This essay is taken from a part
of the Dedication of the work
“The Method and Principles of
Complementary Reflection in and Beyond African Philosophy”
by Innocent I. Asouzu
An Igbo proverb states that oha na az? nwa i.e. childrearing is an affair of the community. What this means is that we are, largely, products of our environment and knowledge acquisition is a matter of concatenation of ideas made accessible to the mind through our surroundings. In other words, we are who we are through the complementarity of all the factors and actors that enter into our upbringing. To understand a person entails understanding all those factors and actors that combine to make a person who he is. Similarly, we understand a thought system better by reference to its ambience as the totality of the factors and actors that combine to give character to the system in question. Complementarism as a systematic methodological reflection about reality is thinkable only in terms of all those factors and actors that combine to make it possible. For this reason, I dedicate this work, in a general way, to all those actors and factors that played major roles in the course of the evolution of my thinking. A brief insight into my own personal ambience would definitely help drive home some of the ideas that shall be pursued in this work. I am doing this in full consciousness that philosophy must be a reflection of reality as lived experience.
traditional African society is a very complex, and highly sophisticated society
whose affairs were piloted by very intelligent and highly gifted
individuals. I wish to bring this
background nearer from the perspective of the Igbo traditional African society
and more concretely still from my own immediate background. These experiences constitute a colossal
pillar of support to this reflection.
It is important to delve into this matter because there is often the
temptation to imagine the traditional African as a simple-minded individual
whose attitude to life is devoid of philosophical rigor. That is to say, that of someone who
uncritically luxuriates on rich supply of immutable ideas based on myths and
fables. Such erroneous ideas are
occasioned by what I call picture type fallacy. Here Basden observes, “We sometime hear
of good folk who talk of the ‘simple life’ of the unsophisticated African…Never
was there a greater error than to think that a native can live a ‘simple’ life
as the expression is commonly understood” (
I travel home to my village of residence, Ndiakunwanta Uno Arondizuogu, in Ideato North Local Government of
Imo State, my attention is always drawn to the ancestral house (obi) of Mazi
Okoli Idozuka, which is located about 300 meters from my
inscription on the front wall of this compound is very striking. It reads, “This is the compound of Mazi
Okoli Idozuka the great legend.” A
great legend he was, if one were to stop at this description. He was a great warrior whose war name was Agadagbachiri?z?
(The huge tree trunk that blocks the way).
Our people understand his position as that of the Chief of Staff of the
founder of my village Mazi Akunwanta himself.
I grew up with stories about this legend and tales about how he and his
troops widened the boundaries of my village some 180 years ago. This Okoli Idozuka is the same man as Okoro
Idozuka the father of Nwankwo
Okoro. Many who immigrated to Aro territories change their
names to their Aro equivalent. Thus,
many who answered Okoli were called Okoro in the Aro territories. Elizabeth Isichei in her renowned “History of
the Igbo People” paradoxically designates some of these influential figures,
from the perspective of our modern thinking, as “robber barons.” This is an instance of error of
transposition as shall be discussed in this work. Thus, she writes:
history of the wealthy state of Arondizuogu provides similar examples of robber
Nwankwo Okoro was the first son of
Okoro Idozuka…At the age of 21 he joined his father on
slave trade…He killed anybody who came across his way…He once said ‘I must visit
any town that crosses my way and nothing will prevent me from attacking them
with my great troops’…By collecting slaves and war-captives he was able to
build a very large family.
When the British came, they
made him a Warrant Chief” (105).
Isichei’s allusion to “robber barons” must be
viewed with utmost caution. The time these people lived was different and their lives were
governed by very different laws and indeed by the law of “an eye for an
eye.” One can safely say that theirs was
a situation of lived ambivalence.
Aro colonies in the olden days,
including Arondizuogu, stood in principle for peace, justice, progress,
development, social harmony and protection of the weak and the oppressed. This is why many communities welcomed the
Aros in their midst and accorded them all the rights and privileges of
Arondizuogu, my town, was founded by Mazi Izuogu Ogbunukpo and Mazi Iheme. Izuogu Ogbunukpo was a big slave merchant
who came from Arochukwu, in Arochukwu Local Government in the
present Abia state.
