ONTOLOGICAL BASIS OF AFRICAN SOCIALISM: THE IGALA PERSPECTIVE
Posted by Rev. Fr. Fidelis Ele-Ojo Egbunu at June 24th, 2013
ONTOLOGICAL BASIS OF AFRICAN SOCIALISM: THE IGALA PERSPECTIVE
EGBUNU, FIDELIS ELEOJO (PhD)
Phone Number: 08068515750 & 08059215672
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DEPARTMENT OF PHILOSOPHY AND RELIGIOUS STUDIES, KOGI STATE UNIVERSITY ANYIGBA, NIGERIA
The adjectival term “Ontological” is derived from its noun form “ontology” which is a metaphysical concept. According to its Greek root, “ontos” means “being”. It is the theory about existent being. It is most often equated with Aristotle’s “First Philosophy,” also known as pure or general metaphysics. In other words, it is the theory about existent finite beings as such and that which belongs essentially and immediately to them (Brugger and Baker 1972, 291). It is also referred to as the theory of being qua being. All that exists is located within its ambits especially all about man and that which surrounds man, including life forces (Placide 1959, 52).
The ontological foundation of African communal life is based on man as the centre of the universe. Everything in existence is viewed as serving some purpose only in relation to man, either for good or bad. However, the place of the individual is subsumed in the community. Therefore, the individual is important only in relation to the community. In other words, African socialism has always been associated with communal solidarity, respect for elders and other highly cherished values which are the hall-marks of African identity and personality. This form of socialism is not without some ontological basis. It is our contention here that this is even very true of the Igala people of Kogi State, in the middle-belt region of Nigeria. The Igala understanding of “udama” communal solidarity throws more light on what the ontological basis of African socialism entails. It is therefore the aim of this paper to bring into focus the Igala perspective of African socialism.
The Concept of Socialism
Socialism is simply defined from the economic viewpoint as “a theory and a movement advocating public ownership of the more important means of production (Runes 1960, 293; Mautner 2000, 526) such as land, factories, industrial equipment, etc. The economic formula of “from each according to their ability, to each according to work performed” is applicable here. Politically, it means a state based on the dictatorship of the proletariat; while culturally, it is the extension of all educational and cultural facilities through state planning, for example, emancipation of women, abolition of racism, discrimination, etc (Runes 1960, 103).
Owing to the attempts made by various scholars, three main categories of socialism are easily discernable. First, the gradualists or evolutionists who were of the German socialist parties believe in gradualism (e.g. the parliamentary system). They hold that the socialist society could be attained by piecemeal reform within the capitalist system. In Igwe (2002, 404), “the belief that the restricted luxuries of today can be universally accessible tomorrow”, and that no sudden change or contest of force therefore need be anticipated. It admits of attitudes of compromise. Under this mode of socialism could exist Fabianism and Revisionism. And this type is much more amenable to Christian doctrines. Second, the Revolutionary Socialism which is more of the Marxist/Hegelian type is an off-shoot of capitalism. It asserts the necessity of mass political organization of the working classes for the purpose of gaining political power in order to effect transition from capitalism. According to Mclean (1996, 312), “the emphasis is placed on the elevation of the interest of the working class or proletariat to a position of supreme importance”. They may use force, violence, strikes or unionism. This second phase is almost synonymous with communism or anarchism. Third, Brugger and Baker (1972, 372) made mention of the free-democratic wing of Socialism, which also began in Germany. This advocates that the working class should organize itself into a party so as to have a formidable body to legally address their security.
As it is observable, the various forms of socialism are somehow intertwined. There exists no watertight compartmentalization in their aims and emphases. As Mclean (1996, 459) rightly puts it, the major stress here is on the transformation of the capitalist industrial society into a much more egalitarian system. Achieving the collective well-being of everybody is the objective, and the pursuit of personal interests is subordinated to such pristine values as togetherness, communal living, co-operation, solidarity, mutual-interdependence, peace and harmony.
