|THE SEARCH FOR MEANING IN THE TRADTIONAL AFRICAN
UDEANI, Chibueze C.
Kepler University Linz, Upper Austria /Caritas Integrationprojet
Upper Austria, Stadtplatz 29, 4400 Steyr, AUSTRIA
Home Address: Museumstr.20, 4020, Linz, Austria
e-mail: email@example.com ; firstname.lastname@example.org
There is the tendency, in view of the many political and economic problems
facing Africa, to question the relevance of intensive efforts made in other
areas pertaining to Africa. One can understand those who raise such questions.
For these people, to whom Africa has become a synonym for poverty and underdevelopment,
it will make sense that Africa channels all her resources primarily into
solving her economic, political and development problems. These people
tend to overlook the fact, that politics, economy, development are but
some of the different interwoven and interdependent parts of African culture
Africans, like any other people, are confronted
with the hard realities or questions of life. They try to find ways of
dealing with these realities or finding answers to these questions. Conceiving
culture as the totality of the answers, which human beings give to the
questions of life, it should then be seen that it is not only life that
poses questions to the human being, but the human-being, also poses questions
to life. There is a sort of bilateral movement in the posing of questions
Talking of questions in the plural, shows
that they are of different types, have different contents and directions.
This does not in any way mean the abolition of their interdependence and
interwovenness. Some of these questions are metaphysical in nature, have
metaphysical contents and orientation. Hence the question of meaning cannot
then be ignored as it could be seen in the sense of the working definition
of culture here. The search for meaning concerns itself with the basic
questions of the human being. These questions are not restricted only to
a particular sphere of life.
What would it then mean, if one should try
to leave the issue of search for meaning in African traditional worldview
by the side in the bid to solve those problems (economic, political, technological-developmental)
that are deemed necessary? It would turn out that even if all these other
problems were to be solved, without the issue of search for meaning in
and of life being treated adequately, one would realise that a very significant
aspect of the African problem still remains unsolved.
The concept - „African traditional worldview“
- is a sort of umbrella-concept for all forms of worldviews which originate
from Africa. The word „traditional“ should demarcate these worldviews from
other non-African worldviews found in Africa, which are today referred
to as African worldviews because of some elements of the African traditional
worldviews which they have imbibed.
Considering Africa, it is possible to talk
of a traditional worldview and also of different traditional worldviews.
It is so that in real life differences abound, which do not, on the other
hand, negate the strong similarities that exist between the basic tenets
of these forms. This is why one could talk of „African Traditional Worldviews
or view“. Worldview in the grammatical plural points to the plurality of
the traditional worldview, while singular is a concept for the common or
similar underlying tenets of these forms of worldviews.
Generally, the African traditional worldviews are characterised through
their principally pragmatic orientation. The depth and wealth of the African
traditional worldview is based on the complex and subtle symbolic structures
which give human life practical meaning and relevance.
This has led many non-members of these
cultural areas to deny them such attributes like philosophical reflection
and mystical contemplation. It is unfortunate that many people develop
certain uneasiness in their relation to other forms of worldview other
than the ones they identify themselves with. It is difficult for these
people to observe these other forms with an open mind or without prejudice.
It is important in such cases to help these people to see the logic and
depth of such worldviews.
The African worldview characterises itself,
in all its variations in the different parts of the continent, through
the emphasis on the optimum success of the relationships within the community.
It stresses more the importance of the human community, the family as a
community than the individual person. Herewith is the emphasis on the constitutive
factors of the community and especially, those which bind the individual
persons together in the unity of the community. This emphasis on the community
would then imply that inside Africa the worldview differ from community
to community, depending on how differently structured each community is.
This is one of the reasons why it could be argued that there is no such
thing as „African traditional worldview“, instead one can talk of „African
traditional worldviews“. Thus any valid approach to African traditional
worldview must take the different African communities and their worldviews
The worldviews of the African people
concentrate on life within the community. This community encompasses space
and time. A mystical understanding of this time and space-encompassing
community is necessary for the unity of the different African communities
which include the living as well as the dead. In this sense, the meaning,
purpose and fulfilment of human life have a strong connection with the
community. The consciousness of a lively unity with community gives the
African his inner stability and constitutes among others, the foundation
for meaning in his/her life.
The central position given to the human
community in Africa’s traditional worldview should not be interpreted as
indicative of the lack of other important elements in the African traditional
worldview. It is so because the elements or symbols here receive their
importance as elements of a structured unity contextually and in interdependence
with the human community. The community appears in the centre of a more
encompassing worldview. The community, it is believed, is continuously
under the influence of the cosmic forces operating within and around it.
The human being is interaction with these cosmic forces which manifest
themselves in nature and through other divinities
The different cultures of Africa see in the
human community a reality, which does not allow the time-space continuous
existence to perish in chaos. This conviction strengthens the relationship
of the individual to his/her community.
To understand the search for meaning within
the African worldview one has to bear in mind that the African traditional
worldview is primarily more a way of life and interpretation of the world.
The African traditional worldview expresses itself in every aspect of the
life ot the African and can in no way be separated from his daily life.
The way the African eats, plants grain in the field, celebrates feasts
and festivals, manages social contact etc., all these are influenced by
the African traditional worldview. Principally, every action of the African
is executed from this background.
The worldviews of the different African communities
present vividly the fact that the human being always understands reality
holistically and with a dimension of depth. The world and life receive
their quality/value and content from their finitude. The meaning of life
is interpreted and realised from the fact of the limitedness and transitoriness
of the universe and human life.