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PRESBYTERIAN UNIVERSITY COLLEGE, GHANA
CENTRE FOR THE PROMOTION OF LIFE VALUES
COURSE OUTLINE AND NOTES FOR
GNSP 206/PCLV 108 - INTRODUCTION TO AFRICAN STUDIES
Rev. Dr. Ebenezer Yaw Blasu
This course is designed to highlight the cultural values of the African people based on their religious beliefs, myths, maxims (proverbs), folktales, artistic symbols, and socio-cultural institutions. It is to help students to appreciate critically the views and thoughts of the African, particularly the role of cultural values in developing African leaders.
The student who successfully completes this course will:
1. Have a broad understanding/appreciation of African cultural values and morality, with instances from Ghana.
2. Be enabled to establish important links (continuity and/or discontinuity) between African cultural and biblical/christian values and morality.
3. Be encouraged to explore/critique the relevance or otherwise of, at least, one of these values and morality for his/her academic interest.
4. Be challenged to apply and exhibit these values and morality in daily life endeavours.
5. Produce a term paper on an assigned axiological/ethical topic, in a group presentation, as part of continuous assessment.
Mode of Instruction
Lectures, participatory discussions, seminars, and field observations
Course requirements and evaluation
Students are required to participate in all classes, be punctual, decently dressed, read before lectures, contribute significantly to class and group researches, discussions and seminar
presentations as well as sit all examinations. Group projects shall be three-to five page paper and presentation. Students will be graded on both on the paper and the presentation, so it is important for all group members to participate. A copy of the paper, typed, double-spaced, 12 size font in Times New Roman with standard margins, must be submitted to the lecturer, at least 24 hours before the presentation. Scores shall be as follows:
• Class attendance and participation......................10%
• Mid-semester exams.............................................20%
• End of semester exams..........................................60%
Week 1: Overview of course
• Discussion of course outline: objectives, approaches, references, and assessments; groups and ground rules for assignments.
• African worldviews: Supreme Being, spiritual entities, humanity and the environment and their relationships.
• The African primal and other primal religious worldviews; affinity with christian worldviews.
Week 2: African indigenous approaches to human formation:
• Nature, moments and sources of indigenous education
• Moral values and practices discernable from indigenous educational sources for application
• Relations of the African with Christian value systems and morality.
Week 3: Group assignment and presentation
Week 4: Concepts of humanity and brotherhood
• 0 28 BThe E e and Akan primal anthropology
• African idea of personhood: Social or Moral?
• Re-interpretation of these concepts for daily life.
Week 5: Group presentation or Mid-semester exams
Week 6: Nature or types of African cultural values
• Foundation of African value systems: theistic in principle, but humanistic in practice
• Communal, but not individualistic
• Balancing the two in real daily life experiences from biblical point of view
Week 9: Principles of African ethics
• Centrality of character
• The notion of the common good
• Ethics of duty not right
Week 8: African community structure and life
• Family, clan and community
• Marriage, its purpose and moral sustenance
• Re-interpretation of the view on marriage and community sustenance
Week 9: Group presentation
Week 10: Values associated with African traditional economic and administrative systems
• African traditional economic systems, work ethic and view of wealth
• Management of public/communal property
• African traditional politics and role of chieftaincy in ethical living; why no more
Week 12: African aesthetic values
• African art and appreciation of beauty
• Revision of all topics
Week 12: The encounter between Western and African cultures
• The effect/perception of the West on African cultures
• In search of African identity: various views
• Schools/trends in African thought:.........
Week 13: End of semester examinations 3
Key Readings Antwi, J. K. (2017) “The value of a person in Akan traditional life and thought: A contemporary
inquiry.” In European Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies. January-April. Volume 7, Nr. 92-100. ISSN 2411-4138 (Online)
Antwi, J. K. and Okyere-Manu, B (2016). “Cultural and Social Festivity as a Silent Contributor to HIV Infection: A Moral Challenge of the Easter Festivity to the Kwahuman Leadership in Ghana.” In Alternation, 23, (2), 236-249. ISSN 1023-1757
Bediako, K. (1995), Christianity in Africa: The Renewal of a Non-Western Religion, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp 3 – 14
Blasu, Ebenezer Yaw, 'Christian Higher Education As Holistic Mission And Moral Transformation: An Assessment Of Studying Environmental Science At The Presbyterian
0 2 8 BUniversity College, Ghana And The Ecological Thought Of The Sokpoe-E e For
The Development Of An African Theocology Curriculum' (Akropong- Akuapem: Unpublished PhD Thesis to Akrofi-Christaler Institute, 2017). Geisler, N. L. and Feinberg, P. D. (1980). Introduction to philosophy: a Christian perspective.
Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. Gyekye, K. (1995). An essay on African philosophical thought: the Akan conceptual Scheme.
Philadelphia: Temple University Press, pp 3 – 43 Gyekye, K. (1996). African Cultural Values: An Introduction. Accra: Sankofa Publishing
Company Mbiti, J. S. (1969). African Religions and Philosophy. Oxford: Heinemann Educational
Publishers, pp 211 – 222 Mbiti, J. S. (1975), Introduction to African Religion, second edition. Oxford: Heinemann
Educational Publishers, pp 11 – 17, 34-54, 70-81 Odotei, I.K., and Awedoba, A. K. (2006). Chieftaincy in Ghana: Culture, Governance and
Development Accra: Sub-Saharan Publishers. Opoku, K. A. (1978). West African Traditional Religion. FEP International Private. Rattray Robert S. (1927), Religion and Art in Ashanti, Oxford: Clarendon Press, pp 1-25 Sarpong, P. K. (1974). Ghana in Retrospect: Some aspects of Ghanaian culture. Accra: Ghana
Publishing Corporation. UNESCO, (2010), The Power of Culture and Development. Available at:
http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0018/001893/189382e.pdf The Holy Bible
Worldview: Foundation of Culture and Ethos
1.0 Introduction: Worldview Defined and Explained
A worldview is both a story of origin of the cosmos and mental perception of cosmic phenomena. Andrew Walls calls it a mental 'map of the universe'1 from which, according to
1Andrew F. Walls, 'African Christianity in the History of Religions' in The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History (Maryknoll, New York: 2002), Chapter 6, p. 122.
Ogbu Kalu, ‘people construct how and why things are the way they are’2 in the environment of which they are part and live in. He calls it 'mind-world' and explains it as a mental picture that empowers people’s actions and endows both rhythm and meaning to life processes.3 It is the foundation of customs, social norms and law, being embedded in the people’s experience and then expressed or re-enacted in their cultures.4 From Kwame Bediako we may infer that the culture of a substantial social grouping of persons, which give them identity in relation to other social groupings or communities, has two fundamental characteristics or qualities. The first is an internal disposition of the people to envision life within a certain perspective. This is foundational to all that there is about and in culture, and explains why ‘culture begins internally’5 with the mind. The second is that there is a resultant external behaviour from the envisioning of the persons of culture.6 Bediako’s reference to ‘culture begins internally’ fits in with the understanding of ‘worldview’ and hence which answers the questions ‘who are we’ and ‘how do we interpret our existence’ when ‘dealing with culture.’7
Explaining the term worldview the ethnologist, Edward Sapir noted some of its contents. He includes things like the ‘patterns of thought, attitudes toward life, conceptions of time, a mental picture of what ought to be, a people’s understanding of their relationship to unseen things and to the order of things, and their view of self and others.’8 John Grim puts it as ‘a story of the world which informs all aspects of life among a people, giving substance to practices, artistic creation, ritual play and military endeavour a significant content.’9 From a more ecological perspective Ogbu Kalu defines worldview as 'the unified picture of the cosmos explained by a system of concepts which order the natural and social rhythms and the place of individuals and communities in them.'10 In other words, as I understand it, a worldview is a people’s perception of and, hence, inner disposition about reality of the 'gecosphere' (the earth, its regions and things in it), which informs their outer behaviour in their ecological communities (ecosystems). It is embedded in, interprets their experiences, and so influences their outward
2 Kalu, Ogbu U., ‘The Sacred Egg: Worldview, Ecology, and Development in West Africa,' in Grim, John A., ed., Indigenous Traditions and Ecology, (USA: Harvard University Press, 2001) 3 Kalu, ‘The Sacred Egg' p. 228. 4 Kalu, ‘The Sacred Egg' p. 228. 5 Kwame Bediako, ‘Gospel and Culture: Some insights for our time from the experience of the earliest Church,’ Journal of African Christian Thought, Vol. 2, No. 2, December 1999, pp. 8-17 (8). 6 Bediako, ‘Gospel and Culture: Some insights' pp. 8-17 (8). 7 Bediako, ‘Gospel and Culture: Some insights', pp. 8-17 (8). 8 Edward Sapir, Selected Writings of Edward Sapir in Language, Culture and Personality, ed., D. G. Mandelbaum, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1958), p. 548. 9 Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, eds., Worldviews and Ecology, (Lewisburg, Pa: Bucknell University Press, 1993), p. 42. 10 Ogbu U. Kalu, 'Precarious Vision: The African's Perception of His World' in O. U. Kalu, (ed.), Readings in African humanities: African Cultural Development, (Nigeria: Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1980), p. 39.
behaviour in terms of symbolic expressions, re-enacted cultural beliefs and events, customs and traditions, social norms, values and moral laws.11
It is significant to note that central to both worldview and culture is a ‘personal element’ so that the enacted cultural behaviours and artefacts are ‘all manifestations and signs of the personal elements at the heart of culture.’12 Said differently, culture and worldview are essentially attributes of persons; it is the responses of human persons to their internal perceptions of the ecosystem that we refer to as eco-cultural behaviours or ethoi. The eco-cultural behaviours of people may affect their ecosystems positively or negatively. Since it underpins culture, worldview, like culture, can be ‘learnt unconsciously but deliberately transmitted’13 suggesting that it is not static, but responds dynamically as impacted by other cultures/worldviews.
