Is Traditional Knowledge Relevant To Our Survival?

By Zulumathabo Zulu © 2015

The first question is what is the problem? Why should we care about the traditional knowledge of some village society when Western Civilization is making our life easier and more convenient? The fact is that the academic education is not and can never be a foundation. It must build on a pre-existing foundation, which is who you are in terms of your cultural roots as a human being in society. If you are not sure of your African roots or have a lingering sense of disdain towards who you are as a human being then academic education is only going to give you the material skills to survive in a materially competitive world but will not give you what you don’t have or cure you of the curse of disdain towards one’s African roots. Moreover, the fundamental problem is that we are a colonially defeated people in the words of the Xhosa Prince Meligqili who spoke during the graduation ceremony of the Xhosa initiation school in which Nelson Mandela was one of the graduates as reported in his legendary book Long Walk To Freedom. Here is the excerpt of the speech by Prince Meligqili:

There sit your sons, young, healthy and handsome, the flower of the Xhosa tribe, the pride of our nation. We have just circumcised them in a ritual that promises them manhood, but I am here to tell you that it is an empty, illusory promise, a promise that can never be fulfilled. For we Xhosa, and all Black South Africans, are a conquered people. We are slaves in our own country. We are tenants on our own soil. We have no strength, no power, no control over our own destiny in the land of our birth. They will go to cities where they will live in shacks and drink cheap alcohol, all because we have no land to give them where they could prosper and multiply. They will cough their lungs out deep in the bowels of the White man’s mines, destroying their health, never seeing the sun, so that the White man can have a life of unequalled prosperity. Among these young men are Chiefs who will never rule because we have no power to govern ourselves; soldiers who will never fight for we have no weapons to fight with; scholars who will never teach because we have no place for them to study. The abilities, the intelligence, the promise of these young men will be squandered in their attempt to eke out a living doing the simplest, most mindless chores for the White man. These gifts today are naught, for we cannot give them the greatest gift of all, which is freedom and independence. I well know that Qamata is all-seeing and never sleeps, but I have a suspicion that Qamata may in fact be dozing. If this is the case, the sooner I die the better because then I can meet him and shake him awake and tell him that the children of Ngubengcuku, the flower of the Xhosa nation, are dying.” From the book Long Walk To Freedom by Nelson Mandela.

To tackle these questions of relevance with respect to indigenous knowledge in terms of our survival as a people we only have to look at our society and see the gut wrenching instances of moral decay. The African has lost a sense of pride and has departed from the African values of mutual respect, honour of the elders and the spirit of ubuntu. To address these questions, let us consider the case of a small animal the African mongoose. One of the stories narrated to me in the village was that the mongoose was like any other ordinary mouse that used to wind up inside the stomach of the snake known as masumu. The mongoose society was not happy with this kind of a brutal situation in being an easy meal for masumu.

One day the mongoose society sent a delegation for an urgent meeting with the creator that some innovative solution was needed to give the mongoose a survival advantage over masumu. Some survival improvements needed to be made in order to reverse this state of proverbial defeat by the ferocious snake. The following is the conversation between the mongoose and the creator already in progress.

CONVERSATION WITH THE CREATOR

The creator: “Why is this a problem?”

The mongoose: “I am your humble creation. I am here to fulfill my design goals in raising a family, contributing to my society and paying tribute to my creator. Masumu stands in the way of that tribute. Moreover, what do I teach my children? That they will always become a meal for masumu? What glory is there for them if their only destiny is to wind up inside the stomach of a ruthless serpent?”

The creator: “What do you want me to do?”

The mongoose: “Give me the guts to face masumu. Give me the speed of a lightening so that I can strike at him like a lightening flash!”

The creator: “Is this a serious request?”

The mongoose: “I wouldn’t be making this earnest submission to my creator if I had no iota of genuine belief in your ability to give me the power I need to defeat my adversary.”

The creator: “Since you truly believe in your request, so it shall be.”

The mongoose was pleased with the interaction as she thanked the creator and turned to return to the mongoose society. As she was about to take off, the creator called the mongoose back to the negotiation table.

The creator: “You know it’s not easy fighting masumu because his teeth are like a mean-spirited syringe that injects poison into living flesh. The venom is digestive as it begins to digest the internals of the flesh resulting in excessive hemorrhage. What is going to happen to you when he injects his lethal fangs into your body?”

The mongoose: “I don’t want to succumb to his lethal dose. Please give me the molecular ability to resist his deadly saliva.”

The creator: “I shall make you into a biologically advanced form of life. From now on, you shall command unbounded audacity to face those who seek to destroy your way of life. You shall have the resourcefulness and wherewithal to destroy their evil crown.”

It didn’t take too long afterwards when the two mongoose siblings faced off with a ferocious masumu. The snake lifted more than half of its body off the ground and inflated its heart-throbbing hood while flicking its forked tongue sending an unequivocal message to the mongoose siblings that masumu meant serious business.

An older mongoose said to the other: “Let me take him on. You must stand, watch and analyse the fight. If I get killed as a result of my forced errors, you must correct those mistakes and defeat him. It’s only when we attain an outright victory over masumu that our society shall rise like an unconquerable battalion facing the future with pride.”

In the ensuing fight, masumu injected his lethal venom into the body of the mongoose. He got dazed by the venom and staggered to the ground. The younger mongoose charged at the snake. Like a lightening flash, she attacked the head of the snake and destroyed it with extreme aggression and thereafter dragged it to the den where other mongoose family members awaited them. The older mongoose recovered from the venom and soon arrived at the den.

This was the day when  the mongoose became the architect of his destiny. Today the mongoose has no fear of any snake. In fact the younger mongoose noticed that even though the snake seemed to be having a terrifying strike speed, the speed was not fast enough and could be broken if the mongoose improved his attack speed like a lightening strike. Thus the mongoose became like a giant mouse that killed and ate the snake.

This teaches us that the state of colonial conquest is not natural and must not arrest our creative minds and prevent our creative juices from flowing. We can regain the sovereignty that was cruelly robbed from our foremothers and forefathers. As the sons and daughters of the African soil we have it within us to succeed provided we know who we are and where we are going. This is where the power of indigenous knowledge comes in. It’s relevant to our survival requirements. If the mongoose had decided to go to the snake school to learn how to progress in life like snakes do it would never have arrived at its evolutionary revelation and understanding that it was feasible to conquer the awe inspiring snake. The snake school would have taught the mongoose children to be cognizant and accepting of a master servant relationship between itself and the mongoose. The mongoose had to learn these revolutionary ideas from the mongoose knowledge system. Learning the ropes from the ancestors gives the new generation the intellectual fighting sticks to reclaim and regain our sovereignty in order to become the architects of our own destiny.

This excerpt from The Indigenous Knowledge of the Village.

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