Initial Publication Date: May 22, 2017

Pan-African: Introduction to a Pedagogical Approach

Cynthia Hewitt, , Morehouse College

I. Family. Pan-African is the radical decision to identify as a family, regardless of, and in total regard to, what each brings. There is a t-shirt I picked up recently that an African (in America) network of community products made that says: "No Friends, Only Family." This flows from the fundamental African belief that what exists is the evolution/fissure/elaboration of what was at its start One, and the conception that the emergence of that 'one' is a point of perfection. We might understand the 'one' as the po, the explosion of which (the 'big bang') created the universe as we know it and the order that subsequent detailing and elaboration has led to. The Kemetic (Egyptian) concept of the primordial unknown – nwn – or the Dogon conception of the po. For African ontology (conception of what exists), there is no separation of mind and matter, the 'word' as expression of mind is sacred, rhythm as a component of vibration (or the cycling of energy – give and take of energy, time/space) is fundamental to well-being, and all link like the roots of a tree to the flowers on its boughs. But equally, rhythm exists is a force but is not a visible or materially approachable, for it links forces to be, as Emile Durkheim describes "more than the sum of their parts"; its bases, such as music, transcend materiality. The concept of the unknown, but no-doubt ordered--as we find ourselves ordered, is "God/dess." As the Kemites said: "As It Is Above; So It Is Below."

This has huge implications for humanism. "All men are created equal." This is the European expression of this concept (it abstracts from the conjoined female-maleness of reality). For an example:

In northern Ghana, a family of the Dagomba tribe prepared a welcoming home ceremony for Morehouse's study abroad. They carried out a re-birthing using a sweat lodge into which they placed all the students, and then they reached in and randomly rebirthed our students, by drawing them out and sat them in a line, from eldest to youngest.

From there they explained the role of the elder sibling – on the left – and the younger sibling – on the right, on down the line. The elder was responsible for the needs of the younger, and the younger was responsible for the wants of the elder.

Democracy is fundamental in African tradition and inhabits many social relations in unique forms. Just as a there is the random sample, meaning that each population member has an equal chance of being selected (election), so another well accepted method is the 'purposive sample', to approximate the desired outcome we first explore the nature of diversity in the population and then make sure the sample we draw has a mathematical reflection of those proportions. African democracy tends toward purposive equality of chance, purposive democracy rather than random democracy. In the first instance, age is used to form cohorts with particular rights and responsibilities, which creates equality of opportunity to wield authority, the right of the elders, a condition to which everyone has a (relatively) equal chance of obtaining. There are also the rights of the youths – to bring ideas of change to any deliberation, and not be dominated.

Then, to return to the study abroad exercise:

The members of this family group the next morning were each given a status found in a typical village by taking a slip of paper on which the positions were written randomly from a calabash: from farmer to chief to sage and healers, blacksmiths, etc., on down to the madman. They then enact their roles with some questions answered an imagination, until they are confronted with a crisis in the village and in seeking solutions, everyone plays their character – elders and youths, different statuses – until the crisis is re/solved. The moral of the activity is: everyone has something to add, everyone is of value.

This is the value we can term African Humanism.

The corollaries to the principle of FAMILY are the importance of migrations and dispersion of the family; the importance of reproduction=cyclical-ness-->balance (as opposed to/in harmony with, production=linearity-->accumulation of matter); the Sankofa (Ghana) or Benu (KMT) principle – looking back in order to move forward, which includes the value of the elders alive and ancestors no longer in the realm of the living.

[play 'DNA']

II. Matrism. The highest principle of democratic humanism is the partnership relationship between women and men in governance and authority. The single most distinctive feature of African culture is matrism: the complementary power of men and women together. The unity of African culture rested on its basis in male/female equality. Frequently, today, we notice that many African languages do not gender the ronoun, perhaps because whether the "being" one is referring to is a female or a male is of secondary consideration. Much more is available on this principle.

III. Pan-African as pan-Africanism, is also a Maroon understanding. Many adaptations were made by African forced to disperse due to the political and economic outcomes of world events, particularly the emergence of slaver to dominate family relationships. One persistent trend was the desire to return to independence with cultural integrity intact. This was the path of the enslaved run-aways who re-established societies. Maroon solution has a long and illustrious history, including the , Seminoles, who were never defeated, their wars ending with treaties. Some of the Maroon movements are given by W.E.B. DuBois, the foremost African sociologist in America in The World and Africa (p. 61):

[Maroons did not enslave people based on race. New movie about the Kingdom of Jones. First with the Native people of America, Cuba, ... more on this later].

