White people. In addition, the type of melanin granules we produce are twice as big and more dispersed (and thus better able to express their pigment) than White people’s. The richness and darkness of our skin is because of these factors (Brenner and Hearing, 2008: 541).

Melanin and the Sun
The Sun is the great giver and sustainer of all life, but it can be very dangerous due to ultra violet radiation which can damage our DNA. Eumelanin is essential for protection against UV radiation and the quantity and quality of Black African people’s eumelanin means we have little to fear from the Sun. Our eumelanin blocks out twice as much UV radiation as White people’s and the melanin factories (called melanocytes) in our skin are more resistant to damage and so give us more durable supplies of melanin. This is why less-melanated peoples are much more vulnerable to radiation damage and thus skin cancer [reference].

Melanin and “Black don’t crack”
We’ve all heard the saying that ‘black don’t crack’ which means that Black people tend to age much better than other people. There is some scientific evidence that explains this phenomenon.

Black don't Crack - because of melanin.

It’s the melanin!

One study looked at the effects of ageing caused by both age, and by the sun. It found that ‘as a general trend, age-related effects on the outermost part of the skin are delayed in African Americans while they are more pronounced in Caucasians. Such results suggest physiological or biochemical differences in ethnic skin’ (Querelyx et al, 2009: 312). I think it’s safe to assume that our skin melanin content plays a big role in helping us to age so well.

Melanin and our immune system
Melanin is also a key part of our immune system. Neuromelanin provides a powerful protective system by nullifying and detoxifying  metals in the body (Zecca et al 2008: 17571-17572). In one paper we read ‘there is considerable evidence that immunity and melanization are genetically, biochemically and functionally linked‘ (Mackintosh, 2001: 104).

The immunological potency of melanin may explain why our genitals are usually the darkest parts of our bodies. Like the sun, sex is a life and joy giver, but it can also be dangerous due to sexually transmitted infections. One fascinating study suggests that ‘melanin may protect against HIV (Manning et al 2003: 131-133). The authors argue that the melanin richness of dark skinned men’s genitalia helps prevent them from contracting infections through skin lesions, which in turn lowers their chances of contracting HIV. Among the lines of evidence they provide to back this up, they point out that in ‘sub-Saharan’ Africa, countries  where people have darker skin have lower rates of HIV infection than the countries where people are lighter skinned.

So perhaps our genitals are melanin-rich to help protect us from these infections and help us to enjoy sex in all it’s goodness? And perhaps the reason that the skin around women’s nipples is so melanated (and apparently becomes even darker during pregnancy) is to help avoid mother and baby inadvertently passing on infections to each other? I wonder if skin bleachers also bleach those parts of the body?

Melanin and our Ears
The inner ear or cochlea contains high concentrations of melanin. Tachibana (1999) found that although melanin has not been shown to be necessary for normal hearing function per se, it does seem to give protection from deterioration in hearing caused by damage. With this in mind, you might expect to find less prevalence of hearing loss among Black people than White people. As Lin and colleagues (2011: 109-110) report, this is precisely the case:

Black people have lower rates of hearing loss.

Black people have far lower rates of hearing loss.

Epidemiologic studies… have consistently demonstrated lower rates of hearing loss among black than white participants with the odds of hearing loss generally 40–60% lower… These findings have also been corroborated in smaller epidemiological studies that have investigated rates of hearing loss in workers exposed to similar levels of occupational noise… These latter findings among black and white adults of similar occupational and socioeconomic background suggest a possible biological basis for the association of race with hearing loss susceptibility‘.

Melanin and the Central Nervous System
Neuromelanin is the name given to the melanin that is found in various parts of central nervous system which is the brain and spinal chord. Substantial amounts of neuromelanin fill all major areas of the brain, and one of them is called the substantia nigra or ‘black substance’ for that very reason. As we saw earlier, neuromelanin plays an important protective role in the body.

Are there any links between melanin in the brain and melanin in the skin and eyes? Apparentyl so, as can be seen by looking at problems which are related to a deficit in neuromelanin. For example, one study suggested that some types of autism may may be caused by children having too little melanin. It proposed that ‘lack of melanin may leave nerve cells in the ascending reticular activating system less protected, sometimes causing a defect in noradrenergic pathways which could bring about autistic symptoms‘ (Fallone, unpublished: 1-2). The researchers found that autism rates were higher in children with blue eyes and lower in children with more melanated eyes (Stewart, 1996: 104-106).