However, besides these three formal socialist typologies, we also have the African variant (African socialism) which could be listed as the fourth in line. This sort of socialism, in the rendering of Igwe (2002, 404) manifests such diversities as the democratic and pragmatic African socialism. This is exemplified in the ujamaa of Nyerere, negritude of Leopold Senghor, and even Mobutu Sese Seko’s (1930) attempted economic translation. There are variants of social democracy because there are different forms of revisionism aimed at transforming the society for the socio-economic well-being of the people. In this work we shall discuss only two of these forms of African socialism, namely, the ujamaa and negritude.
Ujamaa Socialism of Julius Nyerere
Socialism is an attitude of mind which ensures that the people are able to cater for each other’s welfare whether healthy or not. According to Nyerere (1968, 521),
Destitute people can be potential capitalists – exploiters of their fellow human beings. A millionaire can equally well be a socialist… because it can be used in the service of his fellowmen. But the man who uses wealth for the purpose of dominating any of his fellows is a capitalist. So is the man who would if he could.
As it were, the organization of traditional African Society – its distribution of the wealth it produced was such that there was hardly any room for parasitism (Nyerere, 1968, 512).
That land is one of God’s gifts to man and that Feudal Lords and millionaires “are users, exploiters of the abilities and enterprise of other people.” If he does not hoard wealth today, society itself should look after him, or his widow, or his orphans.
Nyerere avers that in traditional African Society, both the rich and the poor individuals were completely secure. Natural catastrophe brought famine, but it brought famine to everybody – poor or rich. Nobody starved, either of food or of human dignity, because he lacked personal wealth; he/she could depend on the wealth possessed by the community of which he/she was a member. It was their responsibility to make sure that those who sow reap a fair share of what they sow. They needed land, tools and labour. Therefore, in the traditional society everybody was a worker. As Nyerere (1968, 513) succinctly expressed it, “the elderly was only a custodian, guardian of wealth. It never gave him power or prestige. He earned respect from the young because he had served his community longer”. The poor elder earned as much respect as the rich elder in the society. Their greatest achievement was that the traditional society gave them sense of security and offered universal hospitality. Each one contributed his fair share. Loitering was an unthinkable disgrace because everybody knew the traditional hospitality was not to be taken for granted. For, as the saying goes, “Treat your guest as a guest for two days; on the third day, give him a hoe.” The habit of people gathering wealth for the sake of dominance which was introduced by capitalism is also condemned outright.
In bringing about this form of socialism, certain necessary steps were to be taken. The Arusha declaration for TANU (Tanzanian National Union) stood against ownership of land introduced by capitalists as a marketable commodity. This is based on the understanding that land belongs to the community as no individual had a right to claim it as his in the traditional African Society, but they possessed the right to use it. Nobody had the right to own so much of it, leaving it undeveloped with a view to selling it out. The interest of the community was held as paramount. Leadership position was expected not to be used as a means of accumulating wealth or insurance against rainy day. The traditional African society which was naturally classless was presented as a model; and it was pointed out graphically that the foundation and the objective of African Socialism is the extended family. People were not allowed to have any alliance for destructive purposes. The motto or first article of TANU says, “I believe in Human Brotherhood and the Unity of Africa.”
In which case, authentic Socialism and Self-Reliance shows solid agreement on very central matters cleverly itemized by Nyerere (1968, 516-523), that they will consolidate and maintain the independence of the country and the freedom of its people; that they will safeguard the inherent dignity of the individual; that they will ensure the government is democratized; that they will cooperate for the liberation of ALL Africa; that they will work towards elimination of poverty, ignorance and disease; that they will assist in the formation and maintenance of cooperatives; that they will ensure direct government participation in the economic development; that the government will give equal opportunity to all men and women irrespective of race, religion and status; that they will eradicate all types of exploitation, intimidation, discrimination, bribery and corruption; that they will ensure effective control over principal means of production and pursue policies on collective ownership of the resources; that they will cooperate with other states in Africa for African Unity; that they will work tirelessly toward world peace and security through the United Nations Organisation.
In a nutshell, the policy of Socialism thus stated in Ujamaa talks of absence of exploitation, in which case the major means of production and exchange would be under the control of the peasants and workers, that democracy may exist; and that they accept socialism as a way of life.
