Read Part 2 Here
Afro-Futurist art work by Oakland artist Joshua Mays.
When I speak, or read or write about Africa, I am keenly aware that this word, which is also a place, means different things to different people. For many, it is one of the world’s seven continents. For some, it represents their roots. For others, it is a symbolic ideal that represents a rich tapestry of emotions and images. It is this last, more symbolic meaning that I feel is most important to explore in our inquiry into the significance of Nigeria to the world because, for many of us, Nigeria, like Africa itself, represents something greater than the sum of its politics, GDP, culture, and boundaries.
The West African poet, Abioseh Nicol, expressed a profound understanding of the symbolic meaning of Africa in his poem, “The Meaning of Africa.” The final stanza gives the answer but the entire poem, available here, carries the reader through the seeking and finding process.
You are not a country, Africa,
You are a concept,
Fashioned in our minds, each to each,
To hide our separate fears,
To dream our separate dreams.
Only those within you who know
Their circumscribed plot,
And till it well with steady plough
Can from that harvest then look up
To the vast blue inside
Of the enameled bowl of sky
Which covers you and say
‘This is my Africa’ meaning
‘I am content and happy.
I am fulfilled, within,
Without and roundabout
I have gained the little longings
Of my hands, my loins, my heart
And the soul that follows in my shadow.’
I know now that is what you are, Africa:
Happiness, contentment, and fulfilment,
And a small bird singing on a mango tree.
This timeless view of Africa as a state of mind, a humble place of human arrival, is close to the central emotional core of what is known as the “Africa-centric worldview. “ The Africa-centric worldview is a corrective to the world view of Western Civilization, or Euro-Centric world view, in which everything African is marginalized, diminished, and distorted—from the dignity of African people to the place of Africans in world history to physical size of Africa itself. Only the youngest generations of Americans would recognize that the Mercator map that has guided and reflected the Western mindset since 1556, renders Africa as smaller than North America, when in the reality the geographic space of Africa is three times larger.
The Africa-Centric worldview seeks to correct this bias by placing Africa at the center of the global culture, politics, and even geography. The earliest, and more clichéd examples of this include idyllic African past inhabited by Black kings, queens, and pharaohs, which today are more suitable for children or lyrical poetry. But over the last 30 years, a fresh expression of Africa-Centrism can be found in the visual and narrative forms of Afro-futurism—speculative fictions and images in which people of African heritage play central, seminal roles in shaping human destiny and future history. Afro-Futurism encompasses fictions like Deep Space Nine, Octavia Butler’s “Parable of the Sower,” the space operas performances of George Clinton, the music of Sun Ra, and Afro-Futurists artists like James Eugene and Cyrus Kabiru.” Click here for links to the websites of several Afro-Futurists.
Often it proves to be the case that the more an individual or group is embedded in Western culture, the greater the need for asserting the Africa-Centric perspective. For example, Maulana Karenga, who was born Ronald McKinley Everett in Parsonsburg, Maryland, created the rituals, ceremonies, and traditions of Kwanza (and the seven principles that they embody) from an Africa-Centric framework. In contrast, Masai cultural practices in Kenya are almost always engaged in without any kind of Africa-Centric intention, as are the many Africanized adaptations to Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism.
This Africa-Centric perspective is important when considering the current and future significance of Nigeria, because it is deeply woven into the politics, history, and foreign support of the country, which I will explore in more detail in the 4th and final part of this series.