Conference Announcement: Conceptualizing African Epistemologies: Subaltern and Vernacular Ways of Knowing

Roy Doron's picture
Type: 
Conference
Date: 
October 3, 2015
Location: 
Texas, United States
Subject Fields: 
African History / Studies

The University of Texas at Austin Presents:

Conceptualizing African Epistemologies: Subaltern and Vernacular Ways of Knowing

October 3rd, 2015

Convened By Toyin Falola

Coordinated by Cacee Hoyer and Ben Weiss

 

Keynote Address

Professor Malami Buba

Sokoto State University, Nigeria

Professor Malami Buba received his doctorate in linguistics at the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS) in London, and he remained at the institution as a Hausa teacher until 2003, when he returned home to join the National Assembly Service Commission as a Senior Legislative Aide. In this role, he coordinated the review of the Judiciary section of the 1999 constitution, including the public hearings that were conducted at the time. In 2004, he returned to his alma mater, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto to continue his teaching and research in the area of African Linguistics, Language Policy, and Applied English Linguistics. He has more than fifty written research entries, and is active as a graduate and undergraduate educator. In 2012, Malami Buba was appointed to the first Chair of Language and Linguistics at Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto. He is currently a Professor in the Department of English Language & Linguistics, as well as the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Sokoto State University, Sokoto.

Prior to becoming a Professor, Malami Buba worked in the State House, Abuja during Late President Yaradua’s government, as a Special Assistant, as well as Team Leader, leading a team of consultants on a nationwide monitoring and evaluation of federal government projects, including those of Nigerian universities, Polytechnics and Federal Colleges of Education. An advocate for Education for All, Prof Malami Buba, has supported the work of Nigeria Northern Education Initiative (NEI) as an English and Hausa language consultant. He also served as a master trainer (Nigeria) for the Commonwealth of Learning (CoL), Canada, in their ORELT English Language Teaching initiative for JSS teachers in Nigeria, Ghana, Gambia and Sierra Leone. More recently, he served as a language consultant on the USAID-funded Reading Access Research Activity (RARA) in Bauchi and Sokoto States. He was a visiting scholar in the USA, the Netherlands and Germany. More recently, he accepted a position as a Visiting Professor to Katsina (Islamic) University and Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto.

Keynote Abstract

Literature, Language and the Pursuit of Knowledge

African epistemologies are products of specific narratives - linguistic and literary - foregrounded in a cultural milieu that is anchored on a pluralistic landscape. My address seeks to extend the epistemological journey expounded by Professor Toyin Falola, and eminently captured and compressed in Bangura (2015). In drawing parallels between these literatures and my own historical contributions to this discourse, three competing paradigms are examined. These paradigms are then situated not only within a broader discussion of knowledge systems, but also in their local collocation with internal voices of claims and counter-claims about being and the well-being of Hausa people and society. The objective is to suggest further lines of inquiry, leading ultimately to a preeminent role given to African languages in the development of the continent as a net contributor to global knowledge capital.

 

Participant Abstracts

Michael O. Afolayan, Ph.D

Founder & Lead Education Consultant

M&P Educational Consulting International

Acquiring Traditional Occupations Among the Yoruba: Pedagogy and Epistemology

This paper examines the notion of occupation among the Yoruba. It provides a wide-ranging relevant and related literature on traditional occupations. It then presents a typology of occupations, pulling together distinct varieties and pedigrees of those occupations, explaining how they are acquired among the people. As the pedagogical process, it examines the process of training and the teaching of novices as they are made to acquire the knowledge bases that would turn them into skilled professionals and/or artisans. By virtue of the examination of the critical pedagogical concepts, the structured formal and informal curricula, and the deliberate instructional mechanisms inherent in the learning processes, the paper concludes that such complicated and sophisticated instructional structure is in alignment with standard epistemology.

