Breaking down myths about African culture

Let us pay homage to Mother Africa, Cradle of Humanity, as we celebrate African American History Month in the sixth year of celebration of International Decade for People of African Descent, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly (2015-2024).

African culture is very poorly understood in Western societies. This misunderstanding continues to be perpetuated by educational and media institutions in the Western world which constantly distort the image and contributions of African culture and ethics to the world.

For centuries, Europe-centered thought has justified colonialism and imperialism as a “civilizing mission” to save African “savages” who live in “shit holes” often characterized by terms like “exotic.” “,” Primitive “or” pagan “. “, which is a misconception. This thought is rooted in the European Enlightenment era in the 17th and 18th centuries. This movement provided an intellectual backdrop to European theories of human differences.

Exploring Africa, Asia and the Americas brought Europeans in contact with people they saw as different. The rise of prominent Enlightenment thinkers such as Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant and David Hume, among others, influenced European ideas. Europeans acquired their information about Africans from Europeans living in North America, mainly from those involved in the slave trade, from missionaries or from Americans like Thomas Jefferson. He has written extensively on Africans and slavery.

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The African continent was torn apart with the arrival of Europeans and the slave trade. European contacts and the slave trade in Africa caused physical, psychological and spiritual trauma to Africans and their communities. The “reign of terror” imposed by the trade in African men, women and children as movable property was a total contempt for their humanity. The slave trade forced people to leave their homelands, destabilizing their communities, agricultural lands and economic structures. It affected entire populations and political systems. It had an impact on agricultural production and severely disrupted the social and psychological well-being of Africans.

The effects of the African slave trade are profound and lasting. Its legacy can be seen and felt in countries and societies across the continent and in the African diaspora today.

Cradle of Mankind

Africa is the cradle of humanity. We know that far from having no history, it is a fact that human history began in Africa. The oldest evidence of human existence and that of our ancestors has been found in Africa. Mitochondrial DNA Studies suggest that all modern humans come from a small population living in southern Africa. Since mitochondrial DNA only passes through female lineages, this ancestor of all mankind is what scientists call the “The African eve”, which means that all human beings on the planet evolved from African ancestors.

When Europeans first explored the West African coastline in the 15th century, they discovered highly evolved societies that had been so for centuries. The African image across the world portrays mighty and majestic kings and queens and wise scholars through books and paintings. There were many African kingdoms and empires of varying sizes and influences such as Kemet (Egypt), Mali, Nok, Benin, Hausa, Kangaba, Christian Ethiopia, Songhai, Ghana, Wolof, Kanem, Fatimid, Yoruba, Igbo, Zimbabwe, Axum, Kongo, Peul and more.

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Imhotep was the first architect in the world to build the first pyramid in Egypt and the first physician in the world. Imhotep’s best-known writings were medical texts. As a physician, he is the author of over 90 anatomical terms and 48 injuries. He also founded a famous medical school in Memphis, Egypt, which lasted throughout the Egyptian dynasties for over 2,000 years. All of this happened more than 2,000 years before the birth of the European father of medicine, Hippocrates.

Ancient Africans made sea voyages to lands all over the world, particularly to lands that would one day be called the Americas. Traces of Africa can be found in Mexico, where there are 16 human heads carved with African features.

Gift to the civilizations of the world

There is a lot to be said about Africa’s contribution to global civilization. Perhaps the quintessential gift is the ethical systems that African societies have developed to guide social and moral behavior.

The question then becomes: what was the nature of ethical thought in traditional African society before the arrival of Europeans on the shores of the African continent in the 15th century? Was there anything resembling an ethical order or a moral system in traditional Africa at this time in world history?

During my numerous visits to the African continent over several decades, I have learned about the multiplicity of ethical and moral concepts which evolved in the cradle of civilization and have now spread throughout the world. For example, among the traditional Igbo people of West Africa, the word “Nma” conveys the idea of ​​kindness or the concept of acting in an ethically appropriate manner. The Odú Ifá, the sacred text of the Yorùbá people of southwestern Nigeria, gave rise to the concept of Iwa Pele, which means gentle and balanced character, essential for development as human beings. In Kenya, you will find the concept of “Harambee”, Swahili for Let’s pull together! “Terranga” is a concept of hospitality among the Wolof in Senegal, West Africa.

While visiting South Africa, I discovered the concept of Ubuntu. The word Ubuntu (uu-buun-too) should not be confused with the computer operating system developed by the Canonical Group, which powers millions of servers around the world. In fact, Ubuntu is an ancient ethical and moral concept practiced by the Zulu and Xhosa peoples of South Africa.

Ubuntu simply means, “I am who I am because of who we all are.” Ubuntu is a worldview in which people can only thrive by interacting with other people. Ubuntu represents a spirit of brotherhood and brotherhood through ethnicity and religious belief that unites humanity with a common goal.

Although the concepts of Nma, Iwa Pele, Harambee, Terranga and Ubuntu have their roots in Africa, I believe these values ​​are universal truths and a way of life. The concept of “fierce individualism” is at odds with African ethical systems. Therefore, when a person dehumanizes another person, he in turn dehumanizes himself.

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Aukram Burton is an educator, media artist, and media producer currently working as the Executive Director of the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage. His work as a photographer focuses specifically on Africa and the African Diaspora, highlighting a common origin and common experiences of descendants from Africa.

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