Ancient Eugenicists

Zanga Chimombo Egyptians were not Asians, nor aliens.

“Genocide might indeed be a worse demon of our nature.”

When black civilisation was destroyed first time round there was little to show for its former glories apart from squat noses and thick lips on statues and other artworks that invading lighter folks successively reduced. After all, if writing is confined to a priestly caste in immobile temples it is hard for it to remain a concern when there are sea peoples, the Hyksos, Cambyses or Alexander on your tail; let alone Jihadists on their way to the Iberian peninsula. Neither do papyrus scrolls keep well in the deserts nor rainforests nor savannahs depending on which compass direction you chose to flee. I would imagine too that tablets become rather heavy especially when they have to compete with a basket of provisions on the limited space that is one’s head.

Jared Diamond is probably right that this unfolding of events has more to do with latitude than attitude. Otherwise Yali’s valid question remains: if mankind evolved in Africa and civilization not so far from it (within an Africa “Minor” in a different manner of looking at the same familiar things), why didn’t “black” people go on to bring about globalization in this recent instance?

If the roles were reversed, however, I am not sure quarter would be given either as incidents of counter-racist racism demonstrate. Come to think of it, when homo sapiens sapiens overran Eurasia from Africa, I doubt that lesser higher primates were tickled into extinction. Genocide might indeed be a worse demon of our nature.Browner people aren’t less racist. We just haven’t had as many opportunities to demonstrate it spectacularly as these darker demons of our nature did in Rwanda not so long ago. I fear that genocide is a base tendency and that we must continually strive to educate ourselves and each other in order to seek out the humanity in the “other” if we are to co-exist on this spaceship hurtling through the void.

“Papyrus scrolls keep well in the deserts nor rainforests nor savannahs.”

As a corollary though, human beings seem to possess an instinctive fear of group annihilation. Perhaps we intuitively recognize that we create and destroy the future; that we have this power today, are supermen now as we live, in contrast with Nietzsche’s unborn supermen of tomorrow. Hence we huddle together according to our petty little distinguishing characteristics. Perhaps indeed hate must be allowed to be expressed as freedom of speech, if only to identify opportunities to educate, if at all this is practical. However, reading daily depredations on minorities all over the world I dread that even education may not be enough to rein in our prejudices. Yet, in order for the ideal of multiculturalism to maintain its legitimacy, it must be presented as not only possible but inevitable. There is no alternative.

Multiculturalism is an unintended consequence of the actions of the class that initiated it for its own benefits. Cultural imperialism was a loyal bedfellow of the more vicious naked capitalism. A lowly class European would become an upper class colonial; those subjects who could afford to travel to the core from their periphery would enter at the bottom no matter their status back home and claw themselves up, sometimes over generations. A process that usually involved a form of physical “whitening” too.

Having destroyed the superstructures of browner people wherever they might have been (often with the excuse that this was in subject peoples’ own interests, especially if they happened to live on top of a pile of wealth), doesn’t the Chinese adage about saving someone’s life apply? So the west should now be responsible for our destiny? (H*ll no!) Thus immigration is blowback from colonialism much as we prefer to hang around together with people just like us. Frequently, though, the individual destinies of migrants can be quite bright for some of them in their new homelands.

“In order for the ideal of multiculturalism to maintain its legitimacy, it must be presented as not only possible but inevitable.”

Even after black societies were decimated the second time around there are still some ancient societal markers – like matrilineality, circumcision, libation, initiation, rites of passage, burial rites, totemism, secret societies, ritual hand-clapping and so on – there to remind anyone who cares to scratch a little below appearances that ancient Egyptians were not Asians, nor aliens and certainly did not vanish into thin air. Recent goings-on in Sudan are a mere microcosm of what has been playing out over the past few millennia: brown people to the north, black people to the south: south and getting more southern. Reggae dub poet Mutabaruka puts it thus: “brown and nearly white” a kind of racial gentrification. That a situation similar to the one in North Africa also played out in the Indian subcontinent over millennia should reinforce suspicions that this is not a local aberration however calamitous it may be. Post Hillarian Libyan butchery of African trans-Saharan migrants sadly reminds us too of this pathetic intrinsic racism of ours.