Iheme himself was his Chief Servant and he came from Isi-Akpu Nise, in
Awka South in the present Anambra
State. Iheme settled at Arondizuogu and
his master Izuogu joined him, and both are regarded as the founders of
Arondizuogu. With time, Izuogu and his
people united with Iheme and his people to form the great union that is
Arondizuogu based on the principles of mutual complementation.
found themselves within the traditional African historical epoch and at the
inception of transition from traditional African society to modernity. It was a time of redefinition and
readjustment. It was a time when what
it took to define personal interest touched tangentially on the common
good, in the same way religion touches on reason. They never meet and they are never separated.
this historical epoch, the common good, might and right were intertwined in an
intricate complex fashion that needs a well-grounded explicative index. This index we find in the idea of the law of
self-preservation. In other words, for
these people one visible law was in force, that is to say, the law of
self-preservation and it was often interpreted to favour the dictates of the
ego. People undertook everything they
deemed appropriate to preserve themselves; their lives, their property, their
glory, their honour, and anything they considered important. Hence, the common good is that which helps
the individual uphold the ego.
was in this spirit that Mazi Izuogu Ogbunukpo and his troops
razed the town of Ora. The people of
Ora were alleged to have
insulted him (Igwegbe 83). The town Ora about eight kilometres from
Okigwe on your way to Onitsha on the Okigwe – Onitsha
highway, exists today only in name. The
inhabitants were virtually sent into extinction by Izuogu and his men, in the
middle of the 18th century.
The place is called today Ikpa Ora; that is the wilderness of Ora. Human nature hardly changes
in view of our natural propensity to serve our interests first most especially
in asymmetrical situations of life and in ambivalent situations of this type. For this reason, we have the obligation to
understand and explain such occurrences properly, within their context, in view
of taking necessary measures towards forestalling such occurrence in the future.
traditional African societies found themselves in this form of ambivalent
situations and here power was often misused to the advantage of the strong and
crafty in asymmetrical situations. In
such situations, human beings often tend to define the common good to include
those interests that are shared by a closed circle of individuals. All these weaknesses notwithstanding, many
still view the traditional African society as a society that by far supersedes
our contemporary African societies in matters of adherence to and respect for
basic human values. For many also, the
traditional African society has a higher developed sense of the common good
than our contemporary African societies.
For these individuals, traditional African societies show stronger sense
of high moral uprightness, of social harmony, mutual respect, high sense of
values and of respect for human dignity, etc.
granduncle Udorji Mmelonye (1858-1983) is a typical example of
those who share this view. He had good
experience of both the traditional and contemporary African societies. He was a prison warden in 1910. In comparison to our times, one of his
greatest regrets during the evening days of his life was that people of
substance had all died. He enthuses
often and in bitter regrets “mmadu anw?chana ihe n?zi ugbua b? s? enwe enwe”
i.e. real human beings are now dead. He
considered the calibre of people living in our age as lacking in
substance. We can consider these
thoughts as typical of the type of romanticism and nostalgia that we attach to
issues that touch our hearts.
spite of all, one has the deep feeling that his time was different, but
remarkable. He was caught in the depth
of transition from traditional African society to modernity. The traditional African society was a time
full of ambivalences. It was a time of
slave trade, subjugation, conquest, and domination. It was equally a time of protection of rights of citizens, a time
for togetherness, genuine love for family and community, a time where people
upheld the sanctity of the common good and transgressed gravely against the
same outside the boundaries of their communities. It was often an encounter between order and disorder, light and
darkness, power and submission, religion and irreligion. In all cases, people tried to define the
situation according to their understanding and acted in ways that were in
consonance with their personal interests.
This notwithstanding, it was a time when people were bound by their
words and adhered strictly to the dictates of truth and justice and upheld the
sacredness of covenants.
