The idea of stories and myths have always fascinated me since I was a kid. I love Greek and Egyptian mythology and old African stories my grandmother used to tell me. The intricate portrayal of carefully placed words can hold complex imagery, symbols, and metaphors that speak profoundly and passionately to our nature is astounding. We must not underestimate how stories and myths have shaped our history and inform our present lives. African cultures have a rich history of oral storytelling not because we didn’t have writing but because stories brought us together as a community and also because there is a spiritual technology that was integrated with the stories being passed down from person to person. You will not find out about this in history books, but it has been confirmed through various means.
African stories and mythos have a way of connecting us to the fire of our spirit. When we used to practice our own culture and spirituality, we were able to get the rich rewards hidden in the stories told to us by the elders, but many of us now practice the foreign man’s religion and spirituality; we don’t get the benefit of the deep medicine our myth’s and stories contain. Furthermore, our myths, writings, and stories helped us control our narrative and control our destinies. Controlling one’s historical record is vital to any people and culture.
The European narrative is that present-day Africa is still highly poverty-stricken, rampant with diseases, income inequality, civil war, coups, people barely clothed while chasing lions. I am not saying that some of these things don’t exist in Africa because they do. Still, at the same time, there are also many transformational and positive changes happening as well. Yet, somehow the developed countries only seem to focus on this old paternalistic image of Africa. I can attest to this old world view of the African image because I’ve met Black and White Americans that think this is how Africa is. But when they learn Africa is full of modern cities, highly educated peoples, some of the fastest-growing developing markets like Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa, they’re shocked.
On top of that Africa just launched the largest free trade area globally, but some of Europe or even Americans still don’t think we have bookstores or cafés. I watched an interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adicie being interviewed by a French journalist where the journalist asks her if “there are book shops in Nigeria”? (I mean, really???). This is partly because we have sat back and allowed others to tell our stories for us.
One constant truth about history is that He who wins the war writes the tale of the war’s battles. I am reminded of King Leopold II and his colonial conquest of the Congo, where he was responsible for the genocide of nearly 10 million or more Congolese people. And we barely hear of this atrocity because he weaved a story to the world that he had the citizens of the Congo in education camps where they were learning to create pottery, but in actuality, he was cutting off hands of mothers and pregnant women who couldn’t meet their rubber quotas. He had a media machine that told the story and weaved the narrative, so attention wasn’t being bought to the atrocities that were taking place. If we do not navigate our own stories, then we run the risk of continued marginalization on the world stage.
In Clyde W. Ford’s book, “The Hero with an African Face,” There is a story from the Bulu people of Cameroon where “Zambe, the supreme creators son created two men (an African and European), an Elephant, a Chimpanzee, and gorilla. Zambe gave each of his creations food, weapons, water, fire and a book for survival”. Zambe left and, with some time, returned to the Earth, where he asked each of his creations, “Where are all the tools you were given for survival”? “The Elephant didn’t remember what he did with his tools, the Gorilla and Chimpanzee threw away everything but the fruit”. “The European kept the book but discarded the fire, while the African discarded the book but kept the fire. In this story, the fire represents the spirit, the connection to the human soul, and the portal to the other world. While the African decides to keep their connection to the sacred mysteries through the fire, the Europeans kept the book, representing their control over the physical and the mundane world through reason and logic.
For me, this story is an example of what we can interpret and understand when we tell our own stories and control our narrative. Until now, the African have never been solely focused on the mundane and reason without maintaining a balance of spiritual understanding and harmony to navigate the physical world. We have partly lost the fire, which was our understanding of nature, spirit, and the human correlation. Like the European, I find that we are now focused on the mundane, obsession with material wealth, and trying to understand nature or even ourselves through a European lens.
We must change this. We are Africans, meaning we can’t do things the way Europeans have done it because their way is destroying our planet. We must tap into the old stories, myths, and writings of our people and view it from an African perspective, understanding that we must do it differently and do it our way. We cannot sacrifice our spiritual connection and understanding for materialism and capitalism. There must be harmony, an infusion of our indigenous selves with our modern selves. Like our ancestors, we must keep the fire while navigating the physical but with the heart’s intellect and ancestral mind.