Why an indigenous African psychology not develop?

My recent learning experience was from one of my psychology modules. The prescribed book is Personology from individual to ecosystem, chapter 17 i.e. African perspective. The driving point of this chapter is “Why an indigenous African psychology not develop?” The chapter cited the importation of the mainstream psychology a predominately “Euro-American” science into Africa resulting in a lack of development of a purely African personology theory. Several recommendations are made in terms of how this can be changed or improved. Also covered in this chapter is the topic on “Views on psychopathology” Some of the sub-topics covered included:

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How do traditional Africans view illness and pathological behaviour? The role of ancestors in the lives of traditional Africans
The difference between the African and western conceptions of stress Dreams, spirits and sorcerers
The link between psychotherapy and traditional healing

As an African it was not difficult to relate some of my experiences to what was explained in the terms of the African believes and practices. Recommendations were made to psychologist practicing in Africa on how to treat African patients in line with their beliefs. The aha-moment for me was when I acknowledged the African way of living which I myself and my immediate family do not practice. This brought me back to Freire’s “Culture of silence” from SCK 201-3 module guide. Freire defines the culture of silence as cultural invasion where invaders penetrate the cultural context of another group. Colonisation and militarisation dominance are said to be conducive to the development of the culture of silence. I found the insight into colonisation very interesting.

Being a black African who stays in Africa I am personally not complaining that I refuse to believe in ancestors or traditional healers. I personally feel that colonisation did bring a lot of change to Africa; the question I asked myself is at what cost? Africa has natural resources, we have been “civilised” and educated but majority of African countries are still dependant on European aid. Why? I enjoyed sharing and debating the “Views on psychopathology” and Freire’s theory with my work colleagues. We all conceded that even though we are liberated and gained “independence” we are still indirectly colonised. We also reached a consensus that corruption and lack of accountability are some of the reasons that are delaying progress in Africa.

There are so many different perspectives to psychology that explain the different types of behaviour. No one perspective has explanatory powers over the rest. Some contradict one another, overlap with each other or build upon one another. Behaviourist perspective is different from most other approaches because people (and animals) are viewed as controlled by their environment and specifically that people are the result of what they have learned from their environment. Behaviourism is concerned with how environmental factors affect observable behaviour. The psychosexual perspective by Freud believes that events in people’s childhood can have a significant impact on behaviour as adults. Feud also believed that people have little free will to make choices in life and that human behaviour is determined by the unconscious mind and childhood experiences. Humanistic psychology emphasizes the study of the person as a whole (holistic approach). This perspective suggests that each person is responsible for their own happiness and well-being.

It suggests that humans have innate capacity for self-actualization which is a unique desire to achieve one’s highest potential as a person. Because of this focus on the person and his or her personal experiences and subjective perception of the world, the humanists regarded scientific methods as inappropriate for studying behaviour. Cognitive psychology perspective focuses on the study of cognition which is ‘the mental act or process by which knowledge is acquired. It is an extremely scientific approach where lab experiments are used to study human behaviour. Biological psychologists explain behaviours in neurological terms, i.e. the physiology and structure of the brain and how this influences behaviour. Many biological psychologists have concentrated on abnormal behaviour and have tried to explain it. Critical psychology challenges mainstream psychology by looking towards social change as a means of preventing and treating psychopathology.

One of critical psychology’s main criticisms of conventional psychology is that it ignores the way power differences between social classes and groups can impact the mental and physical well-being of individuals or groups of people. It does this, in part, because it tends to explain behaviour at the level of the individual. I agree with the notion that conventional psychology’s choice of ignoring the impact the difference in social classes and groups has on mental health does not give a holistic view of human behaviour. It is known that poverty, illiteracy, alienation have some form of impact on one’s mental state. The different ways or choices that people make to better their lives and the fact that some people make it out of the deprivation cycle and some fail is a clear indication that these factors affect people differently. Doing more research in this regard should provide a clearer picture.

