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The paper challenges the dominant view of the individual's place in an African (Esan) structure of Being or culture as one cast in the midst, and subject to the operations of (spiritual) forces, which are independently real and existent and can make or mar the individual's existence based on the kind of relationship he/she establishes with them. The individual is expected to have reverence and awe for these forces; hence he/she is consistently striving to fit into the established structure of Being for his/her own good. The paper asserts that this is not a fair situation because it is the individual who conceptualizes and constructs such an idea of Being to account for his/her perplexing, multifaceted experiences and his/her ontological wonder; the individual is the fundament of Being; he/she illuminates Being. Thus, though the structure of Being in which the Esan finds himself/herself playing important roles in his/her life and in the society, he/she must not always strive to fit into it, particularly when it outlasts its suitability for answering fundamental and baffling questions that keep confronting the individual in his/her existence. Since Being keeps unfolding and our knowledge of the Being-process is never complete, the individual must therefore consistently revisit, re-conceptualize and improve on the prevalent conception or structure of Being in order to account for current experiences that confront him/her. Keywords: Being, force, ontology, individual, experience, Esan INTRODUCTION The concept of Being held by a group of people determines essentially the views they hold concerning other aspects of life and existence, e.g. morality, law, religion, knowledge, truth, what is real, and so on; it also determines what place or position the individual occupies in the structure of Being. It is common or conventional to see African scholars describing 93 Elvis IMAFIDON / Rethinking the Individual's Place the individual as someone subject to the operations of (higher) forces in the structure of Being in different African ontologies, and that his/her survival depends significantly on his/her attitude towards higher beings in the hierarchy of beings, as well as his/her awe and reverence for them. These scholars also opine that such a structure of Being is real to the people and is not just an idea in the individual's mind. The individual consistently strives to fit into this structure as is seen in his/her being placed under the influence of higher forces.1 This paper attempts a critical analysis of the concept of Being in an African (Esan) ontology and the individual's place within it. Contrary to the above, it asserts that the individual is the fundament of ontology; as Placide Tempels says, "the created universe is centred on man";2 it is in the individual's existence that all other beings and cosmic forces become open and meaningful. THE CONCEPT OF BEING IN ESAN3 THOUGHT In what could be referred to as Esan traditional ontology, there exists a world of two realms of existence the visible and invisible; they are independently real but intrinsically linked to form a whole.4 The beings existing in these two realms of a single existence are lively and active in varying degrees because they are inhered, animated or energized by an ontological principle or essence we shall call "force", which is given them by the Supreme Being Osenobulua. In the Esan language, "force" is given different names though they are used synonymously. It is either called orion (force), etin (strength) or ahu (energy or power).5 Thus, the name Etionsa or phrase Orionlen means "God's strength" and "His/Her [a person's] force" respectively. Some scholars of the ontologies of different African societies or cultures call this force "spirit".6 Two main reasons can be identified for this: spirit, like force, is invisible (medicine men have to carry out certain rites for spirits to manifest physically); spirit in an African (Esan) ontology has a higher degree or vitality of force than physical entities and is believed to be able, in a number of ways, to cause and/or influence the vitality of force in physical, visible entities. Idoniboye therefore sees spirits as the one entity that remains constant in an African belief system.7 Ukhun also says the same about Esan ontology, that it lays strong emphasis on the spiritual rather than on the material or physical: Elvis IMAFIDON / Rethinking the Individual's Place Spirits are sacrosanct and form the quintessential or the bedrock of existence of the traditional Esan tradition. In traditional Esan, the material has significance only in reference to the spiritual and not vice-versa ... Every aspect of life of an Esan person is captured within a spiritual milieu and not necessarily in material terms. Although in Esan tradition a person may aspire to material acquisition or sees himself or herself as a physical entity, he or she is fully aware that there is a potent spiritual force behind his or her existence.8 However, force is not an entity, while spirit is, not just in Esan tradition but in many other African cultures. So, to avoid the confusion of a non-entity for an entity, we shall stick to the use of force or otherwise only when necessary with reason(s) clearly stated. Perhaps a good starting point in understanding the concept of force in Esan ontology is by borrowing a clue from Placide Tempels' Bantu Philosophy, which has popularized what has been called the "force thesis"9 in African ontologies. Tempels' project in this work is laudable for his analysis of "vital force" as the "Inmost Nature of being"10 in Bantu ontology, the source of which is God. The key to Bantu thought, he says, is the idea of vital force; he says therefore that The key principle of Bantu philosophy is