African Cultural Complex African Cultural Complex
Any study of African culture must take into account that Africa 5 minutes ago, 50 years ago, 500 years ago and Africa 5000 years... African Cultural Complex

Personalities of African culture(s)

Any study of antiquity must take into account that Africa 5 minutes ago, 50 years ago, 500 years ago and Africa 5000 years ago is not static–‘Alik Shahadah

This article is broken up from the original article due to length. There may be many errors since it was transferred from our old site. 

Any study of complex African culture must take into account that Africa 5 minutes ago, 50 years ago, 500 years ago, and Africa 5000 years ago is not a static feature. A diverse Africa has influenced and been influenced. Concepts and cultures of African origin have been exported and re-imported, just as genes, ideas, and technologies have exited and reentered African populations.

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History and cultures, by both conscious and unconscious forces, distills those characteristics that are deemed relevant and pass them on from generation to generation. The phenomenon of history and culture is the further back you look at it, the more monolithic/compressed it becomes. So over time cultural distinctions between similar communities blur and become monolithic: Just like the further, you move away from an object the smaller and less distinguishable it becomes. But Just as nature is a celebration of diversity, Africa testifies to a floral mosaic, the full spectrum of diversity created by African creativity.

There is no such thing as African monolithic purity, cultures smash through deserts, cross trade routes, travel through immigration borders, disregarding our notions of geography and race. Throughout history, names, foods, cultures, religions, genetics have jumped between Asia and Africa from the dawn of humanity with blatant disregard for our social constructions.

But as much as culture drifts on the open ocean of human interaction and technological development, pushed on by the winds of globalization. The ethics of culture are pretty much static. And where Africa is concern, the centrality of life-systems and functionality have always been at the root of all African cultures.

Now and in antiquity, from KMT to modern Congo, respect for elders has remained an unbroken cornerstone in African cultural systems. Marriage rites, burial rites, ancestors rites, still honor their original foundation. For 2000 years in Ethiopia the ethics and ethos [3] of Ethiopian culture have not altered, even though rituals attached to those ethics may have come and gone. So we might change dowry from Cows-to-Coins but the function of dowry (Labolla/Mahr) remains the same. And it is also critical to understand African culture is more than symbols, and rituals, languages and aesthetics, it is also those virtues such as hospitality, empathy, courtesy, and respect. So much so that the entire foundation of many of the rituals and customs are there to transmit these virtues. And it is from culture’s creativity that creates music and dancing, poetry, and arts. But these are only some manifestations of culture. What some are left with today is the byproducts of culture, only music or only dance, while having no deep memory of the core cultural system.

Don’t tear down a fence until you know why it was put up– African Proverb

What is the point of multiculturalism if we all become one? Same ethics, same dress, same attitude, same way of thinking, same hair, clothes, and socialization. Where is the richness in that—If Africa looks like Europe? The beauty of the world is in the differences, which allow for diverse contributions to this world. Culture is the repository of human traditions; long and tested solutions for living in a meaningful way.

Culture is the core of our African humanity and holds some of the secrets to life’s purpose. There is no authentic autonomous identity outside of the culture that cradles it. it is certainly not National Geographic‘s image of drum beating Africans in grass skirts, or CNN’‘s notion of dancing naked Africans eating bush meat, or even the Kora player playing in a European night club. It does not exist for the pleasure of Western tourist, like a African culture is not a theme show at a Walt Disney exhibit. Too often the notion of African or Black culture is viewed through the touristic culturally-curious lens of Europe. So “culture” per UK’s mission in Africa is tantamount to “jungle culture.” And it is also certainly not what “blacks’ in urban America do on MTV base. Today, it is almost impossible to conceive of African culture and not hear some drums beating, and some guys jumping around the stage: It is someone—not Africans—who defined that as the total expression of African culture; Africans continue to internalize that myth. But in Ethiopia culture is in the coffee ritual, in Mali it may be tea ritual and camel racing, in Afro-South America it can be seen in capoeira; in Haiti it manifest in Vodon, in Trinidad in the Steel Pan, in Barbados in the Cou Cou and flying fish.

Dark skin is just skin with a high percentage of melanin. It does not inform anything distinctive, apart from the social historical reality that people with dark skin get treated bad— but beyond that it does not define someone’s value formation—only culture does that. And in the absences Ocacia - African Designer Clothingof this culture, blackness just absorbs the cultural identity of oppression; contributing to the culture-less deserts of humanity. African culture is the culture of the inventiveness and adaptation of African people, since no continent can sponsor a culture—only people can. (The physical continent, beyond environmental impact, is a negligible agent of African culture)

How then can we protect culture when culture is not defined? How can you defend a territory that has no boundaries? Culture can not float or it would be meaningless at retaining its shape, and therefore incapable of sustaining itself or creating innovation. And we must always bear in mind, culture is only as good as its function to living people. And either Africans take ownership and profit from their diverse cultures (like Jazz, Break dance, herbal remedies, etc) or it will end up in the claim-books of other people.

‘Culture’ is a concrete social phenomenon which represents the essential character of a particular nation–Hofstede (1991)

Cultural laws are about boundary-maintenance, which fundamentally informs notions of morality that in turn inform legislation and nationhood. And Africa’s cultural fences are the bastion to African self-definition, and if haphazardly torn down and replaced with untested immoral values, what kind of death will that bring to Africa’s unique humanity?The majority of African cultures are
communal, as oppose to “individualistic and this one difference creates entirely different paradigms and behaviors. (Africa would never produce Nihilism orExistentialist though for example) This communal root spills over to inform notions of “human rites” and ethics. All of these factors are interwoven in the fabric of Africa’s quilt of cultures.
African culture includes but is not limited to: The centrality of spirituality, the placement of music, aesthetic, family formations, marriage rites, both the tangible and intangibles intellectual paradigms. The agents affecting culture are climate, geography, technology, cross-cultural interaction and unfortunately a history of oppression.

Long ago some wise people realized that certain habits bore bad fruit, while other habits, such as marriage bore success in the group setting. It was also realized that at some stage children became adults when they had been fully institutionalized to the ethics of the group’s culture. At this stage a ritual marking this transition to full group membership. These “rites of passage” became critical in nation-building. [1]

It is clearly not only a hallmark of African civilizations, but many other communities such as the Bar Mitzvah (Hebrew: בר מצווה‎) [2] which denotes a Jewish youth being considered responsible for their actions and being included in the adult rituals of the group.


hookah in Ethiopia

There are so many living examples of how different cultures embrace new things. The Hooka (hubbly bubbly SA) came out of the Islamic world  1)starting in India under Akbar the Great (1542–1605 AD)is just such an example. There was a time in Ethiopia where the only places you could see this culture was in Islamic restaurants and Somali social spots where there were special rooms for smoking. All-day long men would socialize by hiring these rooms and smoke. Within the last 20 years it left the Islamic spaces (like khat) and became something all Ethiopians did. Now, within less than a decade you go to South Africa and they are selling this everywhere to everyone. It started with so-called Coloreds and Indians and now there is no place you can go and not see it.

As for Ethiopia, it would be hard to see a woman smoking hooka in public (maybe a few Muslim women in the parks in Harar)– now women of all backgrounds are on the pipe as much as the men. We live in a globalized space and the rate at which distant unrelated cultures absorb things is astounding. What may have take 2 decades is happening in 5 years. 


Modernity is not the sole ‘invention’ of Westernization, but more over, ‘modernity’ is the accumulated Conquest of the Western world

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Modernity is a technological state and has zero ethical considerations in its construction. Modernity has nothing to do with degrees of civilization, in the humane usage of the term. The most uncivilized inhumane society may have advanced weapons, which they use to destroy nature and other humans. Would it be correct to say that possession of weapons of modern warfare automatically implied civilization? Culture also interacts with modernity at many complex levels, but advancing culture should never mean the retreat of modernity, and vice-a-versa.

Africans were part of modernity, how many Arabs and Asians were also part of creating modernity? Modernity may have been assembled in a White man’s house but by many non-White people. So no one race can claim everything in modernity. Modernity does not imply West or White. It has been and is the product of a global human effort.

We should go down to the grassroots of our culture, not to remain there, not to be isolated there, but to draw strength and substance there from, and with whatever additional sources of strength and material we acquire, proceed to set up a new form of society raised to the level of human progress–Ahmed Sékou Touré

What is the point of African culture(s) if not to be applied to every aspect of the African world? Why should the values and traditions which have preserved African humanity be replaced with the cultures or value systems of those practiced by Europe? Because to do so is to concede to a superiority in European values and cultures. Just when the circumcision rites were being labeled as “irrelevant” the same modern science now discovers the health benefits and lower transmission of STDs among circumcised males. What other revelations lie within the wisdom found in culture?

Rites of Passage Xhosa culture

Xhosa Rites of Passage

African cultures have evolved to harmonize with the African soul, body, and mind All are a child of time. Communities enshrine these cultures by practicing them and promoting them. And contrary to what Mugambi and Masolo suggest, there is no evidence, in any record, which show that a people who forget their culture prosper in any meaningful way.[1] And part of the confusion is between “modernity” and “culture.” Cultural values can exist in the most technologically advanced spaces, without challenge. It is a false dichotomy to think that rites of passage is incompatible with modernity or dowry belongs in a bygone era. In Africa Ptahhotep was credited with authoring The Instruction of Ptahhotep, an early piece of Egyptian “wisdom literature” meant to instruct young men inappropriate behavior in Ancient Egyptian African society. The rites of passage of Ancient Greeks became the first European universities: So institutionalized into the world it is no longer seen as a direct aspect of European culture. Another almost invisible example is how European Gothic traditions and folklore (witches, vampires and elves) are now transplanted into what is accepted as good Hollywood entertainment.

