THE NATURE AND ORIGIN OF CIVILIZATION IN AFRICA
Definition of key terms
As we begin this course, it is crucial to first discuss our understanding of the concept ‘civilization’. This is a comparative term which is usually applied in comparison to such words as ‘barbarian’ ‘savage’ and ‘primitive’. In classical antiquity the Europeans used the word ‘barbarian’ to refer to a foreigner who was regarded as inferior (Ogutu and Kenyanchui, An Introduction To African History, 1991 p33). Do you think this is still the way we use the word barbarian?
The Latin speakers referred to hunters, food-gatherers as savage. In the 17th century this term ‘savage’ referred to a person without art, literacy, or society who lived in fear of existence and death. ‘Primitive’ on the other hand, in Latin meant ‘the first or original’. Europeans used these words interchangeably when referring to non-Europeans while the word civilization was preserved to describe historical developments of European people (ibid). Now the term civilization is no longer confined to the above development but also extends reference to non-European communities.
Attributes of civilization includes observance to law, belonging to an organized society, having a society of literate people with advanced developments in urbanization, agriculture, commerce, arts and technology. The French thinkers of the 18th century referred to a person of the arts and literature as cultured. But at the present the term is used to cover more fields than just the arts and literature.
Sometimes, therefore the words ‘civilization’ and ‘culture’ are interchangeably applied. In this unit, however, more use is confined to the word ‘civilization’ especially in reference to human developments over time and in all continents.
Another term that requires discussion at this stage is ‘prehistory’. Just like ‘civilization’,’prehistory’ is used in comparative terms especially in relation to history. Both terms refer to the past human activities. But whereas history as used by historians refers to the inquiry, investigation or research into a totality of human past experience, prehistory is rather confined to an inquiry or research into a totality of human past experience before the invention of writing. In our course-text (Anthony Esler, The Human Venture vol 1, 2004) this prehistoric period stretches between 5000 and 3500 BC. This period is also known as Stone Age period. Archeology plays a vital part in enabling us learn more about this prehistoric period. Through excavation and dating , a lot of prehistoric information is obtained.
The Prehistoric or Stone Age Period
There are two versions which explain the origins of human species.These are creation and biological explanation. The creation version exists in the Judaeo-Christian: Old Testament and its African counterpart. This Judaeo-Christian Old Testament is captured in the book of Genesis 2:6-7 in which it is written ‘But there went up a mist from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground.’ And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul.
There is more detail about the whole sequence of creation in Genesis 1.Indeed it is written that human beings were the last to be created specific in God’s own image. This is best explained in Genesis 1:27:
‘So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them’.
This creation story is vividly portrayed by Michelangelo on the ceiling of Sistine chapel in the Vatican at Rome .The pictures showing muscled, hugely bearded figure of Jehovah dividing light from darkness with a gesture rolling the sun and the moon into being, extending his powerful right hand to bestow upon Adam the ultimate gift of life attracts numerous tourists to the Vatican. There are various aspects of creation explanations in Africa....