Volume 8, Number 19 November 28, 2005
Reclaiming Our African Culture
by Dr. Ridgely Abdul Muímin Muhammad
According to Websterís Dictionary, "culture" means "1 :CULTIVATION, TILLAGE 2: the act of developing the intellectual and moral faculties esp. by education." The dictionary put the words "cultivate" and "tillage" in capital letters indicating the significance of those words to understanding the meaning and root of "culture". Without analyzing the relationship between the people and their land one can not evaluate a "culture". Therefore Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan is right and exact when he says: "There is no culture without agriculture."
When you talk about "cultivate" or "tillage" you are referring to how a people utilize their land to provide sustenance. So, how does a "landless" people develop a "culture" since they have no land? A landless people no longer depend on the land for their food, clothing and shelter. Instead they cultivate a relationship with the dominant "culture" and seek to follow the rules of that relationship, not the rules of nature or of God.
In Africa we had our different dances, songs and rituals to influence the different forces of nature which affected our food supply. We needed the rain to come in the proper season, but yet not so much as to wash away our crops and livestock. We needed our seeds to germinate, our crops to grow and our cattle to be strong. We had our different clans and guilds in which the youth could be trained into the skills necessary for their society to survive: building homes, making tools, tilling the soil, developing trade routes and negotiating with our neighbors. We had our particular ways of preparing our food based on the climate, food supply and cooking fuel.
Now in America we "dress to impress", sing to please and act like docile slaves in order to obtain sustenance from our foster parents and surrogate "mother nature", white America. We go to the schools of our oppressor to learn how to fit into his artificial world. We may learn a few useful things, but do not learn how to apply those skills for self. Instead, we seek employment from others. We may learn how to operate a crane, but never learn how to operate that "business". We never learn the relationship of that "business" to the other businesses in the white manís society.
Immigrants come to America and bring a lot of their culture with them. The Chinese will set up a "China town" or the Mexicans will set up a "barrio". If enough Mexicans stay in a town for any length of time you will see three things pop up around them: 1. An Iglesia (church), 2. a Mexican restaurant, and 3. a Spanish supermarket. They bring their food culture with them and develop an internal economic system based on that food culture.
But look at Black America. Our oppressors took away our culture: language, religion, way of life and even our names. We learned to eat slave food, wear hand-me-downs from "massa" and be pleased to be next to white folk. For a long time white folk made us eat in our own homes or restaurants on the "other side of the tracks." Then they decided that our money was green so they started serving us food from their restaurants around back in a little slit in the door. Well we marched, sat in and sang our way to sit down beside them at the lunch counter. However, now we donít have time to cook or even sit down and eat a meal in the white manís restaurant, we just go around back to the slit in the door, the drive through.
Culture is a learned process. Culture trains you to be "good", useful and acceptable in a given society. Being in step with the dominant culture gives one a sense of happiness or well-being. In other words, most people like to feel accepted and they want to fit in. Well, in America fitting in requires you to buy certain things to have the trappings of that society. Therefore, culture determines the direction of your consumptive dollars or disposable income. Subsequently, it is understandable how a people who spend over three quarters of a trillion dollars a year will have nothing on their side of the balance sheet, if that people are consumed by the passions of their dominant and oppressive adopted culture.
The Honorable Elijah Muhammad wrote, "Now, it is difficult to plan an economic program for a dependent people who, for all their lives, have tried to live like the white man." So, if you want to change the money flow of Black people, you must change their culture back to an African or Black centered paradigm.
In the late 1960s and 1970s Black people reached back to their "Roots" and started wearing African styled garments and wearing their hair more "natural". For a while a subculture developed and an economic system developed around that culture. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad bought farm land and set up restaurants and grocery stores in some of our major cities. The money began to circulate a little longer in the Black community. During this Black renaissance there was also a dissenting group that felt that total integration and denigration of anything relating to Africa or Blackness was the best way to achieve success in America. White America temporarily supported the integrationists by giving a few Blacks jobs, making them feel closer to him, while he told the others to "keep hope alive."
After 40 years of experimenting with integration, most Blacks realized that we lost more than we gained through integration and cultural-annihilation. But how can we develop a "nation within a nation" while still wanting to be accepted by that same nation that we say is our enemy? The white man has done a good job at spoiling us to the point that we may not be able to make the necessary sacrifices to break away and do for ourselves. Let me explain.
When I look at Black people in America wearing Kente Cloth or Mud Cloth and yet do not have land and are not striving to get land, I wonder if they have any understanding of what they are wearing or representing. Of course the word "Mud" in itself is a clear indicator of land, in particular wet land. And the word "Kente", what does it mean?
In Ancient Egypt, Kemet, "Khenti" meant "Chief" and Osiris (Ausar), who spread the science of agriculture, was referred to as "Khenti-Amenti" or "Chief of the West". Kente Cloth is referred to as the "royal cloth" of the kings and queens in West Africa. The next time that you fly on an airplane, take a piece of Kente Cloth and look out of your window down on agricultural fields. You will see the same colors and patterns that you see on that cloth.
However, in the Black community the farmer is laughed at. So Black folk laugh at the farmer, but they love to eat at McDonalds and other fast-food-to-hell restaurants. The same people who taught white people agriculture now laugh at that which sustains their physical life.
I hear some claim that they would fight for justice, but will they grow the food to feed their army? I hear some claim they want freedom, but will they organize food coops to secure safe food for their babies? I hear some claim they want equality, but when will they stop eating food from beneath the "golden arches".
At the kick off of the Millions More Movement on October 15, 2005 the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan announced that a Ministry of Agriculture will play a vital role in the move for Black people to be free and independent. Such a Ministry of Agriculture must reinstate the African culture of land ownership and food independence, if we are to survive in the post-Katrina reality where we must either "do for self or die as slaves".
Books and lectures by Dr. Ridgely A. Mu'min