The Ontology of the African VII: Play and Wound

The Ontology of the African

If a leader or intellectual is not articulating the values and necessities of robust human pride to his people, he or she is a dangerous traitor unworthy of the position – Guynes

The ontology of the African unfortunately involves ‘senseless play’ to perpetuate it as derisory, and it is becoming more visible due to social media; it has always been that way. The upliftment of the African people is what is necessary for our ontology not play. The instrumental aspects of the social organisation of things get works done while ceremonial aspects embellish what is available. For a society to work well, the instrumental aspects should supersede the ceremonial ones. When the reverse is the case conspicuous ceremony become a prime societal goal in itself. The ceremonial can be solemn, but it is mostly dominated by play.

In Sapele, Nigeria, during the early 1980s, I spent quite some time with a guy named Samuel Akpevwa. He was my brother-in-law and had an interesting tale to tell which caught the interest of whoever was listening. The magic of his tale was the subtlety and spontaneous drama with which he presented it. Samuel repeated the saying so often it occasionally got tiresome but never dull. I will always remember the freshness of the first several times I heard it. His tale was (corrected from broken English);

“If you play you wound. All these small small children you see crying all over the place, it is play that causes their tears. Adults too wound themselves seriously when they are careless and with their words or actions because of play [jokes and games] and sometimes they too cry”.

The tale was then followed by a couple of humorously told elaborate examples then he would suddenly go quiet. Samuel was rather taciturn, but he thoroughly enjoyed the “If you play you wound” act to the point of unrestrained expansiveness. The interest people had in Samuel’s tale was that he instantaneously provoked them into remembering the deeds of those who should know better but did not act so. And even if they did their greed, narcissism, power hunger, miscalculation or sheer folly would isolate them far from common sense and reason. It is not hard to remember an adult who came to tear from excess play.

A mechanic by profession, Samuel understood the ontology of the African in ways many educated African would often deny. There is too much emphasis on play in African society; laughter, casual sex, drinking, dancing, jokes, ill-humour, tales, fun and games. Nothing wrong with doing and enjoying such things unless they become the purpose of life. The instrumental becomes forfeited in favour of the ceremonial. It is always more tragic when the one who wounds himself or herself with play is at the top of the pile. It is the cause of many life regrets. How can the ontology of the African improve when those at the top decrease it habitually through play? A man can never be greater than his people. Therefore, the worst thing a man can do is make a career of deriding and dismissing his people regularly, especially when it is unnecessary.

A great people are always enlightened to the value of their pride. Too many who claim to be proud of their Africa hide a deep self-hatred for their Africanness. “I am black and I am proud, shout loud” was very scary when James brown released it as a song during the Civil Rights era; but it did some magic. Our leaders and intellectuals do not do magical stuff for the pride of their people; they just bleat and shout the wrong things and narrow, self-righteous stuff. They tell their people they are primitive, lazy, manic, indisciplined but records show they are worse. Well, that is magical to the ears of the non-African.

If a leader or intellectual is not teaching the values and necessities of robust pride to his people, he or she is a characteristic wastrel. Where appropriate use criticism, condemnation, encouragement, wisdom, knowledge, education, practical resources, right livelihoods, or whatever means available to teach the African pride in herself, her society and land. The vast majority of Africans are self-hating. What a tragedy! It is so necessary to create stable structures, instrumental things and feats that generate, boost and entrench such pride in the soul of the African in parallel to the dignity of citizens of other continents. Pride in fantasy, superstition, luxury and obscenity is that by which the ontology of the African fails.

The unspoken primary function of people is to instil pride in themselves. Any leader or luminary that effectively do is a much need personality in Africa. The more magical and embedded his pride in his cultural heritage, the better. That which makes for a dignified ontology teaches its people to have robust pride in themselves, both collectively and individually. Some Africans may ask what is there to be proud about with the expectation of a likely negative answer. Such people are venting their frustrations and disappointment on the continent, and not the people have decivilised it. Such is sheer self-hatred. They act and talk as if they are critical, courageous and thoughtful but rarely ever focus on the main problems. Why not examine Africa’s perennial and predictable vicious cycles of poverty and hapless development traps burdening the continent? Or deconstruct the continent’s lack of freedom?

Once most Africans are validated by the non-African for good works, they start to play. Getting carried away by play becomes predictable. The validation by the non-African can be the worst thing an African can seek as an end in itself. If it brings about play and if you play you wound, of what use is it to the African. Grand banquets, soirees, presidential inaugurations, eminent personality group gigs, dogooder parties, fund-raising appearances, launching countless memoirs, acquired non-African tastes, marriage to heirs/heiresses; it is all play. These things are all real and often necessary but are still play. However, as they play, do they have to pull the ontology of the African down? When seriousness, industry, constructiveness, invention, innovation, trade and diligence effectively replace play, the ontology of African will be elevated. But it is not playing.