Black children's central nervous  systems are protected by melanin.

Black children’s central nervous systems are protected by melanin. and their sensorimotor skills are boosted by it.

Stewart (1996) reviews several studies showing Black people across the globe have much lower rates of central nervous system malformations (such as ancephalcy and spina bifada) and diseases (such as Parkinsons) than white people. Even the Wikipedia page on ‘Melanin Theory’ which it arrogantly claims is ‘pseudoscience’ admits that:

‘[There is] a correlation between cutaneous melanin [i.e. skin colour] and the substantia nigra vis-a-vis Parkinson’s disease, a neurological disease condition in which there is a loss of melanin-pigmented cells of the substantia nigra. Blacks have a significantly lower incidence of Parkinson’s than whites, and it has been suggested that this observation, combined with the depigmentation, suggests that the reduced risk might be related to increased melanin pigmentation.‘ [Source]

Melanin and Sensorimotor development
The central nervous system controls the sensory and neuromuscular organs of the body and is thus essential to human sensitivity, movement and consciousness (Stewart, 1996: 102). Once again, there is a large body of evidence which shows that levels of melanin in the skin and eyes is correlated with sensorimotor ability. Harry Morgan’s excellent paper entitled ‘Black Children in American Classrooms’ (1975) reviews scientific literature from various parts of the global African diaspora showing that Black children are more advanced than white children in sensorimotor development and language acquisition. He puts this down to a combination of genetic and socio-cultural factors’ (Morgan 1975, p.7).

Black people have advanced sensorimotor ability from birth

Black people have advanced sensorimotor ability from birth.

Stewart conducts a similar review of scientific data from several countries regarding sensorimotor development in children. She concludes that the evidence strongly suggests that ‘there is a genetic factor related to levels of melanin that contributes to early and advanced forms of sensorimotor development, in addition to or beyond cultural and environmental factors‘ (Stewart 1996:126, 128).

Both Morgan and Stewart use their research to reveal how institutions in White European-dominated  USA actively retard the development of African children who are proven to be highly advanced in their early years compared to White children.

Concluding thoughts: Black Pride!
This article has shown several ways in which Black African people’s melanin wealth provides us with several benefits. This hasn’t even scratched the surface and there is much more to be said concerning this wonderful thing called melanin. But I hope that this little snippet will encourage the Black African reader to have a more accurate self-image and sense of self-worth. Perhaps this article can be shared with Black Africans who are bleaching their skin or hair or eyes in order to hide their abundance of melanin. Why try and hide your outward wealth that is a reflection of an even deeper wealth within you?

References (articles in red available online in full):
Brenner, M and Hearing, V.J. (2009) ,What are melanocytes really doing all day long…? : from the ViewPoint of a keratinocyte: Melanocytes – cells with a secret identity and incomparable abilities’, Epxerimental Dermatology, Volume 18, Issue 9, September, pages 799–819. Link to full Article.

Brenner, M and Hearing, V.J. (2008) ‘The Protective Role of Melanin Against UV Damage in Human Skin’, Photochemistry and Photobiology, Volume 84: 539–549.

Fallone, A. (unpublished) ‘Eye Colour and Hemisphericity’ Link to full article.

Fedorow, et al (2005) ‘Neuromelanin in human dopamine neurons: Comparison with peripheral melanins and relevance to Parkinson’s disease’, Progress in Neurobiology, Volume 75, Issue 2, February, Pages 109–124.

Lin, F. et al (2011) ‘Association of Skin Color, Race/Ethnicity, and Hearing Loss Among Adults in the USA’, Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology, Volume 13, Issue 1, February, pages 109-117. Link to full article.

Mackintosh, J.A. (2001) ‘The antimicrobial properties of melanocytes, melanosomes and melanin and the evolution of black skin’, Journal of Theoretical Biology, Volume 211, Issue 2, pages 101-13.

Manning, J.T. et al (2003) ‘Melanin and HIV in sub-Saharan Africa’, Journal of Theoretical Biology, Journal of Theoretical Biology, Volume 223, pages 131–133

Morgan, Harry (1975) ‘Black Children in American Classrooms.’ Link to full article.

Querleux, B. et al (2009) ‘Skin from various ethnic origins and aging: an in vivo cross-sectional multimodality imaging study’, Skin Research and technology, Volume 15, Issue 3, August, pages 306–313.