1.1 Worldview Nature: Dynamic, Pluralistic, but also Resilient
Ogbu Kalu believes that the impact of Western worldviews, through their cultural influences on Africa, erode the salient values of the African indigenous worldviews and cultural ethoi without providing adequate replacements. Andrew Walls sees it as changing the conventionally identified components of religious systems in Africa under the pressure of internal or external forces.14 The result is cultural tension and lack of discipline,15 particularly regarding moral care for the African environment.
Nevertheless, worldviews display substantial durability, while accepting external influences. This may be because human beings who are central to worldview and culture can be ‘conservative and resistant to change.’16 Gillian M. Bediako, comparing the tenacity of primal religion to worldview, believes that it is very rare for a worldview to be entirely destroyed and replaced; rather people tend to modify their maps of reality, correcting, adapting, and altering the sizes of items on it.17
Despite internal and external influences African cultures are not necessarily left without any retrievable indigenous environmental principles, values and ethoi from their myths of origin (cosmology), and hence, worldviews. In African cultures there are many myths of origin,
11 In their article 'The Study of African culture,' H. N. Nwosu and O. U. Kalu observe that the most common cultural symbol is language, being the major instrument for expressing ideas, thoughts, feelings and sentiments as realities about and in the ecological community. The mass of detailed standard behaviours and principles or various shared components of life transmitted over the years in the community are the traditional customs. But customary behaviours and lifestyles are themselves guided by values and norms. The values are widely held beliefs or sentiments about which activities, relationships, feelings or goals are important for the wellbeing of the ecological community. Norms stem from values and prescribe specific rules, blue-prints and procedures to guide conduct in specific situations. (See H. N. Nwosu and O. U. Kalu, 'The Study of African Culture,' in O. U. Kalu (ed.), Readings in African humanities: African Cultural Development, (Nigeria: Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1980), p. 4. 12 Bediako, ‘Gospel and Culture: Some insights', pp. 8-17 (8). 13 Kalu, ‘The Sacred Egg', pp. 230-231. 14 Andrew F. Walls, 'African Christianity in the History of Religions' in The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History (Maryknoll, New York: 2002), Chapter 6, p. 124. 15 Kalu, ‘The Sacred Egg', p. 231. 16 Bediako, ‘Gospel and Culture: Some insights', pp. 8-17 (8). 17 Gillian Mary Bediako, Editorial to ‘Primal Religion as the Substructure of Christianity – Theological and Phenomenological Perspectives’, Journal of African Christian Thought, Vol. 11, No. 2, Dec. 2008, p. 1.
outlining myriads of corresponding worldviews, which are religious in nature and largely ethno- centric. For instance, Andrew Walls observes that there are conventionally four component entities identified in the religious systems in Africa, and hence their underpinning worldviews: God, divinities, ancestors, and objects of power. Yet they vary as to which component is the dominating one.18
Thus it is over generalisation to speak of the African worldview by identifying broad features that unify our myriads of worldviews to be representatively the African. However, from Andrew Walls we may note, at least, that the 'conventionally identified common components',19 may be distinct from the worldviews of other 'cultural areas'20 such as the global North. Ogbu Kalu observes that 'underlying the varieties of cultures in Africa is a core worldview structure'21 and they share a deep-seated meaning.22 With this in mind and concerning myths of origin in particular Kalu concludes that from 'the myriads of cosmologies a model can be constructed representing the basic and common features in Africa.'23 He observes, however, that each myth of origin is couched in religious, numinous terms: creation was the act of a Supreme Being utilizing the services of subaltern deities. The divine origin confers a sacred shroud on the created beings and the social order.24 This suggests a theistic religious mind-view of the world (creation, creator and humanity) in the religious traditions in Africa, which underpin their ecological ethics, attitudes and behaviours.
1.3 African Primal Worldviews: Creation, Creator and Humanity
Two authors have made illuminating contributions to understanding a phenomenological structure for the religious worldviews of Africa. Harold Turner developed in 1977 a six-feature structure for analysing the primal religions of indigenous ecological communities in the world.25 Ogbu U. Kalu in 1978, contributed to understanding a phenomenological structure for African worldviews from the many ethnocentric myths of origin through his studies on ‘The African Perception of His World’26 His diagrammatic presentation summarises his conception and description of a structure that is a depiction of African worldviews (Fig. 1). However, not all African societies display all these features.27 In reality within it are multiple worldviews or multiple maps of reality. Kalu himself rightly noted that 'details may vary, even within an ethnic group.'28
18 Andrew F Walls, The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History (Maryknoll, New York: 2002). p. 124. 19 Walls, 'African Christianity in the History of Religions', p. 124. 20 Nwosu and Kalu define 'A cultural area' as 'a geographical area occupied by peoples whose culture exhibit a significant degree of similarity with each other as well as a significant dissimilarity with cultures of others' (See Nwosu and Kalu, 'The Study of African Culture', p. 6.) 21 Kalu, ‘The Sacred Egg', p. 231. 22 Kalu, ‘The Sacred Egg', p. 228. 23 Kalu, 'Precarious Vision', p. 39. Kalu considers 'cosmology' as the 'impressive term for worldview.' However, I contend that worldview is a broader concept than cosmology (the scientific study of the universe and its origin). The latter is just one element of a people's worldview, which is their entire mind- picture or intellectual ordering of reality of life in space-time continuum. 24 Kalu, ‘The Sacred Egg', p. 228. 25 Harold Turner, ‘The Primal Religions of the World and their Study’. 26 Kalu, 'The Sacred Egg,' p. 231. 27 Walls, 'African Christianity in the History of Religions' p. 123. 28 Kalu, 'The Sacred Egg,' p. 231.
In formulating a phenomenological structure of African worldviews Kalu bases his diagram on Time-Space concept, because of the perception that space and time encapsulate most other experiences.29 He does so not unaware of problems with the concept in Africa. For instance, in
0 2 8 B
1 D 1 0
0 2 8 Bthe cosmic structure of the Mafi-E e among the T ŋu-E e in Volta Region of Ghana, Agbanu
observes that their ‘environment is more than…a matter of quantified period of time or spread of space.’30 He does not explain what he means exactly, but it suggests that the African concepts of time and space are problematic. Kalu points out how scholars still debate the concept of time among Africans. The argument is over whether the African mind perceives distant future or not, since we tend to reckon time not in a linear continuum (chronos), but based on cyclical events (kairos). So also is the African conception of space. We end up pointing to the sky, Earth and underground when questioned about the universe (cosmos); implying there are three existential dimensions of space.31
Fig. 4.1A General Structure of African Worldviews Source: Adapted from Ogbu U. Kalu's' The African's Perception of His World', 197832
1.4 Creation as Space and Nonhuman Creatures
With regards to African spatial conceptions in Fig. 1 three horizontal rectangular boxes represent three but united dimensions of space: the Sky at the top, in the middle is the Earth (made up of land and water) and beneath the Earth is the Spirit world (i.e. spirits other than the Supreme Spirit Being). According to Kalu the sky is the abode of the Supreme Spiritual Being as
29 Kalu, 'Precarious Vision', p. 39. 30 0 2 8 B Lawrence Harry K. Agbanu, 'Environmental Ethics in Mafi-E e Indigenous Culture,' (University of Ghana, Legon: Unpublished PhD Dissertation, 2011), p. 95. 31 Kalu, 'Precarious Vision', pp. 39-40. 32 See Kalu, 'Precarious Vision', p. 43 or Kalu, ‘The Sacred Egg' p. 232.
the Creator and, Kwame Bediako may add for indigenous cosmologies, ‘the Sustainer of the universe.’33 The sky is also occupied by the major divinities: sun, lightening, thunder and the like. The sky divinities are usually males and serve as judges, so people swear by them particularly in verifying ecological moral conduct. I am aware that the adherents of 0 28 Bye e cult in Sokpoe ecological area in Volta region, Ghana swear by lightning and thunder as Kalu notes. In Kalu's diagram the moon, on the other hand, is female deity whose light inspires environmental aesthetics, creativity, songs and dances.34 This may not be the case in every African culture.