Augustine Agwuele

Texas State University, San Marcos

Common and Trivial: Yoruba Culture of Visual Perception

Perhaps on the account of certain knowledge or consciousness internalized during socialization, members of a culture conduct themselves and order the use of their language. Some habituated utterances, gestures, and responses appear superficially disorganized and trivial, however, a careful look suggest a common fulcrum. This contribution illustrates Yoruba ‘vernacular’ of visually perceiving, knowing and categorizing a person based on their hairstyle, it shows the shared nature of their view, and traces the source of this view. Cross culturally, the appearance of a person is not agnostic, it comes as a coded message that is unraveled within the existing system of knowing in a socio-cultural setting. Thus, hairstyles are nonverbal signals as well as indexical items. The specific messages encoded by a ‘deviant’ Yoruba hairstyle will be discussed in addition to showing the impressions that such hairstyle elicits, the ideas that it suggest, and the consequent responses it produces.

Emmanuel Babatunde, Ph.D, D.Phil

Lincoln University

Ethnographic Adventures in Yoruba Epistemology

Yoruba excursus into deep fundament aspects of existence and ways of knowing and inbuilt systems of checking and cross-checking what is known are often presented in existential terms of proceeding on a journey. Even existence itself begins with the journey of passing from Orun through the physical womb of the mother who is gold, into Aye -the world of the living. That of course came after the epistemological moment of selecting the elements of one’s destiny, the template of one’s chosen existence. In the Aye, the world of the living, existence is conceptualized as a journey. Core existential problems wanting to be explained are couched in the Odu Ifa as a journey by Orunmila in Ese Ifa. Emphasis on knowing is tailored to the environment in which the Yoruba live and the respect it has taught them to have for the rainforest if they are to survive. Thus the Yoruba, wherever located, do not want to dominate and conquer the environment. Experience has taught them that generations would continue to die as the environments waxes strong. Rather, arising from that certainty of mortality, the Yoruba assign deities to be in charge of land, water, mountain, rain, wind and air with the understanding that when these deities are propitiated not just by rituals but by good moral behavior that puts the needs of the community over that of the individuals, then they can control nature. Yoruba epistemology is not keyed on using empirical sources of knowledge to dominate nature. It focuses on virtue and how it succeeds to socially engineer a morally caring and just society with strong work ethics each of whose members is an Omoluwabi.

Abdul Karim Bangura

Falolaism: The Epistemologies and Methodologies of Africana Knowledge

This presentation is a synopsis of a larger work that seeks to systematically demonstrate that Mwalimu Toyin Falola’s scholarly work, while generally historical, is undergirded by African-centered Gnoseology—generally defined as the scientific or philosophical study of knowledge undergirded by the positive-intuitive thinking that is driven by the African’s spiritual mind. It is an outgrowth of a distinctively African heritage geared towards helping to provide a definition to the positive sense of the racial distinctiveness of Africans on the Motherland and in the Diaspora. It also seeks to develop and offer the African a kind of alternative to Western materialism. Various African-centered scientific methodologies are employed to show this: Rekh Methodology, Utchā and Uhem Methodology, Behsâu-Pehsa Methodology, Egyptological Methodology, Archaeoastronomical Methodology, Hermeneutic Methodology, Grio Methodology, Sankofa Methodology, Pan-African Methodologies, Multiplex Methodology, Pluridisciplinary Methodology, Ubuntugogy Methodology, Diopian Intercultural Relations Methodology, Diopian Restoration of African Historical Consciousness Methodology, African Mathematization Methodology, Complexity Methodology, Mo Ibrahim African-centered Indexing Methodology, and African-centered Generation of Metadata Methodology. The empirical corpora for this study are of course comprised of Mwalimu Falola’s works. The ultimate goal is to develop a Falola Methodology from a synthesis of these African-centered methodologies and Mwalimu Falola’s epistemological treatises—i.e. Falolaism.

Anene Ejikeme

Is there an “Igbo marriage”?

Christian missionaries to Igboland found the “the question of marriage” one of the most intractable problems in their quest to convert the Igbo to Christianity. Nineteenth century Christian missionaries found Igbo ideas of marriage at odds with the notion of Christian marriage they advocated. In the archives of Christian missions, the missionaries' concern with how to foster and encourage Christian marriage is an incessant theme. Missionaries insisted that polygyny was a sign of both the oppression of women and the debauchery of men; just as importantly, monogamy, the missionaries insisted, had been decreed by Christ. How successful were missionaries in implanting monogamy on Igbo soil? In what ways did the displacement of or challenge to older ideals of marriage have on the ways in which the Igbo view(ed) marriage itself?