Negritude of Leopold Senghor
For Leopold Senghor, the root of African socialism is founded on the family, by which he means the extended family and “not the triad of Father, Mother and Child”. As beautifully described by Njoku (2002, 47) the typical African sees “family as a natural and spiritual union in which the living and the dead commune with each other in all its extended roots”. It is the type of family Idem (1965, 63) refers to when he opined that,
The family in Africa is the clan and not as in the European, mum, dad and the baby. It is not the household but the sum of all persons, living and dead, who acknowledge a common ancestor. As we know, the ancestral lineage continues back to God.
People trace their ancestry to the fourth, fifth, sixth and even seventh generations in some families with some ease. One family is linked to the other like the threads of the spider-web. They are webbed and intertwined with some kind of symbiotic relationship even with the living dead, a relationship which is free and beneficial to everybody.
As Ome and Amam (2004, 431) rightly noted, the pre-colonial African is the original uncorrupt African. It is the African before the Arab and European visitations. Without the community, the individual has no existence. It is in this same vein that Mbiti (1969, 12) talks of communalism as the “basis of authenticity in the traditional African setting.” African existentialist approach “I am” as “We are and since we are, therefore I am.” In communalism, the individual is not emphasized. As Nwala (in Ome and Amam, 2004, 433) corroborated, traditional communalism rested on common ownership of the means of production like land, forests, trees, minerals, rivers as well as the fruits of labour. There was no property-less citizen in real communal society. As Ome and Amam (2004, 433) did further explain “our living together is not seen as an unfortunate mishap but a deliberate act of God to make us a community of brothers and sisters. This is what Egbunu (2009, 36) harped upon in his list of highly cherished values in the African community. Such values include, patriotism to one’s community, hospitality, courage, self-reliance, respect for and love of life, honesty, truthfulness, sense of the sacred, primacy of the personal, familial solidarity, respect for elders, sense of ritual and festivity, etc.
The purpose of the society is therefore, man. In other words, the society is made for man and not man for the society. Iroegbu (1996, 17) reminds us that a Yoruba man would prefer to commit suicide or go into exile for losing any battle because of love for the community. Thus, within the various African communities we have a whole array of civilized values, all of which are aimed at promoting human dignity in general and African dignity in particular. This is what Senghor (1964, 45) terms as “not racialism or self-negation, rooting oneself in oneself, and self-affirmation, or confirmation of one’s being”.
In strictly treating Negritude as a Philosophy of being, Senghor (1964, 48) posits how the African looks to the tangible qualities of things: shapes, colour, smell, weight, and so on as mere signs that,
have to be interpreted and transcended in order to reach the reality of human beings. Like others, more than others, he distinguishes the pebble from the plant, the plant from the animal, the animal from man; but once again, the accidents and appearances that these different aspects of the same reality. Thus, reality is being in the ontological sense of the word, and it is life force.
Further more, he avers that in African ontology, there is a whole gamut of interconnected life force –
no such thing as dead matter: every being, everything – be it only a grain or sand radiates a life force, a sort of wave particle; and sages, priests, kings, doctors, and artists all use it to help bring the universe to its fulfillment. (Senghor 1964, 49).
As Senghor (1964, 49, 50) further explains, everything is linked back to God just like “Cosmic-Complementarity or Solidarity.” For an African, man is composed, of course, of matter and spirit, of body and soul; but at the same time, he is also composed of virile and feminine element; indeed, several ‘souls’. Man is a composition of mobile life forces which interlock; a world of solidarities that seek to knot themselves together. Because he exists, he is at once end and being; end of the three orders of the mineral, the vegetative and the animal, but beginning of the human order. It is in fact a close knit society. Senghor recognizes the centrality of man as he is surrounded by a world of “concentric circles, bigger and bigger, higher and higher, until they reach God along with the whole of the universe. Each circle-family, village, province, nation, humanity is in the image of man and by vocation a close knit society. Man is a center of unity of expressions in his interrelations, where contradictory forces are transcended in synthetic complementarity. Thus, he transcends the contradictions of the elements and walks towards making the life of forces complementary to one another. It is by bringing the complementary life forces together in such a manner that the human person is reinforced. That is, he passes from merely existing to being. He cannot reach the highest form of being, because, of course, it is only God who has this quality, which he possesses more fully as a creator; all that exist find fulfillment in Him.
