In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

The Force of Living17 If my theory is correct, everything that has been written up till now on ethnology, and all that will be written in the future, will need to find its deepest base and its highest complement in the philosophy of forces. Placide Tempels (Letter to Husltaert)18 Bantu Philosophy: A Contradictory Text Bantu Philosophy,19 by the Reverend Father PlacideTempels, can be considered one of the pioneering works that made so-called ‘African’ philosophy a question of importance for philosophical reflection in general. When it was published in 1949, the book was at first welcomed eagerly by many African intellectuals. Léopold Sédar Senghor quickly declared it indispensable for any library worth the name, and Alioune Diop hailed it, in the preface he wrote, as the most important work written to date about Africa: the book was essential for Black people, he declared, and equally so for anyone who wanted to understand Africans.20 We know the reason for the enthusiasm that Senghor and Alioune Diop expressed, along with Cheikh Anta Diop and many others: thanks to Fr. Placide Tempels and the title of his book, ‘African philosophy’ was no longer an oxymoron. THE INK OF THE SCHOLARS 10 Bantu Philosophy thus gave an example of the task to be accomplished if one was a philosopher and an African. Many reflections would be published, following its model, on the philosophy or thought of this or that people, or on African ‘spirit’ or ‘thought’ in general. In fact, the adjective ‘Bantu’ was considered by many, explicitly or implicitly, as a synecdoche for ‘African’. Evidently, this was not without its problems as we will see later. Next, the book became a target for the iconoclastic fury of a subsequent generation of African intellectuals.True, these thinkers could claim that they were only extending and amplifying the instinctive defiance and scepticism of another of their elders, Aimé Césaire, who had not foregone the opportunity, immediately and in contrast to his friend Senghor, to turn his sarcasm on this Belgian missionary who himself confessed that his desire to understand ‘Bantu philosophy’ had the additional goal of saving the colonial order. Revolts were becoming more and more perceptible and organized, and were led by people whom Tempels considered to be pseudo- ‘évolués’,21 uprooted people in his eyes, displaced and therefore to be mistrusted: trouble-makers in their very being. Prolonging Césaire’s scepticism, there emerged a radical, ‘theoretical’ critique of the work in the 1970s: this Bantu philosophy, and all the other philosophies it had given birth to – Wolof, Akan, Yoruba and others – would need to be stored where they belonged: on the shelves of the ethnological literature and its ethno-philosophical appendages, so that the African intellectual landscape would not find itself upsidedown in a total confusion of genres. So that ‘true’ African philosophy would be possible, and produced by authors taking individual responsibility for their theses, arguments and propositions. Before examining these contradictory evaluations, we should remember one fact and make one clarification.The fact is that Bantu Philosophy is, today, simply an important book, the one that marked thebeginningofAfricanphilosophy22 asanacademicdisciplinetaught from then on in the best philosophy departments, that is to say the ones in which a received idea is being put in question: that of philosophy as the history of a unique spirit whose geography happens THE FORCE OF LIVING 11 naturally to correspond to that of a Greek, Latin, Christian, modern, and finally, contemporary Europe. At the end of the Second World War, as decolonizations announced themselves in the fractures of an imperialism that could no longer be confident in itself, this book put forward the question of African philosophizing and of its proper modes of existence. The clarification is that, in truth, this book by FatherTempels was not the first book of its kind, nor the first to be concerned with the philosophy of Bantu peoples. We could recall, for example, the work of the British subject William Vernon Brelsford who found himself in 1930, at age twenty-three, a functionary in Northern Rhodesia, after failing the Indian Civil Service exam that would have opened the doors to a more prestigious colonial career in the country that was known as the jewel of the Crown. Having decided to make the best of his situation, Brelsford started by taking interest in the purification rites practised by certain local populations, and then published a more theoretical work on Primitive Philosophy in 1935. The...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.