The second dimension of space, the earthly space, is occupied by both human and nonhuman creatures - rocks, mountains, water bodies, flora and fauna - that are features of land and water ecosystems. Most of these earthly features are sacralised, because some African mythologies hold it that they had been inhabited by the divinities that formed land out of the anthill in the marsh.35 For instance, as Kalu notes, some common trees in West Africa reverenced as being imbued with spirits include: those with massive trunks and buttresses such as silk-cotton tree (Eriodendron orientale) or baobab (Adansonia digitata)and mystic trees, like one in Gbarnga, Liberia, which re-errected itself on its stump after being axed down for firewood even with the axe wounds still present. In addition, trees or shrubs at cross-junctions or forked roads, entrance to a village or centre of market are sacred.36 Similarly, Harry Agbanu notes that
0 2 8 Bthe Mafi-E e ascribes ‘very high magico-religious value to some individual trees and animal
species.’ These include Mango (Magnifera indica), Deti (Elaeis guieneensis), baobab (Eʋe, 'Adidoti') or (Adansonia digitata 0 1B 2) and uti (Ceiba pentandra).37
While ‘people in savannah zones tend to use hills as shrines for sending messages to God’38 0 28 B the Mafi-E e ‘conceive of the land – the living environment – as sacred’ and ‘regards the earth/land as a [deity]’ who is mentioned first before other divinities in traditional prayers.39 For instance, the 0 25 40 25 6Kp oave forest at Mafi Dugame is sacred, because it is the abode of their arch-divinity Kasaŋgblɛ, who provides security and general welfare to the community members home and abroad.40 My own Zoyi clan of Sokpoe sacralise 0 25 4 0 25 4Al l dzove and prohibit menstruating women entering it, because their 0 25 4 0 25 4Al l dzo deity inhabits it and provides a security function for them. In some African worldviews, the Earth as a female divinity not only nurtures the communities with her agro-fertility, but makes land so sacred that people swear by her.41
0 2 8 BAmong the Mafi-E e it is believed that the Earth is able to impose punishment on anyone
accursed with her.42 The third dimension of space in Kalu’s diagram described as ‘spirit world’ occurs beneath
the Earth. It contains the human ancestral spirits, non-reincarnated spirits and evil spirits. Kwame Bediako refers to it as the ‘spiritual environment’ which although is the realm of the invisible, yet is affirmed by many Africans as real.43 In Kalu's diagram both the Sky and Spirit
33 Kwame Bediako, Jesus in Africa: The Christian Gospel in African History and Experience, (UK: Editions Clé and Regnum Africa, 2000, 2004), p. 22. 34 Kalu, ‘The Sacred Egg', p. 234. 35 According to Kalu, 'The Sacred Egg', p. 235. 36 Kalu, 'The Sacred Egg', p. 235. 37 0 2 8 B Agbanu, ‘Environmental Ethics in Mafi-E e Indigenous Culture’, p.108. 38 Kalu, ‘The Sacred Egg', p. 235. 39 0 2 8 B Agbanu, ‘Environmental Ethics in Mafi-E e Indigenous Culture’, p. 98. 40 0 2 8 B Agbanu, ‘Environmental Ethics in Mafi-E e Indigenous Culture’, p. 104. 41 Kalu, ‘The Sacred Egg', p. 235. 42 0 2 8 B Agbanu, ‘Environmental Ethics in Mafi-E e Indigenous Culture’, p. 98. 43 Bediako, ‘Gospel and Culture: Some insights' pp. 8-17 (8).
world rectangles are open at the upper and lower ends, respectively, suggesting a seamless or continues communication between them since ‘all the spaces are united.’44 He does not categorically point this out, but the openness into each other of the Sky (above the Earth) and Spirit world (beneath the Earth) may suggest that in African views of the earthly space (the human world), we perceive only one other real ‘space’, part of which is above and the other part is under the Earth. It is the spirit world, the space for spiritual entities: the ancestors, the divinities and the Supreme Being.45 Kwame Bediako underscores the concept of one ‘spirit space’ juxtaposed to ‘human space’ in the ecosphere when he observes about Akan cosmology only one ‘spirit world on which human [world of] existence is believed to depend.’46 He sees in this spirit world not only ‘God, the Supreme Spirit Being (Onyame), Creator and Sustainer of the universe,’ but also that ‘Subordinate to God, with delegated authority from God, are the “gods”(abosom) sometimes referred to as children of God (Nyamemma), and the ancestors or “spirit fathers” (Nsamanfo).’47 It is also significant to note that in Kalu’s diagram both the human world and the entire spirit world are existentially contiguous as evidenced by the presence of spirit entities – Earth deity, nature spirits, human spirits, guardian spirits and evil spirits – located in the human world also. So spirit entities have their loci in all three dimensions of space, implying, in the worldviews of Africans, spirit existence is not necessarily spatially limited. Kalu points out that although there are three dimensions of space they are all united and that in the people’s consciousness each space is imbued with powerful forces.48
1.5 African View of Humanity in Creation: The Notion of Time and Wholeness of Life
Another concept palpable from Ogbu Kalu’s diagrammatic construction of African worldviews is depicted by the other (apart from the rectangles) major geometric shape on the diagram, a circle. Kalu seems to use the space occupied by the circle to illustrate interrelations in the ecosphere while the circumference depicts the cyclic concept of time and hence life, particularly human life. Tumai Nyajeka concludes in a study that ‘Life is an organic web. The living and the dead are united. The spiritual and the manifest worlds flow together in a circle.’49 How the span of human life flows cyclically between the physical and spiritual spaces in the gecosphere is understood and explained with the conception of time. In other words, to speak of the African's life span during which we engage in various ecological practices and ethical relations in an ecosystem is to invite the concept of time in the African cosmology.
In timing life, Kalu agrees with Mircea Eliade, who argues that traditional societies construct the concept of time around the movement of the agricultural season – a repetitive eternal cycle from planting to harvesting50 crops or raising to disposal of animals. Kalu likens human life to the cyclic pattern of the nonhuman. It moves from ‘birth, through accession to various stages … until death’51 only to begin a new stage of living as ‘the personality soul of the
44 Kalu, ‘The Sacred Egg', p. 234. 45 Kalu, ‘The Sacred Egg', p. 234. 46 Bediako, Jesus in Africa', p. 22. 47 Bediako, Jesus in Africa', p. 22. 48 Kalu, ‘The Sacred Egg', p. 234. 49 Tumai Nyajeka, 'Shona Women and the Mutupo Principle,' in Women Healing Earth: Third World Women on Ecology, Feminism and Religion, in Reuther, Rosemary Radford, ed., (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996). pp. 135-142. See also Kalu, ‘The Sacred Egg', p. 234. 50 Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, trans. Willard R. Trask, (NY: Harcourt, Brace, 1959). See also Kalu, 'The Sacred Egg', p. 231. 51 Kalu, ‘The Sacred Egg', p. 232.
individual journeys through the spirit world until reincarnation’52 in cultures that so believe. Therefore his diagram shows human life moving anticlockwise, perhaps illustrating the diminishing of the span in the physical/human world with time, to death at the left-end of the diameter, within the earthly space.
First of all humanity is created by God, the Supreme Being. As Samuel Agboklu put it in an interview:
The primal religionist knows that Mawu (God) the Most High is the creator of humanity and everything on Earth. Thus he is called Sogbolisa, Okitikata (the unchallengeable creator), the Craftsman, and Worker of the good. He created hand and foot, the Earth and all in it. He used clay to create human and breathed breath/ spirit into it.53
God, however, gifted humanity the ability to continue procreating its kind.54 In an interview 1 D 1 0Enyi Aven gbo is certain that 1 D1 0 1 D1 0amegbet la ŋutsu kple ny nu yee dzie (human is born of a man
and a woman).55 0 2 8 BIn Skokpoe-E e primal anthropology some think of human as constituted of three items.
On one hand it is ŋutila͂ (body, which is flesh/muscle), 0 28 Be u (blood), and gbᴐgbᴐ (spirit);56 or on the other, ŋutila͂ (body, which is flesh/muscle and blood together), luʋᴐ (soul) and gbᴐgbᴐ (spirit).57 Similarly, in Akan primal anthropology a person is constituted of hunam (body), mogya (blood), okra (soul) and susum (spirit).
