Thursday, September 25, 2014

Baganda, Buganda, Muganda, Uganda & Janheinz Jahn's Book "Muntu"

Edited by Azizi Powell

Here' a comment from the YouTube discussion thread of a Bakisimba (Ugandan) dance*:

mega munguryek Kennedy, 2014
"i love the baganda dance though am not a muganda"

That comment and the different prefixes for the root word "ganda" ("baganda" and "muganda") along with the words "Buganda" and Uganda" that I've read sparked my memory of the book "Muntu" that I read many years ago. I'v decided to showcase that book in a pancocojams post in case some visitors to this blog weren't familar with it. But first here's some information that clarified for me the differences between "Buganda", "Baganda", "Muganda", and "Uganda":

"Buganda is a subnational kingdom within Uganda. The kingdom of the Ganda people, Buganda is the largest of the traditional kingdoms in present-day Uganda, comprising all of Uganda's Central Region, including the Ugandan capital Kampala. The 6 million Baganda (singular Muganda; often referred to simply by the root word and adjective, Ganda) make up the largest Ugandan ethnic group, representing approximately 16.9% of Uganda's population.[2]

Buganda has a long and extensive history. Unified in the fourteenth century under the first king Kato Kintu, the founder of Buganda's Kintu Dynasty, Buganda grew to become one of the largest and most powerful states in East Africa during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. During the Scramble for Africa, and following unsuccessful attempts to retain its independence against British imperialism, Buganda became the centre of the Uganda Protectorate in 1894; the name Uganda, the Swahili term for Buganda, was adopted by British officials. Under British rule, many Baganda acquired status as colonial administrators, and Buganda became a major producer of cotton and coffee"...
Italics added by me to highlight those sentences.

Here are a few reviews of Janheinz Jahn's Book "Muntu"
"Over a quarter of a century has passed since Muntu was first published in English, but this landmark examination still provides one of the most in-depth looks at African and neo-African culture. In his insightful study, Janheinz Jahn surveys the whole range of traditional and modern African thought expressed in religion, language, philosophy, literature, art, music and dance. He demonstrates that African culture, far from being doomed to destruction or homogenization under the onslaught of the West, is evolving into a rich and independent civilization that is capable of incorporating those elements of the West that do not threaten its basic values. Muntu (the Bantu word for “human”) presents an invaluable insight into the foundations of the unique and vital tapestry of cultures that compromise Africa today.
Series: African Culture and the Western World
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Grove Press; Reprint edition (January 18, 1994)
Text: English (translation)
Original Language: German

African Culture for the Westerner
By farington on March 27, 2012
Format: Paperback
"[Janheinz Jahn's Book "Muntu] does two remarkable things: it gets below the surface of African culture, and it translates some important African philosophical concepts into terms Westerners can understand. The discussion of "ntu" and the basic categories that derive from it is masterful, laying out the essential principles of an African world-view (though it is a bit complex at times and merits more than one reading). The discussion of "nommo"--in the beginning was the "Word", how naming and incantation are basic to an African's approach to creation--has universal value beyond simply understanding African culture. This book doesn't describe African culture, like so many others: it explains it.

One caveat, if you're coming to this book hoping to find a link between African and African-American culture, you'll be disappointed. All you'll get is the image, detailed by the author, of Richard Wright standing dejectedly in Ghana bemoaning the utter foreigness of it all. According to the author, African-Americans are Western, Africans are not. On the other hand, the author has examined African culture in a way that makes it very approachable to any Westerner, and he is actually opening more doors than he is closing."

"I can’t say enough about this book. Over 50 years old, it is still worth revisiting for the force for which it makes its defense of African thought, philosophy and religion. Janheinz Jahn, a German scholar, originally wrote Muntu in 1958, around the time of intellectual ferment of luminaries like Fanon, Cesaire, and Senghor. The American edition first appeared in 1961 and was named book of the year by at least one major publishing organization. Jahn lays out the characteristics of African thought as illuminated through New World African religions like Santeria and Voudoun...

I will let William J. Austin, who has reviewed Jahn's work here, have the word on explaining the basic philosophical principles of African thought and aesthetics, according to Jahn:
The text is neatly divided into the major categories of African culture and religion, two forces which, as Jahn points out, flow in and out of one another like a river and its tributaries. Although Jahn makes mention of the cultures formed in northern Africa via the commingling of African and Arabic/Islamic impulses, his focus here is on “Black Africa,” or that larger portion of the continent below the Sahara. This section of Africa, however various in its individual cultural expressions, was surprisingly united in an overall religious structure that informed the ritual of worship, as well as the more pedestrian day to day activities. This over-arching structure contains four major forces: Muntu, Kintu, Hantu, and Kuntu. Muntu, or “human being,” finds its earliest known expression in the culture of the Bantu tribe. As a “force” it is plural, reflecting the myriad variations of humanity. Muntu, however, is not a self-activating force, but rather ‘sleeps,” dormant, while awaiting its activation via a more active sub-force known as Nommo. Nommo, quite simply, is language. The priests and elders of a tribe are most invested with Nommo, and maintain the power to enliven natural objects, and even man-made ones, through a ritualistic process of naming. But all human beings participate in Nommo to some degree. In fact, it is not until a parent names a child, that the child may be considered human, may be said to participate in Muntu. What we have, then, in the concepts of Muntu and Nommo, is not unlike the structuralist/post-structuralist emphasis on language as the begetter of personhood, of humanity. The linkage is certainly there, but it also obtains between Nommo and the Biblical declaration that “In the beginning was the word.”

In any event, Jahn’s detailed analysis makes clear the amazing similarities that reach across seemingly isolated cultures. Like Muntu, Kintu is plural, and represents the force or “spirit” in all non-human objects, animate and inanimate, including animals. Hantu is place and time, and Kuntu, perhaps the most complex concept of the four, represents modality, i.e., quality, style, rhythm and beauty. All four forces are united linguistically by the suffix and concept of NTU, or the essential compatibility and coherence of all things, human and non-human. The many in the one, the one in the many — this is familiar philosophical ground, and more evidence that Nommo does indeed unite all cultures, races, creeds, in their differences.

*Click for a pancocojams post on the Baganda's Bakisimba dance.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

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