IV. Know Thyself

Pan-African is connected at the origins with ancient Meroe and KMT (Egypt) – Nile Valley Civilization. In ancient KMT, above the entrance of each temple Mystery School serving as an academic and scientific learning center, appeared the phrase "(Hu)man Know Thyself." There are many facts that explain that this was the cherished foundational wisdom of the Africans. This was spread to Europe by Socrates, who over a 17 year period of study in KMT, was initiated into the Kemetic Mystery school, after the end of the 5000 year proscription of training northerners/Greeks brought about by the conquering of KMT (the last in a world-historic destruction of Matrist (Matriarchal) societies by northerners violently pushing south) by the Persians (Asurbanipal?) in 525 B.C.E. Socrates, learned this concept like initiates did, with no writing down of the knowledge, and it is only with Aristotle, the patron of Alexander the Greek, that these words become commonly written and expressed in Europe.

Stolen Legacy, by George G. M. James details the absorption of African philosophy by Europe via the Greeks. The question "were Greek philosophers valued by their government and cultural leaders, their civilization?" brings back the answer, "no," as it did not express their way of being. James points out, the best known philosophers who were trained in KMT suffered similar fates:

  • The earliest well-known philosopher, Pythagoras, trained in KMT also after 525 B.C.E., was expelled, from his homeland in Croton, Italy. He is best known for bringing the Kemetic Theorem (a legacy appropriated by giving his name to it, i.e., the Pythagorean theorem).
  • Anaxagoras was imprisoned and exiled for his teachings
  • Socrates was sold into slavery for his teachings
  • Aristotle was eventually indicted and exiled.
A Pan-African approach involves setting the historical record straight whenever and wherever possible when teaching, speaking and writing. The 'Beautyful Ones' points us to understand that the record is still amiss when African civilization is made synonymous with kingdoms and empires, such as in the Nile Valley, but rather has fundamental principles that preceed and surmount those found there. These include Equality. This is well discussed by Ayi Kwei Armah.... Small is beautiful. Is this the key to Scandinavian country social beauty? (connect to the Armah Talk).

In Return to the Source, a collection by a preeminent philosopher-leader of Africa, Amilcar Cabral, in the lecture, "National Liberation and Culture," he writes:

"When Goebbels, the brain behind Nazi propaganda, heard culture being discussed, he brought out his revolver... That shows that the Nazi ... had a clear idea of the value of culture as a factor of resistance to foreign domination." (p. 39)

The principle characteristic common to every king of imperialist domination, is the negation of the historical process of the dominated people by means of violently usurping the free operation of the process of development of the productive forces.

Cabral further writes:

Now in any given society, the level of development of productive forces and the system for social utilization of these forces (the ownership system) determine the mode of production. In our opinion, the mode of production, whose contradictions are manifested with more or less intensity through the class struggle, is the principle factor in the history of any human group, the level of the productive forces being the true and permanent driving power of history. (p. 41).

This understanding of culture as it applies to geosciences is fundamental. There is no separation of the material and the immaterial in Pan-African ontology, or approach to being, but the absence of control over both results in the lack of material means to support the existence of the immaterial culture. And, lack of organization of immaterial culture, the 'superstructure – can kill you just as surely as your base – objective reality. This understanding is well presented by the most revered African philosopher-leader of the twenty-first Century, Kwame Nkrumah, in his small text, Consciencism.

Trust To know oneself is also to trust oneself. This capacity can grow through life as one gains clarity on ones strengths and weaknesses, perfecting one's life strategies as one goes. If there is no trust between the student and the teacher, there is no learning.

Christopher Emdin teaches a class on urban and multicultural education that focuses on innovative ways to connect to neoindigenous populations. One day he visited and lectured among the indigenous people of Wyoming on pedagogy and teaching, when he realized that their situation more closely approximated that of the urban youths he worked with than any other he had encountered. Looking at the UN definitions, he saw they applied. "...It touches upon indigenous peoples' close ties to their land, their physical and mental colonization, and their position as distinct from those who govern them. It posits that the indigenous have their own unique ways of constructing knowledge, utilize distinct modes of communication in their interactions with one another,a nd hold cultural understandings that vary from the established norm. Above all, the UN definition of the indigenous speaks to the colelctiv eoppression that a population experiences at the hands of a more powerful and dominant group." (p. 8). He thought about the Native American students of the Carlisle School. He then identified urban youth as neoindigenous, which is a conceptualization that "transcend[s] place and time, and connect[s] groups of people based on their shared experiences," (p. 8) what Benedict Anderson describes as "imagined communities."