Those unenlightened to the ‘pride of self’ always lag in everything except that which is play. It is not surprising that too many Nigerians are proud of ‘one-hit cunning’ and ‘advance fee fraud’. Are these Africans given the opportunity to celebrate their ground-breaking discoveries, world-beating innovations, unparalleled artistry, rapid increases in socioeconomic development or even top sporting laurels? All ethnicities around the world have criminals in their stock. However, pride transcends achievement, it emanates from our humanity, but it has to found. Only those without pride celebrate crime publicly as if it was a badge of honour. And this is Africa’s ontology too.

Yet, we have African leaders and intellectuals who promote things non-African and condemns African heritage for the sake recognition, aid funding, grants, popularity, fame and a privilege to mix favourably with the non-African. Every young Nigerian economist or entrepreneur is a neoliberal not because they genuinely believe in its precepts but hope it will advance their careers, especially overseas. To them, it is all play, a game to be won like Scrabble, Chess or Monopoly. Those higher up in society pretend to their people and followers that the solutions to the African problem are love, technology, good leaders, working institutions and education. In that case, we have to ask the right questions.

How can an unrepentant tribalist preach love in Africa’s countless multicultural societies? He is a hater of other Africans. How can an African who preaches against the industrial policy in Africa in favour of the free market be helping the possibility of a technological explosion in his continent? She hates the government without valid cause. How can we have good African leaders when the ‘African disaster’ is blamed spinelessly on followers? Nurses become responsible for the failed health systems, not Ministers and Permanent Secretaries for health. How can institutions developed by non-Africans to solve non-Africa problems work well in Africa? If something is not complementary to a system, it will never work well. How can the education served to Africans be useful when they have not heavily invested in the creation of homegrown centres of excellence for learning or jobs fr learning in the industry? Competent brainboxes are not the same as educated folk. Other sincere answers will tell you from where Africa’s eternal stagnation is coming.

When you need an international prize as evidence of the intelligence of the African, your pride in yourself has failed you, especially, if the winner is one given to ‘play and wound’ antics. If winning an international prize was based on a high IQ. Many would not have won it at all – there have always been smarter people. If you allow the unilateral orders of a king to do what your soul and conscience unrelentingly tells you not to, your pride in yourself, people and land have failed you. If you need leaders who rob your nation into such extreme poverty that crossing the Mediterranean in ‘death boats’ with 90% probability of sinking is your best hope of a basic livelihood, your pride as an instrument has failed you.

Pride as an instrument of upliftment is complete. In economic, political, social, cultural, linguistic, technological, artistic, scientific, sexual, spiritual matters, pride has to be complete. So when the international prize winnerLaureate, king and president make your pride incomplete, they are merely ceremonial to you. After all, masochism [a component of the ontology of the African] is inevitably learnt by the African. It is learnt from all including the international prize winner, king and president. It is a very derisory ontology of the African to live with despair and pain. At the same time, intellectuals and leaders play in extreme luxury, which turns out to be their spectacular undoing. The good life becomes ceremonial, not instrumental to the ontology of the African.

If a so-called African sage can talk of his people like a befuddled puppet, a primordial ruler act vulgar because he likes to appease the crowds with dancing and a president behaves like an “I know best” buffoon, listened to for hilarious comic value only, what ontology do they present? Who can take pride in such people? The non-African is bemused by the sight of Africans who are foolish, thoughtless and uninitiated, especially those of great stature. Adopting a dour demeanour and not laughing like a desperate-to-please Uncle Tom does not help. The ontology of the African catches them the same way it finds the Bushmen.

Recently, South Africa kicked the ontology of Africans in the teeth by killing ‘foreign Africans’ resident in their land. Most of these same South Africans traumatised by Apartheid have such low pride in themselves. They could only muster very little pride by their hostility towards ‘foreign Africans’. The Apartheid embedded deeply in their souls dammed their humanity, unleashing hatred towards ‘other Africans’. The only humanity that came from them was not inflicting hostilities on non-Africans. Shout Mandela! Shout Freedom! Shout Peace! Shout Rainbow! Those are the shouts of an ever-impoverished ontology of the African necessary to make that of the non-African safe.

Anytime an African plays with his ontology, she is deliberately or inadvertently wounding it. Please remember; if you pay, you wound.

Grimot Nane

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