Idozuka, the great legend, and his troops extended
the boundaries of my village because our neighbours the Isu?kp? (Umuala?ma) people with whom he sealed a blood
covenant killed one of his slave servants, a member of his household. Since the terms of the
agreement were broken by the other party, he resorted to full-scale war. The parameters of definition of terms as it
related to civility and barbarity, between order and disorder, life and death,
conservation and destruction, mercy and leniency etc. were often not well
defined in the consciousness of people since all these values were deeply
intermingled with people’s personal interests.
can then understand some of the extreme measures taken to conserve the
communities, in traditional African societies, even if it entailed embarking on
human sacrifice. It was a time of lived
ambivalence. This ambivalence found
further expression in the clash between colonialism and traditional African
life. Here, each institution tried to
define human happiness and human values according to its paradigms of
understanding and in keeping with the interests driving it. Personal interests played so much role that
what it took to subjugate whole nations was what was equally needed to pacify
them. We can then understand why the
colonial administrators, in their wisdom, found it expedient to engage, as
Warrant Chiefs the very people Isichei called “robber barons” as
veritable instruments of law and order.
is how Nwankwo Okoro became a Warrant
Chief. His father, Okoro Idozuka, remains a great legend that he was.
my village, which Okoro Idozuka helped to found, was an immigrant land of tolerance since it absorbed people,
from all over Igboland, but mostly from the present Anambra State, who sought
refuge in Aro territories. Okoro Idozuka himself was such an
immigrant from Anambra State so also Akunwanta. My great grandfather Mmelonye was one of the beneficiaries of
this tolerance. He was born about the year 1819 at
Nise to Mazi Ezenweneke of the greater Adoji family
of Nise in Ngodo, Awka South Anambra State. Akunwanta, as a village, has ever flourished
due to the type of mutual complementary spirit that exists among all the
immigrants. This exceptional spirit of
complementarity and mutuality has always been the foundation of the survival of
my people in the olden times. It was a
life devoid of excessive selfishness in which personal survival was intricately
related to the common good. A simple
example suffices. This relates to an
incident that nearly ruined Mazi Okoro Idozuka himself. About the year 1819, in order to discredit
Okoro Idozuka, some people accused him of abduction of some human beings. To salvage his honour, he consented to take
the highest oath obtainable in the land in those days. This was the so-called seven big oaths
(alusi asaa or ita al?si asaa).
Here a person was required to swear to the gods on his own head but he
had also to join the fate of six other people closest to him to underline his
innocence. Should the accused be guilty,
the gods would not kill only him but also all those joined in the oath.
Okoli Idozuka’s relatives were defined to include those
from his immediate household and all male children born in Akunwanta soil. When Mazi Okoro Idozuka was ready to take this big
oath, he looked for six more males to join him to make up the required number
seven. Unfortunately, he could not find
the sixth male person from among members of his immediate household. By this time, Mmelonye, my great
grandfather, had married Mmaku, a girl from Neni, in Anambra state. He rescued Okoro Idozuka from this
difficulty by offering that his son, Agosi, just born in his land of immigration be
among those to take the oath. Agosi thus became the sixth person to be added for the big
oath. Since his accusers were not able
to substantiate their allegations, the charges against Okoro Idozuka were dropped.
is striking about this incident is not only the solidarity that existed among
members of the community but also the complex way in which certain principles
were understood and pursued. It is
worthy of note how the principles governing citizenship were defined and
clearly understood within this seemly primitive society. Mmelonye was not eligible as a
candidate for the big oath because he came from Nise as an immigrant and he was
not born in Akunwanta soil. All
immigrants were regarded as citizens but only those born in the land of
immigration had certain unique rights and privileges as indigenes.
can characterise the authentic Igbo spirit as the spirit of complementarity
(ibu anyi danda). This has helped the
Igbo surmount all difficulties in the olden times. It is a spirit borne by mutual support and captured by such
common Igbo adages Igwe bu ike, njik? ka, etc. Arondizuogu, as the biggest Aro colony, is a land of
immigrants and this spirit contributed much to her greatness. Due to the vast opportunities and security
it offered, it attracted adventurers and young men looking for better
conditions of living or for greener pastures as we say today. Many availed themselves of this opportunity
of forming a strong union of mutual interacting and complementary units as is
epitomised by the nineteen villages of which Arondizuogu is constituted. Almost all the immigrants came with their
gods such that in Arondizuogu you have gods, shrines etc. in all forms, and
colours. All live in peace and harmony
and in true spirit of complementarity understood as mutual service. This idea of exploring fully the
multi-dimensional and varied nature of their situation enabled the Aros of this
colony to achieve very enviable heights.
