The African Americans

Search for Truth and Knowledge

By Dr. Leonard Jeffries, Jr.

Part Nine: The Peoples of Africa

The people of Africa are divided into various ethnic groups. Some experts estimate that there are more than a thousand societies of ethnic groups on the continent. Although these groups differ in their distinct customs and traditions and ethnic backgrounds, they have many common patterns of behavior and similar value systems. For example, West Africa has the largest population concentrations and can be divided into many ethnic groups, but there is a cultural unity in the diversity. As a result, large areas can be seen as a unifying cultural complex of shared historical and contemporary experience. Consequently, West Africa can be divided into several important ethnic divisions, such as the Mande Civilization of the Sene-Gambia River region, Akan Civilization of Ghana and Ivory Coast, Yoruba Civilization of Western Nigeria and Benin, Hausa-Fulani Civilization of Northern Nigeria and Ibo Civilization of Southern Nigeria. There are many ethnic societies or groups within each cultural complex, but they have common values, traditions and practices. The Akan Civilization of the Republic of Ghana and Ivory Coast Republic has various distinguishing customs for each locality, but the overriding shared values are most important. They belong to the same language families of Kwa-speaking peoples who are organized into several kingdoms. They recognize matrilineal descent which gives the women special status in their societies because the line of rule and inheritance passes through the female, not the male. They have produced a revered ancestor tradition that is centered around a symbolic and artistically designed stool concept which represents the spiritual or soul force of the leaders and ancestors. These sacred stools are very artistically designed, and each design communicates certain positive values which the group believes to be significant. Each family clan, each village, each chief and office has its stools and they are used in rituals and considered sacred.

The Akan Civilization has a long-standing tradition of agricultural development as well as commercial trading and urban living. For each important event in an individual's and family's history, there are common and similar rituals: the naming ceremonies for the newborn child, the manhood and womanhood institutions for the young adults, the marriage festivals and burial practices. Each group has some form of "enstoolment" for its leadership of the family clan, the village, the province or the kingdom. This stooling ceremony is used to crown the leader and give him or her authority to rule and make them accountable to the memory of the ancestors. The authority of the group does not rest with one individual but resides in the collectivity and is expressed through various secret societies or, more accurately, societies of secrets.

There are male societies and female societies, and these organizations have selected membership and special responsibilities. They help select the ruler or leader and make other crucial decisions for all of the people. The female societies have power and status along with the male societies. This principle of complementary male and female authority is a key value among the Akan and many other African ethnic groups. The decisions of these societies are often brought back to the adult population which meets in council to discuss matters. The concept of the family clan council, the village assembly of clan leaders and the regional assemblies are important.

Yoruba Civilization in Southern Nigerian and Benin (formerly Dahomey), is another outstanding example of African cultural unity in diversity. The Yoruba are rich in the variety of their traditions and value and there have been major wars and rivalries among the various ethnic groups, but the cultural unity has remained through thousands of years. There are more than fifteen million Yoruba spread over several ethnic groups, such as the Egbas, the Ife, and the Oyo. In spite of this ethnic diversity, they share in common the most vital aspects of group life. For example, they have common traditions of origin. In fact, they believe Humanity originated in their sacred holy city, Ife-Ife, and they share a common religious system of various levels of deities and spirit forces. They have common marriage and burial practices and a highly organized kingship and chieftaincy structure. They share a world renowned art tradition which includes uniquely casted terra cotta and bronze-brass objects of individuals, heads of rulers and historical plaques. Much of this work has been declared comparable to any produced by any people. In fact, when it was first discovered by Europeans at the end of the 19th century, it was so beautiful and skillfully worked that they thought it had been produced by other Europeans. As more and more discoveries were made and they were scientifically tested, it became clear that this extraordinarily fine art was the culmination of an artistic tradition that spanned two thousand five hundred years and was one of the most outstanding in the world.

The predominant values of these various African ethnic groups can be classified as centering around three primary characteristics. They are communal, cooperative and collective. They become clearer when applied to vital aspects of a society, such as how the group views the individual, the family and the land. This communal, cooperative and collective value system has an essential spiritual aspect. The individual is not just viewed from his personal perspective; he or she is seen as a spiritual extension of ancestors who died years ago. The Africans generally focus on the communal "we" and not the individualistic "I." Each person is respected as a spiritual entity and has individual worth, but more importantly he or she is part of a sacred spiritual continuity from revered ancestors. In fact, ancestral spiritual presence is kept alive in every aspect of life. When there is an important activity, the group always remembers the ancestors through the ceremonial ritual called "libation." In this ceremony, the priest or elder pours water or some other liquid on the ground while reciting a prayer and calling to the ancestral spirits to extend their blessings.

This African Asian communal, cooperative and collective value system of Humanism and Spiritualism contrasts with the general European-American value system, which is characterized by unbridled individualism, fierce competitiveness and ruthless exploitation. The institutional manifestation of this African value system has three major aspects: the extended family clan system as an economic social unit, the divine-king priesthood as the ruling political unit, and the societies of secrets as the administrative judicial leadership unit.

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