that of vital force. The activating and final aim of all Bantu effort is only the intensification of vital force. To protect it or to increase vital force, that is the motive or profound meaning in all their practices. It is the ideal which animates the life of the `muntu', the only thing for which he is ready to suffer and to sacrifice himself.11 Summarily, Bantu Philosophy is concerned with making the following points: a. The nature of the universe to the African is nothing if not the "universe of forces". b. These forces can weaken or strengthen the lif of the individual. c. In the face of the fact that one's life force can be dangerously diminished or beneficially enhanced and strengthened, the best course of action for one is to take care to avoid the diminution of one's life force. This last point is crucial to the proper understanding of chapters three, four and five, respectively entitled, "Bantu wisdom", "Bantu psychology" and "Bantu ethics". In them every aspect of Bantu thought, action and practice is causally interpreted with regard to the diminution or strengthening of life force, as is evidenced in the treatment of witchcraft, sorcery, the medicine man, ancestorship, the king and the chief. The point made is that some of these actors diminish life force, while some enhance it. As a consequence Elvis IMAFIDON / Rethinking the Individual's Place the individuals are cast in the role of manipulators; they manipulate the situation towards maintaining and strengthening their life force.12 Therefore, in articulating an African ontology, an essential point to be noted is that there is an ... energy of cosmic origin that permeates and lives within all that is human beings, animals, plants, minerals, and objects, as well as events. This common energy shared by all confers a common essence to everything in the world, and thus ensures the fundamental unity of all that exists ... This energy constitute the active, dynamic principle that animates creation, and which can be identified as life itself.13 This principle of ontological unity has at least two immediate and profound implications: the principle of connectedness of all based on common essence, and the principle of harmony based on the organic solidarity and complementarity of all forms. And what is the source of this energy? It is God (Osenobulua) and, for this reason, everything that shares of the divine essence is sacred.14 Force has also been described, and I think correctly, as "phenomenonaura". The Collins' New English Dictionary defines a "phenomenon" as "anything appeared or observed, especially if having scientific interests". It also defines "aura" as "a subtle invisible essence or fluid said to emanate from human and animal bodies, and even from things". Phenomenon-aura, therefore, is the emission of energy or force from an existent.15 Viewing the conception of force in an African (Esan) ontology in this sense, we realize that beings or entities are not only animated with force, they also emit an essence or force peculiar to each one of them in their causal relations, operations and interactions in the universe. Phenomenon-aura accounts for the following points concerning the concept of Being in Esan and many other African cultures: (a) In a world of varying existents or entities emitting varying degrees of force into the universe, they (the emitted energies) causally account for the experiences of joy, pain, death, illness, health, calamites, orderliness, and so on. (b) An existent possesses either a neutral aura, an active harmful aura, or an active beneficial aura. Again, an existent, by its very position in a given place, atmosphere of event or mixture, may thereby be subject to a crossing and interaction of essences which, in turn, create a new effect or aura. (c) Actors such as the medicine man, the witch or wizard, the witch doctor and the herbalist are manipulators of "the realm of invisible auras", Elvis IMAFIDON / Rethinking the Individual's Place bringing either order or chaos to the community.16 Those who manipulate beings and their auras or forces have adequate knowledge of them and how to manipulate them to produce effect for good or for ill. The Supreme Being is seen as the source of both the phenomena and the auras. Evidently, therefore, the Esan believe in the influence of forces which are invisible casual agents and are part and parcel of their earthly affairs. They identify force (ahu) as the ultimate working principle.17 In God resides force or energy and he dispenses it at will (Ose nyahu, meaning "it is God who owns force or strength"). Ahu is not some form of physical causality because it does not belong to the physical order. It is metaphysical, inaccessible to scientific or empirical verification. Ahu is not believed by the Esan to be an idea in the head; it is real and personified in beings. The idea they have of it and its manifestations is caused by it.18 These beings are in a hierarchical order: the Supreme Being (Osenobulua) stands as the "ground of Being",19 who vitalizes or gives force to all that is; he is at the apex. He is followed by the divinities, both primordial and deified, ancestors, other spiritual forces, the person, and natural objects or things. Below is a schematic representation of the hierarchy of beings in Esan ontology. THE ESAN COMMUNITY These beings are in a causal relationship with one another, playing one role or the other in the community. The essential point, however, is that the individual is at the centre of such causal relationships and operations of forces because it is believed that the nature and activities of these beings is either for the benefit or disadvantage of the individual; they either make or mar him/her. Elvis IMAFIDON / Rethinking the Individual's Place THE INDIVIDUAL AS SUBJECT TO THE OPERATIONS OF