Akin Ogundiran

Professor of Africana Studies, Anthropology & History, UNC Charlotte

Rethinking Time and Temporality in African History

I argue that the ordering of time in African historiography is incompatible with the African experience of time. The result is that History has failed to serve as a tool of emancipation, self-realization, and community building for many Africa's postcolonies. Instead, History has served as a tool of dispossession and disorientation. I identify the centrality of colonialism and its archives in the contemplation and practice of African History as the reason for this condition. I then proceed to offer an interventionist approach that would lead to a new epistemology of African History, using the Yoruba experience of time as my reference point. This interventionist approach calls for a new philosophy of time and it offers a new methodology for "excavating" temporality.

Dr. Adebayo Oyebade

Professor of History at Tennessee State University

Indigenous Historiography and the Construction of an Africa-Centered Epistemology

This presentation will discuss indigenous historiography, an important but often overlooked genre in the development of historical writing about Africa. The discourse will engage the dynamics of local historical tradition in colonial Africa as essentially a reaction to the Eurocentric colonialist historiography which not only served as an agency of colonization, but also as a conduit of hegemonic mode of knowledge production. The presentation will examine the character of indigenous historiography and the works of a number of prominent local chroniclers and historians who produced histories of their local communities during the colonial period. Their work, to a large extent, represents the earliest attempt to shift from a Western-dominated intellectual framework of constructing knowledge to one rooted in African worldview. This nascent project was later to find intellectual expression in the more authoritative academic historiography that commenced from the late 1950s. Indigenous historiography could, therefore, be seen as an important force in the development of an Africa-centered perspective of history.

Prof. Bridget A. Teboh

UMASS Dartmouth

Marginal Positioning, Writing African Women: Conceptualizations At the Intersection of African and Feminist Epistemologies

In the last two decades debates about the validity and usefulness of an African epistemology have gained currency. While no clear consensus has been reached, one thing is certain: there is an African epistemology, based on the experiences of Africans and their way of knowing. In order to write about Africa and African women out of necessity, one needs to engage with subaltern, vernacular, feminist and African epistemologies. Why? African epistemology intersects with, and shares commonalities with subaltern, vernacular and feminist epistemologies in that they all start from a disadvantaged positioning vis-à-vis the west. While African epistemology is concerned with African knowledge systems and ways of knowing, Feminist epistemology takes on the way gender influences our concept of knowledge and “practices of inquiry and justification” (Anderson 2015). This means African women are doubly marginalized, first as women and secondly as Africans. I make two arguments here: Firstly, that the so-called “situated knowers” historically have been white westerners, or masculine. Secondly, that dominant knowledge practices disadvantage women by excluding them from inquiry, and denying them epistemic authority to participate in and to create knowledge, because their knowledge is feminine. This essay therefore discusses the novelty of feminist theorizing grounded in new frameworks of understanding, as a way of correcting this error. It also explores the ways in which women’s knowledge and ways of knowing have been invoked and deployed, as well as how this knowledge can be included into traditional and African epistemology.

Ben Weiss

The University of Texas at Austin

African Societies and Maussian Exchange: Colonized Economies of Sexual Health and Disease

This work aims to revisit Marcel Mauss’ thesis of reciprocal exchange in archaic societies in 20th century African contexts, while utilizing the indigenous perspectives to speak back to European notions of gift-giving. Mauss proves useful (1) by framing European gifts as exchange forms which endeavored to exploit colonized populations; and (2) by facilitating a discussion of the perceptual one-sidedness of European exchanges with African populations. Indeed, if Mauss helps point us to the ways in which European gifts were given with the expectation of reciprocity through surrendering to European colonization, his framework also reveals that African notions of gift-giving did not require the ceding of indigenous agency to foreign powers.

