WHAT IS ENGAGED ANTHROPOLOGY?
Exercise 1: Write an essay explaining how anthropology began.
Exercise 2: Develop a view point explaining how anthropology justified slavery, colonization, and the Final Solution.
These exercises will help you in four ways: 1) You will understand why wickedness is often linked to stupidity, 2) you will realize that Western anthropologists are either racist or paternalistic. In my more than twenty years of practice, I have never found one who was not one or the other, and 3) you will be in a best mood possible to be an engaged anthropologist, and 4) you'll clearly understand the necessity for an anthropology of liberation.
Anthropology gave slavery and colonization its moral leverage. It gave the Nazis a moral justification to carry on the Final Solution.
Anthropology explained why Africans were cattle to enslaved, pagans who needed to be christianized, savages eager to be apartheidized. It gave the Aryans the physical elements of their "superiority" and, at the same time, the physical elements of Jewish "inferiority". When an African looks at Adolf Hitler and Albert Einstein, he sees two Caucasians, two white men. But anthropology gave Hitler the tools to turn around and say that Albert Einstein and his people, the Jews, were inferior to Adolf Hitler and his own people, the Aryans, and that the Aryans were justified in exterminating the Jews.
ENGAGED ANTHROPOLOGY is a reaction to anthropology. Engaged anthropology finds holes in anthropology and tries to fill them up. Engaged anthropology tells the truth. Engaged anthropology is the anthropology practiced by the descendants of the slaves, the colonized, the Jews, all the people who have suffered because of anthropology. Engaged anthropology is an anthropology of liberation.
ALL ABOUT DEBATE
Engaged anthropology is all about DEBATE. At the highest level possible. So far, anthropology (or at least the kind of anthropology we are reacting against) has been the apanage and monopoly of Westerners (Europeans and North Americans). They created the discipline, set the rules and regulations, and made traditional societies, OUR societies, OUR people, the subjects of their studies, theories and ideologies. They are the masters, WE are the subjects. When they are the subjects, WE are the objects. They push outrecuidance so far as to tell us who we are, how we should study ourselves, how we should record our findings, and how we should present them to the world. Certain knowledge falls onto the sense for us, like the oracle, our relations to the other side... If they can't relate to it, or understand it, it's not science. They come down from their pedestals, filled with their own ambiguities, and would like to impose their contradictions on us. For instance, if they say that our societies are "tribes", we should not even question that assertion. If they rule that our languages are "tongues" and "dialects" that cannot vehicle ideas and manipulate concepts, we should not argue with them even if we are sure of the contrary. It has worked like this until today. But engaged anthropologists, today, say: "No more!"
This is going to stop now. Africa has enough anthropologists today to finally begin to talk for ourselves about ourselves, our way of seeing, feeling, and doing things. We are going to throw away every single thing the white anthropologist has ever said, written, taught about us and our societies. We are goint to start anew. Everything that is to come forth, even by our own anthropologists will be argued, refuted, debated, for most of our own anthropologists are by-products of (the white man's) anthropology.
We are beginning a world-class debate. We have to prove that we are strong and tough enough to debate the strongest and toughest debators of the world stage: the Israelis, the Chinese, the French. Forget the size of the territory, forget how big the population, the level of development. When it's one on one, experience alone makes the difference.
To be or to become a good debater does not happen by accident. A culture must be behind it. Israelis and Jews at large are fantastic debaters because they benefit from a culture which encourages discussion and verbal confrontation. Enter a synagogue for a Jewish service and what I am saying will become clear to you. Whether at home, in a synagogue, or at the Knesset (Israel parliament) debate is at the center of Jewish life. Jews are an asset in this debate.
The African equivalent of the synagogue is the village square, in the shade of the baobab tree where the elders sit all day long to discuss village matters. Is "la place du village" still the center of our villages' life? I leave this question for each of you to answer. But at the United Nations, it shows that our cultures do not really encourage debate. There we can run but we cannot hide.