0 2 8 BThese worldviews of the Sokpoe-E e and the Akan then suggest that existentially
humanity is not a dualism, but a holism, being at once earthling flesh and divine breath/spirit, with material body and immaterial soul or an entity with physical and spiritual constituents conjoined. The belief is that 'soul-spirit' as a constituent of humans is an invisible aspect of human and the real being; it is like wind/breath from God. This explains why a dying person gasps for breath, because the available air in it diminishes toward an end. But after the physical exit life then journeys through the ancestral world, with 'living-dead roles,' until, in some cultures, it returns to human world through reincarnation. African worldviews of life then denote a contiguous phenomenon; it is also not clearly hierarchical.58
To sum up, in primal African societies: • God is the source of life. • Life is a rhythm which recycles itself. • There are several dimensions of life i.e. physical, spiritual, social, and ecological. • Physical dimension of life refers to the material state of human beings. • Social dimensions comprises of relation of living with others in a community. • Spiritual dimensions link human beings with spiritual power e.g. God, spirits and
ancestors in the ecosystem.
52 Kalu, ‘The Sacred Egg', p. 232. 53 Samuel Agboklu, interview at Sokpoe, 2 March 2016. See appendix A1 for transcription. The same understanding and names of God were expressed by Geoffrey Siame, interview at Sokpoe on 17 February 2016. 54 Geoffrey Siame, telephone interview, 6 April, 2017. 55 Enyi Avenorgbo, interview, Elavanyo, 2 February 2016. See also Kofi Avinyo Atiglo, interview Elavanyo, 15 February 2016. 56 Dickson Blasu, interview at Sokpoe, 3 February 2016. 57 Daniel Agbota, interview at Sokpoe, 11 February 2016. 58 Kalu, ‘The Sacred Egg', p. 234.
• Ecological dimension of life is the relation between humans and the physical environment, as well as with the gods and ancestors in some cases.
• Life on Earth is perpetuated through marriage for the continuation of the community. • Earthly life and beyond is enhanced through observance of rituals, taboos and
regulations. • Earthly life is promoted through transitional stages e.g. birth, initiation, marriage and
death. • Death transforms an individual from physical life to the spiritual one.
1.6 The Purpose of Creation and Humanity
The literature is not very emphatically clear on what primal reliogionists in Africa see as the purpose of creation and especially humanity. However, I gleaned some ideas from my work
0 2 8 Bamong the primal Sokpoe-E e. One such basic idea is the anthropocentric conception of
creation as being there just to support human life; and that humanity is to procreate while depending on creation's resourcefulness. They were unable to tell clearly the role of humanity on Earth apart from procreation as continuation of God's creative activity. For them the purpose of humanity is to perpetuate their kind through sexual reproduction.59 Apart from procreation humans have duty to fend for their families even though ultimately it is God, through the deities 'who cares for all of us', where 'all of us' means 'both human and nonhuman creation on the Earth.'60 One of their sages implies that the main purpose or role of humanity is for us 'to represent God' in all that God does in the world. As he put it,
In the understanding of our ancestors God created humans to represent him. So he made us in his image. But since he is invisible we craft legbawo (images) like humans or other creatures, which act as messengers between us and God. If there is any other role it is procreation. As creator he gave us opportunity to also procreate, and provided all things to enable us perform these duties in the environment for our use.61
Perhaps this experienced thinker might have been influenced by his basic education in Christian school in stating that God created humans in his own image and as his representatives. However,
0 2 8 Brationalising his and all the other responses it is deducible that in the Sokpoe-E e primal
religious thought of participants, God creates and gave humanity ability to procreate; God cares for all creation and enables humanity to care for its family. In a sense then humanity images God, at least, in his creation and caring activities. But God's caring activity is through the deities, and eventually, humanity, as Avinyo explains; wherefore humanity represents God or participates in God's creation-care activity on Earth. But nonhuman creation remains to only instrumentally provide for the well-being of humanity in a precarious environment.
Perhaps the holistic and abiding interconnected nature of primal religious view of the world contributes to the difficulty in identifying categorical and distinctive purposes for creation and humanity. Kwame Bediako argues that the primal religious worldview is not only 'decidedly this- worldly,' but also that 'this this-worldliness encompasses God and [humanity] in abiding relationship with God - which is the destiny of humanity, and the purpose and goal of the
59 Enyi Avenorgbo, interview, Elavanyo, 2 February 2016. 60 Kofi Avinyo Atiglo, interview, Elavanyo, 15 February 2016 61 Geoffrey Siame, telephone interview, 6 April, 2017. (See Appendix A2 for transcript)
universe.'62 By 'universe' Bediako implies both human and nonhuman creation; and that their destiny or ultimate purpose is to work mutually toward sustaining the abiding interconnectivity. In other words, in the primal religious worldview there is no transcendent 'spiritual world separate from the realm of regular human existence' where also are the nonhuman creatures. Theoretically, the purpose, then, of 'human existence is to participate in the constant interplay of the divine-human encounter'63 to sustain all creation. Yet in practice, at least, from observations
0 2 8 Bamong the Sokpoe-E e, human-nature relations are anthropocentric.
1.7 African and Other Primal Worldviews: Harold W. Turner’s Six-Feature Analysis of
Primal Religious Ecological Communities
The African world views are described as primal because they are anterior or fundamental to modern worldviews. Studies have established that the features of the African worldviews are phenomenological to similar worldviews of non-African cultures. Like African worldviews primal worldviews globally are fundamentally religious.64 The most classical study that substantiates this assertion was done by Harold W. Turner of New Zealand. This was reported in in his 1977 article, ‘The Primal Religions of the World & Their Study.65 Turner offers “a six- feature framework to assist in the analysis and understanding of these religions.”66
• Primal Religions Acknowledge Kinship with Nature In primal thought there is ‘a profound sense … that [a human] is akin to nature, a child of Mother Earth and brother to the plants and animals which have their own spiritual existence and place in the universe.’ This ‘ecological aspect’ means plants and animals may have a totemic relationship with humans, they may become tutelary or guardian spirits, and thus the whole environment is to be ‘used realistically and unsentimentally, but with profound respect and reverence and without exploitation.’67
• Primal Religions Accept Human Weakness ‘There is the deep sense that [a human] is finite, weak and impure or sinful and stands in need of a power not his own. … This sense in primal peoples is no mere reflection of their lack of technological, economic and political power, which was painfully real; rather it is an authentic religious sensibility coupled with a realistic assessment of [a hu]man’s condition.’68
• Primal Religions Recognize Humans are not Alone Humans are ‘not alone in the universe for there is a spiritual world of powers or beings more powerful and ultimate’ than themselves. ‘Primal peoples live in a personalized universe, where
62 Bediako, Jesus in Africa', p. 92. 63 Bediako, Jesus in Africa', p. 92. 64 Bediako, Christianity in Africa, 1995: 105 65 Harold W. Turner, ‘The Primal Religions of the World & Their Study’, in,Victor C.Hayes (Ed), Australian Essays in World Religions, Bedford Park, South Australia: AASR, 1977: 27-37 66 Turner, Primal Religions, 1977: p28 67 Turner, Primal Religions, 1977: p30 68 Turner, Primal Religions, 1977: p31
there is a will behind events…’ These unpredictable powers belong to another, transcendent dimension surpassing the human realm, and some form a benevolent hierarchy of ancestors, spirits, divinities and high gods. But there is also a variety of evil spirits, demons, malevolent divinities and, ‘lesser more earth-born occult powers of wizards and witches.’ Even the benevolent divinities are ambivalent and ‘may prove hostile’. ‘But behind all the terrors of the evil spirit world there is the still greater comfort that men [sic] are not left alone in this mysterious universe and without direction, for there is the world of the gods and these provide the meaning and the model for all human needs and activities.’69
• Primal Religions Expect Relations with Transcendent Powers Humans ‘can enter into relationship with this benevolent spirit world and so share in its powers and blessings and receive protection from evil forces by these more-than-human helpers.’ Thus they look for a more than merely human religion. There is a yearning for the true quality of life that comes from the spirit world and transcends merely human experience. The gods have given religious specialists, powerful rituals, correct sacrifices and proper customs to lead toward this better life. Primal religions are not merely ‘mechanistic and ritualistic’. The ‘profound emphasis on the transcendent source of true life and practical salvation’ is basic.70
• Primal Religions Believe in Human Afterlife – The ‘Living Dead’ The human relationship with the gods extends beyond human death, ‘which is not the end.’ The ‘shaman figure … has seen into the invisible world and the realm of the dead and brought back word of what lies beyond death. In the majority of these religions the ancestors, the “living dead”, remain united in affection and in mutual obligations with the ‘living living.’ Concern for proper relations with recently departed ancestors often becomes so absorbing that other divinities appear to fade into insignificance, and the ancestors’ mediatorial role overlooked. The hope continues that the living and dead ‘will be reunited and both will share in the immortality of the gods.’71
• Primal Religions Respect the Physical as sacramental of the Spiritual For Primal peoples the “physical” is the vehicle for ‘spiritual” power. The universe is sacramental in the sense that ‘there is no sharp dichotomy between the physical and the spiritual.’ This accounts for the carefully observed ritual, the sacred objects, fetishes and charms used in divining, healings, magic and witchcraft. Moreover the physical realm is meant to be patterned on the spiritual – the one is the microcosm, the other the macrocosm. – with a common ‘set of powers, principles and patterns’ running through and unifying earth and heaven into a single cosmic, monistic, system, qualified only by an ethical dualism of good and evil. Primal thought sees the cosmos, then, as a unified and essentially spiritual system.72
