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Reflections on Yoruba and Kemetic gender constructs

I’ve been reading Oyeronke Oyewumi’s work on gender in Yoruba society. I’m finding her work exceedingly interesting. I was struck by the indigenous conceptualization of Osun as “Oore yeye”, the “generous mother”. I found this quite interesting given that Osun also represents (among other things water and harmonious relations). This made me think about the Kemetic concept of nwn (noon), which is primordial water, as well as Ast (Aset), and to a lesser degree Maat. While I don’t think that Osun is the Yoruba “equivalent” of these Kemetic concepts (the search for conceptual equivalencies across cultures betrays a number of problematic assumptions about cultural universalism, but more on that at another time), it is interesting that both societies represented these ideas in the form of women. The critical role of women as the vessels of new life was not lost on the architects of these ancient civilizations. The reproductive and educational roles of women were not just physical or instructional, what we might term “instrumental functions”. In the Yoruban imagination women were reflective of the conduit of life, the stream of human consciousness from time immemorial to the present, the maintenance of ethical and nurturing relations, and the deep feelings of love that sustain them. Thus the role of rivers, lakes, and streams in sustaining food production systems paralleled the roles of mothers as sustainers of humanity. This echoes the role of Ast, who was not only the mother of Heru, but also represented the archetype of human motherhood. Again, this was not simply an instrumental or functional role, but was one that expressed the role of women as carriers of possibility. In this case Ast carried Heru, who delivered the country from the rule of his uncle Set. Heru represented the triumph of right or righteousness over might. Aset therefor represented the possibility of renewal, redemption from injustice, reclamation of truth, and the forward flow of human society. Again, these are similar concepts. Though they differ in critical ways, they reveal a great deal about the ontology of gender in at least two indigenous African civilizations.
May 7
princelesscomic:

lunulata:

princelesscomic:

All princesses like shiny things…
Sometimes those things are gold and jewels.
Sometimes, those things are solid steel weapons of war.
Adrienne was never much for gold and jewels.
Join us on Comixology

Oh man, I love this comic so much! Definitely worth checking out. :D

Awww thanks!  Oh my, I’ve gone all tumblr happy again.

princelesscomic:

lunulata:

princelesscomic:

All princesses like shiny things…

Sometimes those things are gold and jewels.

Sometimes, those things are solid steel weapons of war.

Adrienne was never much for gold and jewels.

Join us on Comixology

Oh man, I love this comic so much! Definitely worth checking out. :D

Awww thanks!  Oh my, I’ve gone all tumblr happy again.

May 7

princelesscomic:

manif3stlove:

queennubian:

thegoddamazon:

sisoula:

spockette19:

I cannot believe I did not know about Princeless until just now. brb, going to buy every single issue. (source)

And Found it. 

Princeless is the best thing ever. Real talk.

EPIC Comic WINS EVERYTHING

This was written by a white woman. Don’t know if that matters or not. Cuz I don’t really get into comics like that. Just putting that out there.

Technically, I’m a white guy, but you’re close.  Hopefully that doesn’t negatively affect anyone’s enjoyment of the book, but I do believe in being up front about these things.  

Welcome to Princeless, new followers!  

Please, check out a free comic here (which also contains a comic by the infinitely more talented and 100% blacker Jamal Igle):  http://www.comixology.com/Molly-Danger-Princeless/comics-series/10553

See, it’s nice because you can support black creators and black characters all in one fell swoop.

Also, when you have some time, check out the rest of the Princeless library here:  http://www.comixology.com/Princeless-Vol-1/comics-series/6870

and here:  http://www.comixology.com/Princeless-Vol-2/comics-series/9607

May 4

The state’s latest move to apprehend Assata is a powerful message for African youth: the path of Black Radicalism will not be tolerated, and the state will employ any means—including deception, assassination, and false imprisonment to crush any movement for self-determination that falls outside of the sanction of the established order. When considered in concert with the corporate assault on African youth, with its unending and deeply penetrating message to avoid critical and analytical thinking (at all cost), to consume copious amounts of drugs and alcohol, to abandon any and all sense of personal or communal responsibility, and to embrace the path of atomistic individualism and hedonistic consumption we are clearly beset by multifarious crises. I argue that we have only one viable course of action: to commit the entirety of our energies and resources to creating an emancipatory cultural praxis—that is the beliefs, ideals, theories, and knowledge requisite with liberation and the social structural framework that expresses this. It must draw on the political analysis of Malcolm X, the irrepressible resolve of Fannie Lou Hamer, the total institutional model of Marcus Garvey, the vanguard example of Harriet Tubman, and the totality of cultural genius within the African world that is capable of guiding us from the abyss in which we now descend. We must do as Anderson Thompson urges us, formulate a grand vision of the future, and commit all of our resources to its manifestation.

On Endings

Just as “beginnings” (please read my posts titled “On Beginnings”) seldom indicate a strict demarcation from their antecedents, the same is true of “endings”.

Nas famously declared that Hip Hop was dead. The purist in me agreed. But had it really died? Or had it instead morphed into something distinct? Had it not simply bifurcated? I maintain that there are two Hip Hop’s. One that is corporate-controlled. One that is independent. One that seeks to artificially arrest Hip Hop’s development. Another that seeks to create new forms of art. So even if we entertain the notion that Hip Hop died, its death was immediately followed by its rebirth.

