Communication, Indigenous Languages and Power Relations
Communicating ideas across the old boundaries of race, nations, regions and states has become increasingly well-organized since the dawn of the information era.
While information systems have become more homogeneous, there remain multitudes of populace virtually untouched by the utilitarianism of information technology.
A language is a carrier of culture and power relations.
It is no secret that the languages of the imperialists spared nothing in their mission to reconstruct the world, which meant ridding whole societies of essential cultural institutions and worst of all, the dignity of land sovereignty.
The work of Frantz Fanon makes it clear that a liberated consciousness must be the logical follow-up to the liberated state. The extensive work of Ngugi Wa Thiongo; Kwesi Prah and Eskia Mphahlele on decolonization and post-colonialism bears evidence that language is a key factor in global miscommunication.
According to the above anti-colonial writer-activists, the solution to further erasure of identity and powerlessness for a colonized people is to assert the agency of their language and cultural institutions.
According to Fanon, a people whose economy is dominated by colonizers must choose between “pseudo-independence” and “true liberation”, even in this time of neo-colonialism.
In the beginning of the 20th century, Marcus Garvey said “A people without proper knowledge of their past are like a tree without roots.” As an industrious reformist leader and captivating messenger for the emancipation of the African masses, he emphasized the significance of knowledge of self and appreciation of the African heritage. Such knowledge had the power to liberate one from complexes of inferiority.
Current African education is in a state of crisis, as curriculum developers struggle to find sufficient synergies between indigenous knowledge systems and the Western models we have inherited from Europeans. To empower themselves Africans have to first reject the value systems of their conquerors and reinvent themselves.
With precious little knowledge of their pre-colonial past, many Africans find themselves assimilating to Western cultural values. Because there is very little useful knowledge about them even in cyberspace, the average African native oscillated between distorted traditional rites, apathy or dogmatism learned from the West.
The dilemma stems from the fact that contemporary academia offers very little knowledge on authentic African history and sciences. This paper aims to offer some illumination in this dismal situation, where the education system of independent African countries is still dependent on Western pedagogics and episteme.
By illustrating how Africans have always had sophisticated models of self-governance, diplomacy and environmental conservation, we shall endeavour to shed some light on what has been hidden about Africans and what many Africanist scholars and activist have always maintained.
Many Africans do not know that the first university in the world was founded by an African woman, it was called the Al Karaouine University in Fez, Morocco in 859 AD. The second university in the world was also African, the Al Azhar in Egypt, created in 969 AD and still exists till this day.
The first university in Europe came almost 300 years later in Bologna in 1088 AD. Yet many African still believe that they are intellectually inferior to Europeans and even the Chinese. Ignorance is not bliss, it is a state of poverty and disillusion.
“There are doctors, missionaries and scientists who have spent years among Africans – many of them can even speak the local language better than the indigenous people – but what they know about them as human beings amounts to nothing.
Many have studied the African only to compare him with the White man – intellectually for instance.” – Credo Vusamazulu Mutwa (Introduction to Indaba My Children – African Tribal History, Legends, Customs and Religious Beliefs)
The study of human communication may be over three thousand years old, yet the challenges that people faced then may still be relatively similar today. Advances in technology and civilization may have been made, but it still remains as complex a process as it ever was then. Communication is characterised by perpetual evolution and transformation.
Pivotal to how humans understand each other and the environment we coexist with, is Nature Consciousness.
Beyond simply understanding each other as humans with various languages, customs and cultures, it is imperative that we rediscover or develop a better relationship with the natural environment.
The communication tools and techniques that are required in order to regain our rapport with Nature are as complex as the ones we have developed with modern technology. It all takes practice and a willingness to learn the manual.
Theorists in various disciplines (Psychology, Marketing, Public Relations, Human Resources Management) have established that needs are the most important force behind human behaviour.
One of the primary human needs is the need to communicate. Communication develops and maintains relationships with others, even beyond the human species. There are various theories of communication, but for this purpose, we shall deal with “Systems Theory”, which states that all parts of a system are interdependent. A vital part of this theory is the maintenance of equilibrium or balance. This is a system that thrives on awareness and proactive action towards a changing environment.
