Renaissance carries with it the idea of a rebirth. Over the past ten years this term has gained ascendancy in the rhetoric of Africans who seek to restore and reconstruct societies based on the classical traditions. It was the young Cheikh Anta Diop, still in his twenties, who asked in 1948 “When shall we be able to speak of an African Renaissance?”
The idea was resurrected in the presidential language of South African leader Thabo Mbeki during his tenure as leader of his nation. It struck a chord with other African leaders who used the terminology of renaissance to speak about the possibility of renewing the African continent. But alas, the idea has not gained enough legitimacy among the masses to make the renaissance practical or possible. I am clear that this is not a major obstacle to what can and probably will happen but it is an announcement of our present stage.
Of course, it is the European Renaissance with its harking back to Europe’s classical cultures in Greece and Rome that has inspired the use of this term for what is needed in Africa. One should be clear that the notion of rebirth does not infer that there is nothing going on at the time but rather that it is possible to refresh societies based on the best examples from history. In the case of Africa, the continent with the longest history, it should be possible during the 21st century to announce, activate, and insure a new future with feet firmly grounded in the ancient traditions that have generated stable values, societies, and communities for hundreds and indeed thousands of years.
I have called this refresher an African resurgence based upon the agency of African people all over the globe. This means that we must recapture the principal concepts and ideas for human relationships and societies that existed prior to our encounter with non-Africans. To do this, however, means that we must study ancient Egyptian, Nubian, and Axumite histories as the key sources for our reach into culture. In addition, by using our current experiences as tests against the classical traditions we are able to see how easily all Africans have the possibility of being re-inspired by the most relevant traditions that are worthy of praise.
My own traditions, regardless to my specific African history, can find innovation in a new understanding of libations, filial relationships, ceremonies, rituals of passage, astronomy, and psychology that come from our ancestral societies. New forms of art and architecture no less than new forms of science and technology or child-rearing and child-care can be projected by virtue of the interrogation of classical cultures.
Afrocentricity, the theory of Africans as subjects of their own history, lies at the doorway of African resurgence because it makes no apologies for African people. In fact, Afrocentricity serves as the engine for any new approach to restoring and reconstructing our people.
AUTHOR NOTE: Molefi Kete Asante – Professor of African-American Studies at Temple University where he created the first Ph.D. program in 1987 – is the Founder of the Molefi Kete Asante Institute for Afrocentric Studies and the author of 72 books including The History of Africa. He has held an appointment as “Professor Extraordinarius” in the Centre for African Renaissance at the University of South Africa. In 1995, Dr. Asante was enstooled as a traditional King, Nana Okru Asante Peasah, Kyidomhene of Tafo, Akyem, Ghana. The Caribbean Philosophical Association recently awarded Dr. Asante the Frantz Fanon Award for Lifetime Achievement. His memoir entitled As I Run Toward Africa has just been released. May the ancestral forces continue to empower…