By Dr Tafataona Mahoso
THROUGHOUT these instalments, I have alluded to the realisation that the African dariro is also a representation of collective memory, both conscious and sub-conscious.
The function which the dariro has served for millennia was recognised by scientist Steven Rose in his stimulating 1992 book called The Making of Memory: From Molecule to Mind.
There, Rose alleged that:
“Memory has burst the confines of the individual, the personal, and has become collective (because of the growth of communications technologies.)
Where once memories were bound by an animal’s or a person’s own history and began afresh with the conception and development of each new life, technology now means we share as a society memories none of us has ever had personally.”
This characterisation of memory is inadequate to the African philosopher because it mixes up memories with memory. These are not the same, even though they are related.
The way to see the difference is to say that as individuals and even individual groups or communities, we usually can remember a lot more than we can recall at any particular time.
Rose is mixing up recalling with remembering.
Memories are individual and, from a relational point of view, disjointed.
But memory is a thread, a web linking many people and it encompasses individual recall which we call memories.
What Rose is saying is true if we accept that the ancient African dariro is a technology anticipating the digital technology Rose is writing about.
The dariro was clearly meant to ensure that younger generations would never have to start building memory from scratch.
The relational memory of the African dariro vs the linear memory of Eurocentric patriarchy
We can summarise the African process of moulding and deploying collective memory by enumerating the memory functions of the dariro as follows:
It links creation, pro-creation and aesthetics in the sense that the creator is called musiki or muumbi and the verbs kusika and kuumba describe the process of making fire with a stick rotated counter-clockwise like a screw in a hole in a log to produce fire; or the process of laying soft rings of clay in anti-clockwise direction around a conical tower in order to create a pot as is done among the Bukusu.
The same anti-clockwise circular motion is repeated in dances in the dariro.
The sexual act between a man and a woman is described in the same manner, with the woman’s reproductive organs known in Shona as sikarudzi, literally, the organs in which the human race is created.
Lastly, kuumba or kusika also refer to God’s act of creation of both nature and humans in the universe. Mwari wakasika denga nenyika.
Joining the dariro is already a silent expression of willingness to sing or dance along; or willingness to learn to sing and dance along; or willingness to speak the language spoken in the dariro; or willingness to learn and understand that language.
When there are more people, the circle is widened, but it remains a circle.
For African children, the circle meant that there were always several mothers, several fathers per child in the circle.
If my mother died, she was instantly replaced by her sisters, cousins, even brothers who became my mothers.
At the level of the community or neighbourhood, the circle teaches that the harm inflicted on your neighbour’s child in that dariro is quite capable of being inflicted on your own child sitting in that same circle; the harm inflicted on your neighbour’s mother sitting in that dariro of mothers will sooner than later hit your mother, aunt or sister occupying the same space in that circle.
Therefore, you watch what may come from behind my back, while I watch what may come from behind you.
If I face you from the south I see the north which is your back and you see the south which is my back.
If I face you from the east, I see the west which is your back and you see the east which is my back.
In this way we have always been global; memory is global.
The circle therefore taught solidarity as daily common sense and practice.
In terms of generations, the dariro meant all generations sitting in the same circle.
There was deliberate effort to reduce generational gaps in terms of understanding.
When elders die to become ancestors, they are replaced instantly by new elders who close the gaps.
This meant continuity of heritage and knowledge.
It also meant that there were no sunset laws which declared that a grievance would expire after 25-50 years or even 500 years.
A collective grievance of the family or community could only end by resolution, settlement and reconciliation.
In this sense, slavery, colonialism and apartheid are unresolved crimes in the African relational sense.
It is obvious from the detailed description of the dariro that Africans long ago encouraged memory to break the confines of the individual’s brain in order to be deployed for collective relational benefit.
This moulding and mobilisation of memory through the symbol of the dariro at every level – elemental, primordial, sexual, aesthetic, spiritual, planetary and legal – was motivated by the realisation that the human being had potential to become a beast, a monster; and if that beastly nature was left to find its singular individualistic way and combine with other equally untaught human beasts, the result would be catastrophic violence, pillage and war.
So, the dariro was meant to anticipate the potential consequences of unhumanised human nature.
For an appreciation of the historical consequences of what the dariro seeks to prevent, we can refer to Western radical feminists who have identified the key problems of Eurocentric linearism as phallic obsession and aggression which require that collective memory be molded, entrenched and deployed through violence, obsession and aggression.
In Gyn-Eology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism, Mary Daly wrote that: “Fredrich Nietzche captured the essence of (Judeo-Christian) patriarchal ritual when he posed the question of how one can ‘create a memory for the human animal’.”
The problem and solution, according to that philosopher were that humans were dull, lazy and forgetful, not given to remembering what was needed or required of them.
Therefore violence had to be institutionalised and turned into ritualised acts which would have to be repeated for what was required to sink in as collective memory.
“How does one go about to impress anything on that partly dull, partly flighty human intelligence – that incarnation of forgetfulness — so as to make it stick? A thing is branded on the memory to make it stay there; only what goes on hurting will stick.”
Therefore, where African relational philosophy presents the creation of humanity and social consciousness through dariro as moulding a web or orbit which has no start and no finishing line, linear thinking begins with splitting: I think, therefore I am.
Slavery, apartheid and colonisation are all characterised by splitting, which is why our discourse is now presented as pre-colonial, pre-modern, post-colonial, post-modern and even post-racial, according to Barak Obama.
The process of subjugating woman, according to patriarchal linear thinking, is similar to the process of dismantling the dariro and placing the occupants into a queue of competition or a continent of Lusophone, Francophone and Anglophone states.
Slavery, colonisation and apartheid become clear acts of splitting and aggression intended to uproot relational thinking and replace it with linear thinking.