L'ART DE LA PAROLE
The democratic debate is one of the highest levels of verbal interaction. It's art. L'art de la parole. Free, witty, it opens doors, win wars when it embeds itself on our children's minds. When an American is used to debating his opponents in Congress, s/he'll be a good debater at the United Nations. It's that simple. When a government mutes its people by denying them the right to free speech, it shows at the world stage. The best thing a head of state can do for his country today is to allow debate, to favor it, to sponsor it, encourage it, fund it, even if it seemingly works against him. We Africans will never reach the best agreement, the best idea, if we do not allow all the arguments and ideas to come forth freely. A good debater is always one who brings a new perspective into the debate. He makes a difference because he brings forth the unexpected, and people wonder: "Why didn't I think of that? It's so simple."
TALKING FOR SELF IS FREEDOM
The time has come for African anthropologists, ethnologists, ethnographs, archaeologists, sociologists, to talk for themselves and ourselves. We are better equipped to study our societies, our peoples, our ways, our forms of expression, and present them to the world. Many days, I have sat in those European and American classrooms, learning things I knew were dead wrong, but I had to write them back to my European or American teachers in essays and various papers, because it was orthodoxy, and I had to better stick with it, otherwise I wouldn't get my degree. That has got to stop now.
"Engaged anthropology" is an anthropology of liberation. It's "engaged" because it stands for something, because it's ready to do battle; "engaged" because we can and will no longer leave the study of ourselves to others, we shall no longer leave the study of ourselves by others go unchallenged; "engaged" because we claim the study of ourselves by ourselves.
Engaged anthropology is an anthropology of liberation because it's a freeing movement to finally get our voice back, a voice of our own, a voice which, when necessary, is the voice of the voiceless, and the herald of the historically irrelevant.
We, African anthropologists, are going to bring new perspectives into the study of man. We are going to bring a new way of seeing, feeling and doing things. Because nobody knows us more than ourselves, we sure will bring the unexpected forth.
Exercise 1: What is your nation's way of accessing knowledge? For instance, if you would like to know something, how do you go about knowing it? How do you go from the state of not-knowing to the state of knowing?
Exercise 2: Compare your people's way knowing (methodology) with others.
An African anthropologist would know that there are some esoteric elements in our cultures that another African anthropologist cannot (and should not) share with the world. But try to do these exercises for your own sake. Do this homework and you will most definitely learn something about yourself, your culture, knowledge, and especially THE KNOWING. Some of you write to me, saying, "Since I am not an anthropologist, how good will Engaged Anthropology do me?" Let me repeat what I've already told you: EVERY AREA OF STUDY FALLS INTO THE STUDY OF MAN. If you are a medical doctor, practice medecine of liberation; if you are a journalist, practice journalism of liberation.
OUT-TURN IN ANTHROPOLOGICAL THINKING
Three out of five Kamerunian students I meet in the West come to study economics, business and finances. We have been doing this for thirty-seven years, yet Kamerun has never manufactured even a bicycle. We come here, spent years studying finances, merely in the hope that when we go home, we are going to find employment with American Express, Banque Nationale de Paris, or any other multinational company which, in Africa, takes more than it gives. The African ambition stops at becoming two more arms turning the wheels of international exploitation of the Kamerunian worker. And you wonder why I cry so much for the beloved country!
THE REAL WORK
Our problem stems from the fact that we don't know that we know. And we don't know that we know because most of us have never wondered if before the European came to Africa, our nations had a way to access knowledge, and a method that supported it. Methodology is the father of knowledge, wisdom is the mother. Are Africans known to be wise? Let's discuss how we gain wisdom. Let's discuss the knowing that we are wise. More and more festivals of African films are staged in Paris, London, New York, Los Angeles. Most of these films explore our relations with the other side, the realm of the jinns, the abode of the gods. African cinematographers are trying to tell us something. They are telling us that instead of turning away from the other side, which is the real thing, our world being merely its pale reflection, we should explore it in everything we do.
Practice business of liberation, economics of liberation, finances of liberation, law of liberation, journalism of liberation, politics of liberation, and so on, and so forth.
NEED FOR ATTITUDINAL CHANGE
We all are in need of attitudinal change. Who knows what will come of it? The problems confronting us, Kamerunians, Africans, are so massive and protean in their various manifestations that it does not really matter where we begin. It's bound to lead somewhere. If I insist on a critique of knowledge, it is simply a suggestion. Take it as such. I do not care who you are (an elder, a child or a student) or what you do (whether you are a medical doctor, a university professor, a plumber or a housepainter). As long as you are eager to help yourself, others, and Africa, are intelligent, somewhat extraverted and have enough life experience not to be dogmatic about anything, engaged anthropology is for you. You'll be fine. Formal schooling is of lesser importance. In the Anthropology of Liberation I am initiating, I'm thinking of a movement of barefoot anthropologists of the mind.