FORCES There is a belief in which man is seen as a plaything of countless personal wills. These wills may be the creator, gods, or countless inferior spirits and ghosts. Or they may be the curse of an old man, the maleficence of a witch, or simply the sort of magic that anybody can use by making a wax image and sticking pins in it until the enemy is dead. Against all these, the defence is rituals.20 Helaine K. Minkus, in his paper "The Concept of Spirit in Akwapim Akan Philosophy", opines the same point. The Akwapim Akan sees himself/herself as subject to the wills of beings and the operations of forces of which he/she may have limited knowledge. He/she does not doubt that these beings or forces exist.21 The same is true for the Esan. The Esan is cast in the midst of basically spiritual forces influencing his/her force either to make or mar him/her. For this reason, he/she is made to remain under the confines of the ontological structure which he/she ought to accept dogmatically. The Esan is expected to continuously remain loyal to these forces, venerating and revering those forces that can help him/her survive, while dreading those that can mar or diminish his/her life force. Let us now examine some instances of events and phenomena that reveal the Esan as subject to the influences and operations of forces. First is the art of healing. In Esan, there are a number of causes of disease or illness. An illness can be brought by God. This type of illness simply happens without any fault of the victim. It is mainly experienced in elderly ones about to die; a few days or weeks of illness and then, death comes. It is seen as a natural way of dying. Also, illness can be caused by people's own doing, through accident or neglect but not through ill-will or sorcery. A malnourished child will be seen as an example of neglect. Other causes are sorcery, a number of different spirits, the individual's moral will or immoral acts, as we will see soon in the case of adultery and incest.22 C.G. Okojie elaborates on the causes. In his words, illness can befall an individual in Esan for the following reasons: because of some sins against his master (the head of the family), because he has done a forbidden thing in the village or because he is being pursued by enemies who might have thrown some bad medicine his way or shot illness at him, this being known as utagba.23 Elvis IMAFIDON / Rethinking the Individual's Place Treatment would consist of the Esan being told to: go and appease the spirits of the departed ancestors by slaughtering a goat at the ancestral shrine; go to serve rele (enemies) at the Ihianloto (Ukhimin tree in the compound); go to Uwa-ne-ebo to throw away some precious belongings like clothes, supervised by the doctor himself; perform some Izobo, collections of named materials which may include a chick, tortoise and mud in shape of a man with thorns piercing the heart (Amre); or directed to go and worship at a particular shrine inside or outside the village.24 If, for example, "it is proven that witches or wizards are the negative forces behind a serious affliction or disease, such health problems are abated (by) ... casting out ... evil spirits in traditional spiritual homes."25 Confession is also an effective tool. The victim is made to confess any evil deed he/she might have done against another because, if the person does not confess, it is impossible for any medicine to be effective.26 Invariably, therefore, greater emphasis is placed on the "supernatural" rather than on the natural causation and treatment of illness and other forms of misfortune. For this reason, traditional healers make sure that preventive measures are available to their clients; they enhance productivity, detect witches and sorcerers, and mediate between the living and their ancestors.27 Second is the issue of witchcraft. Witchcraft, G.O. Ozumba says, is the spiritual skill of being able to carry on certain detrimental activities in disembodied form. This could include the sucking of a victim's blood, holding of meetings, causing accidents, or inflicting pains or diseases.28 In Esan, witchcraft is a real phenomenon and witches and wizards are part of the most dreaded evil forces; every now and then, events are experienced to prove their existence. Polycarp Ikuenobe shares a real-life experience he had at Igueben in Esan land. During the Nigerian Civil War ... Igueben ... was liberated by the Federal troops. In the night the soldiers brought out their blankets and slept in the open field. Very late on the appointed night ... one of the soldiers saw an owl flying around and then perched on one of the big trees in the field. It is believed that this is the time that witches and wizards go to their regular meetings. The soldier saw this owl as strange and then proceeded to attempt to shoot the owl. His high-powered automatic rifle jammed and refused to discharge. He diagnosed that it had jammed because of the supernatural power of the owl, which, in other words, meant it was not a normal owl it was being animated by the soul of a wizard ... The soldier also had supernatural powers and thus realized what was going on. He made his incantations to neutralize the power of the Elvis IMAFIDON / Rethinking the Individual's Place wizard and then took a rifle from his friend and shot the owl. The account given by the soldier was that the owl, acting as a proxy for the person, wanted to transform into a human being so that the solider could be accused of killing a person instead of an owl. Because of the power of the solider, the transformation could not take place, but when the supposed target landed on the ground, the "thing" was half human (completely naked) and half bird, in that it had wings ... I could not take a photograph because cameras were rare and there was no other photographic