Sex and Romance in African Traditional Religion
The following article arose out of a thread on the newsgroup alt.religion.orisha, in which the original poster (pen named "Bucephalus"), sought help with respect to a paper he was writing, on African religion's conception of romantic love, within Cambridge University's History Department. He was seeking, he said, to tie up a few "bibliographic loose ends." At the point where I jumped in to the discussion, it was clear that he, and the group, including another poster, Catherine Yronwode, needed to be set straight on more basic starting assumptions, for example: that in traditional African religion the issue of love was the entirely pragmatic one of obtaining sex from, or power over, another; and that in traditional African culture, women are subjugated ... a commodity to be bought and sold, therefore not to be treasured, nor yearned for, as in the allegedly contrasting European romantic tradition. I took issue with these starting assumptions. Hence this contribution, which I think is substantial enough to stand on its own as a separate article suitable for publication here on Africans Unbound.
After a long hiatus from writing, during which a lot has happened in my life, it seems a good way also to get the ball rolling again.
Oh... and the bombastic Shabba Ranks (see picture), the reggae dance-hall singer, enters as a romantic icon, by equation with King Solomon, he of the biblical Song of Solomon ("I am black and handsome, o ye daughters of Jerusalem"), as they both represent the long-standing African tradition of seduction through song, of which the European troubadour is but a pale, and less successful (hence all the pining, allegedly romantic) imitation. I could have put Barry White, or a score of others, but I choose Shabba, who by his own description, is as "raw as ever". Moreover, I can see him singing the Song of Solomon, as fine an expression of (romantic?) lust as may be found anywhere.
+---------------------------------------------------------------- |catherine yronwode wrote: |> |> Bucephalus wrote: |> > |> > catherine yronwode <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote: |> > |> > > Bucephalus wrote: |> > > > |> > > > I'm writing a paper as part of Cambridge University's History |> > > > department and am at a few bibliographical loose ends, |> > > > particular regarding African religion's conception of romantic |> > > > love. | |African religion has a fully grown and articulated conception of *love* |that is grounded in *reality*, ie. the reality of who we are as Man and |Spirit and why we walk the earth in any particular incarnation. For a |good exposition, see 1) Ra Un Nefer Amen, "An Afrocentric Guide to |Spiritual Union", and 2) ___, "Metu Neter, vol. I". This |African-centered conception may or may not bear some resemblance to |"romantic love"; it is hard to say, since Bucephalus has not said what |his understanding of the term is. It is important to define terms for |discussions such as this. European renditions of "history" and |"anthropology" and "religion" are notorious for taking off from |conceptually ill-defined or undefined points of departure (for example |the notions of "civilization" and "paganism" to cite just two) that lead |to all manner of nonsense dressed up in fake finery. If Bucephalus is |serious, he would add to his list of readings 3) Marimba Ani, "Yurugu: |An African-Centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior", |for a good exposition of European intellectual pretension, and often |outright deceit, when it comes to comparative cultural analysis such as |Bucephalus is engaged in here. | |> > > > ..................Aside from versions of Oshun/Osun, the entire |> > > > religious mythology seems devoid of love stories; likewise, the number of |> > > > 'love spells' to trap men/women in relationships also points at |> > > > a decentralised, self-centred and almost entirely pragmatic |> > > > conception of romance as being nothing more than a path to |> > > > power or sex. | |The religious mythology of the African understands very clearly the |notion of *love*. The "conception of romance" (European, allegedly), as |so far undefined for purposes of this discussion, may be another matter, |although I very much doubt it. When the notion of "romance" is broken |down, I think one would find that sex, either engaged in or longed for, |is a large part. For example, does "Lady Chatterley's lover" qualify as |"romance" in this thus-far undefined European sense? For certain, pure |sexual expression is well known to African religious concepts, and in |fact at a level of sophistication that sees multiple deities involved |for its full delineation -- at minimum Het-Heru, Herukhuti, and Heru in |a Kemetic elaboration, or their Yoruba