The Sunday News
CIRCULARITY is common to both Africa and Europe. In the case of the latter, circularity is also found in megalithic structures such as Stonehenge. We may surmise that the circle renders the same meaning regardless of where it is embraced. In Africa, from West Africa to South Africa its meaning is the same: expressions of eternity, continuity, perpetuity, immortality and endlessness. A circle has no beginning and no end.
We may further surmise that in Europe it equally expressed the same ideas. Our explanation and interpretation of Stonehenge has so far revealed the presence of spirituality and its characteristic attribute of eternity. When I visited Rome with Joseph Bidi some years back, we had the opportunity to view at close range, the Colosseum. It was a circular structure. We had gone there to take part in an ICCROM meeting dealing with living religions. We presented the case of the Njelele Fertility/Rain Shrine.
As we continue with the task of interpreting Stonehenge we are going to see more circularity beyond the megalithic structure. Clay pots are one case in point. Not only are the ceramic pots circular in their design and made from clay, but the iconic symbols are representations of a basic circular design. These include the chevron pattern and herring bone motifs. Resident similarities are interesting, probably suggesting some common historical, cultural and cosmological origins.
That should not come as a surprise when Africa is considered the cradle of humanity. People who migrated from the mother continent would have taken with them ideas already embraced in Africa. These ideas are found not just in Europe but in other continents such as Asia, South and North America. The Australian Aborigines share a lot in common with the continental Africans. The so-called red Indians in the two American ideas equally have a lot in common with the Africans.
Migration of people also has some bearing on the migration of ideas. It has been established that a farming group of people arrived in Britain from the western Mediterranean coast and also from Turkey. A new era had dawned. Farmers embraced new ideologies with regards to the universe, the cosmic bodies and their influence on the agricultural season. New rituals emerged and marked a departure from the Neolithic era.
Our interest however, relates to the relative absence of megalithic structures in Central and Southern Africa and indeed in most parts of West Africa. That disparity seems to coincide with the limits on the Africa continent of the use of a circle in the cultural and ritual domains. The Egyptian pyramids seem to have been established further to the south where they were less gigantic and more rudimentary.
It is known that the black people in the Nubian, Sudanese and Ethiopian regions at one time ruled Egypt. Where they came from were areas famed for Alchemy, Astronomy, Mathematics and Physics. The rectangular structures seem to have entered the African continent from the east where places such as Mesopotamia had already embraced rectangularity. The new architecture came riding on the back of Islam. The same was taking place with regard to Central and Southern Africa where Christianity was linked to rectangularity. The new immigrants were not particularly keen on the circle whose ancestors had long begun abandoning it in favour of rectangularity.
It seems to me stone structures on a megalithic scale are confined to the south of the Zambezi River. There has to be some explanation as to why the megalithic structures are found in Mozambique (Mashikeni), Zimbabwe (Great Zimbabwe, Khami, Dlodlo, Regina), South Africa (Thulamela, Mapungubwe)) and Botswana (Tsodilo, Domboshaba), but not in Zambia. Surely, there must be some reason to account for the absence of similar stone structures in Zambia and other countries north of the Zambezi River.
What may shed some light is a close study of megalithic structures such as those at Stonehenge, among the Mayan of Meso-America and the Inca peoples of Peru. For what were those megalithic structures used? What technology was possessed by the creators, builders and users of the stone monuments in those parts of the world? Were there some energy concentrations in those areas in the form of hubs and networks resulting from the geological character of the sites where monuments were sited? What ritualistic or spiritual ideas were resident at the sites such as those in Europe and Meso- and South America? The research is likely to produce interesting results.
Spirituality does seem sometimes to coexist with burials, the presence of megalithic structures and disposition of cosmic bodies. Africa still links burial sites with spirituality. However, her stones are not on the same scale as those of Europe and elsewhere. What are we to learn from this disparity? Perhaps stone is stone regardless of size. The sizes of stones are related to changing and growing political ideologies formations where there are emerging centralised polities that rule over large and diverse populations.
The question that arises is, “Did Africa not rely on the megalithic astronomical calendars to tell time and relate the performance of rituals to the movement of cosmic bodies?” I will argue that Africa was no exception in that regard.
She, like other communities, relied on the alignment of cosmic bodies to parts of the earth. The difference comes in that Africa relied more and more on her spiritual potency and capacity.
Even where megalithic structures existed there was, all the same, reliance on spirituality as expressed through the presence of tombs where remains of ancestors were interred. What does not seem to be the case is exclusive reliance on megalithic structures such as stone circles without some resident spirituality. Where there are spiritual rituals there will always be ritual officers who are endowed with powers to link with the spirit world. Spirituality is facilitated through human intervention. Its translation and recognition very much depend on humans who are in touch with the spiritual characters who once lived on the terrestrial plane.
Movement of cosmic bodies may be detected even where there are no megalithic structures. Africa relied and continues to rely on her spiritual prowess and capacity to track movement of cosmic bodies. A good example is tracking lunar movement. It has been explained that the lunar cycle has implications on the lives of humans and environment behaviour. There are activities that demand that the moon be full if rituals are to be attended by success. Africa has always been very particular about relating the timing of performance of rituals to the various stages of the lunar cycle.
It is not being suggested that cosmic tracking was limited to lunar movement. Planets and stars too were monitored spiritually. It was for this reason to be capacitated in terms of tracking cosmic movement that Africans resorted to cultural interventions that sought to sharpen their spiritual capacity, prowess and potency.
Measures such as smudging, steaming were also practised in Europe during ancient times. These were some of the several cultural interventions that were relied upon to enhance spiritual sharpness. This perhaps points to the greater role played by spirituality above that played by megalithic structures in isolation.
Where there is effective spirituality, culturally designed structures are of less significance. In our case, the religious organizations that are less spiritual require church buildings. It is not so with the more spiritual Zionist and Apostolic sects. Such spiritual sects are characterized by fission, as spirituality does not lend itself to formal structures with control and more secure succession. Spiritual churches, if they may be called that, are prone to succession wrangles that result in splits.
This is more so when there is a strong founder who attended more to his/her spiritual attributes. When such a leader dies, succession haunts the organisation. Spirituality seems to be averse to control.
Our conclusion is that what matters in essence is the nature of material rather that its size. A small stone is as everlasting (rock of ages) much in the same way as a gigantic stone structure. The latter is more a measure of political authority more than spiritual prowess. Africa seems to have relied on spirituality to a point where she required less and less of megalithic structures. That had its own repercussions that are very much part of spirituality and its attendant vexations, wrangles and tensions that sometimes may result in splits and fissions.