Turner is careful to highlight the diversity within the range of primal religions sharing these six common features. The balance of emphasis put on the different features also varies
69 Turner, Primal Religions, 1977: p31 70 Turner, Primal Religions, 1977: p31-2 71 Turner, Primal Religions, 1977: p32 72 Turner, Primal Religions, 1977: p32
considerably, with one or more particular feature apparently or well-nigh absent in some cases. He also notes these are living religions, changing and adapting to external pressures and internal circumstances.73
1.8 Affinities between African worldviews and Christianity
Harold Turner had suggested after his analysis of primal worldviews of several primal communities globally that there seems to be affinities between the Christian and the primal traditions.74 His reasons were that when Christian missions first arrived in any primal culture there was always a common reaction suggesting that ‘this is what we have been waiting for’. Secondly, it was further evident in the rate at which a vast range of new religious movements were born from the interaction between the primal religions and Christianity.75
Bediako, in his chapter, ‘The Primal Imagination and the Opportunity for a New Theological Idiom’,76 develops Turner’s analysis in significant ways. He picks up on Turner’s later point that primal religions have a ‘special relationship’ with Christianity since, ‘in the history of the spread of the Christian faith … its major extensions have been solely into the societies with primal religious systems.’ Bediako expresses surprise Turner did not go further and ask, ‘how the primal imagination might bring its own peculiar gifts to the shaping of Christian affirmation?’ For Bediako the clue is found in Turner’s final feature – the way Primal religions see the physical as sacramental of the spiritual, or, as he frames it – the insight that the cosmos is a unified and essentially spiritual system.77
Expectedly, the primal conceptions of the universe have shaped and underpinned African primal religiosity and the subsequent value systems and ethical behaviours.78
2.0 AFRICAN VALUE CONCEPTS DERIVED FROM AFRICAN PRIMAL WORLDVIEWS
73 Turner, Primal Religions, 1977: p33-34. One of his summary statements is worth noting:
“There is nothing so strange about these developments if we pause to recognize the contemporary Western replacement of religion by magic and the occult or its central activity of material acquisition. It is more understandable in the case of primal societies which live so much on the margins of survival than it is in our modern affluent societies. What is remarkable is the sheer spirituality of the religion of so many primal peoples who might have been expected to have little thought for anything but the next meal.” p33 74 Bediako, Christianity in Africa, 1995:95-6, citing Turner, Primal Religions, 1977:37 75 Bediako, Christianity in Africa, 1995:95-6, citing Turner, Primal Religions, 1977:37 76 In, Kwame Bediako, Christianity in Africa: The Renewal of a Non-Western Religion, Edinburgh & Maryknoll, NY: Edinburgh University Press & Orbis Books, 1995: 91-108 77 Bediako, Christianity in Africa, 1995: 96 78 Allison M. Howell, in a public lecture titled "African spirituality and Christian ministry: ‘Discerning the signs of the times’ in our environment and community", (Unpublished 9th Kwame Bediako Memorial Lecture, British Council, Accra, 7 June 2017), p.1, bemoans that the spiritual engagement with land and water, once part of the fabric of African spirituality, seems to have become unravelled in our time, especially with relationship to illegal gold mining and also in other ecological areas as well.
2.1 Anthropocentrism (Human-centred Value Conception of Creation)
Generally the valuing of creation by primal Africans is anthropocentric (human centred). This means that in the worldview of the primal African only human beings have intrinsic value
0 2 8 B(worth in themselves). A study among the primal religionists of the Sokpoe-E e in Sokpoe
ecological area suggests a mixture of biocentrism (life-centred), zoocentrism (animal centred) and anthropocentrism (human centeredness). Yet they practise mainly anthropocentrism; only humans have intrinsic values; all nonhuman - both living and nonliving - have instrumental values.79 0 28 B 1 D1 0 Agbanu’s study among the Mafi-E e of North T ŋu in Ghana makes almost similar observations. He concludes that their ecological ethics is anthropocentric, but mixed with biocentrism and ecocentrism (ecosystem centred).80 Ogbu Kalu expresses surprise at this, wondering that 'In spite of the remarkable awareness of spiritual forces, the African places man (sic) at the centre of the universe.'81 Kwame Bediako makes similar observation for most African cultures.82
The African conception of the worth and dignity of the human being can be deduced from 0 2 8 Bsome of their maxims. The E e name Amewuga and the Akan proverb onipa ye fe sen sika both
0 2 8 Bliterally mean the human being is more useful than gold or its minted coin. Both the E e and
Akan sages respectively explain these maxims to suggest that only the human being is of real value, for in times of need or distress, if you appeal to gold and other material possessions they will not respond; only a human being will. For these reasons, the worth of the human being is of the ultimate consequence and ought therefore to be given the ultimate consideration. Thus, the main intent of the maxim is to point out the worth of a human being and the respect that ought to be given to her by virtue of her humanity. Recognition of the worth of a human being is, according to the maxim amewuga, more important than caring for wealth. From such maxims one can appreciate why human welfare and concern constitute the preoccupation of African ethics.
2.2 African Concepts of Humanity and Brotherhood
These two concepts, humanity and brotherhood, feature prominently in African social and moral thought and practice. They are among the moral or human values that constitute the basic —perhaps the ultimate—criteria that not only motivate but also justify human actions that affect other human beings. In African terms, humanity is not just an anthropological term; it is also a moral term when it comes to considering the relations between members of the human species. The term ‘brotherhood’ has come to refer to an association of men and/or women with common aims and interests. But the notion of brotherhood is essentially a moral notion, for it is about the relations between individual human beings that make for their own interest and well-being.
79 Ebenezer Yaw Blasu, 'Christian Higher Education As Holistic Mission And Moral Transformation: An Assessment Of Studying Environmental Science At The Presbyterian University College, Ghana And The
0 2 8 BEcological Thought Of The Sokpoe-E e For The Development Of An African Theocology Curriculum, (Akrofi- Christaller Institute, Akuapem: Unpublished PhD dissertation, 2017), p. 148.
80 0 2 8 B Agbanu, ‘Environmental Ethics in Mafi-E e Indigenous Culture’, p. iii. 81 Kalu, 'Precarious Vision' p. 41. 82 Bediako, Jesus in Africa p. 92.
There is some affiliation between humanity and brotherhood in African ethical conceptions: if we are human, we are (must be) brothers, in a capacious, comprehensive sense of the word ‘brother’.
Consider the Akan maxim: Honam mu nni nhanoa (humanity has no boundary). The Akan maxim literally means in human flesh there is no edge of cultivation—no boundary (nhanoa). According to Gyekye, the maxim can be interpreted as meaning that ‘all humankind is one species’, thus, that ‘Humanity has no boundary.’83 When the farmer cultivates his land, he does it up to a limit, an edge (in Akan: nhanoa, edge, boundary) where he has to stop, otherwise he would trespass on another farmer's land. There is, thus, a limit to the area of cultivation of land. But this, the maxim invites us to realize, is not so in the cultivation of the friendship and fellowship of human beings; the boundaries of that form of cultivation are limitless. For, humanity is of one kind; all humankind is one species, with shared basic values, feelings, hopes, and desires. Thus, even though the African people traditionally live in small communities and are divided into different ethnic or cultural groups and into clans and lineages with complex networks of relationships, nevertheless, they perceive humanity to embrace all other peoples beyond their narrow geographic or spatial confines, to constitute all human beings into one universal family of humankind. Even though this family is fragmented into a multiplicity of peoples and cultures, nevertheless, it is a shared family—a shared humanity—the relationships among whose members ought to feature a certain kind of morality: the morality of a shared humanity
The common membership of one universal human family constitutes (should constitute) a legitimate basis for the idea of universal human brotherhood (or unity). This idea is depicted in, for instance, the Akan maxim Onipa nua ne onipa (Man's brother is Man), implying a human being's brother is a (or another) human being. The maxim asserts unmistakably that a human being can be related only to another human being, not to a beast. Implicit in the African perception of humanity is the recognition of all persons, irrespective of their racial or ethnic backgrounds, as brothers. This is the reason why in African cultures the word ‘brother’ is used to cover various and complex family relationships linked by blood ties. But the word is also used, significantly, by persons between whom there are no blood ties; thus, the word is used comprehensively. The comprehensive meaning given to the word ‘brother’ in African cultures is intended, indeed, to lift people up from the purely biologically determined blood relation level onto the human level, the level where the essence of humanity is held as transcending the
0 2 8 Bcontingencies of human biology, race, ethnicity, or culture. This is exemplified in an E e maxim
1 D 1 0
1 D 1 0asie w n vi (hand makes a brother/sister). The maxim is derived from the culture of shaking
hands to indicate brotherhood, friendliness, love or assurance of no hidden evil. It can be logically interpreted as saying 'by shaking hands with me I understand you have no evil against me, hence I am your brother/sister, a fellow human.' The ethical import emphasised is that a brother/sister must not be mistreated, because he/she is a human being. Thus, a practical translation of the idea of brotherhood leads to such social and moral virtues as hospitality, generosity, concern for others, and communal feeling. According to Gyekye most people, including foreign visitors to Africa, often testify, in amazement, to the ethic of hospitality and
83 Kwame Gyekye, "African Ethics", in Edward N. Zalta (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2011/entries/african-ethics/>.
