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1 2 Historically Speaking November/December 2004 The Way of Africa, "The Way I Am," and the Hermeneutic Circle Ricardo Duchesne How refreshing and heartening it is to read an Africanist tell world historians that a valid multi-centric world history is a far more complicated endeavor than tracing ecological and commercial connections and comparisons between different global societies ! Joseph Miller correctly observes that world historians—notwithstandingtheirprogressive efforts to present Africans "as builders of states and monuments or as members ofethnicized cultures"—have yet to incorporate into their global narratives the "distinctive ways of thinking" of Africans themselves. Theyhave been rather mute in discussing and learning about the critical, reflexive methodologies which specialists in African history and culture have cultivated over the past few decades. IfMiller is aware that world historians no longer ignore but indeed prioritize Africa's long-term interactions with the rest of the world, as well as interactions across manycultural borders withinAfrica, he thinks they are still missing the uniquely creative ways inwhichAfricans have adapted to shifting global circumstances. As critical as world historians have been in their inversion of European history, "from noble and civilizing " to "domineering and exploitative," they conceived as aprogressive process and thenonmodern customs, institutions, and modes of thought ofthe "peoples without history" are judged—in the words of Dipesh Chakrabarty—"in terms ofa lack, an absence, or anincompleteness thattranslates into inadequacy ."1 Miller focuses on the "sensitive issue ofAfrican involvement in Atlantic slaving" to highlightthemethodofunderstandingneeded HadMiller been less dismissive ofWestern culture . . . he might have been willing to consider that only by going through European culture can we learn about the distinctive ways ofAfricans themselves. to bring Africans into a multi-centric world history. We need first to appreciate Africa's communal ethos and the idea that one "existed" as an individual to the degree that one affiliated oneselfwith others, and that success in this cultural context meant the accumulation ofhuman connections, "through multiple distinctions ofage, gender, rank," including the takingofwives, enlistingnewclients, enslaving vulnerable strangers, and siring children. Millerfurther enjoinsus to understandAfricans notas passive actorswho soldwhat Europeans demanded for their accumulation ofcapital but Miller's point is not that African history should be seen on its own terms to the point ofisolating it from the modern processes of the "growing Atlantic economy." Africans "participated no less than anyone else" in the development ofa global capitalist economy, but they did so in their own way. This way, I might clarify, should not be stereotyped as an incomplete, less developedhistorical experience than the more individualistic but equally violent path the European ruling groups followed in their enclosure movement against customary peasants and in their colonization of the Americas. Miller clearly wants to transcend the legendary Marxist concept of "uneven development" and the fashionable world systems idea ofa modern world economytightlystructured byEuropean dynamics . are still working within the paradigm of as creative agents who adapted their "tradimodernization and the narratives of individual freedom, the nation-state, and economic development. They are little aware of the methodologies Africanists have cultivated for reconstructingprimary accounts ofthe many different strategies that Africans themselves "invented to work their ways out of specific contradictions" generated bytheirparticipation in the Atlantic slave trade. Milleris not always definitive buthis message does come through: the union ofAfrica and world history requires stepping beyond a liberal, ideological discourse where history is tions" to changing circumstances by strategically buying textiles, alcohol, and guns from the Atlantic as a means of assembling larger Another theme that troubles Miller about the narrative of modernization and underdevelopment is the way it sets up a binary opposition between the science and the individualism of Europeans as "objective" and "rational" and the witchcraft and communal practices ofAfricans as "superstitious" and "irrational." African witchcraft, he intimates, cannot be conceived as the timeless, nonmodern , unreflective behavior of a people unable to understand the new pressures of global circumstances. Within the African communal ethos of personalized thinking connections and, at this historical juncture of and face-to-face intimacy, Miller explains, newopportunities and escalatingcompetitiveness , byimposing "personal followings on the most dependentterms."Africanswere facing a conflict-ridden, intensivelycompetitive reality where the powerful could survive onlybyescalatingthe process ofcontrollingpeople around them. It was out ofthis reality that powerful...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-6438
Print ISSN
1941-4188
Pages
pp. 12-14
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
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