Decolonisation through arts


DECOLONISATION of the mind is not an easy process.
Euro-centric ideas have become so entrenched in many post-colonial African countries, Zimbabwe included, that at times it requires a form of forced extraction as one would extract a decayed tooth under anaesthesia.
In this case, the anaesthesia required for the re-discovery of self lies in the arts and humanities, which can offer a direct intervention in the socio-cultural and pedagogical decolonisation of the mind through a more attuned African-centred education process.
We need to be aware of the numerous minefields of mental and psychological colonisation which many post-independent African states face, following their liberation from their colonial masters.
Colonialism and its African Education Acts were systematically and purposely designed to disempower the indigenous people and render us subservient and vulnerable to the whims of what was perceived to be a superior imperial race, a superior religion and a superior white social order.
The sole purpose was to make us ready to serve the whiteman as pliable, subservient ‘natives’ who followed their masters’ ways – and the master, mind you, is never wrong!
Colonisation did not spare the African ways of life and African philosophy.
The prevailing role of communal thinking in indigenous African communities differs from the predominantly individualistic thinking in the West; the community spirit in African theory and practice is philosophically concentrated in the notion of hunhu/ubuntu particularly as found in southern Africa.
A comprehensive ontological horizon shows how being an African person with hunhu/ubuntu is not only imbedded in the community, but in Africa and the universe as a whole.
The concept of ubuntu/hunhu was engaged by many African political leaders during their struggles for independence.
According Leopold Sedar Senghor, a renowned writer-politician and a leader in the struggle for African independence and the first President of Senegal: “Traditional African societies showed harmonious forms of life without any antagonism of classes; it implied a way of decision-making which was based on community consensus.”
In traditional African village societies, mutual help was and is a widespread trait of social life.
The whole African society, living and living-dead, was a living network of relations almost akin to that between the various parts of an organism.
There was an ethic of mutual help and of caring for each other.
Thus hunhu/ubuntu can be regarded as a specific practical and scientific approach to African philosophy in its different disciplines such as philosophical, anthropological, social and political philosophy, and by the same token for ontology and epistemology.
Other disciplines epitomised by the spirit of hunhu/ubuntu are logic and ethics, philosophy of medicine, philosophy of law, philosophy of economics and the philosophy of art.
Having lost their spirit of hunhu/ubuntu, many Zimbabweans currently appear as rootless people; aimlessly, in feverish search for an identity.
There is lack of a singular approach to our problems.
Yet we eat the same food, wear the same clothes, and live in very similar habitats.
By virtue of the colonial introduction of the English language as the major language of instruction, various aspects of indigenous cultures were removed.
Even in family arrangements, the indigenous kinships were altered.
African minds and brains recycled by the pedagogy of Empire are hard to restore to their original state of African consciousness.
While taking part in the formulation of the new education curriculum as a consultant in the Arts and Humanities, the exercise made me aware of just how much of our indigenous arts and culture was annihilated by colonialism and in need of recovery; and how much of our indigenous hard drive has been scrambled by colonial narrative and the discourse of servitude.
In fact, colonial education totally dismembered the African mind.
In constructing an indigenous Zimbabwean curriculum, we need to avoid replicating an acultural Western mindset designed to produce a workforce for colonial overlords as happened in the past; when the past colonial educational system for African people was designed for servitude and not for self-empowerment.
These mental minefields did not simply dissipate following the attainment of our independence in 1980 and as current riots and skirmishes confirm, during as well as after the Arab spring, Africa needs to have a binding human philosophy to ward off similar detonations.
The acceptance and recognition of how much of ourselves we have lost historically, culturally, morally, religiously and philosophically through the colonial education system must be assessed, evaluated and restored.
The decolonisation of the African mind through education has to be handled sensitively, decisively, persistently but delicately given that young, innocent, perceptive African minds are at stake and at risk.
Cyber space and ICT, with its concomitant shortcuts that have been incorporated in the current Euro-centric mis-education curriculum, are loaded with misdirected opinions and spiked with morally destructive colonial information.
We also need to be cognisant of the fact that the digital sources we take our inspiration from are loaded with misdirected opinion, and Western information about Africa spiked with colonial hemlock – a poison that renders African minds as the inferior ‘exotic other’, subject to the colonisers’ gaze and owning none of our own developmental and educational African hardware.
As Zimbabweans, how should we go about developing a strong Zimbabwean consciousness of hunhu/ubuntu in our new scholastic curriculum?
Since the nation achieved independence, there has been considerable interests in understanding and interpreting the cultural aspects of Zimbabwe’s society, particularly since the overlay of Western values and mores perpetuated through the past education system distorted the traditional manifestations of the creative fields such as art, theatre, dance and music.
While many argue hunhu/ubuntu cannot be realised out of a village milieu, the core values and moral aspects of hunhu/ubuntu and social communalism, as well as the specific values that are connected with these notions, are vital for nation building.
The actualisation of hunhu/ubuntu in philosophy and arts education can be useful for the endeavour to revitalise them in the new curriculum.
Thus knowledge from African philosophy and the arts and the tenets of hunhu/ubuntu can permeate into other domains of life and be applied in the scientific STEM world of today.
The basic principle of social philosophy hunhu/ubuntu can be understood as the central idea of African philosophical anthropology that means: ‘to be human is to affirm one’s humanity by recognising the humanity of others and, on this basis, establish respectful human relations with them’.
The decolonisation of the arts in Africa was explained in the context of the political philosophy of Leopold Sedar Senghor, a Senegalese statesman, writer and president of Senegal from the 1960s, who espoused the philosophy of negritude – an awareness and cultivation of African heritage, values and culture.
What have we as a nation done to revitalise our stolen legacy of physical artefacts, cultural property and cultural attributes of a society that include folklore, traditions, language, art, traditional knowledge and cultural heritage inherited from past generations?
In the fields of philosophical thought and the arts,- are contributions from many African philosophers that differ from Western thinking.
The all inclusive community spirit embodied in African theory and practice is integrated in the philosophical tenets of hunhu/ubuntu, characterised by mutual respect, recognition and the reciprocal support given by individuals to each other.
The socio-economic benefits of studying the arts and humanities, thus re-discovering our national identities through the new curriculum, would not only develop an audience to patronise the arts of the future, but create a critical mass for the consumption of the arts, thus buoying the economic viability of our indigenous arts.
The same positive African philosophy should inform the students’ identity, character, integrity and moral virtues that are the hallmark of African ubuntu/hunhu.
The lack of, or omission of suitable, nationally-centred and character-building discourse in our curriculum would be unforgivable now that we have control over our education.
Hunhu/ubuntu is the hard drive of our memory – let us preserve it!
Dr Tony Monda holds a PhD. in Art Theory and Philosophy and a DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) and Post-Colonial Heritage Studies. He is a writer, lecturer, musician, art critic, practising artist and corporate image consultant. He is also a specialist art consultant, post-colonial scholar, Zimbabwean Socio-Economic analyst and researcher.
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