Decades after its main visible and vocal (but very far from being the only) proponents were militarily delegitimized, the Aryan theory of racial origins remains deeply entrenched in areas of academia. Hollywood still hasn’t got the meme.

Once black scholarship shrugs off the oppressive blinkers of western intellectual colonialism there will be much to marvel at and keep us occupied for the next few centuries (if there is still a planet remaining). The African continent – so long as it remains relatively un-degraded and unpolluted by any “green” revolution – is relatively warm and gentle which may impact our psyches: therefore we will not be returning any genocidal disfavors any time soon even if we could. There should be enough planet to go around. Which happens to be one of the tenets of my favorite ideology – umunthu – some sort of loosely defined “humanism.”

“Immigration is blowback from colonialism.”

Once the process of decolonizing the African mind from the alienation of Eurocentricity reaches more advanced stages, African “problems” take on a new light. African priorities do not necessarily coterminate with “global” priorities. One cannot return from peering over the precipice of annihilation and join an ill-conceived there-is-no-alternative project of triumphalist progress towards some unknown Valhalla. Certainly not when the bees are dying and sperm counts are dropping. Some consider colonization as a benign evil. Leopold II’s panga gangs were once-off, not the norm, and in the collective black interest for those of us who survived. The bliss of the blue pill. History is less comforting.

There is much to remind of the ignorance about slavery such as that displayed by Kim Kardashian’s husband some time ago. For every “body” that made it across the middle passage, one – give or take – was eaten by shark, another by hyena on the way to the coast and yet another killed at the village protecting another or resisting. Whose choice? Certainly not that of those enslaved. I call the what-about-the-brother-who-sold-you argument the “pedophilic stance” or “she lubricated hence it can’t have been rape” excuse. History ain’t cute. I wouldn’t know but I am sure even pedophiles somehow justify their actions to at least themselves.

“African priorities do not necessarily coterminate with ‘global’ priorities.”

The Chinese decreed only castrated black male slaves were to be allowed into their domain, thus they are yet to have a multicultural “problem” in their heartland.

Some “black skins, white masks” adulatingly point out the few benefits that pax occidentia accords my particular caste – the African one percent – and contrasts our preferential status with the presumed dreadful alternative that is the home village that each one of us has and is not too distant from, certainly not in spirit. Indeed small minds must. There is no other sane alternative for a mind jaded by western education, religion and media: Leopold’s intentions were grand, the methods were just crude as all method were at the time.

Whatever his stated or unstated intentions were – riding on the back of a cure for malaria and an industrial revolution that no longer required free slave labor – Livingstone cannot have been unaware of the consequences, intended or not, of the European “discovery” of Australia and the Americas on the indigenous populations and, by extrapolation, which were also likely to be the consequences on the newly “discovered” Africans of the interior. History happened. Africa could have got it worse. It was the economy, stupid. Capitalism emerged victorious in the Darwinian struggle. Save that Capitalism doesn’t take into account a finite Earth and any qualms of concerned individuals who may fear an end is in sight but lack armies to turn back the herds of lemmings.

I struggle to see the “other” in European savagery, however tempting it is to wallow in that particular rut of intellectual indolence. At the risk of apologizing for a crime that didn’t happen and Black Africans didn’t commit, I cling to the hope that Soyinka’s Muse of Forgiveness exists. I have to believe that we are all human hence fallible. The alternative may only be an unimaginable fury; an eternal Salvador Dalian cosmic combat as encapsulated in his Poetry of America. On repeat. Ad infinum. Till planetary destruction do us part.

“I cling to the hope that Soyinka’s Muse of Forgiveness exists.”

As palliative as it temporaneously may be, monopolizing the indignation of victimhood is parochial.

Genocide or ethnic cleansing persists to this day because it works many times: the crimes are committed and history obediently ignores them. Unless we acknowledge this then we shall struggle to do what’s necessary to stop it. We cannot apply selective indignation to Rohingya Muslims but not other “unpeople.”

