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"Life is War:" African Grammars of Knowing and the Interpretation of Black Religious Experience

Harvey, Marcus Louis (2012)
Dissertation (450 pages)
Committee Chair / Thesis Adviser: Diakite, Dianne M
Committee Members: Farley, Wendy ; Lartey, Emmanuel Y ; Olúpọ̀nà, Jacob K. (Committee Member); Young, III, Josiah U. (Committee Member);
Research Fields: Religion, Philosophy of; Religion, History of; Theology
Keywords: Africa; African-American religion; Black religion; African religion; African-American spirituality; black theology; phenomenology; yoruba; Akan
Program: Laney Graduate School, Religion (Theological Studies)
Permanent url: http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/bznz3

Abstract

This dissertation utilizes a phenomenological approach to explore indigenous grammars of knowing constituting the spiritual epistemologies of the Yorùbá of Nigeria and the Akan of Ghana. These grammars of knowing are treated as major theoretical resources that can greatly inform the interpretation of black religious experience. Organizing the study is a constructive emphasis on the permanency of existential conflict, irresolution, and mystery as motifs that structurally inhere in these grammars of knowing while also reflecting an opaque epistemological orientation in black religious experience. The dissertation seeks to re-assess a commonly-held assumption among scholars of black religion that the conceptual and theoretical categories of Western Christianity are best suited to the task of interpreting black religious experience. Additionally, the dissertation aims to redress the widespread notion in the African-American community and in broader American society that Africa is to be feared and is of little or no intellectual or cultural value. Departing from this notion, I argue that the Yorùbá and Akan epistemological traditions are indispensable repositories of highly-developed non-Western forms of philosophical knowledge and spiritual practice. As a way of grounding my investigation in the African-American context, I also explore motifs and insights in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God that are epistemologically cognate with various motifs and insights found in Yorùbá and Akan epistemology, including the three motifs mentioned above. The components of the dissertation work together to illumine new discursive trajectories for the phenomenological interpretation of black religious experience which give careful attention to the opaque epistemological orientation in this experience and which go beyond the Christian-based epistemological limitations of methodologies employed in conventional black religious scholarship.

Table of Contents

Contents
Introduction................................................................................................. 1
Background.................................................................................................... 1

The Aim of This Study................................................................................. 8

Outline of Chapters....................................................................................... 11

Chapter 1 - Braving the Margins: Indigenous Africa and the

Study of Black Religion............................................................................. 16

Black Religious Experience and Its Opaque Epistemological

Orientation..................................................................................................... 23

Why Yorùbá and Akan Grammars of Knowing?........................................... 28

The Case for Indigenous Africa........................................................... 28

The Yorùbá and Akan Traditions........................................................ 41

Sourcing Black Literature............................................................................... 62

Conclusion..................................................................................................... 76

Chapter 2 - The "Aberrant" Nature of Peace: Apprehending the

Yorùbá Cosmos............................................................................................ 78

Originary Narratives...................................................................................... 79

Ilé-Ifè and Igbá Ìwà ("Gourd of Existence")........................................ 81

The Birth of Olódùmarè?............................................................................... 111

The Ògbóni Tradition.................................................................................... 114

Olódùmarè, Èsù, and Ifá................................................................................ 121

Olódùmarè........................................................................................... 121
Èsù....................................................................................................... 124
Ifá......................................................................................................... 127

A Contextual Note......................................................................................... 132

The Yemoja Festival...................................................................................... 133

Ebo Oba ("the ruler's sacrifice")......................................................... 134

Ijó Iponmi ("the day of carrying water")............................................ 137

Some Epistemological Considerations........................................................... 139

Conclusion..................................................................................................... 145

Chapter 3 - "It is the Spirit that Teaches the Priest to Whirl

Around:" A Phenomenological Analysis of Akan Cosmology............... 148

Onyame......................................................................................................... 152

An Account of Onyame's Withdrawal from the Intimacy

of Human Contact............................................................................... 152

Appellational and Aphorismal Conceptions of Onyame.................... 158

The Illimitability of Spirit................................................................... 163
Prolific Singularity............................................................................... 166
Existential Travail................................................................................ 173

Existential Travail and the Permanency of Existential Conflict..................... 178

The Illimitability of Spirit and Irresolution................................................... 181

Prolific Singularity and Mystery................................................................... 185

Lesser Deities (Abosom)............................................................................... 189
Sunsum and the Lesser Deities............................................................ 189
Asase Yaa............................................................................................ 192
Tete Abosom....................................................................................... 194
Suman Brafoo (Bosom Brafoo)............................................................ 203
Mmoatia.............................................................................................. 205
Sasabonsam.......................................................................................... 206
Nsamanfo ("Ancestors")..................................................................... 206

