Africanism: A New Identity

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For a while now, I have been trying to formulate my world views and give it a definitive identity. I have struggled to identify with any of the commonly available options be they political or religious. Being a free thinker is a good thing but sometimes you want to settle for some guiding principles.  I believe I might have found one. Call it my “Funny Funny Identity“.

About a month ago, I was at  the Annual Igbo Conference in London. The well-attended and very informative conference focused on the history, art, culture, and language of the Igbo people of South-Eastern Nigeria. The international speakers ranged from well-seasoned academics, amateur historians, bloggers and researchers with keen interest in the evolution of African culture and traditions from ancient times to date.  The issue of identity seemed to dominate the event culminating with a research presentation on the search for identity amongst second generation Nigerian Londoners. However, there was a different type of latent identity definition that kept cropping up: a lot of speakers would talk passionately about their admiration and even observation of certain African traditional practices but pre-empt this with an emphatic “but I am a Christian”. It was both sad and funny seeing people struggling to give a common unique identity to their world views without betraying one element of it, that is Christianity.  It was as if being Christian was the definitive identity that should, if necessary, accommodate any other anticipated identity of beliefs.  The debate turned a bit heated with reference to the practice of destroying ancient works or art by some extremist believers on the premise that they were fetish or represented devil worship.

New Yam (igbo) Festival in Dublin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many years ago I was watching a video where a Muslim cleric was speaking to a large group of African-American converts. He was struggling to find the right word to address them with. So he enquired if it was better to call them Blacks or African-Americans, but the crowd loudly emphasised they wanted to be addresses as Muslims. Some people in the audience stood up to speak of their pain on discovering that they were Muslims (i.e. their ancestors) before they were enslaved.  In other words, their attraction to Islam was all about going back to their roots.

The use of one’s religion as the definitive identity is nothing new and not necessarily a bad thing. Religion, after all, summarises one’s world view and in ancient times, there was little distinction between one’s political, religious and cultural views. Reza Aslan- the author of many books on religious historicity who was famously grilled on Fox News on why a Muslim would write a book about Jesus, talks about religion as only offering the metaphors with which we view the world. In other words, the differences between different religions only lie with the metaphors we use in defining our world view. This probably explains why specific religious views remain dominant in some parts of the world and why societies also adapt imported religions to suit them. I suppose there will be peace and harmony in the world if we all saw it that way.

English: A picture of an Igbo man with facial scarifications, known as Ichi, early 20th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the coming series of blogs, I will be exploring a new identity I will call Africanism.  It is an identity I am looking to identify myself with. I will be looking at various traditions, practices, beliefs and how they form a definitive world view.  In the end I might even end up with a holy book and adherents. As with all identities, it is an evolving process. There will be no such thing as going back to a glorious past.  This is not because of the common belief that African traditional belief involved say  human sacrifices or were misogynistic.  All religions were such until people reformed them. Africanism therefore can not be stuck in the past. It has also interfaced with other cultures and world views and has learned to absorb what is beneficial. It embraces enlightenment.  As with all religions, it is replete with mysticism and superstitions but not necessarily the worship of any specific deity. People have openly shied away from it while secretly embracing it. The only reason being the false assumption that it necessarily entails worship of other gods. In fact, it a world view that doesn’t require one to identify as theist, deist or atheist.

I hope you follow me on this journey of discovery.

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