The Aro colonies were the free world of old in Igboland and they were
some of the rare places in Igboland where people could build their existence
without molestation and undue social constraints. It is for this reasons, for example, that “the ‘Osu’ institution
does not exist in Arondizuogu, neither does the ‘Ume’. Here is a clear case of flawless unity,
despite historical diversities; mutual blend or synthesis of the cultural
values of our complex Igbo race” (Okoro 30).
With the destruction of the long-juju
of Arochukwu by the British, during the Arochukwu expedition (1901-1902), the
general feeling was that “the Aros have received a knock-out blow, from which
their chances of recovery appear to be rather remote” (Among the Ibos of the
Contrary to these doubts, the Aros
excelled soon after the abolition of slave trade and got themselves well
established early in all areas of endeavour, in politics, in commerce, in
education etc. They were able to do
this due to their unflinching adherence to the spirit of complementarity as is
exemplified in their close relationship to each other. Thus, my father went to the commercial city
of Aba early in 1931 and joined his
cousin Mazi Moses Nwankwo in his trade as apprentice tailor. Their success depended on their strict
adherence to the authentic Igbo spirit of complementarity. This is epitomised in the Aro process of
training young people to a trade and here, the young person “would first serve
a short period of apprenticeship during which he would learn and observe the
secret doctrine of ‘Our rod is our truth, and our truth is our wealth’”
(Igwegbe 51). Adhering strictly to this
rule, like many enterprising Igbos of his time, my father soon discovered the
world beyond the confines of Aba and Nigeria and established business
connections with Europe and Asia.
He traded with Reykjavik Iceland and was a major
representative, in Nigeria, of the Union of Stockfish Producers, Reykjavik Iceland
in the late 50s and early 60s of the 20th century. He made business travels to Iceland
(Reykjavik), Scotland, Norway in 1961 to deepen his business connection. These business contacts brought members of
our family close with the Western world and Asia early. Mr. Thoroddur Jonsson, Hafnarstraeti 15, Reykjavik Iceland, and many other
Europeans merchants were regular guests at our Aba residence, so also were many
Indians in the late 50s and early 60s of the 20th century. These contacts naturally revealed to me
early how common folks can resemble themselves in their struggle to address
most basic needs towards self-preservation.
Besides, it helps us understand better that human beings can resemble
themselves in their insufficiency and are infinitely dependent on others to be
themselves. Here, the Igbo adage that
human beings are gods to their fellow human beings comes true (mmad? bu chi ibeya). The case of an Indian merchant is a typical
example but not exceptional. This man
suffered heavy business losses due to his own personal miscalculations. He spent the whole day brooding desperately
over his losses in my father’s shop. To
comfort him, my father offered him a deal to enable him recoup some of his losses. This he readily accepted. I can still see in my mind’s eyes how this
idea brought this man instant relief.
My father’s business, most
especially with Reykjavik, was built on the simple maxims of
transparency and fellow feeling, compassion, complementarity and mutual
practical terms, this entailed that goods were shipped to him from Iceland, he organised traders on the spot at Aba. These collected the wares on credit for
distribution. After they sold the
wares, the money was remitted to Reykjavik.
Everyone understood the rule of the game and endeavoured to abide by
it. Many prospered from what they
regard as my father’s large-heartedness.
However, a puzzle presents itself here: Who is here to be called
large-hearted? Is it the man in Iceland
or the traders who made their returns promptly and in all honesty or my father
who was dependent on both? The issue is
that all understood that their interests were at stake. They understood that to preserve their
interests they must take the interests of others into account. They were following the basic rule of
self-preservation since their existence was at stake, the welfare of their
families, their honour, and their prosperity.