The Lesser Deities and Akan Epistemology................................................. 210

Knowing as a Function of Regular Contact with the Spiritual

World................................................................................................... 210

Knowing as a Heterogeneous and Paradoxical Experience

Marked Both by Power and Limitation.............................................. 213

Knowing as an Ethical Mandate.......................................................... 219

Human Beings (Nnípá).................................................................................. 222
Okra ("Soul") and Sunsum ("Spirit").................................................. 223

Ntoro ("Semen-Transmitted Characteristic") and Mogya ("Blood"). 234

Nipadua ("Body")............................................................................... 238

Destiny (Nkrabea/Hyebea)............................................................................ 240
Abayifo and Anti-Bayi Boro Rites............................................................... 246

Abayifo and the "Acquisition" of Bayi Boro...................................... 247

The Behavior of Abayifo..................................................................... 249

Anti-Bayi Boro Rites as Shrine-Based Rites....................................... 254

Anti-Bayi Boro Rites Conducted by Akomfo..................................... 257

Anti-Bayi Boro Rites Conducted by Aduruyefo................................ 261

Anti-Bayi Boro Rites and Akan Epistemology............................................. 266

Anti-Bayi Boro Rites and the Permanency of Existential Conflict..... 266

Anti-Bayi Boro Rites and Irresolution................................................ 268
Anti-Bayi Boro Rites and Mystery.................................................... 271
Conclusion..................................................................................................... 274

Chapter 4 - "Hard Skies" and Bottomless Questions: Zora Neale

Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God and the Opaque

Epistemological Orientation in Black Religious Experience................ 277

A Commentary on Albert Murray................................................................ 283

Structural Note.............................................................................................. 289
Synopsis of Their Eyes Were Watching God................................................ 290
Analysis......................................................................................................... 294
The "Horizon" and Janie's "Jewel".................................................... 294

The Divine Infusion of Boundless Possibility.................................... 295

The Struggle to Actualize Our Individual Sense of Being.................... 297

The "Horizon," Self-Manifestation, and the Opaque

Epistemological Orientation in Black Religious Experience................ 300

"Homage" to "Cruel" Gods................................................................. 303

Unintelligible Human Suffering............................................................ 304

Unintelligible Human Suffering and the Opaque

Epistemological Orientation in Black Religious Experience................ 306

Questioning Souls................................................................................ 309
Disruptive Wonderment...................................................................... 310

Disruptive Wonderment and the Opaque

Epistemological Orientation in Black Religious Experience................ 312

In Need of a "Sign".............................................................................. 315

Divine Silence...................................................................................... 316

Divine Silence and the Opaque Epistemological Orientation in

Black Religious Experience.................................................................. 318

Their Eyes Were Watching God in Light ofYorùbá and Akan

Epistemology................................................................................................. 321

The Divine Infusion of Boundless Possibility and Irresolution.......... 322

Yorùbá Epistemology, Irresolution, and the Divine Infusion of

Boundless Possibility.......................................................................... 323

Akan Epistemology, Irresolution, and the Divine Infusion of

Boundless Possibility.......................................................................... 325

The Struggle to Actualize Our Individual Sense of Being

and the Permanency of Existential Conflict......................................... 328

Yorùbá Epistemology, the Permanency of Existential Conflict,

and the Struggle to Actualize Our Individual Sense of Being.............. 328

Akan Epistemology, the Permanency of Existential Conflict,

and the Struggle to Actualize Our Individual Sense of Being.............. 331

Divine Silence and Mystery................................................................ 333

Yorùbá Epistemology, Mystery, and Divine Silence.......................... 333

Akan Epistemology, Mystery, and Divine Silence............................. 336
Conclusion..................................................................................................... 340

Chapter 5 - Toward an African-Centered Phenomenology of Black

Religious Experience.................................................................................. 343

Black Religion and the Imagination of Matter in the Atlantic World.............. 348

Structural Note.............................................................................................. 357

Discursive Trajectories Related to the Permanency of Existential

Conflict.......................................................................................................... 358
Knowledge Construction..................................................................... 358
Existential Orientation......................................................................... 362
Discursive Trajectories Related to Irresolution............................................. 365
Knowledge Construction..................................................................... 365
Existential Orientation......................................................................... 368
Discursive Trajectories Related to Mystery................................................. 370
Knowledge Construction..................................................................... 370
Existential Orientation......................................................................... 372
Concluding Remarks...................................................................................... 374
Notes............................................................................................................. 377
Selected Bibliography.................................................................................... 420
Tables

1. Table Showing Akan Birth Names and the Particular Days of the

Week to Which They Correspond............................................................ 232

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