THE SUPERIORITY OF AFRICAN PHILOSOPHICAL CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK OVER WESTERN PHILOSOPHY.
By Awo Ayo Ogedengbe
Yoruba (Ifẹ̀/Ọ̀yọ́) Country of West Africa practiced both religious and political philosophy that was superior to what was obtainable in Europe and America. (As far back as 15th century)
Facts and supporting thoughts :
In the America’s declaration of Independence speech delivered by Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826), he publicly said:
“we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” – July 4 1776.
Tragically, the meaning of the word ‘men’ was strictly restricted to its biological characterization as ‘male’, American celebrated democracy remained male-chauvinistic for the next one hundred and fifty years after independence!
United Kingdom did not grant women the right to vote until 1928.
Most Western philosophical and political thought was hinged on Socrates’ philosophy as documented by his students most notably Plato. Plato is acknowledged today as a feminist who upheld the right of women to be trained as guardians (leaders of political offices).
Aristotle, a student of Plato, one of the most popular Patron saints of ancient Greek Philosophy, however, disagreed with his teacher’s recommendation of women as guardians. He considered the woman as inferior to the man for philosophical and psychological reasons. (Composta, 1990: 189). He argued that full excellence can be realized only by matured male of the upper class, and not by women…
Quite paradoxically, most political philosophers of the enlightenment age, rather than take sides with Plato, pitched their tent with Aristotle. This ideology dominated Western socio-political thought for the next two thousand years, right down to the 21st century.
There is abundant literary and historical evidence that many ancient thinkers and political leaders in many traditional African societies, some of whom lived during the eras of Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Rousseau and Thomas Jefferson, enunciated democratic social principles that are more realistic and consequently more rational than the ones established and practiced by the Greeks and their Western descendants. Many African political systems were not totally gender biased even though they contained some male chauvinistic views and practices.
The popular concept of the woman in the creation myths of two of the most celebrated religious traditions of thought in the west is that the woman is morally weak and evil. Western women were denied to lead in religious, economic, educational, professional and political activities of their societies.
In the Greek version, Pandora was the only female among the first created human beings. Her male counterparts believed that God did not endow her with any of the qualities given to men.
In sympathy, they gave her bits of theirs. She stored these in her bag but on the attempt to take a look at what she believed was now in her possession, everything flew in her face! This is the origin and meaning of the popular saying: “The Pandora’s Box.”
The Biblical version is that the woman was an after-thought, taken from two ribs of the first male to serve as his helper.
Saint Paul, an erudite scholar, who authored most of the books of the new Testament says:
1 Timothy 2:11-14 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.
In two Yoruba myths of creation, Elédùmarè/Olódùmarè (God) sent several male deities with one female deity (Osun) to run the affairs of society. The male deities initially ignored Ọ̀ṣun, the female deity and everything went sour.
When they complained to Olódùmarè about their deplorable social situation, Olódùmarè scolded and warned that unless they include women in running the affairs of state, they would never know progress and peace. They repented and things became smooth for them.
In another myth, God sent all the Òrìṣà to search for knowledge, it was the female who first discovered it.
These myths paved way for the fundamental equality in religious and political participation between the male and the female in the pre-colonial Yoruba society.
It goes to show that the philosophy of life of a people is deeply rooted in their religious views because all people consider the order of the divine as something to emulate.
While the Western nations didn’t have female participants in economic and political activities of their societies, oral history talks of some female Ọbas (rulers) in the pre-colonial Yoruba kingdoms. Suffice to say that these female rulers were rulers, not because their fathers were monarchs who had no male children.
Up till date, the Yoruba Oba-in-council always includes Iyalode, a constitutional position reserved for women. The market, which was the main economic source in this agrarian African society, was always under the authority of a female titled Iyaloja (Minister of Commerce and Trade). There were also Iyalaje (Minister of finance and micro economy); the Erelu, (Female members of the Ogboni, the Judiciary). Women were members of the Profesional practitioners of pharmacology and pharmacy. The Iyanifa plays a similar role in Ifá system to mention a few.
Until very recently, Christianity and Islam deny women the right of holding high religious positions. Most traditional churches did not ordain women as priests or bishops. Women do not conduct mass in the Catholic church.
A couple cannot jointly establish a church in any part of Europe. Ironically, there is evidence of acculturisation in these two foreign religions in Africa. Some Christian and Islamic religious groups have institutionalized the positions of ìyá ìjọ, ìyá Ẹgbẹ́ and Iyalode. Ìyá Alasalatu and Ìyá Adinni.
These female positions do not exist in Rome or Mecca. Can it then not be validly argued that the Pentecostal tradition of women becoming religious leaders is of African origin?
The Late Professor Henry Odera Oruka submitted that if development is not measured exclusively in terms of technological advancement, then many traditional African societies are more civilized than many Western societies.
The point being made here is that many Western social principles are demonstrable as conceptually inferior to those proposed by thinkers in some pre-colonial Africa. For instance, Malignant Sexism and Male-Chauvinism, in religion, politics and education, are imported set-backs rather than intellectual improvements on African traditional thought and philosophy.
In conclusion, One of the challenges to the development of African school of thought in other to redirect the thoughts of A ti and to their superior order of thinking and doubt things comes from Western-trained scholars who see African tradition of thought as primitive, they behave like those the Yoruba describe in the proverb “À ì tètè mólè, olè ń m’ólóko” (delay in apprehending the thief emboldens him to accost the farm owner). Because contemporary African scholars are slow in recognizing Western tradition of thought as primitive, their culture turns out to be at the receiving end.
Culled from Late Prof. Sophie Abosede Oluwole, a Professor of Philosophy.
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