And the same is true for the billion-dollar video-game industry. So normalized and obvious that the viewer forgets these are just European cultural folklore in modernity. And the failure to place African cultures in a modern context kills Africa’s ability to extract wisdom, success and development from African cultures.

Racism against Africans is not the only force operating on Africa’s cultural agency. Africans have also allowed things to stagnate. In West Africa, a new-rich African goes to Venice to buy European paintings, skipping a magnificent African arts market 4 sec from his door. And this is true all over Africa; craftsmen from Mozambique have to see pieces worth $400 US for $20 US so they can eat. These same crafts are worth $1000s once they fall into the European dealers markets. No industry can continue to innovate without an economical system of support, that fosters the burgeoning of the arts. So then culture stagnates when the market economies fail to provide the incentives to artist. At a future date, Africa will have no high art, only trite touristic caricatures of a distant craft.

For to free ourselves socially, we must build a consciousness, cohesion and sense of specialness in community [that] only culture can give–Maulana Karenga

Culture and economics for many nations are so normalized the relationships seem invisible. Zumba a dance craze worth millions which not only brings in fiscal rewards but promotes Latin American music all over the world. A perfect example of a cultural economic phenomena. Where is West Africa in this market with so many rich cultural dances. Where is Reggae in this? And where we see it never are Africans initiators of benefactors economically.

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Beyond the over reaching hand of Westernization many cultures put their foot down in the monocultural stream of globalization to take ownership of their spaces. The Japanese practices Japanese culture in the modern workplace. They did not completely base their work ethos on Europe just because Europe brought technological gifts to Japan in the 19th century (Convention of Kanagawa). So why can’t African attire, for example, be the formal dress code of the governments of Kenya? Is the heavy three-piece suit and tie more “practical” in the Kenyan heat than African garbs? During the Ethiopian 2000 millennium celebrations Meles Zenawi wore traditional Ethiopian clothing on national TV for the first time, the next day the local clothing economy in Addis rose by more than 30%. The same thing happened after Beyonce was shown on TV with full Ethiopian cultural attire. Verace came to the attention of the world when his designs were worn by celebrities, it created a status around his work. Now imagine if Beyonce or Meles wearing the Ethiopian cultural attire creates an entire boast to Ethiopian designers internationally?

If African leadership is not loyal to the local markets what does that say about African markets? After Thomas Sankara came to power in Burkina Faso in 1983, he declared locally woven cotton the national fabric and required civil servants to wear it. With a serious trade deficit anything which enhances local markets is a critical issue. Not to mention the physiological consequences of seeing Africans wearing their cultural attire and reaffirming a distinctive African cultural heritage which makes Africa unique.

And why also can’t African food be served in all hotels in Africa? Why is Africa treated with a false dichotomy of “modernity” or “culture“? Especially when modernity is a byword for Western culturalization. The real reason most Africans do not take the ethics and the aesthetic of these diverse cultures and put them in modernity is due to mental slavery. Many see African cultures are “backward or impractical” but the truth is most Africans globally do not have the confidence to seek meaningful applications and models for African culture.

The chameleon changes color to match the earth, the earth doesn’t change color to match the chameleon– Senegalese Proverb

One example where this has been challenged and won, is with the locks hairstyle, which is seen across the cultural divide. It has left Jamaica and gone to America, and ultimately been a successful alternative hairstyle in much of Africa because of Reggae music. (a perfect example of how musModern Application of African Designsic was used as a form of agency). From a Caribbean fringe culture to a global success story. But how can Africa alter, change, and utilize what is not understood? It is like going through the cupboard and finding 10 bars of gold and flushing it in the toilet , ignorant of its value. And this is what happened across the globe, burning ancient artifacts, throwing out beautiful art and replacing it with Chinese junk.

Discarding environmentally friendly thatched roofs for galvanize; trading silver for cheap salt. So European architects are busy investigating applications of the African cultural aesthetic in contemporary designs, while African architects are running around trying to be Black versions of Frank Lloyd Wright. Even the Chinese had no value for the Great Wall of China and other historical monuments until Europeans showed an interest. But the minute they realized its value they capitalized on it and have been doing so ever since.

In Africa’s past when people built mosque, churches, halls for kings, etc, they used their own creativity to formulate an architectural aesthetic. Today you can go anywhere in Africa but will struggle to find that continuing tradition of an African architectural aesthetic. If anyone is engaging an African aesthetic it would be European architects designing game lodges, etc. But not Africans!

Without culture the very meaning of an African identity folds and crumbles. Africa is not just a geographical set of marks on a map, it is the repository of traditions and wisdoms which, build African people’s cultural heritage

Despite the wonderful talk of an African renaissance, there is no evidence of attempts to evolve an all-embracing culture that allows a healthy expression of diversity. Without a mosaic (national) culture that provides room for co-existence, there cannot be an inclusive political philosophy that allows all to become stakeholders in government. Neither can there be a moral order–upon which all development is predicated–without a solid cultural foundation…. Africa’s post-colonial trauma results from institutions, governance and economic development models without any cultural underpinnings–Sam Mwale


And what we realized is strong culture means nothing if we do not start by defining those things that matter within any culture. For example, some people in Africa are very proud of their language.  They are very proud of their ethnic group and think the world of themselves. There are things within their culture that should in theory set them up for success. Yet for all that pride and ancient culture why are they failing? You see it has to translate and attach itself to the modern setup. You can have all the rites of passage you want, but does it translate to 2020 in the urban cities of wifi and online shopping? or is it just obscure rituals that have failed to find a home in this century? So pride in one’s identity means nada if that identity does not do what it did for the Japanese and make them want to be the best in the world. Something within Japanese cultural pride attached itself to something that brought them great success in technology. However, If a proud identity is satisfied to sit down on land they still do not know how to properly use in 2020 and boast about “my ancestors own this land” then all you will do is sit for another 400 years.


Personal Story | While in OR Tambo airport in South Africa we noticed a pray sign for Muslim travelers—-the airport had burdened itself with a pray room for 2% of its population.

While starving we could pick between KFC, Nandos, Hawaiian food, American Food, Chinese and Indian. While waiting for the flight all the authors of EOR Tambo Airport Fast Food No African Foodurope were represented in the bookstore, maybe less than 1% of the content had any African authorship, less than none had any progressive African history. No Pan-African documentaries or African filmmakers were available in the Look N Listen DVD shop—only Hollywood and Bollywood.

On the long-haul flight to Turkey and then on another flight to St Lucia while booking the ticket there was an option for a Kosher meal (Jews represent a nearly invisible religious demographic). While watching a film on the plane, the language options were Hebrew, Catalan, Arabic, etc. While attempting to login to Facebook there were many language options. Under the section Africa and Middle East there was Afrikaans (spoken by not even 0.1% of Africa), Hebrew (another minority language) and Arabic. Do you know what all of this tell us? Cultural agency, and cultural definition driven by pure market economics. [8]

Nothing African owned here in South Africa

OR Tambo Airport Fast Food No African FoodRace or discrimination play no direct role in any of these happenings. Because the religion/culture of Islam and Judaism has a dietary definition and has economic power and therefore agency it can impose itself and be accommodated. Because the economic power of Hebrew speakers or the geo-politics of Jewish filmmakers and Israel as a dominant market, Hebrew is accommodated for .Because Indian food and other cultures have the agency, the cultural definition they can have menus representing their cultures—-the local African cultures/religions cannot.


Culture is power, but you first need a powerful culture. So in real world terms, Ethiopia and Kenya are entering into modernity. Ethiopia already has a highly institutionalized culture, religion, and script; Kenya does not. Who will be more displaced by modernity? So in some cases Africans just do not have a powerful enough or sophisticated (taboo but accurate word) culture. And being political correct in a fire does not help one escape the fire. For example Zulu food vs. Indian food. There is no hope of Zulu food conquering Indian food in a globalized world. Ethiopian food vs. Indian food, now with enough investment Ethiopian food does stand head-to-head. Indian food vs. Arabic food, there is no hope of Arabic food winning that war. Western clothing vs. Zulu clothing? Again no hope, since Zulu clothing is still in its nascent after all these centuries. But now West African clothing vs. European clothing there is a fighting chance.

Indian Food Cultural dominates in a Strong European Cultural nation like the UKThe power of agency determines much of the patterns of cultural dominance in the world. When Ancient Egypt was conquered it converted the invaders to the religion/culture of the ‘conquered.’ In Persia despite being destroyed by the Mongol armies, it was the conquering Mongols who surrendered their culture and gods for Islam. Islam had enough definition to displace the invaders culture and faith and supplant it with an Islamic-Mongol culture. [1]

Culturally the UK has produced no serious food heritage. (unless you call Fish and Chips food). So the arrival of a stronger cultural cuisine of a minority group was able to over power and culturally displace the entire UK culinary tradition. The “superiority” of Indian cuisine not only in taste but also in its institutionalization dominance a country as powerful of Britain. Today Indian food is the “national dish” eaten across the cultural divide. Kebabs are also impacting traditional British culture in this way.