or video documentation.29 A third issue is that of morality. In Esan tradition, basically, what is good is what is acceptable to higher forces and what is bad is what is unacceptable. The ancestors are very influential in this regard. Consider the case of adultery for instance. Adultery (Ugheemin or Ugboghele) is much condemned and it is a serious taboo or abomination; spiritual forces (the ancestors) do not hesitate in punishing it. The children of the culprits may begin to fall sick or die mysteriously. This is said to be evidence of angered spirits.30 The spiritual punishment can become even more excruciating, especially when the act is concealed by the culprits.31 To help the situation, or take care of the prevailing scenario, the culprits or victims of the angered spirits must confess either voluntarily or by coercion. During such confessions, certain specified rituals, such as the slaughtering of a goat, are performed to effect purification of the guilty. After performing such rituals, the culprits usually get well.32 Men are also warned that if they should suspect their wives at all of adultery, they must not eat her food until it is confirmed that it is either true or false. If he does and, unknowingly to him, what he suspects is true, he will die. In rural Esan, it is also wrong for a man to mate with, or eat a meal prepared by, his wife during her menstrual period. This does not escape the wrath of the spirits. The resulting punishment is that the man would have strange visitors to his sleeping bed at night and then would fall sick days after. As usual, confession and purification abates the problem.33 Fourth is the issue of sexism.34 According to Christopher E. Ukhun: Regarding sexism against Esan women, a spiritual dimension is employed to validate the disinheritance of Esan women ... A man while alive gave the family house to the first daughter; in no distant future, the house collapses under mysterious circumstances. Many other calamities could happen if the decision or law is not reversed. The woman herself may begin to experience great misfortunes. Her misfortunes are invariably linked to spiritual forces at work. She is reminded that her spiritually induced woes could continue unless such property was handed over to the first son.35 Elvis IMAFIDON / Rethinking the Individual's Place Other practices or activities women cannot do or indulge in are the authority for ancestral worship and authority to bury one's father; there are spiritual punishments for a woman who does any of these. A fifth issue is rites of passage the life cycle running from the entry of man into life at birth to his subsequent exit at death.36 At every stage of life, the Esan is confronted with the influence of spiritual forces which proves his/her inability to cope alone or independently deal with the challenges except by loyalty, reverence and submission to other forces that are beneficial to him/her. The life cycle is punctuated by crises birth, puberty, marriage, death. Each crisis is marked by religious rituals. For example, when a woman conceives and is pregnant, she is about to bring a child into the world. In rural Esan, pregnancy is considered a delicate period during which there is great need for protection against evil forces who may want to harm the child or the heavy mother. Thus, the help of ancestors are sought, traditional priests are consulted and necessary rites are performed for the woman to carry and deliver the baby safely. Rites of passage go as far as to the spiritual realm, dying and coming back to life again successfully. Esan belief is that a person reincarnates fourteen times.37 If an individual must have a peaceful passage into, and through, life, no matter the number of times, he/she must worship and revere Osenobulua for He is like a director of a play; he determines when his actors and actresses will come into a scene, when they will leave a scene, when they will re-enter a scene and the role they play; He will also determine who He deems fit to stop going into the scene and assist him behind the scene. This the Esan is aware of. Other issues that reveal the spiritual effect on the individual's existence include protection, farming and even restriction. It is forbidden to go to the streams or farms on native resting day for fear of spiritual consequences. With regards to the issue of protection, the Igueben people of Esan (and indeed all Esan people) usually make tiny marks in threes on their foreheads, feet, back of the palm and shoulders. The fresh mark is done with a sharp razor blade and is then stuffed with a black substance while some incantations are said. Heads of families could easily do this for their wives and children. It is done for two reasons: (i) to protect the individual from danger; and (ii) to give a faint picture of what might happen in the nearest future. If, for instance, one is about embark on a journey and one feels an itch or bite under one's left foot for some hours or even a day before the journey, it means that the journey will not be Elvis IMAFIDON / Rethinking the Individual's Place good, an accident may occur or there may be a misfortune. But if it is the right foot, the reverse is the case; it will be a very successful journey. Those who use it to date claim it is effective.38 Generally speaking, therefore, for Esan people, belief in the influence of spiritual forces leads to the modification of behaviour and will in terms of inter- and intra-personal relations. It is the cement of good will and fear that keeps a family as a unit and a village as a distinct community group.39 Admittedly, the role played by spirits in the lives of Esan people is applied in the prevention of unsavoury acts. Spirits are said to reward good deeds and punish evil deeds. Spirits form the "common backdrop" and the