From such intuitions of Senghor, one sees that man’s being in the world is an embodiment: containing all but at the same time harbors an ontological lacuna or insufficiency that is only complemented in God.
The Igala Perspective
In relation to this communal way of living, the Igala people have a saying that “Udama Ch’ukpahiu,” (unity is strength). For them it is an abomination for a person to do things alone just for his/her own personal or interest. Hence, Nwoko’s (1985, 118) statement that “African society is a society where invidualism is a taboo” is aptly applicable to the Igala. This conception of socialism is clearly represented in every aspect of their traditional life. Igala villages are a conglomeration of houses whose first settlers founded as a result of good farmland, rich fishponds and favourable hunting expeditions. In these villages, settlements are sometimes lineal. But in most cases, people live according to clans (Olopu) thereby giving way to the circular style. In certain cases, land disputes, incessant illness, death of children, war, epidemics, natural disasters, marriage, ostracization or banishment could occasion relocation. The buildings were traditionally Unyi-ikete (mud walls) with ojokwunyi-egbe (thatched roofs) but owing to developments, such locally constructed houses have given way to solid cement walls, rectangular in shape with corrugated roofing sheets to match. The communities are organized according to family stead. Their social organization is essentially kin-based. The nuclear family is the smallest social unit but this is inseparably tied to the extended family system involving the lineage and the clan. All members of these extra nuclear familiar units regard one another as “brothers” or “sisters”. It is these families that conglomerate into clans (Miachi 1992, 10).
At the clan level, they have the office of ogujo-olopu (the clan heads) that was often the most senior member of the uppermost age group (Boston 1968, 33). He exercises authority over the entire clan. His authority could be moral in nature because it is strongly believed among the Igala that, “Ogujo dunyi ache achimoton” (when an elder is at home, the younger ones can never be disappointed); “Alu ogujo ma agbulu omi eka” (the mouths of our elders are store houses of experience; variation: the words of our elders are words of wisdom); “Ewn K’ogujo dachi odadala k’ili, imoto nugo er’onu mela ineke lin” (What the elder sees while lying flat, the young person may never behold even if he/she tip-toes nine times in making effort). The Ogujo-olopu also acts as a spiritual leader. The holder of the office is seen as a symbol of unity between the living and the dead members of the clan. In the event of any misfortune, he consults “ifa” (the oracle) and performs the ritual on behalf of the younger generation (amoma ubi) because he mediates between the ancestors and their descendants. The “ogujo” keeps the “okwute” (staff of the ancestral cult symbol). It is only in the event of his death that such is transferred to the next most-senior elder (Egbunu 2001, 53). At the village level, the administrative leader is the fief owner (onu-ane). The term “onu-ane” as Boston (1968, 36) would have it, appropriately “describes the political head of the clan in his capacity of heir to the sovereign rights exercised by the clan over the land with which it is associated.”
Also in terms of marriage, funeral, building of houses, farm work, etc, the traditional Igala believe in and operate familial solidarity. This belief in communal unity is expressed in several sayings among other traditions. Such sayings include, “Omowo Katete anyoji adinan” (no single finger can draw the lice from the head); “Ichewn ka mone wewe tito jugbo katete onwu ya wuwowo-I” (if many people urinate together at the same spot it produces larger foam); “Oli Katete adago mudokon” (A tree cannot make a forest); “Awoto agw’awohi, awohi agw’a woto” (The right hand washes the left and vice versa, Variation: One good turn deserves another). The basic philosophy seems can be in the saying, “Live and let’s live”. It is akin to the Igbo saying: “Let the eagle perch and let the hawk perch, anyone that does not allow the other to perch must suffer from broken wings.”
