D.D. Kuupole & DeValera N.Y.M. Botchway
Polishing The Pearls Of Ancient Wisdom
Exploring The Relevance of Endogenous African Knowledge Systems for Sustainable Development in Postcolonial Africa.
Cape Coast, Faculty of Arts UCC, 2010
159pp. 20.00 GHC
The book; “Polishing The Pearls Of Ancient Wisdom; Exploring the Relevance of Endogenous African Knowledge Systems for Sustainable Development in Postcolonial Africa.” by D.D. Kuupole and De-Valera N.Y.M. Botchway, is a small collection of essays compiled at the 2009 conference at University of Cape Coast. The conference was arranged and sponsored by CIKOD (Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Organizational Development). The essays deal with indigenous knowledge systems (IKS), how they have been lost, discarded and wrongfully discredited. They also deal with the impotence of “western” or euro-centric knowledge in Africa, how it is implictly anti-African, and does nothing but re-enforce cultural dominance over Ghanaians and Africans. Also included, are suggestions on how to rebuild African education, through various methods such as practical application of science, telling of folklore or riddles and by observing past examples such as the formal education/universities of Khmet/Ancient Egypt.
The first essay presented, is called “Descending the Ivory Tower; Unveiling Khmet’s Legacy in Africa’s Quest For An Afromorphous University” was written by Mr. Botchway himself, and describes an ancient system of education. So called “higher education” is seen as a mostly modern phenomenon, orchestrated by the Catholic church and before that, the Greeks and Persians. It was therefore surprising to me to learn that formal/higher education had existed in Egypt in 2700 BCE, and possible as early as 5660 BCE. These universities were designed to perfect a student intellectually as well as spiritually. They were also the precursor to Greek universities, and therefor European universities.
Botchway also suggests that, in order for students to be integrated in their studies, undergraduate and graduate programs should be concerned with exposing students to indigenous knowledge systems, cosmologies, and daily life in order to allow them to integrate their exogenous knowledge with their endogenous (i.e. “How does what I learn relate to what I know?”)
This essay, though very heavy on the history and dates, provides a good overview of the themes in this book, and on what the authors of the essays intend to achieve.
The essay by Maison, titled “The Re-Emergence of Ananse” discusses the cultural context in defining what is education and knowledge. Re-quoted from the essay; ” …The genius of Kobina Sekyi defined education as nothing more or less than then training of the young to become worthy members of the community in which they live; it is the training, that is, of the young to maintain the traditions of their elders and ancestors, not by keeping them in a state of rigid conservation, but by reacting to previously unknown combinations of circumstances in the spirit of those traditions. Education, therefore, is the species of the genus training; education, then, is a form of training; but a form of training need not be education.” Maison suggests that the problem with (higher) education in Ghana, is that it is not culturally relevant. The problems that face Ghanaian society cannot be solved when “…the reaction to (Ghanaian) circumstances are in the spirit of (European) traditions…” Ghanaian societal problems can only be solved when the reaction is in the traditional “Ghanaian Spirit” (Ananse). The problem is compounded when the knowledge is lost and even rejected by the youth in favour of European culture. Maison uses a clever analogy; “A dog that learns to hunt, bury bones, to feed himself and his family as a dog, is educated…a dog that learns to stand on its hind legs, were a dress, and dance, that dog is trained….”
The Author also writes a bit about Akan numerology such as; ” Ananse; Anan (four) se (speakes)…Kweku (fourth day of the week)…therefore “Kweku (4) Ananse (4)” equals 8 (8 represents the full cycle/eternity) therefore “Kweku Ananse” represents “Eternal wisdom”
The spider is also called “Kweku Ananse” as he has 8 legs, and “…goes within itself to bring forth its survival – the web which it spins patiently and skilfully based on innate knowledge – self knowledge.” “The spider is usually at the centre of its web giving and indication of a non-hierarchical concentric philosophy.” ” An African university must symbolize Ananse. It is only fear that will prevent it from conceiving and reinventing itself from within. Wisdom is about power. Education empowers. Power as Ananse teaches lies within. It is centred within the consciousness of one’s indigenous world.”