Every person's feelings are as important to him or her as anyone else's feelings are to them. I know that (even if I don't show it often). Sentience gives us all equality and everyone matters equally. Beyond the debate, that's the lesson to learn and the attitude to have.
After definition and description, methodology is the most important part of any science. It's the articulations by which one goes about telling what he has to say in arguing a case or expressing a viewpoint.
Five elements must be found in any engaged anthropology's discourse:
1) The first thing you have to do when you begin a study of man, or the study or any aspect or area that falls under the study of man, is to consult the elders. Seek out the opinions of the elders. If, for example, you are a member of the Bassa Nation, speak Bassa with them, and write their opinions down in Bassa first. Their opinions will most likely reflect the teachings of the MBOG BASSA, the six-thousand-years-old wisdom tradition of the Bassa people. This tradition is valuable, for it's older than most wisdom tradition we know, including the Bible. That's source of pride.
2) Devote a chapter to a view of your subject of study from the Creator's point of view. Say, you'd like to study "Bassa Aesthetics" (or Bassa people's idea of beauty), tell us how Bassa aesthetics harmonizes itself with the environment. That in itself is the Creator's plan. Remember, we, human beings may well be the Creator's noblest creature, but we are still a part, not the center of Creation, and surely not masters of the universe. The Creator is the Sole Master of the Universe. The engaged anthropologist approaches every aspect of the study of man with humility. We believe that we have no greater nor smaller role to play for the equilibrium and harmony of nature than a roach or a bat. And instead of trying to dominate our environment by polluting it, we want to live in harmony with each and every being, living or dead.
3) Compare what the elders share with you with what you know of other cultures, European and North American included. It's important to always point out where the African way and the polluter's diverge.
4) After you tell us what the polluter's anthropology says about the subject you are studying, CONTRADICT IT. You can say for instance that Western anthropology teaches that a Bassa person can never study the Bassa people's idea of beauty because it's too close to them, which of course is a fallacy. What does the Mbog Bassa say about that? Remember that one main difference we have with Western mindset is that Westerners believe that man MUST dominate his environment whereas we believe that we are a part, and a partner of the environment, not its master. You can play with that and scold Western anthropology because it gives way to an attitude that brings pollution and death about.
5) Conclude with your own opinion. Do not hold yourself when criticizing Western philosophy and anthropology. After all, they lead to pollution. Western anthropology is the anthropology of pollution, anthropology of the polluter. Actually, you will be doing humankind a great service. Westerners are killing us with pollution. A reaction is highly needed from all people of good will. We have to stand as one against the polluters. This battle is greater than political or economic liberation.
ENGAGED ANTHROPOLOGY AND AFRICATUDE
Engaged anthropology is not separate from the ramifications of africatude (the international movement which replaced negritude) as dealt with in post-negritude Africa, the West Indies, post-civil-rights North America, and South America. We are the same people. The space/time continuum is the same for all people of African ancestry.
A FEELING OF HOPE
The answer to the white Christian monstrosities (slavery, colonization, apartheid, racism) have to be found in one's viscera. Each of us, in his work, and in his life, must try to evoke a feeling of hope and a sense of affinity with the rest of us. The white christian mentality toward us has always been, and is, scary, gothic, and ultrareactionary, anti-everyone and everything that does not fit into their narrow troglodytic band of the spectrum of human possibilities. If it weren't for what we know about them today, and for the pervasively melting pot character of the world's population, there are those who would love to transplant fascim to Africa. The only thing we can oppose to the white christian terror is a new attitude: Do you want to vent your spleen against someone or something? do you want to carry on your polluting work? Do you want to break your weapons against imaginary ogres and your own wives and children? Do it in Europe.
