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Thought and Practice: A Journal of the Philosophical Association of Kenya

Volume 3, Issue 1, June 2011

Pascah Mungwini
Pages 1-19

‘Philosophy and Tradition in Africa’: Critical Reflections on the Power and Vestiges of Colonial Nomenclature

The colonial narrative in Africa is replete with instances and processes of naming that were used not only to (re)construct social realities and (re)produce power and privilege, but also to inscribe, reify or denigrate African cultures. This work examines how the discourse of naming, specifically terms selected, stipulatively defined and applied by Western colonialists and early Western anthropologists, continue to sustain ambivalent attitudes towards the African heritage. It analyses the way in which the popular term and prefix ‘traditional’ is used in Africa, and argues that it can be pejorative, as it is associated with the well-established colonial custom of thinking of Africa as a continent stuck in the past. Thus the term predisposes scholars to making certain assumptions that perpetuate cultural stereotypes about African reality and experiences. The need for an analysis of the mentality that popularised its usage therefore remains pertinent. The work also attempts to address the challenge of how postcolonial Africa can engage with its past, and talk about it in terms that do not perpetuate colonial derogation, stereotypes, assumptions, attitudes and misrepresentations of indigenous African thought and culture.