Gender ideology, global Africa, and the challenges for Pan-African studies in the 21st century.

Author:Badejo, Diedre L.

I presented this paper in Liverpool, England at the Africa 2000 Conference in August of that year, and revised it for the National Council for Black Studies Annual Conference in March 2005 in Atlanta, Georgia. In some ways, its publication in the JPAS marks a Sankofa moment when, as scholars and students of African World Studies, we have 'reclaimed' much from our 'legacy cultures,' (i) and can employ those multiple legacies 'in order to move ahead.' It also marks an analytical crossroad where our growing trepidation about women, youth, working people, and people of color in Africa and the African Diaspora resides. That crossroad is frequently strewn with the debris of sexism and disdain for our rich cultural endowment at a time when we need to embrace the legacy of women's leadership if we are to move forward. A brief narrative from Odu Ifa frames our discussion. My methodology variously employs the language, lexicon, and meaning along with the thoughts and practices of Yoruba, Akan, and African American cultures. Acknowledging the limitations and challenges in such an undertaking, I intend 1) to provide oral and written data and contemporary analysis to guide our discussion of the complexity of diverse African gendered environment, 2) to propose the concept of 'legacy cultures' as a model for contemporary political and cultural analysis, and 3) to extrapolate one set of culturally-based ideologies that may contribute to the growing body of scholarly works on Africana studies and particularly women of African descent globally. By 'legacy cultures,' I mean the transnational and local (re)configurations of African cultures in the twenty-first century, and the presence of African worldviews and expressivity in modern world environments. The term, 'legacy cultures,' distinguishes earlier patterns of cultural evolution occurring within traditional African environments. It marks these natural occurrences from their progeny cultures on the continent and in the Diaspora.

The term, 'legacy cultures,' unlocks the potential application of Africa's cultural heritages to new modalities and protocols for development in the twenty-first century. It allows us to embrace the breadth and depth of our global experiences, customary and pluralistic, in a more liberated discourse on the continent and in the Diaspora. The concept of legacy cultures allows us to address the institutional and infrastructural needs of Africa's global humanity and our place in the world generally.

Leadership Discourse in Odu Ifa

A narrative in Odu Ifa, (Yoruba oral texts), expounds upon the consequences of poor leadership (rulership in the narrative). According to the text, the town of Modakeke was ruled by a king named "Dead from the Neck Up" who turned the regency upside down. (ii) As a result, people lost their way and forgot their appointed roads, that is, they forgot their living purpose which, at the core of Yoruba worldview, is to maintain balance and harmony among human beings. The Odu Ifa says, "the world is a simple place, it is the confusion of the mis-educated that has created problems. The Creator made things simple to confuse the fool." Obviously, "Dead From the Neck Up" refers to senseless behavior, lack of emotional intelligence, social progress, and political savvy. (iii) Restoring balance and harmony is a major theme in Odu Ifa which seeks to understand the context and circumstances that create imbalance and disharmony in order to return to social equilibrium. In Odu Ifa, we choose which path to follow by choosing whether or not to make the necessary sacrifices to achieve that equilibrium. The wisdom of Odu Ifa inspires me to ask, "What role does Pan-African Studies play in the twenty-first century? What lessons of our legacy cultures and lived experiences are available to guide us now? How will we engage them? We assert that Africana Studies, irrespective of its various names, must reclaim its 'appointed road,' by actively reclaiming its primary intellectual leadership position in Africa and the African Diaspora. As knowledge and cultural workers, Africana Studies scholars must provide appropriate analysis and directions to redress the confusion facing global communities of the twenty-first century. Exploring Odu Ifa offers perspectives and ways of critically engaging the contemporary world so that we may restore balance and harmony among human beings. The dynamic nature of Yoruba; cultural legacy in Africa and the African Diaspora gives us a lens through which to gauge the complex interplay of gender and social engagement, and specifically, the complex meaning of motherhood in our legacy cultures. While we may be far from these ideals presently, we must analyze the effects of gradually losing control of this aspect of our cultural compass during the last four decades of Africana Studies scholarship and the last five centuries of the Ma'at. As knowledge and cultural workers, it is our responsibility to explore our past in order to redesign a livable present if we intend to create a sustainable future. This is the challenge of Modakeke and the significance of rivers in global African cultures.

Ideological Foundations and Theoretical Framework

One of the greatest challenges facing the global African community in the twenty-first century is the transformation of its legacy cultures (iv) into viable modalities for survival and for the reclamation of our humanity, purpose, and identity. When I speak of legacy cultures, I refer to those culminating experiences initiated by our historical experiences as African and African Diaspora peoples. Our legacy cultures include the historical experiences of the Yoruba; Akan, Wolof, Hausa, Igbo, Kongo, African-Brazilian, African-Cuban, and African Americans which exist today in the dynamic synergy of African and African Diasporic cultures. On the continent and in the Diaspora, those experiences offer models of development, gender ideology, theories of globalization, and new challenges for Africana studies in the twenty-first century. At the dawn of this new millennium, our legacy cultures are more than mere nostalgia and nomenclature; they offer ways of reclaiming our agency in the world. The collective treasure trove of our experiences in written documents and oral narratives, proverbs, songs, and humor locates and records the ways of knowing and valuing the wisdom and contradictions in our legacy cultures. These critical cultural guides are available to our intellectual and activist traditions, and are certainly relevant to the theoretical development of Africana Studies in the twenty-first century.

Using the inspiration of the Akan symbol of Sankofa, our legacy cultures can help us to think about and work for our global restitution. This principle liberates us to engage our legacy cultures deeply as tools for reasserting agency in the twenty-first century. Using aspects of Akan, Yoruba, and African American cultural legacies gives voice to some of our most documented and visible global cultures. As I have argued elsewhere, (v) my focus on Yoruba culture is one way to understand our creativity and responses in diverse environments. Given the extensive reach of Yoruba; and Akan cultures in the African World, a comparative method can open a window to our complex identities and visions of our future. Yoruba; Akan, and African American cultural heritages serve this essay as the sources for our excavation. In a sense, we are exploring the role of matrices of identity as agency in a social and cosmic order.

African people, like all human beings, mark their cultures by a shared vision of social survival and regeneration which is usually found within their classical traditions; in our case, within our oral and written traditions. For global Africans, our legacy cultures and experiences abound with examples of good and bad leadership, in which women are also implicated. Odu Ifa narrates a time when confusion reigned, a time similar to the current era of global leadership. In Obara-Okanran, when Orunmila asks what happens when "Dead from the Neck Up" ruled Modakeke? The three adepts reply:

During Modakeke reign, the father holds the plate for his child to eat, the child sweeps the inner courtyard of the house...

To continue reading