Features  |  Science  

Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Africa (8)

By J.K. Obatala   |   19 November 2015   |   2:05 am  


HANTU or “Being-space-timed,” is one of four fundamental concepts in Bantu philosophy, along with muntu (man), kintu (things) and kuntu (determination, style). “As such,” explained the Bantu scholar Alexis Kagame (donor of the “K” in my initials!) “it expresses the unity of space andtime.”

Kagame insists though, that the Bantu concept of hantu “must be distinguished from the scientific understanding of space and time as devised from (Hermann) Minkowski
to Einstein.While they understand…space time as…chronotopic…we the Bantu understand it as an individualising…”
 But Kagame, being Bantu, may have been overly cautious. Father Placide Temples, a Belgian priest, had this to say: “Even the general laws of natural science, of physics, and in particular the three canons of judgment regarding… force-beings…have for the Bantu a quality of general validity.”

Contemporary readers would, of course, be put off by a white priest’s reference to the Bantu and other African people as “primitive”. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Central African culture harboured logical systems of thought, which fostered traditional research and experimentation.

Ironically, both Einstein and U.S. Army interlopers would doubtless have been astonished to learn that most archaeologists now believe the mathematics which MED scientists put to such devastating use, evolved from ancient calculating systems developed in Africa, including the Congo!

In fact, the most famous of these proto-mathematical systems is known as the “Ishango Bone”-after the Congolese village, where it was found. According to Newsletter-9, of the African Mathematical Union, it contains “notches carved in groups,” possibly for tallying, and dates to 20,000 B.C.

The newsletter notes that the bone’s discoverer interpreted the patterns of notches as an “arithmetical game of some sort, devised by a people who had a number system based on 10 as well as a knowledge of duplication and of prime numbers”.

Prime numbers, I should point out, are those-such as “3,” “7” and “2”-which are only divisible by themselves and unity (“1”). Mathematicians and evolutionary biologists generally agree that the use of such numbers represent the beginning of mathematical awareness.

An even older calculating device, the Newsletter reports, was discovered during an archaeological excavation in the Lebombo Mountains, between South Africa and Swaziland. It was dated to approximately 35,000 B.C.

Africans started carrying knowledge of mathematics, astronomy, metallurgy, navigation and other “classical” sciences to Eurasia (Europe and Asia) nearly two million years ago-before our evolution from apes to modern humans was completed- about 250,000 years ago.

The Black Way Finders were precursors, both in biological and intellectual terms. They planted the seed of civilization and scientific learning in Europe and Asia and were the genetic progenitors of the Europeans and Asians themselves.

But there are more recent and direct intellectual links between Africa and the Manhattan Engineer District. Despite Africa’s image as the “Dark Continent” (an image which Phillip Curtain showed, in The Image of Africa, was contrived) its scholars and intellectuals were active in Europe and the Middle East.

Here I am veering off-course slightly, but two individuals are worth at least a passing reference. One is the renowned Nigerian mathematician, Muhammad ibn Muhammad, who was from Katsina but died in Egypt- after pioneering work in the development of a branch of math called group theory.

The other was William Anthony Amo- known more commonly Anton-Wilhelm Amo. Born in Awukena near the town of Axim in Ghana, Amo became both a physical and intellectual presence in 18th century Europe.

J.K. Obatala

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