Stewart, N. A. (1996) ‘Melanin: the Melanin Hypothesis and the Development and Assessment of African Children’ in Azibo, D. A (ed) African Psychology in Historial Perspective & Related Commentary, New Jersey: African World Press.

Tachibana, M. (1999) ‘Sound needs sound melanocytes to be heard.’ Pigment Cell Research, Volume 12, Issue 6, December, pages 344-54.

Why do Black People have rhythm?

‘Having rhythm’ is usually meant to signify a person’s ability to connect with the rhythms contained in music.

Rhythm is central to African culture

I believe that the tendency for black African people to have rhythm is a reflection of the ‘rhythmic’ nature of our African cultures. By this I mean that our cultures tend to place a great emphasis on rhythm, not just rhythms in music, but also the rhythms of our fellow community members and of the environment and universe around us.

The Universe is a Cosmos
Marimba Ani tells us that African and other non-European word-views share the understanding that the universe is a cosmos made up of interconnected subjects. ‘Human beings are part of the cosmos, and, as such, relate intimately with other cosmic beings. Knowledge of the universe comes through relationship with it and thorough perception of spirit in matter. The universe is one; spheres are joined because of a single unifying force that pervades all being.‘ [Yurugu: An Afrikan-Centred Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behaviour, 1994, p.28]

The latter part of Ani’s comment points to another key understanding within such cultures; that all matter is dynamic and in a state of motion. Chukwunyere Kamalu explains that ‘[a]s in relativity physics, matter and energy in the African system are one and the same. This energy takes the form of forces which are the very essence of matter. Says [Kwame] Nkrumah in speaking about the African idea of matter: ‘… matter is not just dead weight, but alive with forces in tension. Indeed for the African everything that exists, exists as a complex of forces in tension.’ ['Foundations of African Thought' 1999, p85]

Everything has Rhythm
So everything in existence is united by the same energy which gives movement to all. If everything in existence is in a state of movement, then everything has its flows of movement. To put it another way, everything has rhythm. We see this all around us, all the time. Right now, your heart is beating out a certain rhythm, as is the case with every single living person. All of the multiple bodily functions within you are right now flowing to certain rhythms. Every natural phenomenon occurs to a rhythm. The seasons come and go according to their rhythms which we call seasons. Life and death cycles are constantly playing out according to their rhythms. Sun rises, sun sets. A baby is born, an elder transitions. A fruit ripens and falls from the tree, in turn giving birth to a new tree. The Earth revolves on its axis, and circulates the Sun according to its rhythm. Rhythm is within all of us and is all around us. Rhythm is life.

From these observations of the universe, Africans have developed social systems which emphasise connection with the various rhythms of life. For example, music (song, dance and drumming) is ever-present during virtually all aspects of African social life – the birth of new children, various rites of passage, everyday work, spiritual rituals, funeral rites, and so on. I believe this is because song, dance and drumming enable us to transcend the barriers which separate us from each other, and thus allow us to connect with each other and with the unifying energy or force… or if you would prefer, with the divine.

African Nature & African Nurture
Over centuries and millennia, a powerful dialectical relationship between African physiology and African cultures has developed. African people’s physiology reinforces and perpetuates our cultures’ emphasis on rhythm, which in turn reinforces our propensity to rhythm. So, why do black people have rhythm? It’s because our ancient cultures have deeply embedded within our bodies a predilection to rhythm which remains evident even when we are no longer living within our own rhythmic cultures.

Black Buying Power – Myth or Reality?

It’s the aftermath of “Blackout Monday” (8th Sept 2014) – an initiative to get black people around the world to abstain from spending money in non-black owned businesses. I am joined by criminal defence solicitor, political commentator and community activist Kevin Bismark Cobham who seriously and thoroughly critiques the whole idea of “Black Buying Power”, the “Black Dollar”/”Black Pound.” I shared this video with Dr Jared Ball and I’m honoured to say that he has added it to his article The Ever Enduring Myth of Black “Buying Power”. This is ironic, as it was reading Dr Ball’s article which helped to make this video happen in the first place!

Also, check out this new playlist I’ve created of YouTube videos centred on Cooperative Economics:

Tribalism still alive and well in Uganda politics?

The government of Uganda has been accused of perpetuating tribalism by handing top government jobs mostly to people from one region of the country. A fascinating report in the Independent newspaper outlines the numbers and goes into the various potential reasons for this imbalance.