Displacement is not only by external forces. Many cultures are displaced and absorbed by neighboring cultures in Africa. In Ethiopia this is evident with the Amhara. In South Africa with Zulu culture which becomes more monolithic as we come into modernity because of the dilution of subcultures as they merge into or are wholly displaced by the mother culture (or dominant culture of one Zulu people). Even in the cities we can see instances of people of Zulu heritage who socialize with Ethiopians become Ethiopianize. It happens more commonly with Somali and even more rapidly with Eritrean people if isolated and socialize with Ethiopians. It happens to Ethiopian Jews in Israel, but not by a direct agent by via music and popular Black culture.


Have you seen the film Prometheus? But it could be any Hollywood film. How many European cultural references are embedded in that story? What piano piece is David playing in the start of the film? Wagner a modern classical composer who himself is reference Viking mythology with his piece Entry of the gods into Valhalla. What poems were referenced in the film Interstella? Do not go gentle into that good night by Dylan Thomas. And Thomas work appears again in Solaris with Clooney “”And death shall have no dominion.” Returning to Prometheus what does it mean? It comes from Greek mythology. And in the same film David quotes Percy Shelly’s (19th C) Ozymandias: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ What about Hannibal the sequel to Silence of the Lamb, with its central theme of Dante’s work.

Do we not see how European culture is constantly venerated their own icons? This is why we say Europeans have a deeper connection with their ancestors than us. And the irony is not only Europeans do this, “proud” Black rappers also use their lyrics to look intellectual by celebrating European culture; rappers like Jay Z and others. 


If we are honest with ourselves then solutions become very clear. If we think hard enough we know already why people do not want to be African, or reject African culture, native faiths, and prefer to be something else; It is not really a mystery. And this thing about Europeans demonizing African culture, well just imagine if they came to Africa and found Africans levitating and flying spacecraft, would they have demonized our culture then, sure they might have tried but it would not have stuck? Nobody successfully demonizes a culture that has more power than theirs. And people, of all races, creeds, and faiths, prefer to be associated with what they perceive to be more “successful.” The perception of backwardness, true or false; the perception of unsophisticated, true or false, all factored into why things in Africa were replaced often with other faiths, cultures, customs, etc. And it was no different in Arabia, China, Europe and India. What came in, that was perceived to be better was often adopted, integrated, or substituted. People with a higher degree of agency selectively adsorbed new cultures, technologies, etc, and made them their own. People with weaker agency got imposed and had no ability to successful make these new things their own, often their old ways were demonized and flushed out. That is the way of the world.


See African Agency|

While most African cultures can be seen actively on the family level, and the day-to-day way people go about their lives, it seems to cut off when it comes to the corporate level. It does not become institutionalized in education, business, top level trading (stock markets), science, etc. European culture on the other hand is from top to bottom, not missing and inch of surface it interacts with in the lives of not only Europeans but the entire world. So the cultural power of the Zulu people seems to stop dead after a certain level in society. They have no ritual holidays comparable to Eid and Easter, or the Jewish holidays. There is no ancient legacy institutionalized from which to draw new traditions from. And therefore it does not lend itself, outside of the odd ceremony, to the mainstay of the lives of South Africans. Ethiopian culture on the other hand does extend itself much further in the fabric of everyday Ethiopian society. It does have ancient traditions from which it draws its modern set up.

Only people with strong cultural agency can look at new technologies and see the technologies as distinct from the culture of the techno-bearers. They can then skillfully take the technology and leave what threatens their self-identity. The more agency the more this happens; the less agency the less this happens. It is as simple as that. If someone is now in a state of zero agency, such as an enslaved African, then the impact of religion, culture, socialization from the other will produce a greater than 80% conversion into a cultural orphan.


Muslims, Christians and Jews. Romans, Ethiopians, Chinese and Persians. What do they all have in common? They were able to add a sense of prestige to their identity. It was therefore something perceived as successful— a brand—that everyone wanted to be part of. To be Muslim in West Africa in the 12th century was a kind of high life club; associated with the rich merchants. And we still see it today in places like South Africa, and even Ethiopia– a perception of wealth. In Tanzania being Arab usually means being wealthy, people see this and want to absorb into their own lives the secrets that produce this wealth, so they emulate the customs of those with this wealth. They certainly do not emulate the customs of the person who cannot feed himself. or the culture that has them going to the savanna to hunt every time they are hungry. No, they prefer the culture that produces a better way of life, that produces modernity. It is the perception of better (true or false is not being debated, and almost inconsequential) only the mechanism of how it happens. So then the Bible or democracy, and all things foreign, are all secondary factors in the pursuit of what is perceived to be better.

People see an association with speaking French and success. The French have branded their language as a prestige language, something to be desired, like a Patek Philippe watch or a Lexus .

Romantics have often lamented at the devaluing of African culture, they throw blame on Arabs, Europeans, everyone but self. Now get in a time machine and ask yourself honestly Why would demonizing Ethiopian culture not have worked? The Euro and the Arab have scripts, that will not impress and Ethiopian, they have scripts to. The European has St Peters, the Ethiopian has Gonder, the Arab has Mecca, the Indian has the Taj. The Hindu has the Gita, the Ethiopian has their own Bible, the Muslim has the Qur’an, the European has KJV. The contrast between these nations is not disparate. Not enough to create the notion of superiority.


When the culture of a people fails, or is made to fail by external oppression, they will absorb and replace what is lost with the culture available–usually the culture of their oppressors. When a people experience a trauma, it causes the natural cultural defenses to weaken and this allows in new cultural components from the strongest source.

Humans, regardless of race, are just human biological blanks, we absorb the culture that we are settled in. Arabs are Arabs because of Arabic culture. A genetic Arab raised in a strong Jamaican culture, with no reference to their Arabic roots, will be Jamaican. This is why community is a fundamental component in the shaping and retaining the cultural character of any community.

Often when a people are displaced they always have a reaction (one which may acquiesce or one which may reject the invading dominant culture). That reaction may often creatively try to recreate an image of its self by amalgamating bits and pieces, by integrating new ideas. Or it might violent reject the new culture, but still try to gather fragments and recreate itself in opposition to the oppressive force. Depending on agency levels, the new “cultures” may Africanized everything they absorb, but if agency is low the new ideas will unAfricanize the African in the process. And this can happen even when their is a conscious and violent reaction to an imposing culture. Because once people have lost a memory of themselves they might inherit (unconsciously) a “new identity” modeled on the oppressor’s template.


African culture did not stop at the Atlantic Ocean or the Red Sea

What we have to appreciate is that culture is so dynamic it is impossible, most of the time, to identify a “pure” African (or anything) inside of any specific culture—especially in a world so globalized. People often look at a popular aspect of identity and culture and make the mistake of saying “Oh that is 100% African” or “100% European” . So the West African dress (heavily influenced with coming of Islam), the Masai beads and fabric (trade with Europeans), the Swahili culture, South African Shweshwe fabric (a European cloth adopted by Xhosa people), Ancient Egyptian chariots (from Syria), Native Americans on horses (from Spanish), 1,2,3,4 (numbers from Arabs), on and on. When you go back far enough you will often find it has a multi-cultural or multi-racial genesis. Today we see some of these things as exiting “As African” from eternity— but it is not the case. (And this is true for everywhere, esp Europe)


Tourism strips the living daylights out of African culture. In some respects it preserves the skin of culture, but hollows out and guts the essence of it. How sad is it to see Masai dancing just for tourist, with zero attachment to rites of passage, or celebration of the rains? How sad is it to see a Kora musician, who traditionally played in the royal court, now jumping up on down on a stage for Europeans? How sad is it to see Zulu culture kicking their feet in the air at airports and restaurants? Skinning and grinning for tips and smiles. Or a raindance performed for US dollars?

Anyone wanting to witness Islamic culture will not be able to access it outside of its primarily function—for the religious needs of the adherence. Yet much of what is remaining of African culture can only be viewed within the context of a packaged holiday. The mask and artifacts that once were serious aspects of African spirituality are now exclusively crafted for the tourist market—devoid of any spiritual significance.

Sacred ground and sacred rites now trampled by the beating feet of Western tourists. If they a tip they can take Facebook photos at The Door of no Return with joking gestures. You can get your African guide to hold your camera while you French kiss your lover in the dungeons that African were raped and brutalized in. All cultures have boundaries. Lines in the sand, our culture do not exist for tourist destinations. Not everyone who comes has an ALL ACCESS PASS for trivial holiday snaps of African rituals or African rites of passage. And it is high time Africans restore dignity by learning to say no! With no explanation or apology attached.

Real power is not in saying yes—it is in the ability to say NO!

African culture is now attached to a dollar culture—the service industry

African Kora Player

African Kora Player

try of touristic prostitution —devoid of meaning and significance. When the tourist dollar dies so too does the culture. The “zoos” of African culture will, at this rate, be the hotels and other tourist nodes. The next generation of Africans in their baggy pants and Western antics, will bemoan the situation and say; “Long time ago we use to do these things, we can no longer remember what they mean.”

Personal Story: When we were filming in Goree Island, one of the slave ports in Senegal, We told the curator this site is a sacred site. And there needs to be special times where Africans can come and exclusively pay respect to their ancestors who perished in the Holocaust of enslavement. It is scared ground, and what pained us is we are descendants of that horrible journey. It is a solemn experience, having Europeans there while we were remembering our ancestors was inappropriate. Special times should be available to those who want to do more than take cute snaps.