foundation of commonality and communality.40 Clearly, Esan ontology or metaphysics has served a very important function since it has created a conducive atmosphere for the realization of very important psychological and moral needs of the individual and community at large. It is a metaphysics that is instrumental in tackling fundamental problems of ethics and society and, as such, has been instrumental to questions of cohesion, social control, and law and order within Esan communities. The fact that the Esan live in harmony with their environment and the world is rooted in a metaphysics that sees this as a necessary offshoot of the individual's relationship with the forces that control these spheres of reality.41 It is necessary, therefore, to ponder on where such a conception of reality, of Being, evolved and where it can be properly located. LOCATING THE BASIS OF THE ESAN CONCEPT OF BEING To the Esan, the nature of the categories of beings that we have been examining are real existents, as real as this paper you read now, as real as the clothes you have on. According to Esan traditional thought, what we know about these beings is simply caused by them, and are then stored up as proverbs, names, folklores and customs of the people and form the basis of the various cultural practices and values religious, individual, communal, moral, etc. of the community. These epistemic claims are then preserved and authoritatively handed down from generation to generation through the elite of the community: "the enigie (Kings) and their chiefs, the elders (edion), priests, heroes as well as professional craftsmen are the elites of traditional Esan communities."42 What is handed down is not to be questioned, hence the Igueben saying; Iri maya Elvis IMAFIDON / Rethinking the Individual's Place kre (that is how we met it) or name ebikere (what I met). These beings in Esan ontology are thus conceived as existing "out there", whether we perceive them or not. The Esan is a metaphysical realist who sees both physical and spiritual beings (specifically) as given "out there" having certain fixed attributes that they have caused us to know. Given the realist character of Esan ontology, which enjoys an interplay of beings or forces that are real regardless of our perception of them, what is the place of the human being? From our discourse so far, it is obvious that he/she is seen as a recipient of the wills, desires and manifestations of other beings or spiritual forces above him/her in the hierarchy of beings; the Esan is influenced by, and cast in the midst of the operations of, higher spiritual forces, good or evil. In the Esan worldview, whatever the individual acquires, for instance, is given to him/her by a superior being, just as any diminution of his/her force is the result of the influence of some evil-intentioned agent capable of destroying one's force. The influence of invisible causal agents on the individual is seen as obvious, for the agents are seen as intrinsic to his/her earthly affairs.43 Our analysis in the previous section makes this obvious. The individual is therefore a being within a structure of Being consisting of established beings with fixed attributes who is expected to incessantly sustain loyalty and allegiance to beings that have the power to either make or mar him/her based on the sort of relationship and interaction he/she has and sustains with them. This ontology, and the individual's place within it, is not peculiar to the Esan but is found in many other African cultures. But if we may ask some further questions: Who conceptualizes Being? Who meditates on, and think metaphysically about, Being? Who confronts beings or encounters the universe? Who is the being that questions Being? The answer to these questions is evident and obvious: it is the human being. If this is the case, then the individual has not been given a fair enough place or position in Esan ontology because the well-structured ontology that we have been examining is the individual's conceptualization of the universe and cosmic forces he/she has encountered, not a given "out there" that he/she must strive to fit into. The individual constructs theoretical entities or posits to account for his/her perplexing experiences of cosmic forces that confront him/her in the happening of Being, and use these theoretical entities or posits to achieve the goals of explanation, prediction and control. And as long as these posits achieve these goals, he/she holds on to them. This whole complex structure of Elvis IMAFIDON / Rethinking the Individual's Place beings and this interplay of forces that we have been examining are metaphysical constructs of the individual to account for his/her multifaceted experience of the world and the cosmic forces inherent in it. No one would deny the fact that, in life, we experience some sort of energy flow or cosmic force intermingling and producing one effect or another. In our usual wish for simplicity and unity, we posit theoretical entities to account for such experiences. Science is essentially founded on such theoretical posits like neutrons, protons, electrons, alpha, beta and gamma rays. There is nothing wrong in such conceptualizations. For it is a natural urge in the individual for simplicity, that is, having a principle of explanation used by virtue of the fact that it unifies other explanations and covers a wide range of experiences. This accounts for the concept of divinities, ancestors and other spiritual forces in Esan ontology, a creation of the Esan's mental power to account for a wide range of experiences. It is in this sense that Robin Horton sees spirits in African traditional thought as similar to atoms in natural science.44 It therefore means that the individual is an unlimitedly creative being, made evident in his/her metaphysical