The world of human beings rolls on its unrelentingly perverse fashion. It is thus spiritual discipline to reconcile the need to accept what goes with the need to spit out one's anger and hatred at the evil Western anthropology works upon us. Of course it is metaphysical truth that we turn into the shape of that which we resist, or fight, and we, especially we, Africans, must be very careful in our dealings with Europeans and their descendants. Finding the balance that will keep us whole, and sane, and just, and free, is a subtle Assiko dance, indeed. Acceptance of impermanence, of course, and compassion, while pursuing the [Buddhist] eightfold path is a recipe. And an algorithm. The recipe is simple and takes up just a scrap of paper, while the algorithm takes up a lifetime.
THE NEED FOR A CHANGE OF ATTITUDE
We are in need of attitudinal change, indeed. The problems confronting us, Africans, are so massive and protean in their various manifestations that it does not really matter where we begin. We are bound to go somewhere. If I insist on a critique of knowledge rather than a discourse on or about knowledge, it is simply a suggestion. I do not care who you are (a child, a student or an elder) or what you do (whether you are a medical doctor or an established artist), as long you are eager to help yourself, others, and Africa, are intelligent, somewhat extraverted and have enough life experience not to be dogmatic about anything, engaged anthropology is for you. In this anthropology of liberation I am initiating, I am thinking more about a movement of barefoot anthropologists of the mind. Practice business of liberation, economics of liberation, finances of liberation, law of liberation, journalism of liberation, politics of liberation, and so on.
SEIZING TIME ITSELF
Ever since Khemit, we know that there are solutions to problems. "To every problem, a solution," the elders teach, echoing Khemitic high priests, who also taught that history is (what Aristotle later called) entelechy. But solutions are not equations. They are more like muscles, or poetry, music, or a new nerve pathway that needs to be created not out of the whole cloth, but out of the factitious array of materials that are presented. In this, timing is an important factor, an asset ("le temps est la quatrieme dimension," said Einstein), as well as what I'd call the subterannean Tao which erupts without warning, presenting us with an opportunity for quick changes.
This is the opportunity we have to seize. It is seizing time itself.
CHAPTER 2: BEAUTY AND AESTHETICS
ENGAGED ANTHROPOLOGY: AN AESTHETIC THOUGHT
For beauty is important to us, engaged anthropologists, we shall pay a special attention to aesthectics and good sentiments. In this chapter, we are going to start off with a few exercises to answer our query about Bassa people's aesthetics. They will help us anchor our discussion on beauty.
Exercise 1: What is the Bassa people's idea of beauty? I do not believe that there is a monolithic idea of beauty in the whole of Africa: the Touaregs' notion is clearly different from that of the Khoisane's even though both nations live in desertic regions (the Sahara and the Kalahari). So stop for a moment and explore you own people's idea of beauty.
Exercise 2: Compare the Bassa's idea of beauty with any other Kamerunian or African nation's idea of beauty.
Exercise 3: What, in your nation, is considered a beautiful speech?
BASSA PEOPLE'S IDEA OF BEAUTY
The Bassa are a warlike nation. As a result, the Bassa people's idea of beauty is one of a warlike group. Everything that serves physical beauty is left to the bare minimum.
Because Bassa people are a warlike group, hunters who hunt game. Unkempt and ageless are two traits at the core of male beauty. When facing a lion, you don't worry how your hair looks like. "But in today's world, we make a living working in the office, not hunting elephants and big cats," is the reaction I get when I say this to the young. Very true, but remember that life itself is the mightiest game. All is in the relationship each of us has with self, his activity, and life itself. I have seen Bassa men go to beauty parlors to get their nails manucured. Nothing wrong with grooming. It's simply not the ancestral way. The question is: Aren't they giving too much importance to something that has none? Also don't they prove that they have never explored the Bassa idea of beauty? That they don't know what it is?
A man who hunts elephants and wild cats is, and must be, extremely fit. Because of, or as a result of hunting game, the Bassa man, in his traditional environment, runs long hour, runs fast, and embodies all the qualities of the male. He keeps an ageless body. At 60, he still appears 25.
If anything, Bassa tradition abhors artifice, make-up, superficiality, for it is a distraction and a set back for a warlike people.
The female idea of beauty in the Bassa nation is described in the epic tale titled Ngombi Iliga Ngwang. This man's first wife, Ngo Ditet di Ntomb, as reported in the story, "had eyes like the fish Hitep, teeth as white as pieces of manioc, her waist was as narrow as the monkey Hikambo (baboon), her hip as large as it could be, her feet as firm as Pongo (paddle)."
