“The Axe Forgets, but Not the Tree” – Kofi Asare Opoku
By Kofi Ayim
The story of Africa and the West has always been predominantly told by the West, and impressions created in these stories have been imprinted, and even altered the thought-patterns of many. This observation was made by Professor Kofi Asare Opoku to a class of students at the Drew University, Madison, New Jersey April 6.
Speaking as a guest professor under the theme “the West through the African eye” and drawing from a trove of African proverbs, the Yale and Bonn University trained theologian pointed out that 15th Century European explorers, backed by the church virtually decimated cultures and ancient civilizations already developed and in place in Africa. He cited the artful bronze sculptures of Benin and the Monomotapa civilization in Zimbabwe that had existed before Europeans arrived. Artifacts built by Africans were either carried back to Europe or systematically destroyed because Europeans could not come to terms with themselves the creativity and skills of the African. The 84 year old retired professor wondered aloud how indigenes who had lived in their locales for thousands of years would all of a sudden be “discovered” or rather “re-discovered” by Europeans.
Lake Ukerewe (aka Nyansa, Sango, etc.) was renamed Lake Victoria putting its original meaning of “the lake that thunders” or “the sea” into oblivion, because the West had bestowed unto itself a standard of measure that defines everyone and everything else according to their ethos. “The so-called Far East people don’t call themselves as such, and so are those referred to as living in the Middle East.”
Professor Asare Opoku philosophized that the West is the “only swimmer that can see its back” (as it swims along). It’s only the West that hears its own voices because it differentiates itself from all others and thus unable to reevaluate itself in terms of human development. He emphasized that the origins of Western civilization is outside the West.
European missionaries who came after the explorers had paved the way, fared no better, because they came with a mandate to change African religiosity without any dialogue. “They saw it as a divine mission to change the heathen Africans,” he lectured. He said European Christianity that flourished along the western and southern parts of Africa was an unaccommodating monologue that cast aspersions on traditional beliefs as uncivilized. “But the one who’s preaching and converting may be the one that lacks understanding and wisdom in real life, because wisdom is an attribute of traditional belief,”he remarked.
The missionaries not only diluted African cultures, they facilitated European hegemony that in turn paved the way for domination of Africans. The new religion did not necessarily empower the socio economic conditions of the people because the converted were made to understand that earthly materialism would not lead them to the kingdom of God, and to not worry about worldly suffering because heaven awaits them. Meanwhile, the missionaries acquired worldly wealth. “They gave us the Bible and took our lands,” he inferred.
Prof. Asare Opoku quickly added that Christianity existed on the continent of Africa long before Europeans became acquainted with it. He referenced the early Church Fathers and the Coptic Church as entirely African. “The axe forgets but not the tree,” he proverbalized.
Professor Kofi Asare Opoku had lectured at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Lafayette College, Pennsylvania. Prior to the above engagements he was the Deputy Director of the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon, Accra, and until recently the Acting President of the University College of Communications, Adabraka, Accra.