A Hope for Africa, a Contribution to the World

August 19, 2007

At the Fourth International Conference on Ethiopian Development Studies, Mr. James Swan, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, noted that the Horn of Africa is a region in which all of the U.S. Embassies and their officers are working to demonstrate the U.S.’s respect for different faith traditions and to promote its commitment to religious tolerance, political rights, and gender equality.

Arguably, Africa is one of the continents that have not instituted in a meaningful way its own faith traditions, much less impose them on the peoples of other continents. In fact, we can argue that in the past, Africa’s faith traditions have not been studied well, understood, and accepted by Africans themselves as well as the outside world. Lately, however, there have been signs from around the world that point to Africa as the source of other faith establishments around the world with possible misinterpretations.

In The New York Times bestselling novel called the Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, there are people who have been caught by surprise about the ancient wisdom of people in Europe and African faith traditions that are still practiced in the Horn of Africa. At the center of this important link lies the concept of balanced universe. This concept is distinct in the sense that it is about protecting the balance of the Created as supposed to worshipping the Creator that is reflected in the doctrines of other religious establishments.

According to Dr. Darrell L. Bock, research professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, the source of the link may have been the Gnostic gospel texts discovered years ago in Egypt. Even though Prof Bock wrote his book Breaking the Da Vinci Code to refute the main issue raised in the Da Vinci Code novel about the nature of Jesus, he rounded his book by making a very interesting suggestion about the whole issue. This is what he had to say: “The significance of the topic can hardly be exaggerated. I hope that the journey has been worth it. Perhaps, the discussions of the roots of faith can proceed with a fresh awareness of where the lines have been and are being drawn.”

British geophysicist James Lovelock seems to have understood the balanced universe concept very well and appears to be advancing it as the Gaia theory. He is believed to have borrowed the term Gaia from ancient Greek mythology. The word Gaia is derived from the terms Ge, which means earth, and aia, which means grandmother. In Afan Oromo, ayya is a term of address (endearment) or reference used with one’s mother (according to Dr. Tilahun Gamta’s Comprehensive Oromo English Dictionary). In Amharic, ayat means grandfather or grandmother.

According to one observer, “In a very scientific manner, backed by the finest research and impeccable data, Lovelock reached an understanding of the Earth that matches the basics of Native American philosophy.”

What this seems to lead to is the fact that the balanced nature concept still prevalent in the Horn of Africa region, the information from the Gnostic gospel texts, the Gaia concept in ancient Greece, and the Native American Mother Nature philosophy aren’t totally unrelated subjects. What makes this even more interesting is the observation made back in 2002 by Jean Doresse, the famous French Egyptologist, that he couldn’t understand the Plato’s dialogues until he visited Ethiopia. That is because he was able to discern in the veins of Ethiopians Plato’s dialogue in ancient Greece. In the Bhagavad Gita, a classic of Indian spirituality, Mr. Eknath Easwaran, also discusses about the concept of the balanced universe.

This quick survey shows some hidden commonalities shared by humanity on different continents about a crucial concept in ancient as well as present thinking. Noting the fact that the Horn of Africa is the source of humanity that is today spread across the globe, according to emerging evidences such as human DNA mapping, and that the Judeo-Christian-Islam religious establishment is believed, at least by some, to have emerged in the region, we can speculate how much there is left to understand about the social dynamics of the region.

In fact, how much is left to understand is evident in Mr. Swan’s notes presented at the conference mentioned earlier. In his own words, “The Horn is a region where Muslims and Christians coexist and intermingle, and where the cultures of ancient Ethiopia, of traditional Africa, and of the Arab-influenced coastal regions have combined in different ways to create unique national and regional identities.” While the observation of coexistence is real, perhaps the basic reason for such coexistence is the ancient and home grown faith tradition that serves as the undercurrent in the consciousness of the people on which Christianization and Islamization garbs have been imposed.

This undercurrent is too valuable to have been neglected in the past. Its values are to be scaled and measured when they come to light. For now, the respect it is gaining by the time is a reason to see it as a hope for Africa and a contribution to humanity.