But there is another side to it. They are poor ignorant and exploited. We in the West are also to blame. How many of us use our resources to even visit these places, how many of us patronize our history? Not much support for all these rich entertainers with zero interest in their own culture and history. So the sad reality is our monuments are supported by White dollars; so whites have priority—a double tragedy. Had we done more in the Diaspora, we would have properly educated guides and have some control over having special viewing times for the Diaspora. Culture cannot be divorced from economy.


Some look at the West as the product of a technologically advanced decadent culture. The decadency being the product of the people’s inherent culture. But suppose it is the “modernity” and “wealth” that produces decadence? That would mean as soon as Africa becomes economically on par with the West we too will lose cultural values, and descend into the same lifestyle of greed and excess, waste and indifference.

We can look at all wonderful nations throughout history and see the descent into decadence with the rise of power.


(from African identity, needed in this article as a reference)

I am NOT White

We cannot create an authentic identity out of negation– What I am not! I am not White: I am not well-spoken, I do not wear a suit, I do not value sitting at the table and eating, I do not like structured religion. Unfortunately, this is what blackness is all over the world. It is not an identity coming out of a culture, it is a rebellion to the presences of Whiteness. But education and a command of any language is neither White nor African. Having advance knowledge of physics is neither White nor African. Showing up on time to a meeting and documenting events is not a racial trait. It is a fractured identity that creates the people you see in the ghettos who in the vacuum create a psudo-identity in reaction to the dominant White identity.  The irony of it all is the negated identity seems to embrace the most vulgar stereotypes visioned by “the Other.”


Culture is not static…Culture itself must reconstruct itself if the system in which it exists is reconstructed and rearranged. Some of us get in trouble because we want to find an African culture stuck somewhere back in the thirteenth century and want to apply it to ourselves at this point in a different context…African culture is constantly changing and evolving because the context in which African people live changes and evolves. What makes it African culture is that it operates in the interests of African people, is designed to advance African people– Amos Wilson

Khoisan People of Southern Africa

Khoisan People of Southern Africa

We are not the past; we are the future. What sense is it to take what did not/does not work? What sense is it to take blindly? We cannot take a religion from the Khoisan just because their DNA is in our blood, no more that we use stone tools to dispatch meat. Our ancestors did XY and Z is critical for us to know, but it is not a 100% golden template of what we should be doing today. Every generation, as Fanon said, must, out of relative obscurity discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it. And while we must draw on the past, we must also filter it to suit our modern situation. Taking the best traditions that suit our communities, nations, and individuals. And even that will vary depending region, religion, politics, and culture. Amos Wilson states: “The true nationalist is also not afraid to overthrow tradition when tradition is unproductive. He is not one who just gives obeisance to African tradition out of some blind ignorance. He is one who says: “Even though I revere the African past and I revere the African tradition, that tradition can be built upon. I have a right then to use the legacy of that tradition to confront the realities of my current times and thus modify that tradition and see to the survival of my people.”

Foreign interest destroyed African culture”~ Common Afrocentric rhetoric. This statement exist when culture is not defined, when identity is not defined, when religion is not defined. What exactly did it destroy? Did it only destroy or did it also build as well? Did the culture of Persia not depend on external factors, did the culture of Venice not heavily been influenced by Islamic culture?

Now with the coming of the CD the record was destroyed. Some good elements of the records were lost. The tactile, the imperfections were lost with the coming of the CD. Now we do not as sincere balanced people discuss that destruction without also talking about the benefits of the CD over the record. Now the CD has been “destroyed” (using their political polemic language) by the Mp3. Again we know it was not “destroyed” in an alarmist way but “replaced” and it was replaced for good reason. Some good things were lost with the exit of the CD, but more was gained.

With every single change in the world there is good and bad. And at every junction people who are self-determined use agency (critical word) to make choices about their world. We accept that as the natural course of human history which can be found the word over. With the coming of the Europeans to America, the native Americans saw the benefits of the horse and adopted it into their culture. They did not do so an destroy their spiritual relationship to the old ways. It did not create an off-axis change. They became a great horse riding nation. With the coming of the Europeans and Arab trade the Masai say the colorful beds and adopted it into their culture to create a new Masai identity, which we celebrate and photography.


Maasai Man in Kenya

Maasai man in Kenya

A culture is not one item divorced from the other items. You cannot pick out ritual scarification and leave the ethical and sociological functions that comes with it.  You cannot look at nudity in some African cultures, such as the Reed Dance of South Africa, and transfer that to Penthouse. Ear piercing of young males in New York has no relationship to ear piercing of young Masai boys. One is fashion (New York), and one is a rite of passage with deep symbolic connections to identity (Masai). Especially when nudity in the Reed dance (virginity ritual) is ideologically 100% in the opposite direction of the ideology and function of Penthouse. With each item of culture is a history, a purpose, a relationship, and a placement within the broader culture. It is impossible ideological to take something as a discrete item from one culture and transplant it in an alien culture, which has no history or structures to support it. Thus the hijab, the tattoo, the body piercing, polygamy, ritual nudity, all are symbols of deeper ideological values, there are expressions of spiritual values, or sociological necessities in geographical or social context. Without this context, would have no meaning and hence no purpose.


The Continent looks to the Diaspora for their image and identity in modernity

African authentic culture is impacted negatively from many sides, and is a complex dilemma. The first and primary agent, which imposes is the dominance of European culture, which first came via slavery, then colonialism and apartheid. It always asserted itself by diminishing the value (socially and institutionally) of African culture. It was in Europe’s interest to create cultural orphans who worshiped all things European, thus making better subjects who had ambitions of approaching whiteness. Taking European names, language and dress ascended things of African origin, and thus secured the notion of African inferiority. Religion compounded this because now the image of divinity was the European cultural ideal. On the Islamic side there was less of an impact because, Islam mainly spread through African agents wielding African culture. Culture was a serious factor because if Islam appeared too alien it would not have gained adherence (David Robinson, Hudwick). This was not only true for Africa but also for Arabia where Islam met with great resistance out of fears of loss of Arabic culture heritage. None the less, at every turn where Arabs, or even Indians, got in a religious position over African people (parts of East Africa and South Africa) they tried to demonize things African (like music and dance) and replace them with notions of their culture. “Being Muslim” where Africans had no agency was the template for becoming more Indian or Arab. Just like being Christian was the template for being more European.

But African culture on the continent also has a unique burden, because what is rarely discussed is the fact that they see the Diaspora as ideals—themselves – but in modernity. So not only is whiteness impacting Africa but Diaspora is having a terrible impact on identity. When children in Ethiopia now see Beyonce in her short skirt they relate to the wealth and status and see themselves through her expressions. No longer do they want to wear their habesha qemis, they do not want neTela (headscarf of very fine material).  Modern means what Beyonce and Rihanna are doing, African culture is something to escape with high velocity.

Popular culture and the mass media have a symbiotic relationship: each depends on the other in an intimate collaboration–K. Turner

In South Africa the new middle class do not admire African culture, they might reject elements of whiteness as they do not see self in copying the habits of European culture, but they are 100% chasing the gansta pimp dress seen on MTV, they are mimicking the hip hop African-American mannerisms and even the accent. For them they are valid in reaffirming both youth and “blackness.” Compounded not only by notions of “cool” but also notions of fiscal and sexual success.

A smaller impact is from cultural ignorance on the part of a Diaspora disconnected from the continent but trying to absorb aspects of Africa for their own self-worth and cultural identity. In doing so generalize and homogenize Africa in the same vein as the Western anthropologist. Using the same Eurocentric tools and perceptions to cherry pick aspects of Africa incongruously. So we see terms like “African spirituality” emerging as a new pseudo denomination. We see the loose generalization of a “tribal Africa” with drums and Umbuntu and libation, divorced from the reality of a diverse Africa. These over simplified echoes and fragments of authentic African spiritual experiences inadvertently are New World skeletons of deeper African symbolism. These trend have no reflective and seems halted in its own desires to promote a romantic image of Africa. But the downside is a loss of the depth of African culture, and therefore a lost of its diversity and intrinsic messages.


The term “institutionalization” is widely used in social theory to refer to the process of embedding something (for example a concept, a social role, a particular value or mode of behavior) within an organization, social system, or society as a whole

Today, native faiths are in direct competition with both Islam and Christianity for adherence. It is a tug of war which is seeing a decline in native beliefs. The advantage both Islam and Christianity has goes beyond mere economic, proselytizing personality, physical or political strength. And due to “political correctness” many shy from discussing a discourse on highly organized religions vs. less organized religions. The greater degree of institutionalize, the better an ideology or culture has at retaining its shape in adverse conditions. It can be argued that this factor of lack of sophistication, which is inherent in Islam and European Christianity, was the reason these native faiths could not become successful in modernity. Islam by contrast has systems of governance, system of hygiene, systems of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) and a very high degree of complexity which is sharply defined its cultural-religious identity. That structure is a fundamental factor in not only its identity but its image which has an aesthetic which markets and promotes its belief in a way which would be, in marketing terms, flawless. It has a script, a dress sense, a book of law a book of general public life, notions of time, and a very visible way of identifying its adherence.

Now to make the point of religion and degrees of institutionalization and success or survivability we can look at Ethiopian identity and culture which is far more institutionalized that Zulu culture. It is no wonder that Ethiopians have a cuisine culture and Zulu people do not. It is no surprise that they have a stronger ancient music culture, a religion which has its own script. And all of this is said outside of the issue of political correctness which has good intentions but sometimes obscures objective analysis.