Question 3

Personhood and becoming in African thought
As stated in the prescribed text, in African thought and belief a person is not complete until certain rituals are performed to qualify them as complete. Starting from birth those that practice the African culture do the imbeleko to introduce the child to the ancestors. Those that choose to follow the Christian practice baptise the child and give thanks to God. As children grow into teenagers, boys are sent to the mountain as practiced as a transition to manhood by many cultural groups. For example, the Ndebele community that still practice this tradition do not have respect for a man that has not been circumcised. It is said that Ndebele man also prefer to marry their fellow Ndebele females who still practice female circumcision which is also used as a transition to womanhood. A woman from another culture who knows nothing about the Ndebele culture who marries a Ndebele man is often expected to undergo this process in order to be respected and be qualified to be a woman. These two African traditions are still widely practiced but there is a shift where some people decide to go the western route. In light of health concerns and young man dying because of botched circumcisions parents prefer to have their children circumcised in hospital. Vigilance regarding oppressive practices

Male circumcision is encouraged especially in a country like South Africa where there are challenges with HIV and AIDS. It is public knowledge that the practice minimises the chance of contracting the disease. Questions are raised in relation to the process and procedures followed to see this through. It has been said that the boys undergo various tests and are given guidance and advice by elders to help prepare them for manhood. In light of this some parents send their kids to hospital for circumcision to avoid any medical complications and loss of life. They are then sent to the mountain to undergo the transition that will prepare them for manhood. In a community like the Ndebele’s, young men decide to undergo initiation as it is a root of their identity and to avoid the shame of being labelled a boy. Coming to the female circumcision, in South Africa especially in the Ndebele culture it is still clouded in secrecy. No one knows exactly what other rituals are performed during the initiation. I personally do not know the benefits of the practice. What I have read and seen on TV from other countries for example Kenya, the main reason behind this practice is purely for the enjoyment of the girls’ future husband.

Young woman and girls are ruthlessly mutilated only because they are expected to sexually satisfy their husbands once they get married. Many African countries have criminalised the practice but it is still practiced because man shun woman that have not undergone the procedure or transition to “womanhood”. One practice that is close to home that I personally feel is discriminatory against woman just like female circumcision is the virginity testing (reed dance). It can be argued that it helps discourage girls from participating in sexual activities and that it helps reduce HIV infection. The fact that woman alone are expected to undergo such an invasive practice when it takes two people to engage in sex is tantamount to discrimination against woman.

Initiation as a passage from exteriority to interiority
I agree with the text that “initiation is a process by which people discover themselves through others and their community”. From having lived with the Ndebele community I support the notion that for many of the young man and woman that choose to undergo initiation they do it because it is the root of their identity. For example, anyone who has decided not to undergo initiation is often not seen as a true Ndebele. The person is not only labelled and shunned by the community; it is also believed that his ancestors will not know him. Ubuntu as a process

My understanding of Ubuntu is simply human kindness. “A person is a person through other people”. It is about recognising a fellow human being, treating them with respect and dignity for the person they are whether rich or poor. This saying is mostly associated with black communities because a human being is not seen as an individual but as a collective of family and the community. Ubuntu as a process serve as testimony when community members come together to assist a family when they have lost a love one. It is also evident when there is no shame in borrowing sugar from a neighbour. For example, to prove the concept that “a person is a person through other people”, families that choose not to attend funerals or assist other families when they are bereaved; no villager will bother to offer support or even attend a funeral should that family loose a love one. The human being as a community of selves

I believe a human being is what they are because of where they come from. I’m referring to culture, beliefs of one’s parents and one’s community in general. When growing up all these beliefs are instilled in oneself. It is only when one is independent and out of the family unit when they can either decide to continue with what they were taught at home or decide on a new way to live their lives. For example: one’s parents may believe in ancestral worship and have their children who grew up experiencing the practice but decide on Christianity and deny of the existence of ancestors. Question 4

My community of is located in Ninapark suburb in Pretoria North. It is a middle class white dominant community. It is a clean, serene and quite community to live in. There is not much activity during week days especially during the day. There is mostly activity in the mornings when people go to work or take their children to school. The same activities occur in the evenings. Domestic workers and gardeners are also part of the community. The most enjoyable citing in the evenings is people taking walks or jogging. Domestic workers are also seen in the evenings in groups gambling. The street where my family and I live is a small street and all our neighbours are retired. Many are family members who have been residing in the area for more than twenty years. There is a public park about a kilometre from the house which is where many use especially those with children. There is an orphanage, a church, a rehabilitation centre, a golf course, and a small shopping centre. All these are a walking distance from home. The shopping centre is always busy in the evenings. There is a woollies food grocery shop which we all love, a spar grocery shop, a KFC, a pharmacy, a beauty shop, a travel centre, a pet shop and a handful of restaurants.

I am mentioning all these shops because I feel that just as I love staying in Ninapark because the community has access to all these facilities or resources just a walking distance from our homes many community members share the same sentiment. We (the community) have found ourselves the target of crime just like many communities in South Africa. Because there is not much activity during the day thieves break in without being seen. Many in my small street are victims of crime including me. I have found that this invasion of our homes has brought the community together in trying to find ways to combat crime. This is one thing that we all have in common. Apart from that there isn’t much socialising. Every one minds their own business. One rarely sees kids playing in the street. The only time when one gets a chance to talk to neighbours is when by chance we meet outside our homes for a walk. Many of my neighbours do not even know my name. If anything happens for example a break in all we do is to sympathise with the victim and it ends there.

