Ama was her name. She had been born on a Saturday. The name she bore was normal and strange at the same time. She was a beautiful African girl of slender waist and graceful movement like an African gazelle on the open grass plains in East Africa. Her father was a professor of French Literature at a prestigious western university, her mother a cardiologist at one of the leading hospitals in the western country where they lived. Both parents were African, immigrants from the storied continent. Ama was born and educated in the West. She spoke no African languages. She had attended prep schools when she was young. She then studied at Cambridge for her undergrad in history and topped it up with a masters in Slavic studies at Harvard. As far as she was concerned, Cambridge and Harvard were her natural homes not to mention the two semesters she spent at the Sorbonne perfecting her understanding of the French Classics and her French of course! That is why her name given her, Ama, was so normal and strange at the same time. She was an unAfrican African.

Fate took her to Africa for the first time when her father’s mother died. There at the funeral in the deep heart of Africa where the ancestral rivers flow and ebb, the traditional music of the ancestors was played. Suddenly this westerner Ama stood up, started moving to the music and did the traditional dance so precisely that people watched in amazement. Where had this unAfrican African, a westerner learnt to dance with the precision of the moves of the ancestral dances? The answer was and is, her soul was African, in spite of her western upbringing. The ancestors in the lands where Maat was born had called to her soul and she had responded. The unseen ancestral chords had struck a tune of calling and her soul had responded.

Ama’s story is the story of the modern educated African. She personifies the educated African, educated in the western sense. European soldiers, missionaries and priests had brought on the iron tips of their burning spears of violence and destruction a new education which found expression in the mission schools of the colonial period that later formed the nucleus of the educational systems of post-colonial Africa. Ayi Kwei Armah in his book “KMT: In the House of Life” describes it this way. He talks about a mythical school called the Whitecastle School established in colonial times. These are his words;

At the Whitecastle School our teachers proceeded by
tracing out for us the limits of the knowledge it would be useful for us to
spend our energies on. There was a time for learning binomials and quadratic
equations in Math, halides in Chemistry, a time for electricity in
Physics class, in Biology a time for examining the human skeletal system
and the alimentary tract before tackling the nervous system. In
Literature there was a time for the Histories of Shakespeare and the
Comedies and the Tragedies. There were large periods for learning the
Geography of Europe down to the details of London and Paris street
names, small slots for an overview of the African Continent as if it were
a bush suburb on the outskirts of Greater London, which was the certified
center of the world, official source of universal time.

The WhiteCastle School is a microcosm of the educational system of Africa and Ama a product of that system. The educated African knows all about the French Revolution down to the color of the underwear that Marie-Antoinette was wearing on the eve of her capture and beheading. He knows all about the early Kings of England but cannot tell you the history of his great grandfather. Do not even ask him about the history of Kemet or the empires of the western Sudan or the great kingdoms of Axum or the Congo. He knows not. He is an unAfrican African. His soul is African but his mind is European. He is a confused morass of pathetic contradictions. He has been trained to look up to his European masters. He cannot solve a single problem at home in his country. He needs to consult with his masters in Paris, London, Washington and Berlin. He is helpless, he constantly needs aid from his development partners! He despises his own people. He seeks comfort in London or New York City which he finds to be the most civilized places on earth. He is an expert in Swiss Cuisine and can tell you the history of the Cheese Fondue in perfect English or French of the upper classes. He is Ama before her ancestral encounter. What can be done to rescue the miseducated African?


History provides an example. Let us take an excursion through the lands of pine forest and eternal snow, the land of Katyusha, land of Rus.

Most educated Russians before the Napoleonic wars of the early 1800s spoke French and looked down at their own Russian language and culture. In fact they spoke Russian poorly even if they spoke it at all. One amusing fact is that at the battle of Borodino on September 7 1812 during Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, both Russian and French officers on opposing sides spoke French! The battle was fought by two French speaking armies! The cultural reawaking of the Russian people started after the Napoleonic invasion. They who had spoken French and had thought of themselves as refined Europeans had been attacked by French Europeans with a view to dismember their country. Out of that awakening came Pushkin, Russia’s greatest poet who single handedly created the modern Russian literary language. Before him there was no real Russian literature. He was taught Russian by his ‘uneducated’ Russian peasant wet nurse Arina Rodionovna as growing up, he as a member of the nobility spoke only French with his parents.

Hence the appearance of the modern Russian literary language owes itself to an ‘uneducated’ Russian Peasant woman. After Pushkin, Russians became proud of their language and culture and their identity. In music, educated Russians took their native folk songs and dances and intellectualized it in a modern context. In science and technology, she began to express scientific and technical terms in the Russian language and to use that as the source of education. The results paid off. She started the space age, the age of satellites in 1957. Today L D Landau’s course in Theoretical Physics written in Russian in several volumes has been translated into several languages including English and is a bible for the training of serious physicists around the world. She is a great power occupying one-sixth of the world’s land mass.

There are important lessons contained in the Russian story for the educated African. The educated African needs to do a Pushkin, that is to go back to his ancestral roots, to the deep recesses of his culture and find his or her own African Arina Rodionovna in the African village to learn from her, and then to contextualize what he learns from her in a modern but deeply African setting. The day when that is done, we will just as Ama did, will then be able to reconnect with the ancestral chords of our African souls and move to the rhythm of our ancestors.

Once we do that, the humiliating chains of dependence, lack of self-confidence and lack of creativity will disappear. Out of that will burst forth a renewed African creativity which will astound the world on a grander scale than even the achievements of those unassuming black peoples of the Nile valley millennia ago. Will great works of science necessary for the training of serious scientists around the world be translated from an African language into English, Russian and Chinese? Will Ama dance the ancestral dance? The answer is yours and mine to make.



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