What is true for religion and institutionalization is identically true for culture in general. The more sophisticated a culture is institutionalized, like Jewish culture or Indian culture the stronger its chances on the high seas of globalization, the better it stands against exploitation, the more resistant it is to appropriating foreign influences outside of its own agency.


Scripts are Powerful Political and cultural symbols

A script is not only a technology for writing the spoken word, and hence a vital form of communication. It is also a cultural symbol of a people and their identity. The mere sign of Arabic language carries the power of Islam and the Arab/Muslim people. Every time we see Amharic written we see the might of Ethiopian culture. A script is powerful political symbol used all over the world to show national identity. It is not accidental that Hebrew was reinstated when Israel was created in 1948.

Not only was Hebrew a fully functional part of unifying Jews, it was also a political symbol of their claim of a connection to Ancient Israel. There is no doubt the every time we see Japanese’s we see Japanese’s culture, every time we see Chinese we must think in terms of the culture, politics and identity of the Chinese. And by this same logic every time we see Latin we can almost map the history of conquered people and the politics of Western civilization on the world. There is a direct relationship (while not exclusive) to the presence of Latin and the power of Western imposition. (Turkey, most of Africa, all of Europe, etc).

Scripts across the globeCultures which actively use their scripts or have created their own native scripts also have a pattern of historical strength and identity.


Language is the conveyor belt of culture, yet 32% of the endangered languages are African languages. To speak a language is to engage in a culture (Nehusi). The unique relationship between language and thought and the paradigm positions which grow out of it this thought processes are therefore endangered.

Language is not only a means of passing information it is also a culture, to speak a language is to engage in a culture. To speak perfect Arabic is to expose yourself to the culture of Arabs, the same with Amharic and Hebrew; you could never learn Amharic and divorce this from Ethiopian culture.

One of the challenges with African languages is that with the arrival of both modernity and the colonial languages, the natural inventory system within the languages died. New words came from the colonial source, as opposed to the language’s own ability to invent new words for this new rapidly changing modern world. (Death of African languages)

Urbanization is the slaughterhouse of African languages. And it is not only a threat from outside i.e. English. Amharic has, on its own, displaced more languages in Ethiopia than English.

Note | The reason English is rich is that everyone who speaks it (including us) adds to its legacy. It is no longer a language of English people. As just writing English means we contribute to its expansion and diversity. The problem is the more we use it the richer we make it.


Cultures should cultivate, but not all aspects of culture do this. In these instances cultures, like everything else, can be host to inhumanity and racism. Purveyor of intolerance, cruelty, and stagnation.

There is a logical fallacy that crept into aspects of African consciousness. It is the belief that if something is African it is by default better. Now ‘African’ just means ‘of Africa’ aka indigenous (past, present or future). So how does that broad parameter equal better simple because of its authorship and geography? So any and everything done in African we should do by default even when most things clash with each other? This is romance and not a serious reality, and it comes from lack of knowledge of the continent and the world. Even Ancient Egypt and every great civilization took what worked over native things. The crossbow in West Africa. The camel in the Sahel. Actually it is this habit of taking and making yours that made Europe a superpower.

Hip Hop does influence world culture. For an example of how powerful it is in shaping urban youth culture just go to Japan. The problem is at the end of hip hop, as a generality, is nothing productive for modern African civilizations; it does not even fully own the cultural products it pushes all over the world: So it is a dead-end culture. It does more to arrest development than grow Africans into productive contributors. So yes, it is an example of a cultural agency, but a largely negative cultural agency.

Some aspects of African culture are negative and range from non-productive to lethal. Some have no place in modernity. Some are hindrances to development and while they service those people in specific historical periods are made useless or redundant in modernity. Political correctness sometimes avoids a full disclosure on other people’s culture, while racist attitudes assume that what is standard in the West should be standard for everyone.

In some parts of South Africa, families do not allow a marriage unless the woman first proves she can give birth. Once she conceives the marriage is approved. Not everything in culture is good, because what is now happening is men are using this excuse to have pre-marital sex without any intention of marrying the woman. It also creates a culture where a woman’s worth is exclusively in her ability to give birth. Women are therefore under social pressure to have a child, even without a husband or financial means. Coupled with the labolla (dowry) crisis, it hurts the development of strong moral families. [3]

Force Feeding Children

Force Feeding Children

Leblouh In Mauritania is a custom of “Gavage” (force feeding) to supplying a food. The practice is used on female children so they gain a full figure; as fatness is seen as beauty, and a sign of social status. Thin women have difficulty getting married. It is correctly a form of child abuse in a non-subjective way. We do not need Western notions of beauty to come to this analysis. Nigeria, Morocco have less harsh ways of attaining large size but the trend is the same. In Tanzania and much of Africa having a large gut on a man means he is wealthy and hence desirable. The health risk which Africans can gauge for themselves give us enough information to determine how we should handle these cultural trends.

Types of FGM

Types of FGM

The West perceives everything African through a narrow lens of misunderstanding and cultural supremacy. FGM is a word constructed for pure shock value, to shop for funds for yet another campaign into a continent still perceived as dark and backward. And while they pass judgment over African people the plastic surgeries of California are advertising a new service called “Designer Vagina.” So cutting is mutilation and barbaric in Africa; vogue and fashionable in Hollywood. However Female cutting goes back as far as Ancient Egypt (Pharaonic circumcision) and as long as there is choice, and health safety in Female cutting then it is all culturally relative. False dichotomy is limiting the options available to Africans and generalizing a wide range of cutting practices which do not come near to mutilation.

In the age old tradition of African music it served a very critical social function. Unfortunately our creative arts are today more a destructive distraction than cultural assets. (more coming soon)


Cultural corruption and superimposition is when elements of a culture are replaced with similar customs which have completely different attachments. Traditionally in some African communities alcohol served as a way in which certain ordained spirit people communed with the other realms: Alcohol (palm wine) served as a purely “religious” function in the society. A way of specifically related to another world in specific rituals by specific people. With the coming of the European alcohol began to take on a new function as a social drink. The trade in slaves for alcohol created a commercial-grade brew which was shifted out of the religious realm to exacerbate and encourage social drinking. This only increased with the depression from the trauma of slavery and colonialism dug deeper into African communities.

Some would point to the libation rituals but the pouring of alcohol became a form of corrupted culture. Which became so commonplace it actually gives the illusion of being part of traditional African culture. However, the social drinking was never a mainstay of African culture. The consequences of this alteration to cultural purpose is a form of cultural corruption by superimposing other cultural values in place of pre-existing similar cultures. i.e. usage of alcohol.

White anthropologists go into a village in Africa and observe some exotic “tribe” of boys sodomizing each other. They use that as evidence of authentic homosexuality in African societies. What White anthropologists, in their arrogance and ignorance do, is assume that any pre-White culture is an authentic culture that existed in a stagnant state for time immemorial. So our cultures are stagnant for eternity until they show up? How about we are capable of corrupting our own cultures? So unless you can go back 1000 years and bring some evidence of something you are still studying a modern population (remote or urban). And that is all we can say about it. We cannot take these things as proof of anything but contemporary or modern examples of African culture. Just look at Ngoni culture in South Africa and how it looks the same on paper as it did 400 years ago, but in many ways has been drastically altered to almost be a perversion of itself. The culture of damages (Ukuqhoyisa) is not supposed to work like how it works in modern South Africa. It has gone from a system of protection of honor to a system of exploitation in some cases.


Religion is a bottle with a label on it, spirituality is the thing inside. Religion is simply the culture of spiritual belief– ‘Alik Shahadah

Vodon Dancing

Culture and religion share space and are deeply intertwined; sometimes dyadic, sometimes so complex it becomes a single irreducible unit. The purpose of a comparison is only to better facilitate how they interact with each other, but not to suggest a pure dichotomy between the two. Where there is religion there will always be culture—It can be debated if the reverse is true.

Outside of the Abrahamic faiths, and perhaps Vodon, many African religions are inseparable from the ethnic identity and culture. So the religion of the Serer historically part of Serer identity, the religion of the Maasai is part of Maasai cultural and identity. To be Zulu culturally before Christianity more or less meant to take on the spirituality of the Zulu religion. And because religions rarely crossed ethnic or political lines there was no overt need to identify them as distinct “religions” vs. “culture.” And still today part and parcel about being Somali, or Fulani is integrated into “being Muslim.”

Culture has been defined as the system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviors and artifacts that the members of society use to cope with their world and with one another, and that are transmitted from generation to generation through learning. It is institutionalized in art, clothing, taboos, rituals, architecture, linguistics, proverbs, films and stories. Culture in its broadest definition is the entire social heritage of humanity.

Religion has been defined as a system of beliefs based on humanity’s attempt to explain the universe and natural phenomena, often involving one or more deities or other supernatural forces and also requiring or binding adherents to follow prescribed religious obligations. Two identifying features of religions are they to some extent (a) require faith and (b) seek to organize and influence the thoughts and actions of their adherents. (Webster)

Religion, like culture itself, consists of systematic patterns of beliefs, values, and behavior, acquired by people as a member of their society. These patterns are systematic because their manifestations are regular in occurrence and expression: they are shared by member of a group. Both religion and culture (if treated as discrete phenomenon) have traditions which services the group, whose meanings or relevance might be unknown to the user. Perhaps one difference is in religion the source and rational is a divine instruction for a particular action, while in “pure” culture it is informed by societal norms. So “do not eat pork” is an instruction from a divine origin in religion. In culture “do not eat pork” maybe a tradition established by ancestors and a social habit whose origin is long gone but still a factor shaping dietary habits. Religions will always create cultures, and culture becomes religion by attaching divinity to the behavior, habits, and attitudes.


