The NTU: an African notion of... being

Today we Africans must acknowledge the existence of our duality, the nature of which is unique and distinct from all others or we risk confusing the mode of our existence with the content of our being. On one level our mode of existence is determined by the dominant culture, which is of course Western. Western culture dominates and dictates almost entirely the form of our day-to-day existence, and is the standard by which all behaviour is judged. To be a detribalised educated African is to be steeped in the Greco-Roman classical tradition with its over emphasis on intellect and reason, at the expense of instinct and intuition. However beneath our Western educated self is concealed that other/innermost self which remains essentially African; the “self” is described as: one’s own individual personality, and identity, as distinct from those of others.
This hidden quality of African-ness I believe lies behind the various forms we are compelled to take on in order to survive. It is the very substance of our being and is often at variance with the norms and standards that are set by the dominant culture, which often lead to pathological states of conflict within us. Our use of norms evolved by Europeans to satisfy their evolutionary needs does not mean we are Europeans and so we lack any clear sense of direction because of the blurring of the boundaries between the European mode and our true African nature.

In our confusion some of us argue that we should reject all European values absolutely, arguing that if necessary we should “reinvent the wheel.” Others have argued that humans have always made use of the products of other people’s creations and inventions; and that we Africans are no exception to that rule. For example the ancient Chinese invented gunpowder, paper and the printing press, the ancient Egyptians the sciences and some forty thousand years ago iron was being smelted by black Africans; all of which happened while Europe was still in a prehistoric dark age; Europe however has built a great civilization upon the achievements of those ancients.

We Africans are a people endowed with a unique quality that some describe as spiritual. This spirituality is able to transmute whatever it is fused with and transforms it, turning it into something new and uniquely African. This quality is perceived by many Africans as a unique manifestation of universal cosmic intelligence, or life force; that which is the essence of all things.

This essential being is known as the Ntu by the Bantu peoples of Eastern and Central Africa and as Ase by the Yorubas of Nigeria. Way back in the distant mists of time their forefathers must have muted the question which inevitably led them, like all other humans, to the idea of a supreme being. Within this super being they reasoned, lay the reason for all that exists and the answers to all the questions about this universe in which they were but a microcosm. They named themselves Bantus or the human manifestation of the great Ntu.

All things animate or inanimate were like themselves mere manifestations of this cosmic force and had the same relationship to it. They understood the interdependent nature of all within the universe, seeing all as having equal purpose and usefulness. This African ancestral understanding of our relationship to the universe still exists in spite of the influence of alien concepts that have been imposed upon it. It survives within the core of our day-to-day alien existence, and in some inexplicable way is able to break through the surface to guide us. It can be heard in the timbre of our voices, and no matter what alien tongue we adopt, it can be heard in our speech, in our songs and dances, in the music we play; it is the way we perceive and worship, whether through adopted religions or through our own traditional forms.

The Ntu may be found if you peel away the veneer of Black Christianity and look beneath, it can be found lurking in the consciousness of the possessed hallelujah shouter as he falls to the ground speaking in unknown tongues and at the heart of the Egyptian mysteries where it accumulated on its endless annual journeys down the Nile from the heart of Africa. The Ntu has been buried beneath centuries of deliberate lies whose intentions were to debase the African. This conspiracy is part of a racist ideology that says that Africans are incapable of any worthwhile philosophical/belief system; they lack the ability to evolve something as complex as religion. But this is the same race of people who produced Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Charlie Parker, whose music had at its core the spiritual essence of that supposedly dumb African.

3rd June 1990