We are all locked behind our high walls and security gates. There is definitely no socialisation. Being a black African from a rural village, life in the city is completely different from where I was born. There is caring and compassion, for example when a family losses a love one. It is a norm for community members to go a share their grief and offer support. This is not only psychological but also in assisting the family to prepare for the funeral. Each household within the community contributes an amount agreed by the community and the money is given to the family. On the day of the funeral everyone from the community attends as a show of support. There is no culture of individuality but communalism. Life in the city is a stark contrast of communalism. I find it is more individually orientated. No one meddles in anyone’s business. Yes there is access to everything, basic services, health facilities but no community based support. In terms of community justice, since it is in our constitution by law we are all expected to acknowledge human rights. It is not only the responsibility of government but also of citizens and the government. Yes, there are cases where this is not the case. What I have observed in the city is that many people know their rights and if contravened they have options for recourse including using the law. This is not always the case with rural communities as many do not know what their human rights are. What I have also observed in the city are the rich exploiting the poor. As the saying goes the poor have no voice i.e. cheap labour. This is of course debatable.

In –groups
My nuclear family
Extended family members
My former university friends
My husband’s friends and their wives
Single parents
People living with HIV and AIDS
People with terminal illness
People I go to church with
The poor
Elderly people
IT professionals
People in the medical field
Social volunteers
Gang members
People that commit violent crimes
People that commit any crime
Traditional healers
Gang members

Having been born in a rural area with not much hope, where there was a lack of access to basic services, a lack of information and poverty; I personality feel content with my current situation and community. One only got to see and experience city life once or twice a year when coming to the city to buy Christmas clothes. It was the citing of such communities and life that gave one insight of how much more life had to offer outside one’s environment and circumstances. This was one motivating factor that led one to break the cycle of poverty. The community, the neighbourhood and the way of life led me to internalise self-determination and motivation.

Having access to basic services, access to knowledge, access to primary health, education and sanitation left one with not much to worry about except to focus on improving one’s life, that of one’s children and those who are still trapped in the cycle of poverty back at home. Having come from a poor background and being in this community has also given me an insight on what it means to be poor, hence I relate and sympathise with those less fortunate. I give back and assist where possible. Even though the way of life in my neighbourhood has empowered me it has also taken away my African way of life. It is not community orientated but focuses more on individuality. That is why my family and I always look forward to a trip to the village and not feeling ashamed to borrow sugar or onion from a neighbour.

Question 5

I would define racial identity as a background that one identifies with. Because of globalisation and movement to new communities people build lives in different communities and choose the identity they can relate to. Steve Biko was addressing the liberation of the oppressed mind of a black man. His black consciousness movement was dealing with two forces. He first addressed the external oppression experienced by blacks through segregation laws. The second was self-alienation. In opposition to this he called for the blacks to identify with themselves hence reversing years of self-negativity.

Post-colonial is the study of the effects of colonialism on culture and societies of the previously oppressed or colonised. It is concerned with how Europeans controlled third world cultures and how these groups responded and resisted their way to independence. It is about the relationship between the colonisers and the previously colonised. It is about the awareness of social, psychological and cultural inferiority enforced by being in a colonised state. It is the struggle for ethnic, cultural and political autonomy.

Racial alienation can be defined as a loss of one’s root culture in the process of adopting the culture of the oppressor. Cultural dispossession is the adoption of the oppressor’s language with the aim of being accepted by the oppressor. Speaking one’s language is assuming a culture thereby giving up of one’s language. Racism has created the idea of inferiority of the black people resulting in black escaping to “whiteness “or “blackness”.

Question 6

1. The most significant learning or insight you had while doing this module.

The topic on African perspective on psychology versus the European perspective was the most significant insight. The link between the topic and colonisation left me thinking and with many unanswered questions.

2. The most significant experiences you had while doing this module

I enjoyed the walk about in my community, the high walls, the security and generally how different races relate to each other.

3. What you most appreciate about this module

I appreciated the interactive approach of the module. We are so busy with our lives and work that one doesn’t stop to look at personal relations, how we socialise with each other and the groups one does not relate to and the reasons why.

4. What you least appreciate about this module

There nothing I least appreciated as everything I read I got a chance to disagree or agree as we are taught not to accept everything one is told. The fact that everything is debatable and that one is allowed to apply one’s mind is good enough for me.

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