See full article Linguistics

African spirituality cannot exist as an authentic African paradigm as a standalone construction; it does not float in free space without roots in a specific African culture. The sense of a spiritual connection does not (in Africa) stand outside of an organized religious belief. When people say they are just “spiritual” they are saying they have a belief in divinity, but have no culture; no rituals, no communal responsibility, no structure — how is that being African? It is African elements without the discipline or loyalty to social or cultural structures. For example in Palo, participation in a community of Paleros is critical to growing spiritually and within the religious hierarchy. But some try to take piecemeal elements; ancestors, burning oils, and other cherry picked aspects of African religions and amass them into a heap called African spirituality, as distinct from the religions these elements come from. Despite the good intentions of many of these neo-spritualist, this paradigm is an out crop of the trivializing and misunderstanding of things African; part of the legacy of Eurocentrism. It is a de facto new religion, without a name. spirituality in Africa always has a culture, and every time you have a culture you have a religion. The rituals of Voodoo, Orisha, Serer, etc are all highly organized, and without exception, function in communal setting. They all have degrees of a priest class, ceremony, immolation, libation, religious holidays, creation stories, saints, divine systems of punishment and reward.

African spirituality is the essences of the divine connection African people (pan African) have as a diverse group, it is just as varied from Ethiopia to South Africa, as it is varied from Sudan to India. There is no essentialistic quality or genetic relationship that binds all African religion or spiritual appreciation into one empirically definable block. The term “African” in the context here is the theater of study, with no suggestion of a monolith or exclusivity, bound by some phantom forces to the skin color of Africans or the geography of Africa. That religious or spiritual experience is locked to culture, and culture is locked to identity, and where one varies so to does the other.


Greeks, Romans, Aksumites, and Egyptians: Four different cultures. When they went about the business of getting a level of the surface from which to construct their empires they all used the same technique. Now, maybe on the Greek spirit level was a painting of Zeus, maybe on the Roman Spirit level was a painting of Caesar, while on the Egyptian one was a picture of Maat, on the Aksumite Spirit level, on account of their Christian faith, was the Ethiopian Cross. All these spirit levels functioned to measure the level of the surface. Maybe in Ancient Egypt they used the sun, maybe in Switzerland they use A Tag Heuer with Swiss Movement™, the objective is the same– Get to work on Time!

Culture serves to empower the ideology the essentialist quality of a people, its application in the practical world shapes the aesthetic, but not always the function or the objectives of a society. This is another factor that must be considered when understanding the role of culture and technology. How do people integrate technologies and ways of doing things into the fabric of their cultural identity.


Africa has 3000 distinct ethnic groups, 2000 languages. Home to the most genetically diverse people on Earth. So diverse that two Africans are more genetically different from each other than a Chinese and a European are from each other. Africa is the world’s second-largest and second-most-populous continent. At about 30.2 million km², it covers six percemultidimensional humannt of the Earth’s total surface area and 20.4 percent of the total land area. With approximately 58 countries. It occupies a wide dynamic latitude has; deserts, forest, snow, temperate climate, tropics, sub-tropics, lakes, the longest river, lowest point on Earth, mountain ranges. Now we have to ponder over these figures when we have these vulgar sweeping generalizations, which fit all of this diversity into one and two monolithic boxes. There are generalizations, which do define Africa, but none that are exclusive.

At any given instance a plethora of cultural forces are operating within one individual/community. We can generalize and say their is a master culture which is usually informed by their ethnicity and nationality.
But within say an African culture there could be a South African national culture which has peculiarities. There might then be a Xhosa culture which is distinguished against the cultures of the Fulani of West Africa. And then again their maybe a Location (township) culture produced via oppressive apartheid which is unique to South Africa. Within Ethiopia the Oromo people have a unique Oromo identity which sitting inside of Christianity and Islam, as well as elements of Westernization (mislabeled as modernity).

There might then be a KwaMashu township culture which is unique to KwaMashu in South Africa or Kalagi in Gambia. And then superimposed on this might be a Christian culture and then a general globalized culture: This is why it is called a culture complex. How these various cultures interact and conflict and resolve each other make up the unique culture of a specific group. These are all factors in culture which are condensed in any study. But “Being Ethiopian” like “Being Hawiye (Somali Clan)” switches priority at any given moment. Even with subtle distinctions between being Habesha vs. being Ethiopian National. All of these aspects of identity have unique cultural attachments.

Where does Muslim culture stop and Somali or Fulani culture begin? How can you tear Ethiopian Christianity out of Ethiopia? Taking Islam out of Oromo Girl | A plethora of cultures impacting her lifeWest Africa is like trying to take the green out of grass. In any instant someone could be more Muslim than Somali and then 2 seconds later be more Somali than Muslim (if we tried to split it apart). All of us live in a 21st century world which has a serious impact on globalized socialization. In other words without even knowing it we behave as people in a global cultural village with globalized interactions.

When you see the Masai culture, and the culture of say Afro-Brazilians, or African Caribbean people, do not let the fact that Masai are in Africa mean it is older or more authentic. Some of these “popular African cultures” are not ancient cultures and peoples. Some of them are just as subjected to the same Western forces, displacement, and diffusion as those in the New World. No Masai or Samburu wore beads before Europeans showed up. So culture is complex, not static and under constant influence.


Our culture provides us with an ethos we must honor in both thought and practice. By ethos, we mean a people’s self-understanding as well as its self-presentation in the world through its thought and practice in the other six areas of culture. It is above all a cultural challenge. For culture is here defined as the totality of thought and practice by which a people creates itself, celebrates, sustains and develops itself and introduces itself to history and humanity– Maulana Karenga

Every society develops a culture through a plurality of shared norms, customs, values, traditions, social roles, symbols and languages. Socialization is thus ‘the means by which social and cultural continuity are attained” ( Socialization and Society ). The agents of socialization are 1. Family 2. Religion 3. Peer Group 4. Education 5. Economic 6. Legal systems 7. Penal systems 8. Mass media and News media Organizations. Karenga identifies six areas of cultural activity: History, Religion, Social organization, Economic organization, Political organization, and Creative Production. [2]

Culture is therefore a complete process, that is not limited to “the people”, it is at a legal level, a family level, an a political level. When you land in IsCulture is Politicsrael you see a complete set of systems working in tandem which promote an Israeli national culture. When you land in the USA you see American culture, it is not a coincidence those things which shout “This is America”. As mentioned before, it might be called Western, but it is someone’s culture. French culture, Italian culture, etc are promoted at a state level. So in Africa the political process has an inescapable responsibility to African culture.

It is a global religious concept that humanity was designed to govern self. to make moral choices in the face of challenges, to protect the weak, care for the old and the sick and balance all these things against lust and greed and all the other challenges of life. To eat but not to deplete, to enjoy life but not to exploit life. To pursue happiness but not by denying other joy.

To protect communal traditions while rooting out harmful practices and also to find ways to create a viable future for the broadest possible human demographic.

Culture is the most pertinent response to these challenges. Culture instructs our lives with values and habits which service our humanity. Many aspects of African culture have a role in our continuation. When you see a huge taboo sign, that is because long time ago, African ancestors realized, to walk down that road is to entertain failure. It became institutionalized in culture. Cultures like religion uses “do’s” and “dont’s” to frame structures which maintain the societies from which they come. Marriage, eating, death, all have no-no areas to in principle protect those community characteristics which are passed down the generations.

What we must always considering in studying Africa is the multiplicity of identities and the dynamic nature of human culture. Cultures smash through borders, languages, notions of ethnicity, religion and political parties. So African identity is not one hard thing but a multitude of self-imposed conditions which ideologically run fluidly across indigenous Africa; it is not a scientific observation but a cultural-political one.  Human cultures share a common theme. Family is central; the collection of cultural features is politically and sociologically threaded together for common interest where Africa is concerned.

So what is the real issue the West has with the Hijab? The Hijab is a cultural political symbol of the face of the rise of Islam. Every year more the streets of Europe see more women wearing this “alien” dress. The traditional imposition of White supremacy is being beaten back by an pigmented culture. Now the Muslim is again in Europe, but not with weapons of war, but weapons of culture. We can now see White skinned British girls walking down Oxford street in hijab which spits in the face of “Europeanization.” And the new cuisine, language are all carried on the wings multiculturalism, the same multiculturalism that keeps the West powerful via fresh labor, skills, and money. So every attempt is being made to have the cake and eat it to, keep the perks of diversity while attempt to Europeanize them as they did with the African-Caribbean community. The irony is that the strength of “the other” in Europe is because of their cultural identity. Once that is gone the social function that multiculturalism serves will vanish and become social delinquency.

We are not Africans because we are born in Africa, we are Africans because Africa is born in us –Chester Higgins, Jr.


Humans are all the same, if you cut us we bleed, if you oppress us we rebel. Makes no difference if it is from the chains of slavery or the ovens of Nazi Germany. And all people in bad situation have degrees of culpability and self-harm. The one factor that influences that degree is culture and the identity that comes out of that culture. The more institutionalize that culture and identity the harder it will be to enslave a people or maintain them in a state of unconscious oppression.