Ultimately, this paper argues that the mutual misconception of exchange between the colonized and the colonizing parties laid the foundations for the African health to become the site of forceful assimilation of indigenous culture into European colonial systems. While I aim to develop a narrative of collective African exchange through a broad survey of case studies, I also depart from Mauss by demonstrating that different societies may feature the communal exchange systems he emphasizes rather than just archaic or pre-modern ones. Though his framework is useful for identifying the grounds of European exchange exploitation, developing the indigenous side of the narrative helps explain what Mauss’ paradigm – and indeed that of colonial Europe – did not recognize in dealing with African exchange conceptions. Through this effort, I illustrate the connections among various African economic, religious, political, social, and aesthetic realms as parallel notions guiding Africa exchange systems. Where Europe sought to dominate Africa, the pronouncement of indigenous ideological expressions, though reactionary, appear to posit African ideologies as direct indigenous opposition to the forces of European assimilation. It is from this point of resistance in the colonial narrative that I argue it is possible to observe African worldviews, facilitating the discussion postulated here.

Jocelyn Wright

The University of Texas at Austin

Capturing Plurilingual Identities in Claude McKay’s Banjo

Claude McKay’s 1929 novel Banjo follows the story of primarily English speakers living in a French-speaking city. McKay elects to represent this plurilingual world by including a variety of languages in his text: standard English; black vernacular English; French words, phrases, and sometimes even passages; and the music that he and his friends love to make. This paper examines the significance of the multiplicity of languages in McKay’s text through a dual analysis of the role of language in both the original and the French translation. I argue that McKay reflects the plurilingualism of Marseilles and the African diaspora through his emphasis on a multiplicity of languages and identities. This is a response to his own colonial identity wherein he is trying to deform both the French and the English language. Of particular interest in the first half of the paper will be the ways in which the intersection of multiple languages on the page reinforces themes of identity and nationalism in the text. The remainder of the paper will consider the French translation in relation to the original and the extent to which the plurilingual nature of McKay’s text was preserved. Through a close-reading and comparison of passages from the original text and its translation, this paper concludes with an analysis of the extent to which (mis)translation affected the critical reception and literary impact of Banjo and why the novel was significantly better-received in France—and particularly by the leaders of theNégritude movement—than in the United States.

Presentation Schedule

 

Panel A: Africanizing Existing Epistemologies

Chair: Emmanuel Babatunde, Ph.D, D.Phil

11:15AM – 12:45PM

Dr. Adebayo Oyebade

Indigenous Historiography and the Construction of an Africa-Centered Epistemology

Prof. Bridget A. Teboh

Marginal Positioning, Writing African Women: Conceptualizations At the Intersection of African and Feminist Epistemologies

Akin Ogundiran

Rethinking Time and Temporality in African History

Ben Weiss

African Societies and Maussian Exchange: Colonized Economies of Sexual Health and Disease

Panel B: African Epistemologies and Methodology

Chair: Augustine Agwuele

1:30PM – 2:45PM

Abdul Karim Bangura

Falolaism: The Epistemologies and Methodologies of Africana Knowledge

Emmanuel Babatunde, Ph.D, D.Phil

Ethnographic Adventures in Yoruba Epistemology

Michael O. Afolayan, Ph.D

Acquiring Traditional Occupations Among the Yoruba: Pedagogy and Epistemology

University of Texas Students Subaltern Epistemologies Roundtable

Moderated By: Mackenzie Finley

3:00PM – 4:30PM

Epistemologies of the South: Justice Against Epistemicide – Boaventura De Sousa Santos

Chukwuemeka Agbo  -  Lindsey Davis -  Prisca Gayles

Justin Heath  -  Amrita Mishra  -  Gabriella Rodriguez  -  Shane Stringfellow

Panel C: Socio-Cultural Representations

Chair: Michael O. Afolayan, Ph.D

4:45PM – 6:00PM

Augustine Agwuele

Common and Trivial: Yoruba Culture of Visual Perception

Jocelyn Wright

Capturing Plurilingual Identities in Claude McKay’s Banjo.

Anene Ejikeme

Is there an “Igbo marriage”?

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Dr. Barbara Harlow