A Bassa woman must maintain a narrow waist even as she goes through multiple maternities (the average is nine children). For Bassa women to adopt any Western standard of (female) beauty will translate into the end of history for the Bassa nation.
BEAUTY: THE SHORTEST WAY TO KNOWLEDGE
Bassa people insist on Beauty because it's the shortest way to Knowledge. When, in a garden, stop, pick up a rose, and ask yourself: "How was this rose made?" "How?" not "Who?" With that question, the "How?", you are already in the realm of pure knowledge. How was this rose made? Time made it. Four billion years, that is, since this planet operates like a closed vacuum. That's the reason why the Bassa initiator asks thirteen-year-old boys: "If it was up to you, what would you change in this world?" If the boy moves to change anything, he dismisses himself from the compound of the Mbog-Mbog (the elders), for there is nothing to change in this world. Our world is perfect as it is.
Exercise 1: Compare your people's idea of beauty with ancient and modern Europe's idea of beauty, starting with the Greeks. Any Greek statue tells you the ancient Greek's idea of beauty. The modern idea of female beauty in France is Catherine Deneuve; in the USA, it's Marilyn Monroe. Each tells you their culture's idea of beauty.
Exercise 2: If you are an architect, it will help you to explore your people's idea of space management, and structure, and compare it with how the Japanese, for instance, manage space, how they structure plasticity, and how they build their houses. I am sure that in your architecture schools, you explore every imaginable space management of the world, what you are not encouraged to do is to explore your own people's. Start now.
CHAPTER 3: THE BUSINESS OF "ENGAGED ANTHROPOLOGY"
TRUTH IS OUR BUSINESS
To make friends is not the business of "Engaged Anthropology". Actually, the way this discipline is designed, engaged anthropologists will make more enemies than friends. Telling the truth is not what people want to hear most.
Perhaps the pioneers of anthropology--all of them white boys--who conceived this monstrosity which led to slavery, colonialism, the final solution, neo-colonialism, apartheid, and never apologized for it, intended a space where members of a community of intellectuals would be sending flowers to one another. "Hello, Smith, here is Barns, from Leeds. Have you received copy of my latest essay on the Bassa of Cameroon, these savages are just cute, you know?" And Smith, from Houston, Texas, would reply: "Lovely, lovely, I received your work. Lovely, lovely. Thanks very much. I'll send you my opinion by mail as soon as I finish comparing the Bassa to my own little savages, the Shoshoni-White-Knives of Northern Nevada. Lovely, lovely!" For quite some time, anthropological discussions were no better than that. Now here is Nouk Bassomb who comes out of nowhere swinging, trying to raise an army of engaged anthropologists whose role is to correct the mistakes of the white boys' club. I know that most of them are surprised by this move. I'd be the first to admit that some of them don't like it, that they may feel challenged by the daringness of a savage, descendants of the savages they used to study, but also by the level of the debate I bring forth. They won't know what to do of, and with, it. They will simply have to adjust. That's all I can say. It's their problem if the necessary adjustment is not easy.
The business of "Engaged Anthropology" is not to make friends. Shaking hands, giving out smiles and kisses, is not a concern of mine. Actually, as I write this line, "Engaged Anthropology" has more enemies than friends. And that is all right, for this is war.
Slavery was a war waged against Africa, the African people, all humanity. So were colonization, neocolonization, and apartheid. The Nazi's final solution was a war waged against the Jewish people. And all humanity. Racism and the dismissal of African people in all international financial markets is a war waged against Africa and the African people. The assaults of the Western market economy against us is more vicious than ever. A dashiki in North America costs $180, a t-shirt is $3. That's war. A malignant cultural war that kills our ancestal heritage with a slow death. A dashiki in West Africa is 20,000 F CFA, a Sanja Libado is 10,000 FCFA, a t-shirt is 20 F CFA. How can we compete? How can we rebuild the sanctuaries that have been destroyed? Are we going to sit back and not react to save our cultures from death, or are we going to do battle and manifest our presence in the world?