Uganda: Genuine unity & cooperation required

‘Tribalism’ is one of those words that Africans have learned to fear, and with good reason. The term refers to the practice of people from specific nations or ethnic groups using state power to benefit their fellow tribes folk at the expense of others. The European colonialists found many ways of whipping up divisions and resentment between different groups in Africa in order to further their own objectives.

The Berlin Conference of the 1880s (which could be looked at as a meeting of gangland bosses) created new geo-political entities across the continent of Africa. These countries, protectorates and so forth reflected the interests of the Europeans, and not the Africans. Hence, the new borders separated entire nations and ethnic groups in different countries. Conversely, a multitude of different nations were lumped together in new countries despite often having widely different cultures, social and economic systems, languages, and so on. And the British colonialists in particular had a penchant for ethnic divisions of labour. In Uganda they assigned jobs in the police and army disproportionately to nations in the northern part of the country, while they developed the political and economic power base in the south-central regions of the country.  These and other colonial machinations resulted in simmering inter-ethnic tensions and resentment which were ready to boil over when Africans achieved flag independence in the mid twentieth century.

Uganda has made massive strides from the dark days of the 1970s and 1980s when ethnic conflict helped to sink the country into years of violent conflict. We should all be grateful for the relative calm and security in most of Uganda. However, negative tribalism must be eradicated from political life.in order for Ugandan people to move forward in true unity and cooperation,

Ancestral Voices 2 – African Spirituality Matters!

I’m once again highly honoured to present an interview with Dalian Adofo and Verona Spence-Adofo, the makers of “Ancestral Voices“, the ground-breaking documentary that explored about African spirituality. They are currently in the middle of producing a follow up film  and they join me to give some insights on the progress of the production.

Ancestral Voices 2 – coming soon – with your assistance!

Last time we spoke in November 2013, the pair were nearing the end of a crowd-funding campaign on Indigogo to raise the necessary funds for Ancestral Voices 2. This time round, I wanted to find out how the crowd-funding campaign went and what implications this has had for the second film..

In another wide-ranging conversation, we discuss how Ancestral Voices 2 will expand on the achievements of the first film. We also talk about some more general issues relating to African spirituality and how it is relevant to people’s day to day lives. This is another rich and multi-layered discussion which in its own way, contributes to raising the profile of African spirituality in a world dominated by the big Eurasian (‘Abrahamic’) religions.



Five hot new East Africa Music Videos – August 2014

1. Bobi Wine (Uganda) – “Byekwaaso” 

I have to say that I love almost every tune that Bobi Wine has been putting out over the past few months. His tunes tend to have a strong social commentary component, and his latest video, Byekwaaso (uploaded on 30th August) is no different. Check it out.

2. Pallaso (Uganda) – “Kilabe Embaliga”

Ugandan rapper/singer Pallaso is uploading songs like crazy right now, and his newest video entitled Kilabe Embaliga is catchy and fun with some great dance moves (of course). Pallaso is a very versatile artist who can sing, rap and deejay (in the dancehall sense of the word) equally well. He has a big future ahead of him I reckon. The video was released on 28th August.

3. Jaguar (Kenya) – “One Centimeter”

Mr “Kigeugeu” himself, Kenya’s Jaguar revealed the video to his newest single One Centimeter on 25th August. The song is another highly danceable jam and the video is very high quality. However, as some of the comments point out, it’s a shame that this flag bearer of East African music follows a growing trend of shooting the video in South Africa. From the accent of the actress who plays his bride in the video, it seems that the cast was also South African! Next time, hopefully Jaguar will use his video as chance to boost the profile of Kenya.

4. Eddy Kenzo & Barbi Jay (Uganda) – Talina Shida

Eddy Kenzo is on fire right now. Sitya Loss continues to blow up around the world, and he is taking full advantage by touring incessantly. The video for his collabo with Barbi Jay called Talina Shida was posted on 18th August (but not as yet on his own YouTube channel). This boy can sing and like all the big Ugandan artists, he has an ear for a sweet chorus.

5. Webi (Kenya) – Pamoja Milele

I must admit that I’d not heard of Webi before this video was posted by Maramoja filmz on 19th August. Pamoja Milele means Together Forever in Kiswahili and the video is based around a groom confessing his undying love for his bride. So like Jaguar’s vid, this has the bride in (Eurocentric) white, but there are none of the dramatics of One Centimeter! Check it here.