There has been a huge debate by others more lettered than yours truly on what constitutes African philosophy and going far as to ask whether such a description is even necessary, arguing for example, that there is no African math or chemistry or physics. You get the drift. I am not going to concern myself with that question here. Anyone interested in the discussions around it can look for works by Wiredi, Masolo, Odera Oruka, Oriare Nyarwath, Alexis Kagame, Lucius Outlaw and many others.
In his book, Sage Philosophy, Odera Oruka interviewed people he considered sages and transcribed their views on many subjects. In this post, I concern myself only with their views on death and god(s).
One saw death as a good because through natural attrition, space is created for others and thus avoiding overpopulation (I wish he read population data- there are more births than deaths p.a, at least in Kenya). He also believed that we are all part of one universal soul that is called god. Further, he says god is one except each people have their own name for god. This sage also said we all speak different languages because if we had one tongue, we would see ourselves superior to god- tower of Babel anyone?
There is, I think, Christian influence in the ideas of this next sage. For example he says about death being good because it is the work of god and further he believes in an afterlife arguing that to die is to be called by god.
Death is the end of man, says our next sage. And it is an evil. He goes so far as to say had we the power to evade death, we would. We try to put off our death through use of medicine and all. God exists as thought and does not have forms (Christians, Judaists and Muslims you have your work set out for you to explain how we are made in the image of god). There is a contradiction however because the same sage argues that god created the sun.
God belongs to the whole world and should not be worshiped everyday or every Friday/Saturday or Sunday as Muslims, Jews and Christians do but should be worshiped occasionally and for special reasons.
God exists because people talk about it. God is one and belongs to all people otherwise we would see discrimination in the distribution of such natural gifts as rain and sunshine (and earthquakes and tsunamis). This mzee’s idea of death is what I loved the most. I will quote
Many people argue that life is good and the better of the two. It is in living that mankind multiplies itself. And as we said earlier on, it is in life that man realizes himself as man. But I think that death is of greater gain. Death is eternal and everlasting in its nature. While life is a short-term process with an inevitable deadline and doomsday, death is a permanent state. In death, there is a completeness of being.
God is one for all people but should be worshiped occasionally when there is need. Peris adds that we each experience and interpret god in our own ways.
Simiyu Chaungo argued that death is neither good not bad. You have no choice on the matter, whether you want it or not, you die. He believed in the existence of a god and further that god could be the sun given that the sun shines its light everywhere. On religions, he said there is just some little truth in them but not much.
Mzee Oruka Rang’inya argued it is quite wrong to personalize god. It is an idea, a useful idea. To him, god represents the idea of goodness itself and to this end, it is useful as a concept. He believed that secularists were not right thinking people for religion had practical utility. Death is like how a farmer thins his maize farm. It gives the younger generation more scope and opportunity to develop themselves. The idea of heaven is fictitious. Upon death, life of man ceases.
To Mzee Kithanje believed there is one god for everyone and that the idea of many religions doesn’t make sense. God is like warmth and cold that brings life. He believed that the sperm of a man was hot and the ovum cold and the fusion of the two brings forth life, so is god.
Ker Mbuya Akoko said the Luo regarded Nyasaye as omnipresent and it is the white people who brought fragmentation into religion by bringing different denominations. He further says the Luo were wrong in thinking their Nyasaye was different from the god of the white people. He argues that their is one god because if there were many gods, there would be chaos resulting from each god pulling in different directions (I think he was not acquainted with Greek mythology).
And lastly Chaungo Barasa on the other hand argued that without man, there would be no god. He sees god as a filler for our ignorance. He says, and I quote
We do not have a particular entity, an external being called god. God then is a substitute for what is beyond mind (ignorance if you like. My emphasis). That is, if man were to pursue and realize the state of intellectual perfection, the mystery of god would be revealed.
I don’t know about you, but I did find the ideas of these men and women quite interesting to say the least. That some of them seem to question the existence of god as a physical being or entirely makes the argument put forth by the Late Canon Mbiti in African Religions and Philosophy that the African is deeply religious and where he is there is religion not entirely true. It would be of great intellectual interest if such interviews were conducted in the rest of Africa though I think we are time barred.
Happy Saturday everyone, free of the gods and fear of death,