Nahanotsebo – African Theory of Knowledge – Part II

By Zulumathabo Zulu © 2015

Nahanotsebo – African Theory of Knowledge – Part I

In the previous article Nahanotsebo – African Theory of Knowledge – Part I, we discussed the idea as per the historical version of the English colonizers that when they arrived in South Africa, our African ancestors did not know how to read and write. They were taught reading and writing by the English colonizers and missionaries and what they are referring to is the alphabet i.e. a,b,c…z. We pointed out that nothing could be further from the truth because the African natives in South Africa possessed a writing tradition known as Ditema Tsa Basotho. It is just that Ditema Tsa Basotho is innovatively different from the writing of the alphabet. In fact, Ditema Tsa Basotho is a logosyllabric system of writing and not an alphabetic system something that requires its own devoted article.

In that article, we mentioned that the English were bragging about something that did not belong to them; the writing system is the Latin alphabet brought to England by the Roman invaders under the Romanship of the great Emperor Septimius Severus. The interesting fact is that Emperor Severus was an African born in Africa and had risen through the ranks to command the army of Rome and eventually ascended to the highest office as an Emperor. So, not only did the Romans invade England but they also taught the English how to read and write because the English did not have a writing system since they had not invented a writing script. Thus by extension, the English were taught how to read and write by the Africans.

In the same article, we had outlined three concepts namely (1) acquiring knowledge, (2) sourcing knowledge and (3) rehearsing knowledge. We referred to the source of
knowledge which needed to be preserved. We mentioned the access to knowledge as the critical thing to preserve. In the preservation of knowledge, we outlined two concepts namely (1) the source and (2) rehearsal of knowledge. Now, we proceed with the rehearsal of knowledge.

Rehearsal of Knowledge

In this article, we focus attention on the rehearsal of knowledge. To benefit from the rehearsal of knowledge, we need three things namely (1) practice of knowledge, rehearsal of knowledge and frequency of language use.

Ketsahatso ya Tsebo (Practice of Knowledge)

The Sesotho construct Ketsahatso means to bring something into existence by application. Hoetsahatsa; an infinitive which initiates the existence of something by virtue of consistent practice. This is a goal oriented frequency of language use. This frequency preserves the language through usage. You may be a practitioner in any knowledge domain but the frequency of language use by application is extremely important as a strategic part of knowledge preservation. This is also good for the lexis, syntax and morphology of language.

The vital part of language preservation is access to the land. Through technological innovations, the lexis and morphology of language grow. The syntax of language is usually stable whereas the lexis and morphology must adapt to the requirements of politics, economics and technology.

Indigenous technological practices like pottery, metallurgy, agriculture and others nurture the growth and sophistication of language. If you deny access to the land that also spells demise to the language. If a traditional surgeon goes and digs medicine plants, a police force will prevent and even throw her in jail for trespassing. This is traumatic enough to discourage her from practicing her cultural knowledge. That prohibition will be passed on to the next generation; a tragic case of colonial conquest.

Kwetliso ya Tsebo (Rehearsal of Knowledge)

Knowledge must be kept alive. The best system for keeping knowledge alive is oral tradition. Oral tradition is dynamic and is the most adaptable cultural practice. You must rehearse the knowledge. This is where oral tradition succeeds over a literary tradition.

Oral tradition trumps writing in terms of the substance of knowledge. Writing platforms like Facebook allow you to write what you want and feel like sharing. The problem is that most of the Facebook pages are filled with trivialities. Conversely, oral tradition does not permit for trivialities.

In a literary tradition, you can write something down and shelve the writing. It will collect dust. In an oral tradition, you deliver a narrative and every time you make the rendition, the narrative comes alive.

Human brain likes rehearsal. This is because rehearsal tells the brain that the narrative is extremely important. Thus, the narrative strengthens and creates new synaptic connections and new neural pathways. If anything, you must rehearse the narrative because it is good for your brain.

Midiso ya Tsebo (Production of Knowledge)

Midiso refers to the nursery and birthing of new knowledge. This epistemic concept comes from the fact that Basotho always associate breastfeeding with knowledge acquisition. The axiom “Haba saenyanya, ke lefela la mafela” meaning if they did not acquire knowledge through breastfeeding, it is all in vain. It is interesting to note that breastfeeding is a powerful case of analogical reasoning because breastfeeding is a special case of gradual and gentle introduction to knowledge.

There are many ways of producing knowledge. Exploration generates new knowledge. Experimentation creates new knowledge. Critique of knowledge creates new knowledge. Technological innovation creates new knowledge. Looking at the same knowledge from a new paradigm creates new knowledge. Whatever the avenue of knowledge pursuit, there is always an opportunity to produce new knowledge.

To be continued…

2 thoughts on “Nahanotsebo – African Theory of Knowledge – Part II

  1. For the past few weeks I was teaching my under-graduate students that the ditema in Sesotho means paragraphs, verses or stanza in English; and these can be seen as patterns on mats, pottery and walls. Your preceding article and the present one dispelled the myth that Africans never had a writing system until the colonizers and missionaries arrived.


    1. Dear Professor Selepe,

      Thank you for sharing your revolutionary teaching methods with your university students. It is gratifying to know that there are scholars like you who teach the correct history and knowledge to the students that the Basotho, like other Africans, possess indigenous writing scripts. As discussed in the article you refer to as well as the Power FM Interview along with Dr. Makhosi Khoza, we show that the Africans have more than twenty writing systems while the English do not have a writing script because they never invented one.

      Siyabonga kakhulu


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