The Yoruba civilization collapses at the end of the 19th Century. In its wake emerged a number of smaller Yoruba state formation. Does the destruction of a centralized nation-state into smaller states occasion a true civilizational collapse? I would argue that these smaller state forms allowed for the continuance of Yoruba civilization. Hence what ended was Oyo, but not Yoruba civilization itself. This becomes even more complicated when you consider the broad dispersal of Yoruba people, and related cultures. How does the continuance of Yoruba culture in the Western Hemisphere impact this notion of absolute declines? How does the continuance of related cultural traditions, such the Eve and Fon cultures problematize this idea of collapse? I argue that rather than having collapsed definitively, Yoruba Civilization declined and dispersed, rather than simply ending. Very rarely do civilizations truly end with the type of finality that the discourse of collapse often suggests.

The Black Power Movement does decline after 1974, but it had seeded political impulses throughout the African world. Movements for Black elected officials (Harold Washington), the Nile Valley studies movements and the formation of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations. The socio-political commentaries of Spike Lee, conscious Hip Hop, and other Black arts movements all echoed the Black Power era. This is to say nothing of the Anti-Apartheid Struggles, which invoked the ideas of Black Power activists in the U.S.

My point is that while things do end, they seldom end in absolute form. They persist. They change, but seldom vanish utterly. The entire notion of absolute beginnings and endings is borne of an effort to humanize the seemingly absolute imperative of linear time. It is an attempt to impose human qualities, via how we culturally organize our memories of the passing of events. It is an effort to signify the importance of these junctures by exaggerating the degree to which they were truly generative or final. Time exists, but human conceptions of it are simply that—human.

On beginnings

I’m often stuck by the discourse surrounding endings; particularly the endings of eras, societies, and movements. This discourse often suggests that we can easily demarcate the apex, plateau, decline, and dissolution of a particular human enterprise. While I agree that these exist as definitive stages, I am disinclined to believe that they exist as fully discrete phases of social activity. Meaning, the emergence a particular phase of human activity, in all likelihood, is prefigured in a number of cultural antecedents. I’ll provide three succinct examples: Hip Hop, Yoruba civilization, and the Black Power Movement.

Hip Hop begins in the mid 70s, but its emergence is synergistically bound and prefigured in a number of structural and artistic contexts. African American poets, DJs, Soul music, the tradition of Jamaican Toasts, and so on all contributed to Hip Hop’s formation. So Hip Hop does begin at a specific place and time, but it does not emerge out of a vacuum.

Yoruba civilization, while invoking ancestral connections to the ancient Nile Valley (Nubia), also was informed by indigenous West African groups, such as the Nok culture. So while Yoruba civilization does begin, as there is a point in antiquity where it does not exist, it does not emerge from a vacuum.

The Black Power Movement is often said to have begun with the emergence of Kwame Ture’s (Stokely Carmichael) call for Black Power in ‘66. While this does represent a definitive ideological shift in the Civil Rights Movement, Robert Williams’ work in the late 50s precedes this. In many respects Ture’s call for Black Power invokes the Black Radicalism of the early 20th Century thus signifying, not the start of a Black Radical movement, but its resumption after a hiatus.

My point is that while thing begin, they never emerge from a vacuum. Their inception is often prefigured in a range of cultural and political contexts.

Baba Bonotchi teaches Medew Netcher in Columbus, OH-April 12-13, with spiritual services on the 14th.

Baba Bonotchi teaches Medew Netcher in Columbus, OH-April 12-13, with spiritual services on the 14th.

African Deep Thought on the intellectual vocation

"(He is one) with a heart informed about these things of which one is otherwise ignorant; farseeing when he goes deep into a problem; consistently moderate in action; profoundly versed in the ancient writings; skilled in unraveling complicated issues; genuinely wise; one who has educated his own heart…, who stays awake at night, seeking ways to truth; who daily surpasses the eve’s accomplishments; one wiser than the wise; self-taught in the ways of wisdom; who seeks advice, and so behaves that his advice is sought.”
-Inscription of a 12th Dynasty scribe, Antef, quoted in Theophile Obenga’s African Philosophy: The Pharaonic Period: 2780-330 BC, p. 587).

Mdw Ntr-Kiswahili: Exploring linguistic connections

The international conference of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations has been an immensely inspiring and stimulating occasion. You can see many of my reflections from it via my Twitter page (http://twitter.com/kamaurashid), with the hashtag #ASCAC.

One of the things that I’ve been grappling with has been the need to further my study of African languages. I have a background in Kiswahili, and took four semesters of it in undergrad. I also have a background in Medew Netcher, having taken two classes with Prof. Yvonne Jones of the Kemetic Institute of Chicago in the early 2000s. Despite this my knowledge of both languages lacks the degree of mastery that I require to critically expand on my work as an African-Centered scholar and educator.

In my effort to capitalize on the momentum provided by the conference, I’ve dug up a list that I wrote some years back of words that are similar between Medew Netcher and Kiswahili. This list is by no means exhaustive. Its creation was inspired Diop’s investigation of connections between Wolof and Medew Netcher. For those that do not know, Medew Netcher is the language of ancient Kemet (Egypt). The Greeks called it Hieroglyphs. Kiswahili is a major language in East Africa, spoken more widely than any other African language.

Mdw Ntchr-meaning / Kiswahili-meaning

za-son / zaa-to bear offspring

za-protection, safeguard / zana-weapons, gadgets

demi-harbor, town / dema-fish trap

kawet-work, works / kazi-work

rek-time, age, era / rika-a contemporary

er-awi-activity / ra-opinion, reflection, activity

sisew-six / sita-six

khet-thing / kitu-thing

was-power / uwezo-power

ta-land / taifa-nation

heseb-count / hesabu-number, count

"…Theories of citizenship had been advanced—in the tradition of Western Political Theory—by white, heterosexual males who identified a homogenous citizenship through a process of systematic exclusion rather than inclusion in the polity."

-Carlos Alberto Torres