THE TEN COMMANDMENTS EMBEDDED IN THE AFRICAN CONSTITUTION
Africa was naturally among the first areas to which Christianity spread. It was next door to Palestine, and from the earliest times there have been close relations between Jews and Blacks, both friendly and hostile. The exchange of pre-Christian religious concepts took place easily due to the residence of so many ancient Jewish leaders in Ethiopia – Abraham, Joseph and his brothers, Mary and Jesus. The great Lawgiver, Moses, was not only born in Africa but he was also married to the daughter of an African priest. Practically all of the ten commandments, for Williams, were embedded in the African Constitution long before Moses went up to Sinai in 1491bc.
From the early African viewpoint there was nothing earth-shattering or extraordinary about the establishment of still another cult, the cult of Christian churches. The only unusual thing about the new cult of Christians was that while they disclaimed being of the Jewish faith they worshipped the Jewish tribal god, the god of Israel. The Christians seemed to be expanding the role of a god who had been concerned only with the Jews as his "Chosen people" to a God of the Universe. Meanwhile, while the Christians had given up the slaughtering of animals for offerings, the very cornerstone of their faith was that Jesus Christ, the son of God, was sacrificed for the sins of man, and his blood was shed for that purpose alone.
Drinking of the blood (wine) then, and eating the body (bread), are all fundamental, for us emergent, aspects, for Williams, of man's most ancient religion. We now return to Ethiopia, and to Egypt. The spread of Christianity in Africa gained momentum after the destruction of Ethiopia as an empire, and its world famous capital, the city of Meroe. The "Great Age of Black Civilization", in 350AD as such, had come to a close. The last phase of the processes of Caucasianization in Egypt, for Williams, was so thorough-going that both the Blacks and their history were erased from memory: the Jewish rule, 500 years; the Assyrian interludes; the Persians, 185 years; the Greeks, 274 years; the Romans, 700 years; the Arabs, 1327 years – the long, long struggle to take from the Blacks whatever they had of human worth, their land and all their wealth therein; their bodies, their souls, their minds, as a process of steady dehumanization.
MAIN CHARACTERISTICS OF BLACK HISTORY
The main features of the longstanding history of the Blacks, overall then for Chancellor Williams, can be depicted as:
• building an advanced system of life, then having it destroyed;
• building again, its being destroyed again, migrating and building somewhere else, only to be sought out and destroyed again;
• moving, moving, always moving and rebuilding;
• internal strife increasing as external threats increased;
• an every-man-for-himself philosophy replacing that of eternal brotherhood in some societies;
• through it all, new states continually forming, renewing;
• their lost civilization, their written languages, their lost arts and sciences, having come down in outline from generation to generation;
• finally Africans were still rebuilding their own civilization when that of Asia and Europe was imposed.
Having sketched out these main historical characteristics of the Blacks, Williams now turns specifically to the original African Constitution. This would seem for us to be his seminal "Southern" contribution to our book.
THE ORIGINAL AFRICAN CONSTITUTION: BIRTH OF DEMOCRACY
Origin of African democracy
In this overall light, for Williams, the African Constitution is discussed as a body of fundamental theories, principles and practices drawn from the customary laws that governed Black African societies from the earliest times. The first task was to divorce traditional African institutions from those influenced by later Asian and European incursions; to determine what is truly African in origin. Another task was to determine whether an institution called "African" was in fact African in the sense of being universal among the Blacks, a continent-wide institution, as opposed to something particular to a specific tribe.
Williams' foregoing observations suggest that the constitution of any people or nation, written or unwritten, derives from its customary rules of life; and that what we now call “democracy" was generally the earliest system among various people throughout the ancient world. What was a relatively new development, then, was absolute monarchy.