"Identifying urban youth of color as neoindigenous allows us to understand the oppression these youth experience, th spaces they inhabit...It seeks to position these youth in a larger context of marginalization, displacement and diaspora." (p. 9). This is so important to why Pan-African approaches to geoscience is important, because the places where they have historically traversed and settled have been the scene repeatedly of immense resources in the ground and on the land and water, but their experiences have remainded stripped of the experience of wealth. Wealth permits one to have choice. There's no more distinctive difference in one's feeling of efficacy than whether one has access to wealth – be it in a bank or a grandparent's keep. Second, these resources then overwhelmingly have been and are being removed in a situation of rape: rape of the earth and living things, situations of violence. To become aware of the earth and to know its value and its care empowers the Africans in Africa and across their diaspora to become whole.

Christopher Emdin, elaborates on several points in a pedagogy that addresses African youths in America (African Americans) today:

Identity issue: When the "true self" is rendered invisible....

"The poet Adrienne Rich affirmed this sense of negation when she observed that "when someone with the authority of a teacer, say, describes the world and you are not in it, thee is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked in the mirror and saw nothing." (Hays 2007) (p. 17)

"To understand that if we have to learn with each other we should also learn about each other so we can bring each other up." (p. 25)
"...The key to getting students to be academically successful... is not to teach directly to the assessment or to the curriculum, but to teach directly to the students. Every educator who works with the neoindigenous must first recognize their students' neoindigeneity and teach from the standpoint of an ally who is working with them to reclaim their humanity."1

Reflecting on a class run by a teacher whose style resembled that of a Pentacostal preacher, who maintained full engagement of his students, Emdin muses: "... I wondered why the ability to plan a lesson, and not the ability to connect with students, was the prerequisite for being a model teacher." (p. 48).

One practice he recommends is the creation of "duos" or students who meet with him and explore how to improve the presentation of each segment of the information, roughly. But the goal set is not for the students to be assessed to determine who are the top performers, but rather "the goal of the duo is for all students to reach their academic and emotional potential."2

Family: "For neoindigenous youth, the quest for some version of the socio-emotional stability that comes from the traditional family is a chief piece of what drives them." (p. 122). One way Emdin uses to foster identity in a class is the practice of giving the classroom a name. Recently, we asked students to form study groups to study the work of Ayi Kwei Armah, The Healers, and for similar reasons, we asked them to give their groups names.

Names are so important. For the Pan-African, we must take the name "African," – not continue the emphasis on hyphenated identities as paramount.
I will end this rough stream of information on Pan-Africanism with emphasis of the importance of the (revolutionary) practice of "criticism and self-criticism." Those involved in an endeavor sit down for a moment at the end of every segment and engage in commentary on what was done well and what was lacking or poorly done. Each individual takes a turn, going around the room. Its amazingly instructive and constitutive of collective responsibility, from the greatest to the smallest, and thus fundamentally transforms commitment to succeed. In fact, I remain fearful of its power because if you do not grow a stronger self you will run from the pain of inadequacy exposed. But without exposure, correction and maybe even more, adaptation of the whole group to it, cannot occur. Because no one is without shortcomings. Once these are known and struggled with by the group, the whole group has come to "know itself," and it is much fortified and enabled to go to the right people to accomplish the particular aspects of the movement to the objective that they can best serve. It's a process of collectively becoming aware of strengths and being prepared to avoid weaknesses.

The way that a teacher teaches can be traced directly back to the way that the teacher has been taught. The time will always come when teachers must ask themselves if they will follow the mold or blaze a new trail. There are serious risks that come with this decision. It essentially boils down to whether one chooses to do damage to the system or to the student.


1This is a critical point I first saw made by Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael). The struggle of Africans is not the same as the struggle of workers because while the workers struggle for fair pay and conditions, they struggle to move up in their own cultural world, while the African struggles first and foremost for her or his humanity. Therefore, the natural allies for the Black struggle are other racial minorities who also must struggle for their humanity. Coalitions are first possible among those who have a commonality of struggle. Class struggle is important, but the African world has to enact a cultural revolution. (source.... )

Kwame also exhibited in his work in the rural south during the SNCC era some very interesting examples of the importance of language as a cultural system which can be manipulated for exclusion. Emdin discusses this on p. 179. Kwame's treatment in 1961 is found (citation ...).

2This is similar to the goal set in the Cuban education system – which is a very Pan-African locale – to teach to the ideal of "emulation." (Citation). All students should be able to emulate those adults around them, real employed knowledge. This concept is a bit vague as reported, but the praxis being described is interesting to know more about.

Downloadable version of this essay

Pan-African: Introduction to a Pedagogical Approach (Acrobat (PDF) 165kB May22 17)