correspondences Oshun, Ogun, and |Shango. One also could look to the so-called Song of Solomon in the |Bible, which is as fine an expression of lust as one could find |anywhere, and which moreover would come close I think to any viable |definition of the thus-far undefined concept of "romance" (European). I |say so-called in reference to the Song of Solomon because there is |plenty of evidence to support the claim that the Song of Solomon is |really a plagiarism, and the true author(s) are Kemetic, therefore |African (see 4) Nana Banchie Darkwah, "The Africans who wrote the |Bible"; see also 5) Gary Greenberg, "The Moses Mystery: The African |Origin of the Jewish People"). | |(( cuts )) |> |> I wasn't offended. What i was tryong to dig for was your own definition |> of "romantic." To me the word -- with its root in the roman or tale is a |> form of expression more than a definition of an emotion. I believe the |> emotion can be simulated quite easily through the ingestion of |> phenyethylamine -- but the form that empotion takes -- the |> characteristic pining and obsession of European romantic love, is a |> cultural behaviour-set. In other words, i think that Africans also are |> affected by phenyethylamine, but the way they express the effect in |> terms of self-description or story-telling will not follow European |> models. |> |> > More that, because of polygamy and (in the past) subjugation of |> > women, the ideal of 'one true love' seems to never have naturally |> > sprung up as an important part of African culture. | |So, the ideal(?) of "one true love" is part of the definition of |"romance" (European). How does that square with the romantic(?) legends |of Don Juan, the lover of many women, or of Tom Jones? Perhaps they were |on a prolonged search for the "one true love"? It might be that polygamy |is better grounded in the reality of human nature, and perhaps women are |better served by a polygamous and faithful husband, than a serial |monogamist, or compulsive womanizer. If so, then perhaps "romance" |(European) is no ideal at all, in which case, why lament its absence in |African "culture" (earlier it was "religion", btw -- Bucephalus should |make up his mind). | |As to the subjugation of women, this is certainly a false premise. |European pedestalization of women is no yardstick from which to judge |traditional African treatment of women to be wanting by comparison. In |the first place, the pedestalization of women in Europe is a fakery that |masks what is instead *European* subjugation of women. "Women's lib" is |after all a European and Euro-American invention; there would be no need |for lib if there weren't subjugation. Still today, as one small example, |European women are barred from the priesthood. By contrast, it is |impossible for anyone who has seen traditional African religion from the |inside, to suggest the subjugation of women: they not only dominate ATR |priesthood, they have an exalted place within it guaranteed by the |Iyami, which any disrespecter of women soon learns. Culturally as well, |traditional African women have dominated the marketplace, and a |matrilineal rule of succession and inheritance has been the norm. |Politically, women in African traditional society have usually served in |a *constitutional* role, with the Queen Mother playing a major part in |the selection of the king. The matter is complicated (see for example |http://www.theafrican.com/Magazine/Asili/55.htm and 6) Chancellor |Williams, "The Destruction of African Civilization" on the traditional |African "Constitution"), but it is simply incorrect (as well as bad |scholarship) to assert blithely that women have been subjugated in |traditional African culture. | |> Yes, this is an important part of the picture! The troubadour or |> minnesinger was a man of lower social status than the usually-married |> upper-class woman he pined for. In other words, her class stauts was |> part of the package with regard to romantic love. | |I suspect there is a story here that is not told. There has always been |an African tradition of seduction through song, and I suspect that that |tradition was transmitted to Europe from Africa, likely through the |Moors or the Greeks, or both. Some of that tradition we see in the Song |of Solomon of the bible already referred to: "I am black and handsome, o |daughters of Jerusalem...", which has shades of Shabba about it. One of |my Kongo teachers of African traditional religion told me about a |tradition in which some men could bring a woman to orgasm by song alone. |I think it is that tradition that continues with such popular singers as |Shabba, the reggae dance-hall singer, and Barry White, the R&B singer. |Whoever wrote, and no doubt sang, the original "Song of Solomon" is of |the same tradition. My suspicion