Engaged Anthropology has already answered these questions. A few good men are needed, a few heroes who, heroically, will say: "No matter what, I shall wear the clothes of the native village, use the medicine of the native village, eat the food of the native village, sit on the furniture of the native village, and do research so that I can create, develop, and use the transportation of the native village as soon as possible. I pledge to modernize all the cultural traits and items of the native village, futurize them, and produce them so that they can be competitive in world markets."
This is the culturo-economic battle we face at the turn of this century. If we are going to do battle, we better understand quickly that the logic of war is at play. Our actions must be swift, sound, and capable of repetitiveness. Our targets must be overwhelmed by the spears of the true word and our cost effective consumer products.
If we, formerly enslaved, colonized, neocolonized, and apartheidized people, did not have enemies, an anthropology of liberation would not be necessary. But we do have enemies, quite often even among our friends and our own peoples. That's plenty of enemies. The question is, "What are we going to do with this information that tells us that we have scores of enemies?" We must carry on with our task at hand, which is to develop a methodology, and stick with it.--"Engaged Anthropology" is not an ideology, merely a methodology--that permits us to present rationally the themes and topics we argue, explore, analyse, and investigate them.
Engaged anthropologists do not care to make friends. And we do not care to make enemies. We care to find the truth, and tell it. I'd like to see engaged anthropologists as lovers of the truth. The truth, OUR truth, we shall present. If some are not comfortable with the truth we tell, tough!
I also would like to see engaged anthropologists as warriors of, and for, the truth, warriors not afraid of confrontation, warriors who behave best only in confrontations, warriors who are not out to incite confrontations but who fear neither battle nor death when fighting for the truth, our truth, to come out.
We have two sorts of enemies: The enemy without and the enemy within.
1) THE ENEMY WITHOUT
The enemy without is the slave trader, the slave master, the colonizer, the neocolonizer, the racist. He is easy to spot and targeted. We owe what I'd call le devoir de verite to ourselves, "La chose de quelqu'un: tu vois, tu dis" as Kamerun's street wisdom would put it. This means "When someone does something you find great, say it. Say it just as you see it." For example, if I were a native of France, I'd lobby to have every French citizen name his firstborn male son after General Charles de Gaulle and I'd lobby every French city, town, and hamlet to have a street or a building named after the manly man. But I am not a French person. I happen to be a panafricanist. As such, I advocate that General Charles de Gaulle's name be ERASED from every city, town, and hamlet, and that his name be banned from Africa. To call his people to resist the Nazi invader was beautiful; to balkanize Africa, creating helpless countries incapable of sustaining themselves was ugly. This dog (he used to call his adversaries, including Francois Mitterand and Jacques Marchais, "politichiens") wanted Africa to kneel down so that France would appear taller. That was ugly. In 1962, he exploded a nuclear weapon in the Sahara because he knew that we were helpless, weak, and could do zlich to stop him. Those African people who were newborn babies then, are still suffering today from the effects of that bomb. That was the ultimate ugliness. For these reasons, this name: General Charles de Gaulle, is anathema to panafricanists. We spit on that name, vomit on it, urinate on it, defecate on it. It is so. It is going to be so.
It is not dissipating energy to talk like this. To scold the enemy without is our best weapon. It is spiritual practice. It brings our minds to here and now and helps us stay vigilant and strong. Engaged anthropologists see themselves first and foremost as panafricans and panafricanists. That's where our loyalty lies. [The difference between panafricans and panafricanists is that a panafrican is one with a broad sense of his African self (knowledge without action), and the second, the panafricanist, is one who does work for a borderless Africa.] Africatude (post-negritude) is an important component of our personal identity. Hammering on the enemy without draws us closer to one another and helps us identify most closely with the pan-national ethos of africatude (panafricatude) as the supreme panafrican state-building ideology.
The emerging post-negrism or post-negritude thesis is to see Africa not as a continent with micro-states but as one country, for one people, ONE BLOOD as Rastafarians put it, whatever their cultural background or religious affirmation. Universal values of human beings, especially equality are more important to me than a narrow ideological identity as determined by our traditional nations (Hutu, Igbos, Senufos, Zulus, or Yorubas) or our states (Senegal, Burkina Faso, Gabon, or Kenya) inherited from colonization. Our work is to help all people of African ancestry adopt similar values and identity with the single panafrican ethos of panafricatude. I believe that the creation of some form of single homogeneous society is possible.