generosity of the African people. That ethic is an expression of the perception of our common humanity and universal human brotherhood.84
3.0 AFRICAN CONCEPTION AND PRAXIS OF ETHICS
3.1 African Word or Expression for Ethics/Morality
African Ethics and Morality are derived from African Worldviews. The word moral describes the ideas and beliefs relating to what is right or wrong, what is a good or bad in human conduct within a given society. It is also about the conceptions of satisfactory social relations and attitudes held by the members of the society; or the forms or patterns of behaviour that are considered by the members of the society to bring about social harmony and cooperative living, justice, and fairness. When these moral ideas and beliefs about conduct are articulated, analyzed, and interpreted by the moral thinkers of the society the result is called ethics. Thus theoretically a distinction can be made between morality, as the beliefs and principles that a group of people abides by in their daily lives concerning what ought to be, and ethics as the reflections of moral thinkers on human conduct. Nevertheless, since morality and ethics refer essentially to the same phenomenon—the state of human conduct—they can be used interchangeably.85
A substantial number of Sub-Saharan African languages do not have words that can be said to be direct equivalents of the word ‘ethics’ or ‘morality’. In most cases the African refers to ethical or morality as 'having character'. For instance, in Akan “He has no morals”, or, “He is immoral”, or “He is unethical”, “His conduct is unethical”, is explained as “He has no character” (Onni suban 0 28 B). Similarly in E e, it is said 1 D1 0 1 D1 0n n me mele si o; and in Igbo, Nigeria, onwe ghi ezi agwa. Thus, the inquiries into the moral language of several African peoples or cultures indicate that in these languages the word or expression that means ‘character’ is used to refer to what others call ‘ethics’ or ‘morality’. Discourses or statements about morality turn to be discourses or statements essentially about character.
African ethics is, thus, a character-based ethics that maintains that the quality of the individual's character is most fundamental in our moral life. Good character is the essence of the African moral system, the linchpin (or hub) of the moral wheel. The justification for a character- based ethics is not far to seek. For, all that a society can do, regarding moral conduct, is to impart moral knowledge to its members, making them aware of the moral values and principles of that society. In general, society satisfactorily fulfils this duty of imparting moral knowledge to its members through moral education of various forms, including, as in African societies, telling morally-freighted proverbs and folktales to its younger members. But, having moral knowledge —being made aware of the moral principles and rules of the society—is one thing; being able to lead a life consonant with the moral principles is quite another. An individual may know and may even accept a moral rule, such as, say, it is wrong to cheat in the exams. But he may fail to apply this rule to a particular situation; he is, thus, not able to effect the transition from knowledge to action, to carry out the implications of his moral belief. This is why this course employs both primal and Christian religious approaches to provide the truth about human
84 Kwame Gyekye, "African Ethics", in Edward N. Zalta (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2011/entries/african- ethics/>. 85 Gyekye, Kwame, "African Ethics", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2011/entries/african-ethics/>.
morality and the eternal consequences, in the hope that we shall see the need and choose to apply them to become disciplined people.
Character is defined by the Akan thinkers in terms of habits, which result from a person's deeds or actions: ‘character comes from your actions’. Persistent performance of a particular action will produce a certain habit and, thus, a corresponding character. To acquire virtue, a person must perform good actions, that is, morally acceptable actions so that they become habitual. The action or deed that led to the acquisition of a newly good habit must be persistently performed in order to strengthen that habit; in this way, virtue (or, good character) is acquired. Over time such an acquired virtue becomes a habit. This is the position of Akan ethics on the development and acquisition of a good (or, bad) character, for this is what the Akan people mean when they say aka ne ho, “it has remained with him,” “it has become part of him,” “it has become his habit.” Character is, thus, a behaviour pattern formed as a result of past persistent actions. Thus, moral virtues (excellences of character) or vices arise through habituation.
The logic of the acquisition of our character or habits is that the original nature of the human being was morally neutral, neither good nor bad. A person's original moral neutrality will in the course of his life come to be affected, in one direction (the good) or the other direction (the bad) by his actions and responses to moral instruction, advice and persuasion. The original moral neutrality of a human being constitutes the foundation of our conception of the moral person, for it makes for—allows room for—choice, that is, moral choice. Consequently, what a person does or does not do is most crucial to the formation and development of his or her character, and, thus, to becoming moral or immoral.
African worldview's emphasis on character development as the aim of morality forms a substratum for promoting African Christian ethics. Both African primal religion and the NT consider character as the process and goal of human morality. However, the NT goes further to present the character of Jesus - the unique divine-human - as the ultimate standard for all humanity to pursue while on Earth (Phillip. 2:3; Eph. 4:13), because he is the One by whom all things, including the consciousness of morality, is created (Jn. 1:3). I propose that with a worldview that projects character as the end of pursuing morality African Christianity is poised to appreciate the need to make ethics Christo-centric.
3.2 Nature of African Ethics: Theistic in Origin, Humanistic in Praxis
The ethical principles of a society are essentially derived from their worldviews. The prevalence of various spiritual entities through all three dimensions of space underscores the conception of African worldviews as not only religious, but specifically theistic. Kalu describes it as ‘the sacralisation of the environment.’86 When John S. Mbiti asserts that the daily life of the African people are notoriously religious and that religion permeates into all the departments of life so that it is not easy or possible to isolate it87 he reinforces that African worldviews, which underpin African spirituality and ethics as cultural phenomena88 is characteristically religious and theistic. Yet it appears that in ordinary life experiences the primal African worldviews are not necessarily theocentric (focused on God), particularly since not all cultures have God-dominant worldviews. But even in God-dominant religious systems, the Supreme Being or God is not necessarily central, pivotal or the frontline power that people focus attention on for immediate and direct reach; the subordinate divinities and the ancestors may even be more
86 Kalu, ‘The Sacred Egg', p. 240. 87 John S. Mbiti, AfricanReligions and Philosophy, 2ed. (Oxford: Heinemann, 1990), p.1. See also J. S. Mbiti, Introduction to African Religion, 2ed. (Illinois, USA: Waveland Press, 1975), p.30. 88 Kalu, ‘The Sacred Egg', p. 229.
paramount. It is not God, but either deities (such as at Sokpoe) or both deities and ancestors (such as at Mafi), or only ancestors (such as among the Akans), who are feared in connection with environmental moral laws and taboos. Discussing environmental management from indigenous resources among the Kikiyu of Kenya, Julius Gathogo premised his argument that the indigenous Kikuyu people were encouraged to preserve the environment by their belief in the sacredness of nature. 'Therefore, the eco-ethical concern for people in Mutira …was tantamount to co-working with [NOT because of or for] God.'89 They practise an environmental management (moral care) based on religious but not theocentric cosmology.