is that the European tradition of the |mediaeval troubador, pining for unrequited "romantic" love, is but a |pale imitation of the earlier, lustier, (and more requited) African |tradition. Certainly, not only teeny-boppers, but grown women can be |made to drop their drawers for a sufficiently sweet song, well enough |rendered. The failure of the European troubador in that respect is no |reason to exalt that tradition into some sort of fake ideal. From the |African perspective, the proper response, as always, is to "get real!". |Take some lessons from Shabba if necessary. Or learn from the |(liberated) European women who would much rather be made to drop their |drawers from the sheer seductive power of a song (they descend on the |Caribbean in droves every year seeking to do just that), than to be |pedestalized by some fake troubador who can pine unrequited till thy |kingdom come, but can't otherwise cut the mustard. Come to think of it, |Elvis Presley and Mick Jagger got the idea... | |> If wives can be purchased, and in multitude at that, there is little |> left to long for. | |See the movie "Kama Sutra". Here was a king who could have (almost) any |woman he wanted, certainly any courtesan he wanted. Yet the one woman |whose *heart* he wanted, he could not have. With disastrous consequences |for her lover, btw... | |> One Northern African / Middle Eastern tale presents us with tentative |> gestures of romantic longing. It is told in the Bible (Book of Genesis, |> Chapter 29), and is the story of Jacob, who worked seven years to earn |> Rachel as his bride and was then the victim of a bait-and-switch scam by |> his prospective father-in-law, who substituted her sister Leah instead |> -- causing Jacob to work another seven years to get Rachel, whom he |> really loved. The implication is that *something* motivated Jacob's |> heroic act of self-sacrifice to achieve his love-goal, but the story |> never flatly comes out and says that, does it? And it is not Sub-Saharan |> African, anyway, although the links between ancient Jews and ancient |> Africans are genetically and culturally sound. | |"Sub-Saharan"? That is another one of those European conceptions that is |devoid of real meaning. The African people who are called "sub-Saharan" |today are the same Africans who populated not only the Nile Valley |during the Old Kingdom (take a look at the profile of the Sphinx, for |God's sake!, or of the bust of Narmer, the first Pharaoh of the first |dynasty) but as far away as Japan, and indeed as far away as Tasmania in |the South Pacific. The genetically proven cousins of the European Jew |are a "sub-Saharan" (Bantu) people, the Lemba of southern Africa. And in |"The Africans who Wrote the Bible", Darkwah argues convincingly that the |Jews of Europe originated from a mixed "multitude" of African tribes |that seceded in the famous "Exodus" from Ancient Egypt, and that the |so-called "lost" tribes went into inner Africa. Some of those are the |Akan, a "sub-Saharan" people found in today's Ghana. They still enjoy |matzoh, though by the name "matsa". Many of their religious practices |are right out of Leviticus. And many Jewish family names are clearly |Akan, for example, Netanyahu (the name of a former Israeli Prime |Minister) is a combination of two Akan names, Netey and Nyaho. The |Jewish patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Esau are also Akan names, |rendered in today's orthography respectively as "Abre ham", "Sakyi", |"Gyakobo", and "Sau". And no, the Jews were not originally white, or |even "semitic", before going into inner Africa to become African. They |were originally black African, and laer became white through |inter-mingling in Europe. The entire biblical cast of characters |referred to in the Old Testament were black African, including Joseph |(Osafo in Akan), Jesus (Ayesu in Akan) and Mary, no different from |today's so-called "sub-Saharan" African. | |> > Of course, most of my reading on |> > the subject has been from British anthropologists who may have |> > moulded evidence to fit what they hoped to find - I'd like to think |> > I'm at too early a stage in my research to fall into that trap, but |> > I see your concerns. |> |> It's a trap -- at least you are aware of it, and that's the best you can |> do, given the nature of the evidence gathered in the past. |> | |(( cuts )) | |> No problem -- i find this subject of yours -- romantic love in African |> materials -- to be of interest, despite (or perhaps because of) its |> scarcity. | |It is a fake ideal, to all appearances spurned even by those who would |be its beneficiaries, namely Euro women. | |> cat yronwode | |Peace, |Grisso |[trying to "keep it real"} +-------------------------------------------------------------
Email address: grisso@TheAfrican.Com.