Postcolonial Studies: An Avenue to Examining Africa's Indigenous Knowledge Systems.

AuthorNgom, Abdou
PositionEssay

Introduction

If postcolonial theorists have strongly been committed to the deconstruction of the essentialist and foundational discourses delivered by the West to better subjugate non-Western worlds, this commitment, to a large extent, accounts for the good aura of postcolonial studies in many educational and research institutions in the last decade. Still, postcolonial criticism would presumably have failed to prove so engaging, had the restoration of indigenous knowledges invalidated for centuries by European epistemologies not been included in its agenda. That epistemological recovery is naturally twinned with the calling into question of normative categories meant to accentuate the divide between the institutionalized academic data produced in the North on one side, and the traditional knowledge systems of the South on the other side. This study explores compelling avenues open to postcolonial communities across disciplines, ethnicities and nationalities, for the retrieval of their untapped knowledge systems and their contribution to global scientific data.

African Orality and Postcolonial Commitment

Without ever denying white supremacist institutions their right to build histories for the expansion of what he calls their human consciousness and the preservation of their interests, Na'im Akbar, in Breaking the Chains of Psychological Slavery (1996), describes the strategy that has led to European-American control and influence over the world:

"[...] the story about European accomplishments and the description of European culture and structuring the world's reality around European experiences are essential parts of building the European consciousness to ensure its survival and maintain the freedom of European people" (Akbar, 34). Even though Akbar's perspective remains that of an African-American psychologist accounting for the combination, in the psyche of the sons and daughters of former enslaved people, of multiple traumas including the loss of human consciousness and the disruption of their sense of community, European colonialism used almost the same subjugation mechanisms which resulted in the psychological and moral servitude of colonial subjects. Hence, the reorientation of African history must take into consideration some important steps in the process Akbar has showcased for the restoration of human consciousness to the children of African-American families. Put differently, the new generations of African people in Africa, like the African diaspora in the United States, need to be taught "our heroes and heroines, our discoverers, scientists, artists, teachers, inventors, and as much the greatness of African accomplishments as Europeans are taught about the greatness of European accomplishments" (Akbar 35).

Akbar's restoration project, as he most wisely elaborates on it, does not exclude the knowledge of European-American histories since the latter help African-Americans know their own defeats in order to design better strategies that could help meet the historical challenges ahead. However, if, for the liberation of Black people, Akbar has opted for the same strategies utilized by the owner of the enslaved which, to some extent, refashion the notion of mimicry theorized by Homi Bhabha, African populations in Africa, in many historical contexts, had to rely on their own knowledge systems to overthrow Western colonization.

In Kirikou and the Sorceress (1998), an African animation movie written and directed by Michel Ocelot, the respectable elder featured as the repository of the group's knowledge, systematically refuses to provide young Kirikou with any talismans to fight Karaba, because these are the very weapons used by the sorceress to frighten and subjugate the villagers. Instead, the patriarch asks the young hero to check his anger and to confront the enemy with "pure innocence, total truth, and intelligence" (Kirikou and the Sorceress n.p.).

Beyond the quest for truth generally associated with Ocelot's cartoon, (1) Kirikou can be read through Karaba's politics of domination as an allegorical reenactment of the West's domination knowledge used during both the slave phenomena and the colonial period: delimiting a territory of her own, extorting women's gold, setting fire on the houses of people who try to protect their property, using middlemen (fetishes) to accomplish her destructive plans, and finally arousing fear in people's minds. The well-known process of "thingification" of enslaved and colonized people comes to mind, as many of them had been denied material property or family ties, let alone any forms of knowledge. In actual fact, the revocation, at the end of the movie, of the Western Manichaeism regarding the notions of good and evil, and the accomplishment of the unification of the two antagonistic forces (Kirikou-sorceress) underscores, in some way, the hybridization process at the heart of postcolonial theory while repudiating the destructive ethnic, linguistic, geographical, and religious boundaries strategically imposed on African populations by the European colonizer.

From another perspective, the capacity of the villagers to thwart by all means the colonial stratagems intended to maintain Western hegemony (Kirikou bores a hole in the dugout and fells the tree that carries the children to the sorceress's abode) emblematizes the African resistance to centuries of colonial and imperialist dominance that constitutes, as well, a necessary prerequisite to the atmosphere of concord and harmony in the final scene which portrays Kirikou having already tamed the sorceress while the crowd of the young people the latter had abducted during her reign flows into the village amidst songs and dances. If the mystic and emotional healing of Karaba has, in the same process, entailed the physical healing of the whole village (drinkable water now flows from the spring), it has also engendered the objective conditions for the emergence of a reconciliation dynamics customarily created by pre-colonial African communities in situations of conflict. Viewed through the lens of postcolonial criticism, the return of the venerated patriarch into the village after years of dreadful coercion brings to light not only the tale's lessons of wisdom and tolerance from which all human...

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