In the traditional Igala community nobody lives alone and dies alone, nobody sorrows alone and nobody rejoices alone, nobody eats or drinks alone; your death is my death, your bereavement is mine; your building is my building. In a sense, it is also right to say nobody marries alone. The wife of a brother is “our wife” in terms of proper care and concern. When two people are married, both of their families are tied together in an extended bond. When a funeral is being celebrated by a family it is the celebration of the entire clan or community; when there is a naming ceremony or festival it calls for active participation of all and sundry. When there is work to be done it involves all of the family members. In most cases, the clearing and tilling of the soil is left to the men folk while harvesting and other menial works are done by women. And it is believed that the more hands you have on your farm the better. Therefore, the Igala believe in practising polygyny. On the other hand, people of the same age group can do “adakpo” or “ailo” which denotes rotational farming for one another, from one person’s farm to the other.
The principle of all things belonging to all extends to sharing of food items, drinks or material possessions. A visitor can never be said to be too late for a meal. For the Igala, “Ewn Kilola anya rukpen” (whatever is soft can always be divided among people); “Eju ononojo majome ubiwn mara” (when you have a visitor you owe in order to pay afterwards in hiding your shame). As it is commonly said, “Any gathering where kolanut is not enough to serve everybody, it means that those in the gathering lack fingernails.” The Igala also say, “Ojo niko” (God owns time), so it is said there is no need to be stingy with one’s time, since the ultimate corollary is “ichone nikon” (it is not humans who own time. It is in this connection that the traditional Igala values “ugwa” (salutation) enormously. They greet in the morning, afternoon and evening; they greet while on the way to the farm, to the stream or to the market; they greet men and women alike, children and adults, with much gesticulations but with little variation in tone and style, whether familiar or non-familiar faces. They ask of others’ health, business, offspring and other family members. They ask of yesterday, today and plans for tomorrow – all in showing concern for all. To the Igala, “ugwa choma one” (it is salutation that manifests who is of good character; it is salutation that shows whether the one met on the way is a ghost or a human person. Salutation is power; it is the centre of life itself. It encapsulates the Igala understanding of primacy of the human person. In a sense, the value of salutation in Igala conception could be thus described:
To greet is to acknowledge the existence of others
To greet is to bless God and neighbours
To greet is to wish others well in life
To greet is to celebrate life
To greet is to share part of one’s life
To greet is to show and be shown concern
To greet is above everything
To greet is to love and be loved.
In the course of salutation, different gestures are employed in stooping to greet. There are gestures for women and gestures for men, in accordance with age, family background and status in the society. For instance, “Okolo” (buckle up) is a general greeting used for junior males in the family, that he may be reminded not to rest on his oars. “Daudu” (more grease to your elbows) is used for the first born sons of the family, that they might be encouraged to carry more of their load of their younger ones. Other general greetings to women may be “ogodo-Omeko”, enaji-omome”, “oyoo”, etc. There are also special greetings meant for the traditional rulers alone. The Attah has his, and the other traditional rulers also have theirs.
Evaluation and Conclusion
The African traditional worldview is essentially suffused with the communal spirit with man at the center of activities. All other beings are seen as being in existence in order to serve man’s purpose. And as a being whose life is lived in the community, he owes everything to the community in as much as the community owes him everything. It is a complete symbiosis of the right washes the left hand and the left washes the right. The simple reciprocity of human life is highly symbolized and spread forth in daily dealings and reflection for human perception.
African Socialism, as the Igala variant portrays, looks beyond man and society to a transcendental Being such that the basis of communalism is the relationship between the spiritual and material dimensions of man.
The general temptation which Socialism may fall into is to see society as the final end of all the activities of man. In trying to prove what Socialism can do, Kwame Nkrumah seemed to have made himself a kind of deity in Ghana, as he eventually turned himself into a subtle dictator among those he claimed to represent.
In as much as inept leadership, arrant lack of commitment, raw corruption and lack of patriotism are obvious challenges which need to be frontally tackled in our African ambience, it is our submission here that the welfare of the masses is to be preferred to any policy of social democracy in all circumstances that relegates the peoples’ well-being to the back waters. As a Latin maxim would have it “salus populi suprema (est) lex” (the welfare of the people should be the highest law). It is preferable to be prosperous and unequal than to be equal and impoverished.
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