conceptualization of Being. His/her place in Esan (or indeed any other) ontology is therefore vital if Being is to be understood. The individual is the fundament of ontology, the basis of the idea or concept of Being. THE INDIVIDUAL AS THE FUNDAMENT OF ONTOLOGY In locating the basis of Esan ontology in the human being, we reaffirm Heidegger's point in his fundamental ontology that man is the fundament of ontology, whose place in Being is vital and central to the understanding of Being. It is the individual who transcends into the openness, the happening or event-ing, of Being, into Nothing as a field or region of encounter to establish and re-establish what is as he/she has done in Esan ontology. In his/her transcending of beings or what brings him/her into Being (the process of coming-to-be of what confronts him/her), the individual is able to relate one thing to another; he/she is able to connect one experience to another to make them meaningful; he/she is propelled to move from one state of affairs to another from now to not now, from what is to what is not.45 Hence Heidegger sees the individual as the seat of finite transcendence and the intrinsic possibility of ontology.46 Thus, force might be what inheres in beings but the ground of metaphysics, the only Elvis IMAFIDON / Rethinking the Individual's Place access to our comprehension of what it is for anything to be, our only access to the comprehension of Being, is the individual.47 He/she releases himself/herself into Being through meditative thinking and becomes directly involved with Being in order to come to terms with the essence of things and conceptualize his/her multifaceted experiences. The role of language becomes essential. What the individual encounters is captured in language (and discourse). Language illuminates Being as it unfolds. Language, as Heidegger says, is the "House of Being". The individual uncovers and conceptualizes Being through language. One point is essential here, though: not all humans are able to conceptualize Being but they all have the potential to do so. This is where Heidegger stresses the role of thinkers (philosophers) and poets (due to their mastery of language). Wealth of experience, logical and meditative thinking, mastery of one's language, and a good store of knowledge and wisdom are potentials for the conceptualization of Being or reality. That Esan traditional ontology could be so finely structured is evidence that these activities philosophizing, meditative thinking, poetic use of language were much in existence in traditional Esan culture. An essential point that we must note here is that, if the individual is the access to the comprehension of Being, it means that he/she cannot be confined or circumscribed to a fixated conception of Being this would mean he/she no longer transcends into Being to conceptualize his/her multi-faceted experiences or that there are no new perplexing experiences of the universe or cosmic forces to account for, to comprehend or to conceptualize. The world keeps unfolding, new experience keeps emerging that can be said with certainty; supposedly certain truths in science, religion and ethics from three centuries ago would have to be rephrased or even changed now. Being keeps unfolding itself both in the form of permanent or unchanging entities, and in form of the Heraclitan flux. Staying loyal to a static ontological conception is to surrender these diverse senses of Being to a sterile uniformity in disguise of categories, beingness, or ontological principles, to one that can no longer entertain variation and multiplicity. In this way we become poorer and such poverty makes a difference.48 Thus, the individual must put to use his/her metaphysical creativity by always revisiting, questioning and challenging his/her previously held conceptions of Being in order to account for, or conceptualize, current experiences. Elvis IMAFIDON / Rethinking the Individual's Place STRIKING THE BALANCE BETWEEN THE INDIVIDUAL AND THE COMMUNITY The discourse on individualcommunity relationships in African communities has been the source of a heated debate on, at least the following: on determining whether the community has ontological primacy over the individual or vice versa; on determining the nature of the sociality of the human person; on determining the organic character of the relations between individual persons; and on determining the extent to which the community is important for the total well-being of the individual.49 This debate had led to two schools of thought: the Radical Communitarian Theory of Person and the Moderate Communitarian Theory of Person.50 We shall not concern ourselves with this debate here. It is hard to deny that an individual person is born into an existing human society and therefore into a human culture; that is the human person does not voluntarily choose to enter into a human community. Also, the human person is at once a cultural being and the human person cannot live in isolation from other persons, hence he/she must form relationships with others; these social relationships are necessary, not contingent, and the person is constituted thus, but only partly, by social relationships in which he/she necessarily finds himself/herself.51 In Esan traditional thought, all of these are summed up in the idea of kinship, expressed in greeting expressions like Obhiaba and Obhiomen, literally meaning "kinsman" and "my brother" respectively. Our concern here is, knowing that both the individual and community have essential roles to play with each other, where precisely is the line to be drawn to avoid extreme interference in each other's "territory of duty"? This becomes essential when we realize that our contention above, that the individual, as the fundament of ontology, is unlimitedly creative, could send