Post Nazi-Germany Jews actually create a stronger Jewish identity creating in the wake of their Holocaust new cultural/religious structures which reinforced Jewishness. In the case of the African-American the cultures which came across the Atlantic during the African Holocaust held out for centuries but under the pressure and ferocity of the Maafa collapsed into a state where the cultural structures failed as means of retaining identity. It can be argued that if the Jews were also exposed to the peculiar conditions of the Maafa a similar pattern of destruction would have been visited on them culturally. The only saving factor was as a group they had a highly Institutionalize culture and the short duration of the Jewish Holocaust. Culturally Africans in America were from far too diverse ethnic groups to retain an cultural identity–the solution or response was they made a new one.

Critical mass theory applied to identity: if you do not have enough matter (identity) in oppression your system collapses under pressure. If you have enough critical matter even oppression will have the opposite desired effect by creating a super nova of locating revolution within the structures of cultural identity. Testimony to this is the Western assault on Muslim peoples globally. Since the crusades this assault has done nothing be reform different responses from Muslim communities, it has never quelled Islam’s potency as a cultural-ideological contender for world power.


Cultural imperialism is the domination of one culture over another other by a deliberate policy or by economic or technological superiority. Africa is undoubtedly the victim of cultural imperialism and its mechanisms today are none other than globalization. The agents of this imperialism are mass media and unfair trade. The consequences of this imperialism are under-development, lost of identity and language and destruction of markets (e.g. where traditional African clothes are replaced with Western ones).

Cultural imperialism can take the form of an active, formal policy or a general attitude. ( Alexander, Victoria D. (2003). “The Cultural Diamond – The Production of Culture”. ) This form of imperialism first entered Africa with colonialism, both Arab and European. It is also perpetuated via religion, education, language, and socialization. It is not however exclusively a Africa v non-African issue. Continental Africans see African-Americans as their mirror in modernity. As the imposition of African-American identity in style, music and mannerisms is imposed on African communities. Nor is cultural imperialism in Africa confined to this era. The history of Africa, as with everywhere else in the world, marked with degrees of cultural imperialism. And in Ancient Ethiopia and Ancient Egypt we see examples of this.

You will notice with all the “integration” going around Jews and Muslims do not do much of it in the West. Sure you might work next to Abdul in the office but when he goes home he is living on a middle class Pakistani Barking (East London) address, he is eating Curry from his Uncle’s restaurant, he will get married in Pakistan, on Friday he goes to the Mosque in his Kamiz. He speak Urdu to his family, he is not integrated where he loses himself. The same is not true for the new generation of African Caribbean people in the UK, who with the exception of one and two words in patois, is a cultural orphan of English culture.


Mursi Lip Piercing

Mursi Lip Piercing

Contrary to what the left’s relativist ideology says, for us all civilizations are not of equal value..We must protect our civilization–Claude Gueant (Racist French Politician)

When studying Africa from the eyes of Whiteness. Many assumptions are made. Europeans have a tradition of treating African culture the same way Zoologist study animals in the wild. [4] For example because the Arab trade favored women, it is said that some ethnic groups disfigured their faces (Mursi lip adornment) in an attempt to dissuade enslavers who sought beautiful women.

This is however a baseless Eurocentric anthropological fringe theory which is typical of ignorance of African culture. Lip stretching, like neck stretching in Asia or foot binding are culturally localized types of beauty, which are not rooted in European sensibilities and hence not subjected to Eurocentric logic. In absence of slavery similar body ornaments are worn by both sexes of the Suyá people, a Brazilian group. Europeans see what is perceived as “ugly” and assume their perceptions are universal and hence seek reasons (from their own culture) why someone would practice certain rituals. [4]

Since the 1960s, the predominant approach to social and cultural research among social scientists has been that of isolationist, clearly defined society, population, sector, geographically defined area. This approach has been championed as a progressive replacement to the former tradition of Eurocentric broad sweeping generalizations at higher levels of social organization such as the ethnic group, society, nation or geographical regions. [5]


If a fish jumps out of the sea and grows wings, feathers and a beak, at some point in that change the fish ceases to be a fish – culture is no different. We must identify what we are discussing when we saw cultures change. Cultural diffusion looks at how cultural changes spread from a small source sample from one society to another. The process by which discrete culture traits are transferred from one society to another, through migration, trade, war, or other contact (Winthrop 1991:82).

This author suggest two types of change “off Axis change” and “on axis change”, where the axis is the core value formation of a culture. Because we run the risk of making an error of confusion cultural innovation with radical core changes. For example Franz Boas viewed culture as consisting of countless loose threads, most of foreign origin, but which were woven together to fit into their new cultural construction. Discrete elements which become more interrelated as time passes–blurring their discreetness in the process. Now on axis change allows these elements as Boas notes to be woven together under the authorship of the people receiving innovations. In the off-axis setup this process is overwhelmed by imposition.

Christianity has radically “changed” the Gikuyu culture in Kenya. Yet the ancient Gikuyu would still recognize Gikuyu of today as their relatives. The language the core customs and rituals, even with the Christian faith are still recognizable. While subjective, the same cannot be said for the forced African Diaspora who would be unrecognizable to say the Akan people in Ghana.

In marriage cultures all over Africa cows as a dowry gift (Mahr مهر‎ )‎ has been replaced by blankets (especially in Southern Africa) and money. This is the cultural response to practical changes in world currency. However, that is not a core change since the spirit of labolla/mahr/dowry remains. The principles of a wedding gift remain despite a change in currency. the world has swung left and right but culture of marriage is over 7000 years old.

Technology has altered much of our landscape, people in Gambia now go to the Mosque by car as oppose to by horse. People talk on mobile phones, but the greetings are still “Assalam Alaikum.” Technology has shaped the culture but it has not made a significant change to the core Islamic faith, despite the Adhan now being called out on a loud speaker and electricity being in every Mosque. People now read Qur’an on Ipads is an evolution but not a change which suggest Islam is becoming Scientology.

Between Monday and Friday every person undergoes “change” it however would be a misrepresentation of the facts to suggest this “change” means people become radically different individuals. The cliche express “cultures change they are not static“‘ is being abused to justify radical alternation to African cultures. So the barriers which protect African identity are now being torn down under the word “cultures are not static.” New markets and foreign destructive habits can now nest in African societies under the banner of “cultures change.” But cultures even if they change should always change under the process of agency.

There is no dispute that cultures adapt and evolve and reply to reality, but they ethics are pretty much rooted in the original foundational paradigm which fostered them. Everything changes and there is a degree of subjectivity but a change must be weighed in unless we confuse natural variations and adaptations with some notion of Darwinian evolution. And at the end of the day it is called “African” culture for a reason greater than it being a black step-child of European culture.


Because of the imposition of European culture, it has grown from being a visible culture to just being just the norm for everyone including non-Europeans. Eating with a knife and fork or wearing a tie is all part of a specific ethnic culture which via acculturation has become “normal” for everyone else. So issues around culture being seen as backward are debunked because European culture is wrapped in technological innovations and certainly not perceived as “backward.” There is no part of the American dream that is not a cultural construction. The value formations instruct the culture which is uniquely American. Nothing humans do is untouched by culture and therefore there is no positions in a sanitized culturally-secular world. In other words a culture-free society or a cultureless way of doing anything.

And in more subtle ways language affects perception. The term ethnic is used by Africans inside of Africa to describe their nature features and cultures. How can an African be “ethnic” in a continent where Africaness is the norm?

We also see people saying “cultural dress” ; the mental process is creating a “normal dress” and then a “cultural dress” and while it is 100% accurate, we need to examine how European culture is so normalized it forces everyone else’s culture to be “Culture.”

In the West it is customary to say “Lets go for a drink ” this is an aspect of socialization and culture. It is the cultural way in which people engage with one another. It is however not the standard. In the Sahel of Mali the custom every time people meet is to sit down and drink sweet coffee.

Hakim Adi | Everybody has to, understand their history, their past and the role which culture plays in the lives of human beings. You can’t exist as a human being outside of a culture. We all speak a particular language; we all have a particular way of living, lifestyle, and so on and so forth. So these are all, if you like, aspects of culture which are important but they have to be, you know, they have to be fully recognized for us to really exist as human beings. And I think that’s something which is very often being denied to people or being devalued in one way or another as if the cultures of people of African origin – particularly those in the Diaspora, but also on the continent – are not seen as being as important as the cultures of Europe, or the institutions of Europe.


Muslim Hausa in Nigeria

Muslim Hausa in Nigeria

It is easy to prove that most taboos are, indeed, relative. Incest, suicide, feticide, infanticide, parricide, ethnocide, genocide, genital mutilation, social castes, and adultery are normative in certain cultures – and strictly proscribed in others. Taboos are pragmatic moral principles. They derive their validity from their efficacy. They are observed because they work, because they yield solutions and provide results. They disappear or are transformed when no longer useful–Sam Vaknin

Cultural relativism assumes that the practices within a specific culture have been created through agency and therefore have a relevance and value that outsiders must be sensitive to when hurling critique. The Western anthropologist has done a lot of misdiagnoses and created paradigms of primitive and advanced based on cultural bias. That has intern washed into academia where the very people from these cultures absorb this discourse and reapply the misdiagnoses to their own communities; a kind of Heisenberg paradox. To assume pleasure in the Somali world is equal to pleasure in the Western context is to assume a normality or expectation across cultures. If all humans are equal then the direction in which sexual pleasure take in the Somali community cannot be compared to those of the Western World, which places the female orgasm as being central to the female sexual experience; which parallels the male sexual experience.

