If the topic is Afrikan-centered education, then traditional Afrikan education has a place at the table. In fact, it should be the main course. At the moment, many of the folks talking about Afrikan-centered education have little knowledge about traditional Afrikan culture.
We have not been taught anything about our heritage before our Maafa (great disaster) at the hands historic and contemporary enemies and we have not done reasonable studies to find the information on how our ancestors educated their children.
With this lack of knowledge, we fall back on what we have learned from our oppressors about education, put a few Black pictures up and begin. We only know European language, culture, and philosophy. So even when we intend to rebel against the present system, we unwillingly recreate their madness unless we commit to studying our way.
We must study what our ancestors have done in the realm of education, over stand the purpose, modify for our present and future, implement and live the ideas, and watch our young warriors grow.
Traditional Afrikan education started with the worldview of the people, as all education does. For Afrikans, a profound reverence for the creator and the interdependent universe set the foundation for life; not just education. They desired a harmonious relationship with nature. Unlike our european counterparts who only desire to subdue and rape Mother Earth.
Our ancestors also demonstrated a strong belief in the unity between individuals and communities. The idea of Ubuntu or I am because we are is the manifestation of that belief.
In addition, the constant process of human “formation, reformation, and transformation” played a big role in their thinking. A person was always growing, changing, and, hopefully, getting better. One’s character or moral standing could be reformed and transformed. Even if someone deviated from the norm and harmed someone in the community, it is said that some communities would surround the person, touch them, and tell them all the good that they have done. In part, this ritual reminded the person that they are essentially a good person and just needs to come back to their righteous self.
When we study traditional West Afrikan education, we see two educational systems combined: (1) education for a life and (2) education for a living.
The education for life equipped the young warrior with the positive dispositions of reverence, respect, generosity, hard work, and self-control. What a difference from the negative dispositions of individualism and disrespect for anything Afrikan inculcated within the public fool system.
An education for a living helped our children develop the necessary skills and techniques needed to serve their community and be self-sufficient. Most education focuses its energy towards making a living as servants in this society rather than making a life. Too often the focus is on information and not character; on test answers and not spiritual questions.
Even though schools like we think of them today did not exist in traditional West Afrikan culture, ample opportunities for learning presented themselves.
First, everyday life presented the most opportunities. Indeed, our children were always watching, learning, and imitating. They noticed the ways we greeted and interacted with each other and elders. They watched how we worked and what we valued. They observed how we danced, dressed, and loved. They noted the courage we displayed on a daily basis. They noticed our being and imitated our Afrikan essence. Through watching our ancestors, Afrikan culture was uploaded into their being. As they grew, the software continued to update as they lived their culture.
Whose cultural software are we running within ourselves and what are our young warriors imitating? A virus destroying us from inside out?
Another opportunity for learning was the proverbial teachable moments. When a young warrior acts in a positive or negative manner, experiences an event or asks a question, this is the time to teach through stories or proverbs. The child who does not tell the truth could possibly hear the Afrikan proverb, “one falsehood spoils a thousand truths.”
Lastly, transformation rites were the most formal educational structure in traditional West Afrikan culture. It happened in three phases: separation, transformation, and reincorporation. The young warrior between the ages of 14-25 were taken to a new place where they were taught the wisdom of their culture. They symbolically died; leaving their childhood ways and were reborn as men and women capable of being productive citizens in their society.
Traditional Afrikan culture calls us to study it so that we use the precepts to create a truly Afrikan-centered education for our children today and tomorrow. With it as a foundation, I know we can provide the kind of education that combines an education for a life and a living that leads us to liberation.
Baba Dr. Brotha Samori Camara
Books to Study:
Sankofa: African Thought and Education by Dr. Eleni Tedla
The Heartbeat of Indigenous Africa: A Study of the Chagga Education System by R. Sambuli Mosha
NationBuilding: The Theory and Practice of Afrikan-Centered Education by Kwame Agyei Akoto