the wrong message concerning the significance or importance of the community; that the individual is somewhat independent of the community. Esan ontology, as we have seen so far, establishes a firm relationship between man and cosmic forces (conceptualized, preserved and handed down as God, divinities, ancestors and other spiritual forces) as sources of regulation of social and individual conflict, and as including all conditions necessary for meaningful life. This sort of relationship has guaranteed the individual's understanding of community life as a cooperative affair, since it creates a precondition for understanding of social cohesion based on Elvis IMAFIDON / Rethinking the Individual's Place people's alignment or allegiance to particular metaphysical forces that gives meaning collectively to their lives and actions. It has guaranteed their continued survival in the face of untold economic and social difficulties and hardship, and has aided in sustaining the psyche of the individual who relegates his/her absolute confidence to forces whose loyalty can be guaranteed through his/her religious and cultic obligations to them. On the basis of this ontology, personal questions concerning the end of life and the things most central for meaningful existence take a peculiar and interesting form. Here individuals survive to live and take their consolation in the answers provided at the moment.52 But here the line should be drawn; that it does all these for the individual (and even more) is no basis for it to be authoritarian and put a "final full stop" to the comprehension of Being where anything different from "it" is a "not it", as is clearly seen in its being taken as a fact rather than as a human conceptualization of Being for answering pressing questions, solving problems and achieving the goals of explanation, prediction and control for the time being. Clearly, the conception of Being in Esan ontology and the place of the individual within it explains, among other things, the following: (i) that the individual is at once a communal being who is in communion with fellow men and the forces invisible to human eyes; (ii) that there are certain things in the life of an individual absolutely beyond his control his death, birth and some other experiences; (iii) that individuals or the community at large can explain, predict and control events/phenomena by choosing to invoke some forces or energies in the Beingprocess; and (iv) that the individual's creativity through which he/she constructs these fine theories about forces unknown can be bizarre and exhibit anti-social attitudes if not restrained by some sort of thought system harbouring ideas like those of destiny, ancestry, reincarnation, after-life, etc. But what it fails to consider is that these cosmic forces and events can never be completely known or understood to authoritatively say "this is it and nothing else". The individual must metaphysicize continuously to unfold Being at all times or our knowledge of Being becomes anachronistic or outlasts its use.53 And, if the Esan is given the opportunity to do this, the Esan thought system will keep rejuvenating. This is because, instead of the individual becoming fed up with the authoritarian system as being not able to meet up with his/her current experiences, he/she simply seizes the opportunity of reconceptualizing the idea of Being. If the new idea plays the role the former plays and even more, it is incorporated into the system Elvis IMAFIDON / Rethinking the Individual's Place and serves the community for a span of time. In this way, culture is neither destroyed nor overthrown. It is preserved and updated with time. This is the only way culture survives and does not become anachronistic. Therefore, though the community plays a essential role in the life of the individual, it should not over-ride the individual's will by becoming authoritarian,54 thereby killing his/her inner drive to think metaphysically. In the same vein, the individual's creativity as revealed in his/her finite transcendence shouldn't be enough reason for anyone to go haywire and behave in an anti-social manner, for such behaviour would benefit neither him/her nor society. In this way, the individual and the community become a harmonious whole, each having reciprocal roles to play. CONCLUDING REMARKS So far, we have attempted a critique of the individual's place in Esan ontology, asserting that he/she has not been given a fair enough place, for he/she is the basis or fundament of ontology, the only access to any comprehension of Being at all. The individual encounters the happening or event-ing of Being and conceptualizes his/her multifaceted experiences of the world, of cosmic forces, of Being; here, transcendence, meditative thinking and mastery of one's language are inevitable. The end result of this is ontological conceptualizations finely structured, like those of the Esan, serving a wide range of purposes for all basically explanation, prediction and control. Thus, there is no end to this metaphysical creativity of the individual as long as Being keeps unfolding; he/she must revisit and reconceptualize his/her idea of Being when the need arises; the community forms the nurturing ground and bedrock for the individual(s) take-off. Notes 1 Christopher E. Ukhun, "Metaphysical Authoritarianism and the Moral Agent in Esan Traditional Thought." Uma: Journal of Philosophy and Religious Studies, 1(1), 2006: 143153. 2 Placide Tempels, Bantu Philosophy. Paris: Presence Africaine, 1959: 64. 3 The Esan (popularly called Ishan) are a people of Nigeria and of Edo State in particular. 4 Christopher. G. Okojie (ed.), Esan Dictionary. Lagos: Perfect Printers Ltd., 2005: 23, 242, 120. 