A classic example of cultural relative is what was observed by psychologist Gregory Bateson, in traditional Balinese families, mothers routinely stroke the penises of their young sons, and such behavior is considered no more incestuous than breast-feeding. Incest is also not illegal in Israel, perhaps a response to the low population issues. So we see as Sam Vaknin suggest taboos or in this case lack of taboo, do ultimately respond to necessity.

In many African countries woman may gain their satisfaction from her husband’s orgasmic intensity, knowing he has enjoyed intercourse with them. It is not that they cannot also have orgasms, but the value attached to it is different; sex after all is a state of mind. In some parts of Somalia women put special herbs in their vagina to cause tightness for their husbands. Some feminist will rush to label this as a form of oppression, but not if cultures are valued as equals and understood in context of plurality. How can a Western woman dictate to an African woman how she should experience sexual pleasure? And even within Western culture we see complex sexual roles of domination and bondage. And this is why the issue of so-called female genital mutilation becomes an issue as outlined in the groundbreaking work of Fuambai Ahmadu and Wairimu Njambi. The only stipulation is choice and access to a full discourse of information from within that culture. But the minute the Somali woman leaves Somalia she is confronted with a Western world screaming “oppression”, she is then forced to review her culture but against a backdrop of  Primitive v Progressive. All the while the Western woman is rushing to the Designer Vagina clinic to get the very procedure done that the Somali woman has been doing for centuries.


All human values are rooted somewhere, we cannot prove “right” and “wrong” by mere logic, because all values at some stage must be anchored in some fundamental truths unique to the user’s community. Why is life sacred, why is incest wrong? Why is there a taboo on public nudity? Why is homosexuality seen as undesirable? Why is slavery unacceptable today despite it being acceptable for most of known history? Why is suicide condemned? Who decides which freedoms are restricted by law? It is easy for our modern society to agree on most of these points, or at least agree on the logic used to secure these arguments. So people say “off course slavery is wrong.” However, the large agreement is perhaps due to the legacy the global Abrahamic faith notions of morality.

There is also a moral zeitgeist that continually evolves in society, generally progressing toward liberalism in the West. This liberal trend always reverses when adverse social trauma impacts a society, such as rise in crime, prostitution or teenage delinquency. In the case of homosexuality and incest we can see practical biological reasons for why societies do not encourage it. Beyond argument it goes against the principles of peoplehood—the natural drive to continue the species. But this “practicality” is the foundation of African cultural ethics, what appeals for the best interest of the group. “Thou shall not kill” members of your own tribe (in-group and out-group morality) has practical overtones. ‘Bury the dead‘, has health overtones, ‘do not eat pork‘, again another health observation. ‘Circumcise the boys‘, again practical, and now studies reveal the hygiene and reduced chances of HIV transmission, but it also goes beyond practical when it binds groups of people together and forms civilizations. “We belong to the group” is the foundation of civilization and the cultural habits and rituals are the acts which pledge allegiance to the group cohesion. And despite the plethora of ethics and people who populate the America’s there is a core moral centrality which is enforced in legislation, which in theory is in the direction of the largest demographics cultural sensitivity. At what age is a child an adult? In absence of discrete rights of passage, Western societies depend on relativistic logic to formulate a fix number—but still it is based on the local cultures.

The human brain has the hardware for empathy but the software comes from cultural socialization

Protagoras, the Greek Sophist, observed that ethical codes are culture-dependent and vary in different societies, economies, and geographies. The pragmatist believe that what is right is merely what society thinks is right at any given moment. Good and evil are not immutable. Morality can be said to be intra-cultural but not trans-cultural. But ethical or cultural relativism and the various schools of pragmatism ignore the fact that certain ethical precepts – probably grounded in human nature – do appear to be universal and ancient. Certain values such as justice, honor, veracity, keeping promises, moral hierarchy – permeate all the cultures.

Morality is not completely a natural hardwired set of DNA codes, it is the process of socialization in which cultures/religion is the largest factor.[2] The human brain has the hardware for empathy but the software comes from cultural socialization. For example nature laws in traditional African societies are ultimately rooted on practicality, which become institutionalized in culture and ultimately into religious belief. These values are taught by the society to the next generation, some take the shape of rituals to help enshrine and add value to them.

The major virtues found in all cultures include wisdom / knowledge; courage; humanity; justice; temperance; and transcendence. [3] Different cultural groups respond differently to moral dilemmas as established in Fons Trompenaars “Did the Pedestrian Die?” And communal cultures v. individualistic cultures display radical difference in priorities. The tattoo culture in the West is a sign of “I do not belong to this majority group“, however no such concepts are found in Africa. tattooing or scarification is an mark of “I belong to this group.” The motivation for body piercing and adornment in Africa is more for inclusion, rather than exclusion.

The taboo of slavery in our modern societies has no bearing on what was moral in Ancient Rome. Pederasty was normal in Ancient Greek cultures, but today is viewed with absolute repulsion. Our morals have evolved, but evolution does not imply superiority. Moral superiority is impossible to gauge as we live within the world we are creating and hence are studying and judging self (a paradox for objectivity). Evolved ethics just means many processes have gone into arriving at what most people agree is “rights” and “wrong.” Today, and only today, does the bulk of the world take issue with slavery. The world however does not have the same issue with incarceration with hard labor of criminals (a euphemism for slavery). In Ancient Africa crimes against the state or a citizen were punishable by enslavement.[4] So incarceration in some African societies is only separated by a word, “slavery.” And our society is morally comfortable with the process as long as this word “prison” is used and not “slavery.” And terminologies have always been used to shade communities from harsh realities they are uncomfortable with. [5]

The attempt to separate what American law calls ethics from culture is like the space shuttle discrediting the solid booster rockets that got it into space. So today we can look at ethics as distinct from culture, but these ethics only exist because of cultural laws. Most of Africa roots itself in some notion of a divinity and cultural traditions of those who have gone before. Honor in Japan (Seppuku (切腹) is not necessarily honor in America. Respect in Islam is not respect in Vodon. FGC in most of Somalia is no more taboo than ear piercing in the UK. The cultural or moral root is not always universal. “Human rights” is therefore relative and dependent on the culture of a society. Tomorrow human rights could say the death penalty is “inhumane” but this is not an absolute truth located in a higher human realization, just because Amnesty says so. Each society must go through its own intelligent processes to figure out what is best for their interest. While cross-cultural influence has always been a factor in history, we can admit the undue influence of Europeans has created much “off-axis” changes in Africa, which work in Europe, but not necessarily in Africa. Europe has always been free to find its own path, and so to must African culture–without undue influence. And success can never be measured by us all meeting up at the same conclusions because that would be an assault on diversity and agency.


This section is a sub note. Nihilism states that : Morality may simply be a kind of make-believe, a complex set of rules and recommendations that represents nothing real and is seen as a human creation. [1] However, a society which is in denial of God will come to these kind of conclusions. Nature is evidence enough that “laws” govern the relationships between all life. Symbiosis is at its core a set of laws between two species. There is nothing “made up” in nature and all life has a destiny and purpose. But while the conclusion of Nihilism are atheistic, the process for the argument can be considered as a form of ethical relativism. Outside of a God-based culture humanity can fall into anarchy. Contrary to the likes of Richard Dawkins [2] It can be argued that belief in God is ubiquitous across humanity and therefore hardwired. Humanity has that unique ability to consider divinity and this consideration is what distinguishes us from the beast.


You can not measure an African success with a European ruler–Shahadah

People say “In African culture had/has a relationship with nature.” But is this static? It seems to be switched around these days. Africans are traditionally communal —not individualistic. Africans have a moral culture. But how long ago was that? These things are not promised by God to stay that way if the root of culture are destroyed (by internal or by external forces). These days people are “proud” of an identity that has no deep roots in anything environmental, ethical or developmental. This pride is in the notion of a name for a culture that has long lost of of its ethical parts—only the name remains. So understanding Ethiopian or Zulu, or Akan culture beyond the name and the coverings is critical to preserving what makes it special.

The more we understand each other (African to African) the easier unity becomes. You cannot respect what you do not understand. You cant understand anything through bigoted eyes. And without African unity the relationship between Africa and the world will always marginalize African development in every area of people activity. There can be no equitable exchange between Africa and the world if Africans are looking for ideals in ‘the other’, or defined by ‘the other.’ if Africa is not on an equal platform of self-determination and agency then that unique contribution is moot.

African culture must retain it’s fundamental ethos while positively interacting with the surrounding economic, social and political landscape each generation finds itself in. The traditions must first be understood in order to be successfully modified to the prevailing challenges of each generation. So as much as cultures are not static there is a moral or ethical thread that must always be preserved. Cultures cannot change so much that they become useless in preserving and reflecting a rich African heritage in which the sanctity of life is central. And within Pan-Africanism the opportunities are plenty for the best applicable traditions to be practiced, absorbed and continued. And who are better to govern that beautiful cultural journey, than African people?

References   [ + ]

1. starting in India under Akbar the Great (1542–1605 AD
Alik Shahadah

Alik Shahadah

'Alik Shahadah is a master of the Documentary format and progressive African scholar. Shahadah uses film for social revolution. A multi-award winning recipient including the rare UNESCO award for his critically acclaimed film on slavery 500 Years Later.. He is best known for authoring works, which deal with African history, social justice, environmental issues, education and world peace. He states his primary motivation for making these films was being frustrated with "Tarzan's voice" as the central narrator in African stories. He noted that while scholarship challenges these issues, the common knowledge of the majority is generally unaltered, writing alone is not enough, the ultimate tool for re-education on a mass level is film

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