Kwame Gyekye's Argument on Origin of African Ethics
Perhaps the religious but non-God-centred approach to life may explain why Kwame Gyekye, asserts that the foundation of African ethics, for instance, is not religious, but humanistic. He means that the sources of African morality in the traditional setting must be held as independent of religious prescriptions or supernatural powers. That is, the standards for judging good or bad values are 'not from divine pronouncements' since African primal religions are not divinely revealed, but natural (human self-reflected) spiritual experiences.90 In Gyekye's view then 'African morality originates from considerations of human welfare and interests.'91 In short, Gyekye debunks the view that the moral values and principles of the African society originate from religion; rather religion is employed in some cases to effectuate African ethical praxis. He thus suggests that African ethics is not religious, rather African primal religion is ethical.92
An African Christian Response to Gyekye
Yet he agrees that, at least in thought, 'the African metaphysic, is a theistic metaphysic' only that in praxis 'it does not nurture a [theocentric] or supernatural ethic.'93 Inferably, and to be sure, Gyekye does not necessarily deny that religion plays some role in the moral lives of African people, who are said to be “incurably religious”.94 Indeed, he observes that Africans hold 'God not only to be the overlord of the human society, but also to have a superbly moral character'; and that 'the ancestors (ancestral spirits) are also supposed to be interested in the welfare of the society (they left behind), including the moral life of the individual.'95 But he insists religion constitutes only part of the sanctions that are in play in matters of moral practice; and'cannot be totally banished from the domain of moral practice.' In other words, African
89 Julius Gathogo, 'Environmental management and African indigenous resources: echoes from Mutira Mission, Kenya (1912-2012)', accessed 28/1/2015, (http://uir.unisa.ac.za/bitstream/handle/10500/13127/Gathogo.pdf? sequence=1), p.1. Emphasis mine. 90 Kwame Gyekye, "African Ethics", in Edward N. Zalta (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2011/entries/african-ethics/>. 91 Kwame Gyekye, "African Ethics", in Edward N. Zalta (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2011/entries/african-ethics/>. 92 Kwame Gyekye, "African Ethics", in Edward N. Zalta (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2011/entries/african-ethics/>. 93 Kwame Gyekye, "African Ethics", in Edward N. Zalta (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2011/entries/african-ethics/>. 94 Kwame Gyekye, "African Ethics", in Edward N. Zalta (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2011/entries/african-ethics/>. 95 Kwame Gyekye, "African Ethics", in Edward N. Zalta (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2011/entries/african-ethics/>.
people being ever aware of the powers of the supernatural beings, exploit the munificence of the spiritual powers for the promotion of human welfare, prosperity, and happiness.96
It is my argument that Gyekye rightly observes and asserts that African ethics is humanistic; but his observation is only in praxis and not in origin. He argues that the origin of African ethics is humanistic and not religious just because African religion is not revealed. I answer that African religion may appear not revealed only because of the fact that African primal worldviews that undergird their religiosity 'emphasise this-worldliness (limited to the here, now and perceptibility) of reality.'97 This is because to the primal African mind-view ‘there is no sharp dichotomy between the physical and the spiritual.’98 Rather the physical realm is meant to be patterned on the spiritual – the one is the microcosm, the other the macrocosm – with a common ‘set of powers, principles and patterns’ running through and unifying earth and heaven into a single cosmic, monistic, system, qualified only by an ethical dualism of good and evil. African primal thought sees the cosmos, then, as a unified and essentially spiritual system99 that is not experienced without embedded ethical provisions.
Gyekye's conclusion that the source/foundation of African ethics is not religious, because African primal religion is not divinely revealed, attracts an African Christian response. The response is that a belief in reality having divine origin as creation confers a sacred shroud on the created beings and the socio-cultural order, among communities that hold such worldview.100 African myths of origin are couched in religious, numinous terms with creation being the act of a Supreme Being utilizing the services of subaltern deities.101 In Africa both the Primal and Abrahamic (Islam and Judeo-Christian) worldviews and religious traditions affirm that creation is God's handiwork. Creation thus has both intrinsic and instrumental values102 conferred by
0 2 8 BGod, not by itself or humans. In primal religion of the Sokpoe-E e, for instance, God is the
1 D 1 0Nunyuiw la (the creator of the good or value);103 for Christians the OT asserts that 'the
heavens declare the glory [shining goodness] of God' (Ps. 19:1-2) and in Islam, Allah gave to each (created) thing its form and nature (sura 20:50).104 Suggestively, there are common ideas in both the primal and Christian worldviews that correspond with the Islamic understanding that 'every individual creature or being has its own ontological existence as a sign (aya) of God and, by its very being, manifests and reveals His majestic and merciful [ethical] values.'105
The Christian religio-ethical point implied and being argued here is that the All-Valuable and Good Creator is really the only authoritative source and imputer of value and goodness to his creation, both human and non-human. It is not possible for any creature, as long as it is recognised as part of creation, to have value and moral status (goodness or otherwise) without reference to God's already valuing of it. If Africans value and relate morally with any member of creation, including fellow humans, it is because values and moral principles are realities in creation. The creator God has already imputed moral values and principles in creation to guide
96 Kwame Gyekye, "African Ethics", in Edward N. Zalta (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2011/entries/african-ethics/>. 97 Bediako, Jesus in Africa', p. 92. 98 Turner, Primal Religions, 1977: p32 99 Turner, Primal Religions, 1977: p32 100 Kalu, ‘The Sacred Egg', p. 228. 101 Kalu, ‘The Sacred Egg', p. 228. 102 Llewellyn, 'The Basis for a Discipline of Islamic Environmental Law', p. 189. 103 Samuel Agboklu, interview at Sokpoe, 2 March 2016. 104 Özdemir, ‘Toward an Understanding of Environmental Ethics from Qur’anic Perspective’, p. 11. 105 Özdemir, ‘Toward an Understanding of Environmental Ethics from Qur’anic Perspective’, p. 11.
divinely approved harmonious relationships or order for the sustenance of all creation. Africans' praxis of humanistic valuing and morality simply draws on what is primordial and determined by their primal worldview and religious consciousness.
Moreover, since, as Gyekye rightly observes, African people, aware of the powers of the supernatural beings, exploit their munificence (extreme generosity) for the promotion of moral relations that ensure human welfare, prosperity, and happiness they (Africans) acknowledge that ultimate interest of moral valuing and praxis lies in the spiritual realm. Harold W. Turner explaining his observed phenomenological features of primal religious people like Africans stated that there is the world of the gods and these provide the meaning and the model for all human needs (including ethical needs) and activities.106 He posits that in the worldview and experiences of primal cultures such as in Africa, the gods have given religious specialists, powerful rituals, correct sacrifices and proper customs to lead toward harmonious and better life in the ecological community. Turner is here implying not only ethical principles and institutions for ensuring harmonious ecological relations, but also that such ethical establishments are profoundly emphasised as originating from the 'transcendent [or spiritual] source' for 'true life and practical salvation.'107
It may not be difficult then to conclude that the foundation or source of African ethics is, in fact, essentially religious and theistic although its practice is focused on the humanistic impulsions. Furthermore, Christian theology suggests that even the humanistic motivation is the working of God who enables humans to will and to act according to his good purpose - ethically (Philipp. 2:13).
An African Christian response to the claim that primal African ethics is moored (anchored) in secular humanism is a proposal to rather moor it in 'religious-humanism' since it is ultimately embedded in or associated with religious thought, although practised mainly with secular humanistic motivation. From African Christian theological point of view the religious-humanism proposal does not only affirm the reality in daily ethical experience of most Africans, but also provides room for a pragmatic gospel interpretation that sees the humanistic ethical motivation as a positive preparation for the praxis of African Christian ethics. In Christian understanding believing that moral values originate from God makes God not only the generous superintendent of moral praxis (as is also observed in primal African ethics), but beyond that and more importantly, the ultimate demander of moral accountability. For instance, the humanistic practice of ethics has socio-cultural outcomes of emphasis on communalistic (the common good) and brotherhood (we are kin) approaches to ethical relations in Africa. Both conceptions correspond with and provide affinity for the biblical/Christian moral principles that admonish keeping the unity of humanity in Christ (Eph. 4:3-4) by being selfless (Philipp. 2:4) and each other's keeper (Gen. 4:9), doing so out of reverence for Christ (Eph. 5:21). Contrarily, it is my view that when and where the religious origin of ethics is not brought to the fore-consciousness of a religious community, but left to secular humanism at the level of praxis, the positive ideals of humanism may tend to be negative. Without the emphasis on and commitment to its religious origin and divinely demanded accountable end, secular African humanism's ethical principles of 'the common good' and 'we-ism' may lead to ethnocentrism (safeguarding only the interests of one's ethnic group) and nepotism (leaning towards the interests of only one's kin), respectively.