5 For instance, Jim I. Unah interchangeably uses "Force" and "Spirit" in his paper "The Nature of African Metaphysics." in Jim I. Unah (ed.), Metaphysics, Phenomenology and African Philosophy. Lagos: FADEC Publishers, 2004: 337355. 6 D. E. Idoniboye, "The Idea of African Philosophy: The Concept of Spirits in African Metaphysics," Second Order, 11(1), 1973: 83. Elvis IMAFIDON / Rethinking the Individual's Place Christopher E. Ukhun, "Metaphysical Authoritarianism," op. cit.: 146147. Didier, N. Kaphagawani, "African Conceptions of a Person: A Critical Survey." Kwasi Wiredu (ed.) A Companion to African Philosophy. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2004: 335337. 9 Placide Tempels, op. cit.: 33. 10 Ibid.: 175 11 Stephen O. Okafor, "Bantu Philosophy: Placide Tempels Revisited." Journal of Religion in Africa, 13(2), 1982: 8485. 12 J. M. Plumley, "The Cosmology of Ancient Egypt." In Carmen Blacker and Michael Lowe (eds.), Ancient Cosmologies. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1975: 24. 13 Mambo A. Mazama, "Afrocentricity and African Spirituality." Journal of Black Studies, 33(2), Nov 2002: 21920. See also Friday N. Ndubuisi, "A Conception of Man in African Communalism." In Jim I. Unah (ed.), op. cit., 424. 14 Stephen O. Okafor, op. cit.: 94. 15 Ibid.: 95. 16 See Christopher E. Ukhun, Nathaniel A. Inegbedion. "Ontological Validation of Land Tenureship in Esan Tradition." Studies in Tribes and Tribals, 5(1), 2007:19. 17 See Okot P' Bitek, "The Self. in African Imagery." Transition, 15, 1964: 33. This metaphysical realism is similar to that of the Christians who believe in the real existence of beings such as God, angels, Jesus Christ and the Devil, and even realms of existence like heaven and hell. Our knowledge of God, for instance, is caused by Him via revealed knowledge: no scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but man, moved by the Holy Spirit, spoke from God (2 Peter 1:20-21. See also 2 Timothy 3:16-17). 18 See John Pobee, "Aspects of African Traditional Religion." Sociological Analysis, 37(1), Spring, 1976: 5. 19 Ifeanyi A. Menkiti, "On the Normative Conception of the Person." Kwasi Wiredu (ed.) op. cit., 328-329. 20 Fred Welbourn, "The Importance of Ghosts." Transition, 2 (6 & 7), 1962: 46. 21 Helaine K. Minkus, "The Concept of Spirit in Akwapim Akan Philosophy." African Journal of the International African Institute, 50(2), 1980: 184. 22 See Daniel A. Offong, "Traditional Healers in the Nigerian Health Care Delivery System and the Debate over Integrating Traditional and Scientific Medicine." Anthropological Quarterly, 72(3), Jul., 1999: 122. 23 Christopher G. Okojie, Esan Native Laws and Customs with Ethnographic Studies of the Esan People. Benin-City: Ilupeju Press, 1994: 229. 24 Ibid. 25 Christopher E. Ukhun, "Metaphysical Authoritarianism," op. cit.: 148. 26 See Daniel A. Offong, op. cit.: 2122. 27 Ibid.: 122. 28 Godfrey Okechukwu Ozumba, "African Traditional Metaphysics." Quadlibet Online Journal of Christian Theology and Philosophy, 6(3), JulSep 2004. Retrieved Jan 15 2005 from http://www.Quadlibet.net. Elvis IMAFIDON / Rethinking the Individual's Place Polycarp Ikuenobe, "Cognitive Relativism, African Philosophy and the Phenomenon of Witchcraft," Journal of Social Philosophy, 3, 1995: 157158. 30 Christopher E. Ukhun, "The Metaphysical, Sexism and an African Culture," Ufahamu: A Journal of African Studies, 30(1), 2003: 73. 31 Christopher E. Ukhun, "Metaphysical Authoritarianism.," op. cit., 151. 32 Christopher E. Ukhun, "The Metaphysical.," op. cit.: 74. 33 Ibid. 34 For details on sexism in the Esan worldview see ibid.: 7580. 35 Christopher E. Ukhun, Nathaniel A. Inegbedion, op. cit.: 19. 36 John Pobee, op. cit.: 13. 37 For the philosophical problem of the Esan concept of reincarnation, see Godwin E. Azenabor, "Reincarnation in an African Metaphysics." Jim I. Unah (ed.) op. cit.: 357373. 38 Interview with Mr. Marcus Ukpebor Imafidon (aged 75), a philosopher by profession, Igueben (Aug 2008). 39 Christopher E. Ukhun, "The Metaphysical", op. cit.: 74. 40 Ibid. 41 See. Innocent I. Asouzu, "Science and African Metaphysics: A Search for Direction." Philosophy in Africa. Boston Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy, Aug 1998. Retrieved Sep 15 2005. From http://www.Paedeia.com 42 Albert Onobhayedo, "Western Education and Social Change in Esan Land," IRORO: A Journal of Arts, 7 (1 & 2), Aug 1999: 270. 43 See Christopher E. Ukhun, Nathaniel A. Inegbedion, op. cit.: 1819. 44 See Robin Horton, "African Traditional Thought and Western Science." Bryan R. Wilson (ed.) Rationality. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1974: 144. 45 See Jim I. Unah, Even Nothing is Something: Inaugural Lecture Series. Lagos: University of Lagos Press, 2006: 1314. 46 See Jim I. Unah, Heidegger: Through Kant to Fundamental Ontology. Ibadan: Hope Publications, 1997: 19. 47 Ibid. 48 David Farrell Krell, "General Introduction: The Question of Being to Martin Heidegger." Basic Writings. New York: Harper San Francisco, 1977: 35. 49 Kwame Gyekye, "Person and Community in African Thought." Kwasi Wiredu, Kwame Gyekye (eds.) Person and Community: Ghanaian Philosophical Studies 1. Washington D.C.: The Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, 1992: 106. 50 For a brief but lucid explanation of the nature of this debate and the scholars involved, see Olatunji A. Oyeshile "The IndividualCommunity Relationship as an Issue in Social and Political Philosophy." Olusegun Oladipo (ed.) Core Issues in African Philosophy. Ibadan: Hope Publications, 2006: 102119. 51 Kwame Gyekye, op. cit.: 104. 52 See Innocent I. Asouzu, op. cit. 53 Kwasi Wiredu, Philosophy and an African Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980: 1. 54 Ibid.: 2.
Cultura. International Journal of Philosophy of Culture and Axiology – de Gruyter
Published: Jan 1, 2011
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