Africology: An Introductory Descriptive Review of Disciplinary Ancestry.

AuthorFlemming, Tracy Keith
PositionBook review

Uzong, E. (1969). Africology. The Union Academic Council Series, African Studies, Volume 1. London, United Kingdom: Union Academic Council for African Studies, pp. i-vii, pp. 159.

A foundational, holistic approach to the concept of Africology first appeared as the topic of a monograph produced for the Union Academic Council for African Studies in London in 1969, and the concept has more recently been the topic of monographs by scholars based in the United States of America and South Africa. (1) The discipline now known as "Africology, the Afrocentric study of African phenomena, represents an oasis of innovation in progressive venues," and it is one of the most significant fields of study in higher education since its institutional emergence in 1968 as Black Studies at San Francisco State College (now San Francisco State University). According to Molefi Kete Asante, a prominent Africologist and creator of the first Ph.D. program in the discipline at Temple University in 1987, the unique contribution of this interdisciplinary field of study is directly tied to its Afrocentric approach to understanding the African world from its origins that can be traced to the beginning of the human species in Africa to the voluntary migrations and forced dispersals of African people to other continents across millennia. Afrocentricity--"an intellectual, philosophical and theoretical perspective deriving its name from the centrality of African people and phenomena in the interpretation of data; a concept that argues that any meaningful and authentic study of people of African descent must begin and proceed with Africa as the center; a theory of Africology"--is the central element of Africological research (2) and is interlaced with the ongoing transdisciplinarity of Africology (African Diaspora Studies, African Studies, Africana Studies, African American Studies, Afro-American Studies, Black Studies, Pan African Studies, etc.). (3) Building upon and expanding interdisciplinary and transdiscplinary perspectives are activities that scholars of Africology can engage in the present and the future as the discipline continues to develop.

Indeed, our thinking about the future of the discipline must always be in conversation with the past and the present. To my knowledge, a protracted review or scholarly engagement with E. Uzong's 1969 book that is titled Africology has never appeared in print; I have not come across any scholarly work in Africology (or elsewhere) that does so. In fact, I was not able to locate a direct quotation from the book in any academic or non-academic publication after reading the volume during the Summer 2017 until fairly recently. (4) Thus, I plan to offer a review of the book that includes extensive quotations from the now out-of-print book due to (1) the significance of the author's voice in contributing to our understanding of a variety of issues that have been subjected to rigorous studies in the years that followed its publication and, most importantly, (2) its continued relevance to many issues that are being addressed or have emerged in the contemporary moment (the twenty-first century CE). The analysis and synthesis of content from the book will hopefully serve Africologists for years to come by demonstrating that this obscure book foreshadowed many of the intellectual dynamics that are considered to be foundational elements in the study of the African world and that the book should definitely be put in print or online in its entirety as a central part of the continuously-growing Africology library. (5) Indeed, an important question emerges from a reading of Uzong's Africology: Why have most scholars within and outside of the discipline evidently ignored the book?

The author notes in the Preface of Africology that the volume was written from an African-centered perspective: "It is hoped that this work will serve to interest education authorities in Africa on Africology and to introduce it in schools and colleges as well as adding it to the list of approved subjects offered in the authorised state or national examinations" (v). The book is divided into seven parts with twenty chapters. The seven parts of the book are (1) "Introduction to Africology"; (2) "The Mystery of Africa" and "The reasons why Human Progress was held up in Africa"; (3) "The Hunting Age"; (4) "The Farming Age"; (5) "African Religions"; (6) "African Law"; and (7) "African Arts". The first part of the book focuses on analysis of the concept and application of Africology as well as its use and purpose while the following six parts of the book offer a synthesis of more widely discussed key dimensions of the development of ancient African cultures before the formation of classical African civilizations and beyond. In sum, E. Uzong's Africology focuses on the dissemination of knowledge about ancient Africa and the ancient, indigenous African world while highlighting the centrality of knowledge of Africology to understanding African phenomena, knowledge that can lead to solving contemporary African problems via African solutions.

Part One of the book, "Introduction to Africology," consists of three chapters. In the first chapter, "What is Africology?", Uzong posits that "Africology is a name used to designate that department of African studies that deals with African cultural and social changes and development. Applied Africology deals with African social and economic problems and solutions" (3). Correctly noting the size and diversity of the African continent--"Africa is a large continent with an immense variety of natural phenomena, peoples, cultures and traditions" (3)--the author perceptively indicates that "beneath these wide varieties are common environmental factors such as vegetation, climate and geological structure which have commonly and similarly affected the development of animal and social life, tradition, religion, culture and settlement in all parts of Africa" (3). Indeed, anticipating arguments forwarded by Winston Van Horne, another prominent Africologist, Uzong notes that

Africology is mainly the study of the common factors and common problems of prehistoric and literate Africa, their interconnection, the explanation of African psychology in terms of human actions and their relevance to human conditions and progress today... Africology is therefore that part of African studies which reveals the nature and degree of those interconnected factors which underlie the whole body of events and human actions in past and present Africa (3). (6) The author acknowledges the significance of the written record in delineating the historicity of Africa; correctly arguing that Africa indeed has the longest human history (7), the author calls for interdisciplinary analyses of African studies that move beyond reliance on written documents that emerged since "the arrival of the Arabs and Europeans" (4). The author notes that the significant impact of archaeological (and biological) evidence that is often used to understand Africa can be enhanced with the integration of a variety of academic disciplinary approaches to the study of Africa, including "new methods of research other than archaeology . such as Africological synthesis, anthropological research and analysis, lexico statistics, serology and sociological studies" (4), before further noting that "there is the rich field of traditional and religious legends and beliefs preserved by Africans" (5).

Certainly, many of the Afrocentric elements that constitute Africology in academe today, as well as ongoing epistemological and ethical/moral debates related to the discipline, were articulated in this 1969 book. The author notes,

The field of African studies is today a monopoly of a few scholars who have managed to gain special knowledge about some particular area in Africa, by records of early European contacts, archeological discoveries, or recent expeditions.... This intellectual closed club, with a cold academic approach to African studies, unconscious and unintentional it may be, has made African studies dry, uninteresting and lacking in purpose.... This image is evident in the apathy and disinterestedness and sometimes unconcern which many African students have adopted and shown towards African studies" (7). The author concludes the first chapter of this book with an insistence on the importance of "the study of Africology" for the African world community and for humanity in general while also insisting that more "African scholars and students" engage in Africology in order to correct "[t]he tendency of European scholars to generalise and overemphasise the importance of a particular town or tribe (8) [sic] within the context of African history and other aspects of African studies [which] can be very frustrating to African students who are interested in a wider field" (7-8). Indeed, "Africological understanding of any event in Africa means seeing it in relation to a wide range of past and present events that are in a sense interconnected, so that no limit can be set in advance" (7-8).

The second chapter of the book, "The Uses and Importance of Applied Africology," begins with a provocative question: "What is the use or purpose of Africology?" (9); the author proceeds to answer this question in a two-fold manner that has continental and global implications. S/he contends,

To answer this question in one statement, the answer would be "to educate the Africans to face African realities". To answer this question adequately one must understand present African social and economic problems. What Africology has to offer concerns not only the Africans but everybody who is interested in present African problems of development (9). Writing is a context of tremendous political, social, economic, and cultural changes in mid-to-late-twentieth-century Africa, the author contends that "knowledge of Africology will enable policy makers to avoid serious blunders" (9). Indeed, following...

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