A prominent politician in Ghana is commonly alleged to have made an infamous and inadvertent statement about an ethnic group during political campaigns in the closing years of
106 Turner, Primal Religions, 1977: p31-2 107 Turner, Primal Religions, 1977: p31-2
1960s. He supposedly described this ethnic group as 'inward-looking'. Popular opinion at the time vehemently objected to the alleged statement based on socio-ethical interpretations. The arguments were that without evidence, the eminent politician insulted and debased this people as ethnocentric - an unethical action that could foment social disintegration and national disunity. The expression itself was seen to have been based on observations that the group tend to associate and relate more readily and concernedly with those from their ethnic extraction, often identifying a kin-person as 'my brother', implying 'we belong'. I heard a similar disposition expressed during 1996 political struggles by a Christian of another Ghanaian ethnic extraction in a church head office in Accra. On the ballot paper that year a political party known to have a heavy following of this Christian's ethnic group was placed the last down the paper. Leaders of this party educating their sympathisers urged them to look 'down' the ballot sheet; and 'look down' became their popular slogan. The enthusiastic Christian in question, appealing to her party colleagues said 'those of us who speak this language [of the ethnic group tagged with her party] should naturally vote for the party placed down the ballot sheet.' Thus, the tendency for ethnocentrism and nepotism is natural with humanity no matter the ethnic extraction. Ajume Wingo believes that 'to care for our kin and feel responsible for those with whom we are in close reciprocal relationships'108 plays a significant role in Akan (and hence, African) personhood development.
My contention is that, implicit in African practice of secular humanistic valuing and morality is its potential contribution to such negative or ill-moral relational aspects of communalism and brotherhood. Sharing her concerns about our ecological ethics in Ghana, for instance, Allison Howell bemoans that the spiritual engagement with land and water, once part of the fabric of African spirituality (and ethics), seems to have become unravelled in our time, especially with relationship to illegal gold mining and also in other ecological areas as well.109 This may be due to practical emphasis on secular humanism rather than the theistic-religious humanistic approach to valuing and moral thought and praxis. The apparent absence of spiritual engagement in practice of ethics promotes individualistic interests for economic gains that overrule our communalistic and brotherhood concerns. I propose that bringing into the fore the consciousness of our primal African theistic origin and adding commitment to a Christian theocentric praxis may help to better appropriate the ideals of communalism and brotherhood and significantly improve our ethical relationships as African Christians.
4.0 Principles of African Ethics Derived from African Primal Worldviews
4.1 The Notion of the Common Good
The notion of the common good features manifestly in African ethics. In Gyekye's explanation, Akan moral thought, for instance, the notion is expressed most vividly in an art
108 Ajume Wingo, "Akan Philosophy of the Person", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), (Accessed 1/2/2018) at <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2017/entries/akan- person/>. 109 Allison M. Howell, "African spirituality and Christian ministry: ‘Discerning the signs of the times’ in our environment and community", (Unpublished 9th Kwame Bediako Memorial Lecture, British Council, Accra, 7 June 2017), p.1.
motif that shows a ‘siamese’ crocodile with two heads but a single (i.e., common) stomach.110 The part of the motif relevant to moral thought is the single stomach, and it is to the significance of this that I wish to pay some attention. The common stomach of the two crocodiles indicates that at least the basic interests of all the members of the community are identical. It can therefore be interpreted as symbolizing the common good, the good of all the individuals within a society.
The common good is not a surrogate for the sum of the various individual goods. It does not consist of, or derive from, the goods and preferences of particular individuals. It is that which is essentially good for human beings as such, embracing the needs that are basic to the enjoyment and fulfilment of the life of each individual. If the common good were the aggregate of individual goods, it would only be contingently, not essentially, common and, on that score, it would not be achieved in a way that will benefit all the individuals in a society. If the common good is achieved, then the individual good is also achieved. Thus, there should be no conceptual tension or opposition between the common good and the good of the individual member of the community, for the common good embraces the goods—the basic goods—of all the members of the community. If the common good were understood as the basic good—as human good—as such, there would be no need to think of it as a threat to individual liberty as touted by Western liberal (individualist) thinkers, for, after all, individual liberty is held as one of the basic goods of the members of the society. The contents of the common stomach, in the symbolic art of the ‘siamese crocodile’, would not conflict with the interests and needs of either of the crocodiles.
The common good, as discussed in an earlier section, is defined, for instance, by the traditional thinkers of the Akan society in terms of peace, happiness or satisfaction (human flourishing), justice, dignity, respect, and so on. The common good embraces these goods and more. The unrelenting support by people in a community for such moral values as social justice and equality on the one hand, and the spontaneous, universal denunciation of acts such as murder and cruelty on the other hand, are certainly inspired by beliefs in the common good.
The institutions of various kinds—legal, political, economic, moral and others—are set up in pursuit of certain commonly shared values and goals, that is, a common good which a human society desires to achieve for all of its members. The institution of government or legal system is surely based on a common understanding of the need for societal values of social order and social peace. It is, thus, pretty clear that the common good is that which inspires the creation of a moral, social, political, or legal system for enhancing the well-being of people in a community.
The common good is an essential feature of the ethics espoused by the communitarian African society. A sense of the common good—which is a core of shared values—is the underlying presupposition of African social morality.
That African worldview presents the common good as a principle of moral relations parallels a similar view and conception in the NT except that it is seen as originating in and from Jesus Christ. Thus the NT strongly encourages Christians to seek not their own, but the common good in ethical relations (I Cor. 10:31-33) as is exemplified by Jesus Christ (I Cor. 11:1). 4.2 The Principle of African Communalism, Not Individualism
Since the praxis of African ethics is motivated by humanism, whose central focus is the concern for the welfare and interest of each member of community, it is expectantly a social or communal morality which is enjoined by social life itself. Social life or sociality is natural to the human being because every human being is born into an existing human society. The Akan says that ‘When a human being descends from the heavens, he [or she] descends into a human town
110 Kwame Gyekye, "African Ethics", in Edward N. Zalta (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (Fall 2011 Edition), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2011/entries/african-ethics/>.
[or, a human society].’ The point of the maxim is that the human being is social by nature. This view finds a variant in Aristotle's celebrated dictum that ‘The human being is by nature a social animal’, that is, that a human being is by nature a member of a polis, a human community. Birgit
0 2 8 BMeyer describes the community structure of the E e.111 She indicates that a person is born into
a ƒome (family), which are organised into 1 D1 0hl wo (clans). Several clans together form one du (town), and several duwo (towns) form dukᴐ (state). Being a member of the human community by nature, the individual is naturally related or oriented toward other persons and must have relationships with them. The natural sociality or relationality of human beings would—and should—prescribe a social ethic, rather than the ethic of individualism. Individualistic ethics that focuses on the welfare and interests of the individual is hardly regarded in African moral thought.
African social ethic is expressed in many maxims (or, proverbs) that emphasize the importance of the values of mutual helpfulness, collective responsibility, cooperation, interdependence, and reciprocal obligations. Let me refer to a few of these, from the Akan repertoire onipa yieye firi onipa 0 28 B (the well-being of man depends on his fellow man). Or the E e proverb 0 25 6asi eka melea adewu o (one hand does not catch mudfish). In other words, one always need assistant to be successful in fishing the fast and slippery mudfish. Thus, point of these proverbs is, not that a person should always look to another (or others) for well-being and the attainment of his goals, but that there are occasions when the demonstration by another person (or other persons) of goodwill, sympathy, compassion, and the willingness to help can be a great boost to a person's attempts to achieve his goals, to fulfil his life. In short, human by nature is limited in successfully managing many possibilities open to him as an individual. Human limitations are in fact expressed in proverbs like the Akan onipa nye abe na ne ho ahyia ne ho
0 2 8 B(man is not a palm-tree that he should be complete (or, self sufficient); or the E e 0 25 6eta eka me
0 2 5 6dea a aŋu o (one head does not meet or take the best decision). These proverbs point up the inadequacies of the human being that make it impossible for
him to fulfil his life, socially, economically, emotionally, psychologically, and so on. It is evidently true that in the context of the society, in terms of functioning or flourishing in a human society, the human individual is not sufficient, for her capacities, talents, and dispositions are not adequate for the realization of her potential and basic needs. It is only through cooperation with other human beings that the needs and goals of the individual can be fulfilled. A social ethic that recognizes the importance of the values of mutual help, goodwill, and reciprocity is the kind of ethic that will counter the lack of human self-sufficiency in respect of talents and capacities and in many ways help realize his basic needs. That a human being, due to her limitations, deserved to be helped is expressed in the following maxim onipa hia moa (a human being needs help). There are many African folktales whose conclusions are intended to affirm the values of social morality—the kind of morality that is centred on human relations. The social character of morality requires that the individual member of the society, ever mindful of his interests, adjust those interests to the interests and needs of others. This requires him to give due consideration to the interests and welfare of others. Necessarily embedded in a human community, the individual person has a dual moral responsibility: for him or herself as an individual and for others as co- members of the community with whom she shares certain basic needs and interests.
African communalistic ethics has a Christian variant that enjoins African Christians to 'look out not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others' (Phillip. 2:4). 4.3 The Principle of Duty, Not of Rights
111 Birgit Meyer, Translating the Devil: Religion and Modernity Among the Ewe in Ghana, (London: Edinburgh University Press, 1999), p. 1.