“Africans believe in something that is difficult to render in English. We call it UBUNTU… It means the essence of being human. You know when it is there and when it is absent. It speaks about humaneness, gentleness, hospitality, putting yourself out on behalf of others, being vulnerable. It embraces compassion and toughness. It recognizes that my humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.” ~ Desmond Tutu
With thanks to my East African brother, Edward Bisamunyu, for his heartwarming guest blog posts…
Uganda’s youthful Independence years were fun times for me… my childhood years. Our family had returned from England where I’d become a big sister for the first time, and dad was excited to advance his zoology research and teaching at Makerere University. (He caught fruit bats at night in our garden for work!) Big brother and I loved roaming the campus… climbing mango trees for fruit and fun, chasing butterflies with nets, going swimming… often as playtime with schoolmates who, like us, lived in faculty housing at Makerere. Our families carpooled to nearby Nakasero Primary School where our Headmaster encouraged good deportment. Model students got to wear sashes (girls) or ties (boys) in their house color with their uniform: red for Speke House; green for Stanley House; blue for Livingstone House; and yellow for Portal House… explorers all.
As a member of Stanley House I wore my green sash proudly, quite happy back then with my immersion in the celebration of European hero stories. The Crusader badge I was awarded for dutifully attending ten consecutive Sunday school meetings back in the day is still among my possessions, perhaps serving as a token memory of those innocently “fun times.” There’s a sense of other-worldliness when I look at it now, like the badge is some costume accessory I picked up many lifetimes ago from someone else’s movie set. I remember the soundtrack included pop music from artists like The Dave Clark Five; The Beatles; Petula Clark; Herman’s Hermits; The Hollies; The Animals; The Rolling Stones; The Kinks; Lulu; Manfred Mann; The Moody Blues; Sandie Shaw; Cliff Richard; Dusty Springfield; The Who… These were some of the so-called “British Invasion” pop music artists who the gatekeepers allowed to rule the radio airwaves back then.
Hindsight tends to have a sobering effect on me from my grown-up and more culturally-conscious space. As I acknowledge the profound truth in Edward’s statement that “friendships that would not have been possible without a British education or English as a medium of communication were forged…” Desmond Tutu’s statement also gently raises another important perspective. Widespread throughout Africa, Bantu culture out of which the concept of ubuntu derives is represented by each of the Kingdoms shown on the map surrounding the source of the Nile River. (The British construct is shown by the yellow outline.) Following Uganda’s 1962 Independence from Britain, all monarchies were abolished, and so these neighboring Bantu Kingdoms are currently regarded as cultural rather than political entities.
It is of no small significance that researchers point to our common Bantu culture as being the strongest African civilizing force in the United States. As my own research demonstrates, one can better appreciate this fact through an Africa-centered oral-aesthetic perspective of pop-music’s development and its discourse in the global village. Ebonics furthermore demonstrates through its creative use of oral-aesthetic codes that English can be communicated in a distinctly African way. Like “Sheng“ (from SWAHILI + ENGLISH) – which flavors East African hip-hop music from its Nairobi (Kenya) youth culture roots – Ebonics reasserts Bantu oral communication modes (nommo) of resistance and renewal in America, facilitating what I call the masquerade motif in its ability to appease outside “authorities” while maintaining and enacting the deeper integrity and mission of the oral-aesthetic.
Scholar Joseph E. Holloway writes about the Bantu “Origins of African-American Culture” thus: Once the Bantu reached America they were able to retain much of their cultural identity. Enforced isolation of these Africans by plantation owners allowed them to retain their religion, philosophy, culture, folklore, folkways, folk beliefs, folk tales, storytelling, naming practices, home economics, arts, kinship, and music. These Africanisms were shared and adopted by the various African ethnic groups of the field slave community, and they gradually developed into African-American cooking (soul food), music (jazz, blues, spirituals, gospels), language, religion, philosophy, customs, and arts. (from Joseph E. Holloway (Ed.) Africanisms in American Culture, pp. 36-37)
“Spirituals… blues… gospel… jazz… soul… rhythm-&-blues…” – oral-aesthetic demarcations on the inner roadmaps traveled during the American hero journey of Bantu. Mojo is an Ebonic expression deriving from the Bantu word kimoyo, meaning “[language] of the spirit.” Interesting that in ancient times, guardianship of the human- and nature-based Mysteries of inner space and the unseen was the job of a specialized class of priests, practicing downriver in Egypt…