In the ancient Egyptian Wisdom temples (Karnak, Luxor, Memphis and Alexandria) neophytes were reminded daily of the importance of knowing themselves. This was not only emphasised for the purpose of knowledge acquisition, but also to maintain Ma’at (the principle of Truth, Order and Righteousness).
The Kemetans (Ancient Egyptians and Nubians) were being trained to maintain a Rightness between what is spoken (mdw ntr or divine speech/script); what is thought (ma’at kheru – truthfulness) and how all of it was cosmically connected.
Humans often desire the active co-operation of others to achieve a particular purpose, for example a public relations team may seek to assist a large corporation to establish a brick factory on a piece of land which the local people deem sacred or an environmental hazard.
The local people may resist even when they are assured that the company will create much needed employment opportunities, it all depends on the choice of language employed by the public relations team.
The communication process may involve a lot of time spent in conflict resolution in order to iron out any disputes and find an agreeable solution, but depending on the model of communication, the conflict may be sustained. Models of communication can serve as a control mechanism helping us to diagnose challenges that may impede effective communication.
Since African knowledge is value based, participatory and involves holistic and customary practices, there is nothing of significance that is done without proper acknowledgement of Ancestors and the Supreme Being.
Performances of rites of passage that involve families, communities are vital sources of communal strength and help to edify the people. Rites of cleansing are performed privately by individuals in order to ensure rightness with the cosmos and to clear ones path and dealings with the entire community.
The institutionalisation of mother-tongue instruction from the lowest to the highest levels of education would significantly elevate African languages to modern levels of developmental excellence. The transformation of Eurocentric universities into proper African learning centres is vital.
As early as pre-school, African children taught Afrikology, everything from the games to the stories they are read and what they learn to write and recite should be based on Africa centred approaches.
African centred education is not a top-down affair but it is based on participation and the whole community must be involved in the raising of a citizen who carries themselves with the principles off Ubuntu.
All investments in Indigenous Knowledge Systems should focus on creating tools for the industrial development of the continent. Each sector in the economy should be permeated with the Afrikological perspective towards innovation.
IKS innovations have to be supported by seamless interconnectedness between government institutions, businesses, academia, researchers and also the financial institutions that are governed by Africans.
All official communication between and within the African states should be conducted as a radical transition from Eurocentric ontology to Africa centred, solutions driven perspective.
Conscientisation (making people aware of the injustices in society) – this has been offered as a solution to problems of oppression in society. This will illustrate to everyone how we are all inter-connected and contribute to either peaceful or conflicted coexistence in our world of finite resources.
Former Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah dedicated an entire book to this topic, entitled “Consciencism”, which dealt with the process of political, cultural and psychological decolonisation in Africa.
Today it is simply a matter of creating enabling policies and implementation strategies to make languages such as KiSwahili a lingua-franca in Pan African dialogues and interpersonal communications.
Dr Ali Mazrui in his magnum opus The Power of Babel*, also offered this alternative to the imperially imposed English and French that permeates African commerce.
In Ethiopic: An African Writing System*, Ayele Bekerie, the Ethiopian socio-linguist offered an even more radical alternative to the hegemony of Eurocentric systems of writing and knowledge acquisition.
Bekerie’s book explored the efficacy and utility of the ancient Afrocentric writing system called the syllograph, as opposed to the phonograph. This symbolic and totally indigenous writing system communicates much more than just what is being said but has many spinoffs in the growth of literature, poetry, cosmology and even the commercial enterprises of Africans.
Know Your Self!
Ayele Bekerie, Ethiopic, An African Writing System
Trenton, NJ: The Red Sea Press, 1997.
Ali A. Mazrui and Alamin M. Mazrui, The Power of Babel: Language and Governance in the African Experience by, Oxford, Nairobi, James Currey, 1998.
Kwame Nkrumah, Consciencism: Philosophy and Ideology for Decolonization, Monthly Press Review, January 1, 1964
Frantz Fanon, Towards The African Revolution, Grove Press, NY, 1964
Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa, Indaba My Children, …
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