One of my favourite pieces in the book is by Mary Owusu and Kwame Kwarteng, and is titled “ The Desparacidos” . This essay draws parallels between indigenous knowledge systems of South American Natives and indigenous knowledge systems of Ghana/Africa. The point is made, that such knowledge systems are non-mechanical, but social and people oriented. Knowledge in these societies, is not only available to everyone, but is at the service of everyone, rather than being a proposed method of engineering society by leaders/intellectuals. Knowledge is used as a method to create a worthwhile life, and as a “measuring stick” against ones social, moral, and emotional maturity. Therefore, the purpose of education is to provide instruction, and to encourage healthy character formation.
Native environmentalism is also shown to be a combination of two distinct concepts; environmental curiosity, and environmental concern. Both are complimentary, as is curiosity for achieving short-term objectives ( what to eat, use as shelter etc) where as concern has to do with long-term objectives ( how to maintain a sustainable multi-generational existence in said environment). The method of transmitting such knowledge from generation to generation, is done through the use of taboos and myths. For example, land designated as kyiridade is left alone, and it is forbidden by the community for anyone to cultivate, clear or use. The reason given, is that it is sacred land, or an abode of the Gods, and any trespassing will result in the wrath of the Gods. I would hypothesize, that the world-wide tradition of giving sacrifices to the Gods could have stemmed from this. In my opinion, the reason for sacrifice is two-fold. If one makes a sacrifice of food to the Gods, one is humbling himself to nature, and putting his trust in the Gods to provide. Secondly, if the abode of the Gods happens to be a piece of forest that no-one harvests from, giving a sacrifice, whether in food, animal or human life, is greatly contributing to the fertility of the soil.
The authors also mention the effects of European culture on the forest, and how the large scale monocultures of oil palm, cedrilla, eucalyptus, cocoa etc. have effectively destroyed certain species of plants and animals. The use of High Yield Varieties (HYV), which were pushed so hard by the so-called “Green Revolution” have damaged not only the biodiversity of the forest, but have also contributed to human starvation. The examples given are that of the Oil Palm (Elaeis spp.), and Cassava (Manihot esculenta). Both were developed into High Yielding Varieties, and consequently the agricultural palm nut (Agric abe as opposed to Abe pa) became inedible, as the oil content was a prime importance, and the nutritional profile was ignored. Cassava, also was developed for starch extraction, and no consideration was given to the edibility of the leaves. Consequently, land previously used to grow food, is being used to used to grow inedible exports. Cross-pollination, I am sure also adds to the problem, as edible species may be easily contaminated.
The essay “The Scientific Basis of Some Elembelle Nzema Indigenous Knowledge Forms” by Douglas Frimpong Nnuroh provides examples of knowledge found within the culture of the Nzema people of south-western Ghana, and how this knowledge has a (western) scientific basis. The author deals with such subjects as “The Amu Child” , wet-nurses, herbal suppressants/lactogenic plants, aphrodisiacs, alcohol distillation and food preservation. The author describes how the use of ritual, prayer, chanting, methods etc. in combination with the use of herbs, prepares the recipient psychologically, emotionally and physically. For example, if a woman dies during labour, a wet-nurse is required. The wet-nurse recites a prayer/vow asking for permission from the deceased and swears to feed the child. Corn dough is then touched to the breast of the deceased, and then to the breast of the nurse, the meal is then eaten. The purpose of this, is to transmit antibodies to the breast, and the contact with the breasts encourages prolactin (also in men) and therefor milk flow. The wet-nurse is now psychologically, emotionally and biologically/physically prepared to feed the child.
The last three essays in the book, deal more specifically with implementing/re-creating methods to improve education in Ghana. Statistics given show that high school students in Ghana receive appalling results on science based university entrance exams. It is shown that even though students do very well in the recall of knowledge, they lack when it comes to comprehension, analysis, application and synthesis (Blooms Taxonomy of Educational Objectives). The results produced from hands-on, practical learning demonstrates how to improve the grades of High School science students.
This book, I found was a good selection of very interesting works, obviously some papers covered some topics that became superfluous the more I read, but this was mostly in the introduction. I believe that if this book were compiled by one author, and the essays used as reference, it would make for a much more concise and easy-reading book. I was happy to find that this book was similar to one of my favourite books to do with Amazonian culture and knowledge systems, and I found it refreshing and encouraging to find African perspectives and expressions on the same topics. I think the resurgence in the popularity of so-called “alternative” medicine and the use of shamanism and shamanic techniques in psychology, is a testament to the efficacy of indigenous knowledge systems, as well as to the short comings of “Western” knowledge.