The other day I wrote a blog post about the things African Americans need to know. The post that had a couple of comments by an acquaintance that we later took offline and that led to a conversation about slavery. The more I thought about our conversation, the more I felt that more people should realise that, in my personal opinion (and I am very open to reading contrary views and learning more), slavery wasn’t the worst thing to happen to Africa. That said, there are a number of things we can and should learn from slavery and colonisation of Africa.
The problem with one-sided history
The problem we have today is that historically, Africa had oral traditions and a lot of things in our history were not documented.
A few months ago, I asked one of my aunts to share something with me and she refused because she didn’t want me to publish it anywhere. Now, I can see her point of view but most of our cultures, beliefs and history have been lost with time because we didn’t have appropriate documentation.
There’s a Yoruba proverb that loosely translates to:
An Orisa whose followers do not teach their children how to worship it is bound to die.
Today, we are still experiencing the effects of lack of documentation because we only have one version of history and as you can imagine, the documenter will always make himself look good.
Slavery was really bad, yes
I acknowledge that slavery was really bad. In fact, the perpetrators were probably satan’s spawn. There’s a lot of documentation of what happened then that I won’t go into it here.
How did colonisation and enslavement occur?
There’s this saying, A child who does not learn from the mistakes of the past is bound to make the same mistakes.
I have been asking myself these questions for a long time. How did an entire continent get enslaved? How did the Oyo Empire crumble?
I don’t know the answers fully but here’s what I have deduced so far:
1 They studied us and used a Trojan horse
I have read a number of articles in the past that documented the strengths of various armies in Africa. I previously wrote about Queen Amina of Zaria and Yaa Asantewaa. Africa could not have been colonised if the colonisers landed on African soil and declared war on us immediately.
Like any wise man, they studied us to know our strengths and our weaknesses. Then they exploited those weaknesses.
I can’t hate them for that, they were strategic and it worked for them.
I watched a documentary once where someone said: Asia knows more about Africa than Africa does about Asia
That there is the truth!
How much do we know about our own history in Africa before, during and after colonisation? How much do we know about the dark side of the history of other cultures? More specifically, how much do we know about China’s history and how they got to where they are today?
I watched a movie a long time ago, can’t remember the name now but something that stayed with me from the movie, was the type of education a rich white man was giving to his son. The man’s library was filled with war books and he made his homeschooled son (that was probably less than 10 years old) to read them every day. That there is a wise man if I ever saw one. He was ensuring that his son knew the principles of war and knew a range of war strategies at an early age. He wanted to ensure that his son came out on top every time. The man used to be in the army.
Back in the day, families had occupations that fathers passed to sons and mothers to daughters. In the movie, the father was passing his occupation to his son. Not everyone in any culture needs to know about the principles of war and war strategies and using today’s terms corporate takeovers. However, some people in every culture need to understand these.
2 They exploited those weaknesses
The only thing I have been able to deduce about how Africa was colonised was that they turned brother against brother.
Growing up, my dad would take a broom stick and ask me to break it. When I did, it would snap easily. He would then ask me to break a bunch of broom sticks and obviously, I couldn’t. The lesson he was trying to teach me then as a child was that United we stand, Divided we fall!
The colonisers exploited that strategic effectively! They knew that they were no match for a people united! So they broke us apart, they did it cunningly, so that it wasn’t obvious what they were doing.
Are we still united?
There’s this rat in Nigeria (and I wish someone who knows the name would leave a comment). This rat is said to be very cunning. Apparently, when it wants to bite your leg when you are asleep, it would blow some breeze on it. It would then bite you and blow some more breeze on the bite to ease the pain, so whilst you were asleep, your mind won’t fully register what was being done to you.
Does that ring a bell to you?
3 They introduced a MALE GOD
From the little I know about Yoruba history pre-colonisation, women were powerful in their own right.
In fact, there’s a saying: Behind every successful man is a woman
After asking myself this one question, a pride of lions answers fully the role of a man. If you have ever watched a documentary about lions, you are likely to have noticed that the males tend to do nothing most of, if not, all day. Rather it was the lionesses who ran the show every day. However, in times of trouble, that’s when the male lions came into their element. Heck, males have all that physical strength for a reason.
If I remember the lion king cartoon correctly, didn’t Simba’s brother say that himself?
The Yorubas believed in duality and that’s why both men and women ran the show in different ways. Each gender had its own strengths and weaknesses but combined they were formidable.
Spiritually, it is said that all women (as mothers) had the power of Ase. The power to command things to be and they were called Aje (ah-jer). However, just like Esu was wrongly translated to mean Satan, Aje was wrongly translated to mean the European definition of a witch. Aje means we answer. The basis of a woman being called an Aje is founded on the notion that a woman, as a mother, would not hear her child’s call and not answer. The duality in life means that a mother can be both loving and strict. A mother is never always simply full of love and praise, a mother is also strict and reprimands. That is why the Yoruba’s call a mother an Orisa in her own right.
In other to conquer, that duality had to be split. Women who had better control of their power of Ase were called witches and labelled evil. Our unity was destroyed. Men then felt they could do it all alone, they could be both protector and provider and manager etc etc.
What men did not realise is that if you do not have anyone to watch your back, how do you know when a coward intends to strike you from behind?
A singular male God made men believe that they also can run the show alone.
The Yorubas also have an almighty God, Olorun but Olorun is not depicted as either male or female. Instead, further duality is seen in there being both male and female Orisas who were sent to earth to carry out Olorun’s will.
Physically we were divided then our spirituality was also broken.
I truly cannot help but applaud the strategies of the white man in colonising an entire continent. He did his homework very well!
Whilst we have been programmed to believe in a male God, sometimes my spirit asks me, is God truly male? How do I know that He is not a She? Afterall, God is a creator and woman is a mother. Do you see the correlation?
We also say mother earth. Actually, why do we say mother earth? I guess that’s a CPD for me.
What was worse than slavery?
To be continued . . .
What do you think about this blog article so far 3 things we can learn from slavery and why slavery wasn’t the worst thing to happen to Africa? Please leave a comment below.
PS: Has anyone noticed how I try to include Yoruba sayings in some of my blog posts?
EDIT: You can follow the conversation on Twitter
Interesting article- especially with respect to the pre-colonial role of women and the concept of 'àjẹ́'. I've had this debate with modern feminists. Yoruba culture was non-sexist. Misogyny is a wholly imported worldview.@toyosilagos your thoughts? https://t.co/aaWSavFnFu
— Dr. Muyiwa Gbadegesin (@muyiwag) April 29, 2018
When I think back to my interactions with my late grandfather, and my recollection of his relationship with his wife, my grandma, misogyny was everywhere and I do not consider them westernized.
— Yemi A. (@toyosilagos) April 29, 2018