A few hundred years ago, mankind thought that the Earth was flat, and that if you sailed long enough, you could sail right off the edge. It was commonly accepted that the Earth, not the sun, was the center of our universe, as God had ordained it. When Galileo presented his theories that the Earth was round and revolved around the sun, and not the other way round he was found “vehemently suspect of heresy”, he was placed under house arrest for the rest of his life, and his works were banned. Fast forward a few centuries later and Galileo is vindicated and trumpeted as the Father of Modern Science and Physics, having several other pleasing accolades heaped on him by the very same church that condemned him.
It turns out the members of the Inquisition were woefully wrong about the workings of our universe at Galileo was right.
Galileo was fortunate that he was born a man in those times. Being male, he was afforded that courtesy of being branded a “heretic”, and not a “witch”. Where heresy is merely a variance of opinion from that of established religious beliefs, witchcraft is something far more sinister, and ascribed to the female gender.
In the movie Thor (and yes, I am quoting the god of Thunder), the son of Oden said that in his realm, magic and science were one and the same. They both look to the natural world for answers and solutions to the issues facing the natural world. Depending on your world view, you can see God’s hand in this assertion, or you could not. It doesn’t change the fact that science is very real, very applicable and very necessary in our dimension. This reality only becomes problematic when certain individuals who have a limited understanding of God and even less understanding of science are introduced into the equation. When these individuals are ascribed power, it becomes lethal.
Europe has gone through a Scientific Revolution and a Renaissance that Africa has yet to achieve. Some of that has to do with Europe’s role in colonizing the continent and stunting its intellectual growth, and some of that has to do with the continent’s own inhabitants. Like our old colonizers, Africa’s leadership wants a population that is easily controlled and pliable to their whims. How else does one explain the reasons for race baiting in South Africa and using tribalism to get votes in Kenya? If our masses understood that there is only indeed one human race, and that our skin hues and hair color are only a result of genetic variance, there would be no need to hate your neighbor. Your neighbor is in fact your “brother”. But tell me, how do you explain mitochondria to a wood cutter who has never seen the inside of a classroom? Upon submitting this information to his local elder or regional pastor for review, the elder – who is of little understanding himself – will declare the scientist a liar and a witch!
To the educated person reading this in the West, it seems far-fetched; but to the African who has not been long off the boat (or airplane) you know exactly what I’m talking about.
I saw an article online today detailing the harrowing tale of a 17 year old girl in Ghana who was forced to flee to a witch camp after being accused of “stealing the brains” of her classmates to get top marks in school. They said she was “impossibly bright” and that is was “impossible for one student to retain everything the teacher said”. Her accuser? A male classmate who abandoned his studies and returned to his village, accusing the girl of stealing his wits as it was revealed to him in a dream. After being threatened with violence, the girl fled to a witch camp in order to seek haven from her would-be attackers.
What utter rubbish!
Now I have to ask myself: if this girl had been a boy, would they have accused him of witchcraft? The obvious answer is “no”. The boy receiving all A’s would be crowned head boy, been taken into the confidence of all the teachers, possibly the headmaster/headmistress, and given a seat of honor on Speech and Prize Giving day. This is not the expected path for this unnamed 17 year old and thousands of other brilliant women and girls on the continent who have been held back, banished and locked up because of superstition, tradition, and patriarchy.
I can’t speak for other African nations, but it appears to me that in Ghana we merely pay lip service to the idea of female empowerment, outside of the cities. When my second daughter was born, my grandmother arranged an outdooring at the royal family’s house. The okyeame poured water into a leaf and fed it to my infant, saying it would give her adrini – brains. I was so pleased. What a blessing! Above all else, a woman must have her wits about her. Beauty will eventually fade, but intelligence can only grow with time. But I have to wonder: did he intend for her to be a master market maame, or a skilled seamstress. In his imploring the ancestors to give my daughter “brains”, what limits had he set for her in his own mind?
So now we find Africa in the 21st Century, operating as though it were in the 16th. Amid calls for Diasporans to return and develop the continent, I have to ask myself “Why? Why should I?” Do I want to see Africa succeed? Desperately, and more than anyone will ever know. But I know that my motherland already has the resources to guarantee that success, even if I or any other Diasporan never returns. Where are Africa’s leaders? I’ll tell you: Scour your markets and roadsides! There are your architects, entrepreneurs and innovators! Look to your local “witch”, the village girl with the photographic memory, who can do complex sums in her head, who has an amazing ability to recall events and express her ideas cogently and persuasively.
Does anyone remember the Indian woman who visited Ghana in the mid-1990s? I can’t recall her name for the life of me, but she left an indelible mark on me and dozens of other kids. Just by telling her what date and year you were born on, she could tell you the day of the week, and vice versa. She could multiply numbers 6-8 digits long instantaneously. How could she do that! On the playground and lunchrooms, many children came back after asking their parents how it was possible. It was explained that whenever anyone asked her a mathematical question a devil would whisper the answer to her. How else was that possible? Certainly not with our chew/pour/pass/forget model for learning.
It’s called numerology, and is neither devilry nor witchcraft my brethren – it’s a gift.