The Sunday News
Cultural Heritage with Pathisa Nyathi
ANCIENT African Science (AAS), as I have decided to call it, relies on the workings of cosmic laws. It is clear there are laws and principles at work and have been identified by those who observe the behaviour of nature. As human beings, we have to be humble enough to accept that our knowledge of nature, in its totality, is infinitesimal.
Some human beings have placed hope on western science and based on the knowledge and technologies premised on these; believe they know quite a lot. I hold a different view. Some people have landed on the moon.
There is so much that they still do not know nearer home. I agree with those who argue that AAS works on cosmic laws that were figured out and applied thousands of years ago. The Egyptian Book of the Dead contains ideas and cosmic laws power practices that are that.
Aware and alert to what AAS is capable of doing, I will be the last person to claim that AAS enables us to understand and manipulate all there is to know in the universe. I have said before, it borders on arrogance and egotism for a people to claim they know everything there is to know. The multiverse is just too complex for that.
By the time we get to the end of this series of articles, it will have become apparent that one form of science will never get to assist us to get into grips with the operations, behaviours and characteristics of matter and energy in the entire universe. We have to be humble enough to accept reality, a reality that recognises the depths and breadths of our environment, both terrestrial and extraterrestrial are unfathomable.
After this humbling introduction, we proceed with our AAS. Before we venture much into the intricacies of the science and craft, it is pertinent to realise the difference between theory and practice.
There are amongst us practitioners and theorists. The majority of us are mere practitioners. They know how to do something. However, they fall short of interpreting what they are doing. They are conceptually deficient.
The ancient western world posited witches who rode on brooms.
However, Africa, on the other hand, posited and still posits a world where wizards rode winnowing baskets.
Both knew, albeit mechanically, how to harness requisite energy, and ritually apply techniques to launch the ritual package towards their intended victims.
As indicated in the last article, they knew how to ritually harvest and harness energy. In other words, they knew how to instinctively manipulate nature and apply cosmic laws.
However, they may not have been in a position to give requisite explanations and interpretations, the theory, of what they were doing. They possessed production skills of execution without the knowledge. If it works, well, that is it! What more would they want? These are practitioners.
They are like people who exquisitely embellish household artefacts. They execute gorgeous aesthetic designs on clay pots and ilala palm baskets and on clay walls of their huts. They come up with chevron designs, circular designs, spirals and herringbones, inter alia.
My experience has been that it is engaging in futility to ask these extremely capable crafters about the meanings of the beautiful embellishments. They do acknowledge that what they execute is indeed aesthetic. What is it that makes them aesthetic, they do not know. They will not explain nor interpret that. Worse still, they will not appreciate what the symbols that they have executed mean beyond their primary role of aesthetic expressions.
Within beauty there are messages carried effortlessly by the aesthetic designs. For example, the chevron/triangle expresses eternity, perpetuity, endlessness and continuity. That process of transmission is what is generally referred to as inter-generational transmission of knowledge and skills.
Crafters are liberally endowed with skills, and less with knowledge. I mention this so that we appreciate that both the traditional healers and witches know how to concoct a ritual formula without much by way of understanding theories behind.
Wizards are doers. On the other hand, one who is not a witch in the technical sense of the word, may be in a position to explain and interpret what is happening when energy is being harnessed.
It is just like me who will explain and interpret decorative motifs and yet I cannot execute the designs. I am a theorist with the requisite knowledge but possessing zero practical skills. I cannot make an ilala basket and yet I can present an illuminating lecture on the making (skills) and knowledge (theory) about designs, their inspiration and multi-layered meanings.
In the last article, we unpacked the concept of ukuthaka, leading to the word and description of one as umthakathi. There is a related word that has been used in other languages, notably Sesotho and ChiShona.
The term is muroi, or moloi. For them the term, or verb is roya/loya. The meaning is the same as thaka. In this case, umthakathi is moloi or muroi. The tendency, as is the case in IsiNdebele, is to attach some evil connotations to the term.
To loya/roya implies to overcome. Usually, that overcoming is not in the physical sense. Rather, it is in reference to overcoming, overpowering and defeating in the spiritual and intangible sense. That happens when a conqueror has ritually harvested energy and applied techniques to manipulate that energy in a way that overwhelms and overpowers. This is recognised in a case where the situation faced has irresistible attributes.
It is known that an eland is an animal that is endowed with special spiritual powers. When it has fallen down during a hunt there have to be rituals that are performed to neutralise its harmful powers.
This is the time when, after application of rituals, one could be heard exclaiming say, “sengiyiloyile.” Indeed, the person would have jumped over the carcass of a fallen eland collected its urine and urinated on certain of its body parts.
To jump over is to overpower. It is for this reason that Ndebele people objected to being jumped over when they are lying down on the ground. To reverse the deed, one had to jump over a dis-empowered individual in the opposite direction. I see a lot of this being applied in modern gadgets.
One pushes in a button, then to reverse that, the same button is pushed the second time and this time it springs out. Switching on and out works in similar fashion. You will identify many cases where this idea is applied in the modern world of technology.
Essentially, therefore, one has overpowered harmful eland power whose fat, for example, is never taken into a homestead. Understanding AAS is a long, winding, uphill and arduous struggle.
There are many rules and principles that require unpacking and deciphering. It is not about mechanical application of that science. Technology flows out of clearly identified scientific principles and laws.
It is these that are then applied. As already insinuated above, some people will know application without understanding underpinning theories behind practices.
Our thrust seeks to underpin underlying science behind the practices. What are we to say when witches fly and we know from science that nothing moves without energy working on it?
A car is powered by burning fuel. What is the fuel that powers crafts used by purveyors of applied science? What formula do they use that will enable them to become invisible?
What is derived from nudity, seeing all wizards that have been downed are found naked, flying at night and smeared with ash-like substances?
We are yet to identify the broad field, in scientific and physical terms the places where AAS has been applied or is still applied. We shall seek to go beyond observable behaviour to derive cosmic principles and laws that are applied.
Who knows, we could one day power our machines from harvested energy as understood and applied in AAS. We do not have to be sceptics.
Mind you, there are technologies from ancient civilisations that we are hard put to understand. Stone blocks that modern cranes cannot lift were lifted high up to construct megalithic monuments.