Africa's past is important but only inasmuch as we can learn from our mistakes and not repeat them. One (most effective) weapon is the liberative discourse against the enemy without, our common enemy. It helps us stay awake and aware. African Americans say: "We know what time it is." But this discourse cannot mean different things to different people. That is why debate is essential. Debate is democracy, open examination of things. Unless we have that free flow of ideas and opinions, some groups, nations, traditional societies will have greater rights and access to power than others. Being different cannot be seen as being anti-ideological, detrimental to the Panafrican Nation. The one common feature we try to bring forth is that, in the Panafrican Nation, we are equal citizens of a country in which neither the government (to come) nor any other group or nation attempts to impose its own values or national ethos on others. Engaged Anthropology advocates for the right to be different but still equal.
2) THE ENEMY WITHIN
Some members of our own people may not want to hear all that lingo because they have other personal agendas which are closest to the colonialist's. Some Africans profited from slavery, a lot profited from colonialism and apartheid. Some would like to transplant Europe to Africa. They are the enemy within. They are more difficult to spot than the enemy without. They are a brother, a sister, a husband, a wife. When we spot him or her, we are careful not to hit hard, because, justly, he is a brother, a sister. And quite often, we weaken ourselves because of these considerations.
History proves that the enemy without is mightier than we do. He has the power to infiltrate our ranks and before we know it, he has a brother, a sister up against us. We are sleeping with the enemy. We are married to him/her. But this shall not deter us from our task, responsibility, and mission. We are prepared to do battle, using mostly the power of the Verb. And to the brother and the sister on the side of the enemy without, we say: "Step aside. Do not stand in our way toward the liberation of our people."
I told you what Hiyopot did to us in New York but I did not tell you the reaction of Kamerun's freedom fighters against him. Once he returned home, he then truly realized that his block, his street, even his house was filled with fighters more eager than Um Nyobe to rid Kamerun of the colonizer. Who did he turn to for protection when he felt that his life was in danger? Um Nyobe, the very man he was sent to New York to oppose. The Mpodol had to travel to Ngibassas, Hiyopot's neighborhood, and beg the neighborhood's leadership to protect Hiyopot. "People like Hiyopot are opportunities for our liberation movement to show its greatness," he told them. "We ought to show that we can not only live with the Hiyopots in our midst, but also offer them protection."
When a war hits a community, three sorts of people emerge: 1) The warriors (Bagwet-gwet), 2) Those-Who-Run-For-Cover (Basolop), 3) the bystanders (Basoso). Every polemologist will tell you that the latter are those who suffer most. Which side are you on?
But I have to tell you this: if, in the frame of Engaged Anthropology, we lose a brother or a sister whom we perceive as the enemy within, we have not lost much. It's best to have one true brother or sister who does understand what we are trying to do and wants to do battle for what he believes in because he holds his beliefs to be true than have a million brothers and sisters who are (consciously or not) on the side of the enemy. We don't need that.
The mistake some of us make is that we do not understand that the logic of Engaged Anthropology is a logic of war. And that one of your students, your secretary, your wife or husband, your best friend, is (already) an engaged anthropologist. When he reads your work or simply hear you talk nonsense, a taste of murder fills up his mouth.
I beg those of you who support this discipline because you are inspired by it to PROTECT those I, you, we, perceive as ultrareactionary. We have to prove that we are mature enough to be democratic, fair debaters who can give as well as take punches, that we may not love the enemies within but we are strong enough to live with them and protect them. Our enemies will not win unless we hate them. The moment we start hating them, that very moment, we start destoying ourselves. To hate, great warriors counter with mercy and compassion.
Those who fought Um Nyobe, Mumie and Ouandie, never benefitted from their actions. History did not and will not absolve them. French people say, "Un homme meurt comme il a vecu." Ahidjo's end was lamentable, as you all know. He died outside of the country because he had truly never lived in Kamerun. And his name will go down in history as one who deceived his people till the end.