You help me preserve my interest and I help you secure your interests,
this is the basic rule of human co-existence in society. Wherever this basic rule is flouted, human
societies start to die a natural death.
It was an efficient business built on very simple but necessary rule of
healthy human relationship devoid of complications. Hardly did my father experience cases of fraud, because everyone
identified the whole transaction as the common good that must be upheld. Each partner understood that any attempt to
subvert the arrangement was suicidal.
Human societies and nations can be compared to business operations; the
moment the basic rules underlying these operations are undermined that is the
moment, also they are subjugated to undue tension. With regard to my father’s business, all whose interests were at
stake discovered the fact of mutual indebtedness and interdependence in complementarity as a fundamental axiom of human co-habitation. They built their existence
on the assumption that consequent self-interest is anti-self interest.
Most of the great achievements during the
transition period from traditional African society to modernity were
facilitated by this spirit of trust and complementarity. Igbos were among those who
persisted on adhering to the demands of this traditional African
principle. For this reason, they
recorded enormous and unprecedented rapid progress, within the context of
Nigerian history most especially of Nigerian economic history. This is the genuine Igbo spirit of Ibu
anyi danda. Thus in the research
conducted by Dr. Onyemelukwe in the early sixties of the
twentieth century he sheds light on this fact.
Here, “he describes the mutual trust and cooperation existing between
the Igbos of the Diaspora and those at home.
They would often avoid a tiring dangerous journey by consigning
unaccompanied goods to each other – which were safely delivered by Igbo lorry
drivers, or sent large sums of money by the same drivers. Often their consignments were only partially
prepaid. The traders of Onitsha would sometimes make
interest-free unsecured loans to each other – a remarkable index of honesty and
generosity” (Isichei 214).
What we can infer from this is that
wherever the spirit of complementarity is in place social organisations and
communities are more likely to perform their duties well and achieve more easily
set objectives. Likewise, human being
are more in a position to live a contented and richer existence since they live
in the complementarity of the variety and multidimensionality that is
characteristic of human existential situations.
The Igbos, like many Africans, have always
built their lives on the spirit of complementarity and this spirit has helped
them surmount untold difficulties in their history. A typical example is the Biafran war, which
the Igbos fought with a united spirit and in complementation of their
efforts. The Nigerian political history
since the 70s of the 20th century is characterised by a very weak
Igbo impact because of their noticeable departure from this spirit to a vile
form of individualism. The same thing
holds true of many African nations. In
comparison to the 50s and early 60 of the 20th century, the African
spirit of our time in the 21st century can be characterised safely
as excessively individualistic and egocentric.
Here, most contemporary Africans persist in defining their personal
interests outside the legitimacy provided by the common good. One is not surprised at the outcome of this
radical departure from the complementary spirit of traditional African society. Hardly can a people prosper and be great
where they are not able to identify their private interests as integral part of
the common good in true spirit of harmonious complementarity.
This lesson escapes most modern
African nations in their attempts to build human society today. Wherever a person or society lives from the
maxim of consequent self-interest devoid of any regard for the common good, it
soon finds itself in an artificial state of war and terror. Many modern African states find themselves
in this type of artificial state of war in the areas of business, politics,
administration, and mutual co-existence.
almost comatose situation we experience today in Nigeria is a gradual
development that started in full force soon after the attainment of
independence in 1960. Before then, the
principle of complementarity played a major role in the way people interacted
with each other. This is reflected in
almost all facets of life but most especially in people’s attitude to work and
to the common good. A simple example
suffices to illustrate this point.
the experience of honesty in human relationship that is epitomised in business
transactions, I grew up to know government workers as “public servants.” They were called public servants and this
they were in the true sense of the word.