Among the Blacks, democratic institutions evolved and functioned in a socio-economic and political system which Western writers call “stateless societies". Far from being just a descriptive term for backward peoples, “primitive" in this context means “first", and “original", for us original “grounding". The amazing thing is and was, for Williams, the uniformity of this Black approach, continent-wide. All might live in the same community, but they were often scattered far and wide. It involved then a network of kinsmen, all of whom descended from the same ancestor or related ancestors. The ancestor from whom they claimed descent was always "great", because of some outstanding accomplishments. Each generation of poets and storytellers magnified the ancestor's image. Their nation, as such, became one big brotherhood.
Accordingly, instead of first attempting to conquer and annex other peoples by force, they would approach independent states and seek to demonstrate from oral history that all of them were segments of a shared lineage. All were brothers. This lineage, prior to the rise of kingdoms in particular, was the governing and organizing force, promoted by community consensus. Kinship, found expression in trade and in temporary confederations when attacked by foes. In the much heralded "tribal war" that ensued the main objective was to frighten away the adversary rather than kill. This raises the question of whether we have in fact become more "civilized" today? Have we not substituted the trappings of civilization, Williams maintains, that is our triumphs in science, technology and the computer "revolution", for civilization ties?
Suffice to say that the steady weakening of lineage ties and the spirit of unity was also a weakening of the sense of brotherhood and unity amongst Blacks. Lineage then was the most powerful and effective force for unity and stability in early Africa, and this was so true that a state could be self-governing without the need for any individual ruler, chief or a king. Everyone was a lawyer because just about everyone knew the customary laws.
The age-grade or age-set, moreover, was the specific organizational structure through which the society governed. There was seniority in each grade according to age and intelligence. The age-set, then, underpinned the whole African approach to education, which, seemingly, has been totally by-passed in the modern era, rather than being renewed.
Original African Education Constituted in Age-sets
Age group A: Childhood: Primary education: 6-12
Each grade had its own social, economic and political role. The children's set, to begin with, covered the years of game and play. Primary education included storytelling, mental arithmetic, community songs and dances, learning the names of various birds and animals, the identification of poisonous snakes, local plants and trees, and how to run and climb swiftly when pursued by dangerous animals.
Age group B: Teenage-hood: Secondary education: 13-18
The next grade above childhood involved teenage-hood (these periods varied of course amongst different societies). Now both education and responsibilities were stepped up, becoming more complex and extensive. The youth's entire future depended upon their performance at this level.
The boy was now required to learn his extended family history and that of the society, including also the geography of the region, names of neighbouring states and the nature of the relations with them, the handling of weapons, hunting as a skilled art, rapid calculation, clearing the bush for planting, the nature of soils and which grow best, military tactics, the care and breeding of cattle, bartering tactics, the rules of good manners at home and abroad, the division of the sexes and competitive sports. The girl's age-group differed from that of the boys. While they had the same intellectual education as the boys – history, geography, rapid calculation, poetry, music and dance – the education and training in childcare, housekeeping, gardening, cooking and marketing, as well as social relations with particular stress on good manners was different.
Age group C: Man and womanhood: Tertiary education: 19-28
The next stage was the first-line-of-action group. Its male members led in hunting, community construction, preparing the fields for planting, forming the various industrial craft guilds (secret societies, each of which guarded the processes of the art), protecting the far-ranging grazing cattle, the upkeep of roads and paths between villages, and policing where necessary.
The young women were generally responsible for planting and care of the farms, the operations of the markets (hence the stress on mental arithmetic in their earlier education), visiting and care of the sick and aged, formation of women's societies (the media for women's very real political influence), and overall responsibility for the home. In those societies where there were female fighting forces, women's armies were formed from this stage onwards.
Age groups D and E: Eligible for election: 29-40 and onwards
There was not much difference, thereafter, between age groups C and D, for both men and women – whose constitutional rights were inseparable – though, at the age of 36, if otherwise qualified, men and women were eligible for election to the most highly honoured body of society, the Council of Elders, most especially reserved for age-set E, that is from 40 years onwards.