The deceiver always gets a just retribution for his deception. Cunningly, the biblical Jacob the scholar posed as Esau the hunter and received the blessings from a blind father. But, he also received measure for measure punishment for his deception: 1) he felt forced to escape his father's righteous indignation and his brother's unremitting wrath; 2) The man who gave him refuge, his maternal uncle Laban, took advantage of him day after day. For example, Jacob worked seven years without renumeration to marry Rachel but Laban fools him by substituting the weak-eyed older Leah for the prettier and beloved younger Rachel. Laban's deception took place at night, when Jacob was unable to distinguish between Leah and Rachel; 3) the sons of Jacob barter away their brother Joseph, Jacob's most beloved child; 4) Toward the end of his life, Joseph deceives his father and brothers and causes them to bow down before one whom they believe was Egypt's vice-king.
There is nothing new under the sun. The fruits of deception are deeper acts of deception. Engaged anthropologists will stay away from that.
Exercise 1: Explore debate in your people. How do your people debate? Who has the right to debate? What is the procedure? In a debate, what's the elders's role? What's women's role? Can twelve-year-old children enter a village meeting and voice their opinions freely?
The task at hand is to reclaim our history, our cultures, and the roles they have played at every level of the human parade. In doing so, please do not underestimate your adversaries. Western scholars still doubt that an African people built the Great Pyramid of Cheops. It is still easier for them to believe that Great Zimbabwe was build by Martians coming from outer space. It is not that what they think is a matter of concern to me. You see, I not only believe that my ancestors built the Great Pyramid of Cheos, Great Zimbabwe, and developed Timbuktu, the first center of high learning while Europe was still wallowing in the dark ages, but I do believe that everything my ancestors did, I can do again. I shall do again. We are going to build other Cheops, other Zimbabwes, other Tiumbuktus. That is our agenda. African engaged anthropologists do not fight for Africa's future. We fight so that Africa may have a future, a future built by Africans. For Africans. With difficulty, certainly. But with heroism. I need all engaged anthropologists to remember who they are dealing with. Men and women who have the advantage of over two centuries of history writing, fallacious writings indeed, but writings and teachings nevertheless. When others teach fallacies about you and you do not reply, they stick. You are the one who misses out. Engaged anthropologists are out to set the record straigth.
It is a necessity for us to set the record staight because the Africa we are building MUST be beautiful. For that reason, in the beginning of this essay, I have asked that you stop a moment and explore your people's idea of beauty. My own people, the Bassa, believe that the exploration of Beauty (Lama) is the shortest way to Knowledge (Yi) and the Knowing (Sonda). The way to the Knowing (Lisondana) trots through the how, not the who? When you pick up a rose, you access the knowing faster by asking "How was this rose made?" not "Who made this rose?" When you inquire about the "who", you dismiss yourself from the Knowing.
In our dealings with Western anthropologists, what will make the difference is how we debate. We have to be good debaters if we want to fight this fight.
We have to prove that we are strong and tough enough to debate the strongest and toughest debators of the world.
Debaters, like soccer or basketball players, enter a field or a court to compete hard so that they may win the game. To win is what matters, not a mere participation.
They know that they are going to hit and be hit, sometimes under the belt. Quite often, if you deal with experienced debaters, you will not even know what hit you as you exit the field on a stretcher. Be prepared for that. Be fit. Ask questions. Gather your evidence and present them. Create doubt and uncertainty in your opponent's mind. Get him to lose his temper. Never lose your own temper. You will not debate well, no matter how fit you are, if you ever lose your temper. If your adversary is experienced, getting you off-guard, so that you may lose your temper is exactly what he wishes to achieve.
For instance, when I say to a white anthropologist doing fieldwork in Africa that "he is an interloper" or that "Africa is not a plantation", I know that I'm giving him a low blow. I know very well that he is going to suffocate and before he catches his breath back, that debate is over. When in other instances I say that in twenty years of anthropology, I have never met a white anthropologist who is neither paternalistic nor racist, I not only know what I am doing, I know the effect those words are going to have, and what I wish to achieve in saying them. I usually do. The truth of the matter is that, for us to reclaim our history and our cultures' places in the concert of nations is not a battle non-professionals are going to win.
BRINGING THE AFRICAN PERSPECTIVE TO THE STUDY OF MAN
The time has come to bring our conception of the world into the classroom and teach it, if only to African students. If we believe that we, human beings, are parts, and partners of everything that is, not masters, we want to be able to counter an anthropology which stands as center and master of the world. We want to talk for ourselves. We are better equipped to study ourselves, our peoples, our ways and means, our forms of expression and present to the world.