These public servants worked selflessly and identified their interests
with the common good. They made basic
infrastructure function in most emerging townships under the colonial
administration. A typical example was The
Public Works Department (PWD), the equivalent of our Ministry of Works
today. The cadre of workers in this
service was drawn from many who were imbued with remnants of authentic
traditional African spirit of solidarity and complementarity. Since they operated in this spirit, things
worked the way they should work in most townships. The administration of people and institutions was a thing of joy,
people had joy doing things, and the little things of life invited people to
form of life in the late 50s and early 60s of the 20th century was
almost the norm. The villages were not
left out since they radiated the type of life that was characterised by
we-feeling and co-authentication.
People at this time evidently had very little. Strikingly, there is every reason to conclude that they were very
rich. They lived from the richness of
their being and not from the emptiness of their egoism. One who made these experiences would feel it
certainly still in the depth of his being as a transcendent complementary
experience. It is out of this
deep-seated feeling that one, in retrospect, understands the spirit driving
those who mourned the dead and the way they did it. Here, in Igboland, people wept over the dead the African or Igbo
way. It was a captivating type of
lamentation or moaning. You can hardly
try this today without taking some energy boosting concoctions. The same thing is applicable to the
traditional African way of welcoming relatives back home. Here, a person was almost wrestled to the
ground in the name of hogging and with evident tears of joy. We cannot dismiss these gestures as
emotional outbursts without much significance.
A human society runs dry and is stressed the moment the very cord of
compassion and we-feeling is broken.
Such a situation easily breeds all forms of deviant behaviours and
insensitivity to human needs.
substance of these experiences is not unique to traditional African societies,
they characterise human societies wherever human beings understand that their
survival depends on their ability to reach out to others like themselves. This discovery of the personhood of the
other is one of the greatest changes that can take place in the mind. Where this change has not taken place, the
human mind easily reverts to a hidden potential danger. We can then understand the futility of
searching for the weapons of mass destruction in the deserts and laboratories
of terrorists and rogue states, imagining that they are hidden in the
wilderness. Such weapons are hidden in
the minds of individuals and groups who have not undergone the type of
transformation that the discovery of the experience of transcendent
complementary unity of consciousness brings.
Thus, our ability to change or reform the world largely depends on our
ability to acquire an accommodating comprehensive mindset that is in tune with
the demands of the principle of complementarity. The higher this sense is developed in a person or in a society,
the more such individuals, or such groups are in a position to achieve set
make this observation judging also from my experiences during my student days
overseas in Austria. The same is
applicable during my travels in Europe most especially in Austria, Germany, and
Switzerland and during my travels to USA, USSR, Italy, France, England,
Bulgaria, Israel, Belgium, etc.
type of warmth and support I received as a young student in Austria and in my
dealings with many people internationally make me believe that the differences
existing between human beings can be surmounted by very little effort and if we
allow the limitations of being to be the cause of our joy. This is the joy of being as it belongs to
our ability to derive joy from the fragmentation of historical existence and
not absolutise relativity. The idea of
complementarity serves as a bridge between human beings and between societies
in their insufficiency. Wherever this
idea is discovered and treasured, human beings are capable of enriching
themselves mutually from the abundance of their goodness and they can even see
their weaknesses as opportunities to influence their world positively. Mutual dependence, solidarity, truthfulness,
care, warmth are fundamental human values that belong necessarily to our
natural sense of self-preservation.
Where these values are discovered and shared in a transcendent
complementary experience, they can become veritable instruments of authentic
self-actualisation. All human beings
are capable of discovering their intrinsic worth since they are no inventions
of any culture. However, all cultures have all it takes to lose them due to
prejudice, suspicion, undue competition, unbridled selfishness, and
intolerance, lack of foresight, and lack of high-developed sense for the common
good. Wherever regard for these values
is lacking, human existence can easily turn to mere hostile struggle where each
people devise every strategy to edge others out in the erroneous belief that
they can preserve their interests by negating the interests of other. All forms of selfishness derive from the
ignorance that they are anti-self-interest since we cannot realise our
interests in the exclusion of the interests of others. There is ample evidence that this idea,
which is no invention of any culture, forms the foundation of traditional
African interpersonal relationship in a very significant but not exclusive
manner. This book explores the idea of
complementarity from its rich traditional African background and seeks to
overcome some of the weaknesses associated with its use in this ambience.