The western encounter between theirscholarship and indigenous peoples’ otherness like totemism has been, well, alienating. Probably to serve capitalism in the first instance which should come as no surprise really. For anyone to have the means and leisure to travel the world and wonder and write like Darwin did, was because he belonged to a slave dealing caste without having to be directly involved, regardless of how much he is said to have abhorred the practice. More often than not, successive generations of western intellectual jihadists saw no European in the “other.” I can’t blame them then. I can fault us now.

An ancient time-traveler encountering the modern sports of soccer and tennis might be excused for drawing fantastical conclusions but entirely missing the point. Stadia are places of worship where the faithful gather to urge on gladiators belonging to priestly athletic sects who are then publicly humiliated if their sect loses. The biggest of such rituals are broadcast real time to billions of avid worshippers who will shun even their close family members during the ritual.

“More often than not, successive generations of western intellectual jihadists saw no European in the ‘other.’”

The degree of trepidation in which the phenomenon of albinism (and until recently in some parts even that of twins) is and was held in traditional African society leads me to surmise that the genetic link could not have gone unnoticed. Before we rule this out as beyond the “savage” mind let us remind ourselves that human ancestors applied an unwritten scientific approach in their development of agriculture and livestock farming. Neither did they overlook cretinism due to inbreeding when they designed incest taboos and other taboos.

An albino family member can be a burden. Malawi classifies albinos as persons with disability. As a society we may have had an ancient mechanism of reducing the burden of albinism on ourselves and future generations by checking the probability of occurrence, by accident or by design. It is totemism.

Western scholarship often assumes others’ lack of agency. How could “they” be agents when progress clearly passed them by? Eurocentricity requires objects, dull lifeless ones. Not subjects with agency whose acts of observation (by outsiders who are dispassionate and objective of course) might actually influence observed behavior, a kind of anthropological uncertainty principle. Hand in hand with this static view of what are actually dynamic societies, a second bias is the trap of assuming unintelligent design. What can be unintelligent about the series of initiation rites to which members of traditional African society undergo that secures their place in society and mental well being despite centuries of holocaust? Imperfect, undoubtedly, but the results of generations of accumulated wisdom that could fill many decent libraries with dissertations. The sociology and psychology of these institutions continue to equip successive generations with adequate tools to navigate village affairs and familial responsibilities. By the way, having survived assaults by religions of the books, these ancient institutions are now seemingly under renewed assault by NGOs with mindless missionary zeal.

Different yes. Unintelligent no.

“Western scholarship often assumes others’ lack of agency.”

An early girlfriend once mentioned matter-of-factly that one of her parents had albinism on their side. Which might mean she would have albino offspring were she to mate with someone with those genes on their side. She was majoring in Biology so I suppose she would know.

Food taboos serve a ritual purpose (by design or by accident) of reminding clansmen of their totem; after all people eat far more often than they marry. If one were to only occasionally be reminded of one’s clan name (like a few times in a lifetime that one actually marries – depending on how many cattle one can rustle up for another spouse), one may be liable to forget and accidentally marry one’s own kin!

It may still be dawn yet on the voyages of intellectual decolonization. Indeed, the original point of totem clan names was exogamic. I suppose exact familial relations would be hard to pin-point with sterile objectivity in a polygamous extended family setup where your mothers’ sisters are your “big” mothers or “small” mothers and likewise with your uncles; all this without yet taking into account your father’s other wives. Thus, there was a real risk of incest. So the main purpose of the institution was exogamy: to preclude closely related liaisons hence reduce cretinism.

I cannot but speculate, however, that a subordinate intention or consequence of totemism was the checking of albinism. In which instance it could be a curious case of ancient eugenics. Maybe we ain’t that different. Maybe we racist too. There might have been a time when we didn’t want to become white as Fanon has pointed out about us for this recent era.

Zanga Chimombo, once an ardent technologist, now a self-described latter-day luddite is a PhD research student at the University of Malawi, Chancellor College, Zomba. Chimombo is the editor of his father’s book Fire on Ntiwa Mountain: an African Creation Story for Children .