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The H3O/Art of Life Blog

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Honor Thy Fathers: An African-Centered Perspective

Updated: Jun 15, 2021

By Dr. Gloria J. Latimore-Peace

Presented by Omni-University

"It takes a village to raise a child" African Proverb

Whenever I begin to address matters of major significance, I am reminded of the people on that level who have already laid the groundwork. Among the many who come to mind are Ancestors Dr. Margaret T.G.Burroughs, Priest Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers, and Dr. Elkin T. Sithole. By raising the fundamental question: "What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black?...", Dr. Burroughs has commanded us to do likewise, i.e., to ask ourselves, what is the truth that our children need to know?

The answer to that question has been provided by Mzee Jedi Shemsu Jehewty Carruthers, who has given us a profound definition of truth. He asserted that: "Truth" is the knowledge we need." It is essential that we "drink deeply... from the fountain of [our] black culture... sit at the knee of and learn from Mother Africa, "Thus, forearmed ourselves, we are prepared to "arm them with the truth"... that has been so often obscured and omitted"- weapons that will make -and keep- us free. [1]

In order to "honor our fathers" from an African-centered perspective, we must first clarify who our fathers are. This does not mean that we intend to sign up for any of those for-profit talk shows and submit to the paternity "tests" that are based on calculations of our DNA. For when it comes to fatherhood as conceived by our African forebears, DNA stands for Does Not Apply. Superfluous measures such as these have no utility in an African context because we already knew- without a doubt- who our fathers are.

Non- African assessments of the African terms of kinship- whether they be of "father", "mother", or any other family member- are out of order. According to L.S.B. Leakey, human life originated on the African continent. Africans were the world's first people - and therefore- the world's first parents and teachers. Having had the time, the opportunity, and the experience to develop sustainable family institutions, the last thing African people need is the imposition of outside "authority(ies)".

In a previous H3O Art of Life Blog, "Know Thy Mothers: Know Thyself", it was my privilege to recount lessons taught by Dr. Elkin T. Sithole, my former Professor and, later, a colleague at Northeastern Illinois University's [Carruthers] Center for Inner City Studies. According to Dr.Sithole, who is a member of the Zulu kinship group of South Africa, the Zulu family organization, is composed not only male fathers (baba(s) but, also of male mothers(malume(s) together with female mothers (Mama(s) and female fathers (babakazi(s).

Each Baba and Babakazi serves as father- not only to their own biological children- but also to the children of their siblings. In their capacity as mothers- Mamas and Malumes-, their primary function is to nurture. As fathers-Babas and Babakazis- their principal responsibility is to discipline, i.e., to teach the young the way of life of the kinship group by being, living, and doing "the way." By precept and example, the young are taught, among other things:

  • The Source of their being;

  • The human ancestors from whom they are descend;

  • Who they are in relationship to other members of the kinship group as well as to their neighbors in the community-at-large;

  • What their respective roles are in the life of the community;

  • The nature of the custodial relationship of their community to their environment -their land and all of the components thereof, i.e., the animal, plant, and mineral life, etc…

Undergirding, interwoven, and inextricably bound to the Way of life i.e. the culture of the kinship group, are the values that inform the Way. This knowledge is vital to the well-being of the entire family/community which is composed of the Living, the Dead, and the Yet-Unborn. This "curriculum" is taught to all of the children by all of the adults who regard themselves as mothers and fathers. Pseudonyms such as: a "childless" couple, "step-" "foster-" or "absentee"- father have no place in an African-centered lexicon. They are as unthinkable as an "only"-, "outside" or "orphaned" child.

All of the children are secure in the knowledge of who they are and whose they are, as well. It is an Ancient African adage that:" Children are the reward of Life" They are the conduits through which succeeding generations come into being. Hence, every adult member of the kinship group has a stake in the care and discipline and, thereby, the preservation of the young.

The Zulu Family model is just one of the examples of "the way we were" before we were stolen from our land, our language, our culture, and our kinship group. In fact, we have it on the impeccable authority of Ancestor Cheikh Anta Diop in "The Cultural Unity of Black Africa" that, while not every African people did everything exactly the same way, they all shared certain corporate values which could be observed throughout the continent, Also, those of us who lived in southern, particularly rural areas, had the first- hand experience of being disciplined by people in the Community even though they were not our "parents". This was, undoubtedly, an historical memory carried over from our African family model.

Approaching the Euro-American celebration of "Fathers Day", from an African- centered perspective, requires that we examine the manner in which we express our gratitude to our Fathers and our Mothers. To truly honor our Fathers, in accordance with our time-honored traditions, means that we must recognize all of our fathers, including the father principle in our Babakazi(s). Our female fathers have sometimes had to serve as both mother and father to their birth children in those innumerable cases in which our Babas were denied access to, or were otherwise rendered unavailable to us because of an interminable list of maladies: addiction, mass incarceration, serial homicides, etc.

African- Americans have borne the brunt of a majority of the pathological, social, and psychological ills of this society. Among the most lethal of these is the ethnocide- the deliberate and systematic destruction of our [African] culture. This 007 strategy has persisted for centuries because, unlike genocide, it is virtually impossible to detect even after the damage is done. Our inalienable right "to be''- to live in this world as a family of whole human beings has long since been under assault.

More and more members of our African familial body are being amputated, especially our fathers, many of whom are identified only as "unarmed black men" in the news accounts of their murders in "self-defense". The "destruction of the Black family for profit"[2], to which Ta-Nahesi Coates referred in a recent lecture, was part and parcel of the early American economic enterprise known as "slave- trading". The contemporary African American family is so decimated by that and succeeding business practices that our families are devolving into what Ancestor Dr. Frances Cress Welsing termed "survival units".

Honoring our Fathers means that we must be grateful for all of our family Babas and Babakazis - including our aunts and uncles who are the biological and "social" sisters and brothers of our biological fathers - our Godfathers and Godmothers and "friends of the family" who are and/or have ever been on duty in that capacity. In so doing, we acknowledge the innumerable fathers who have thwarted the efforts to " put asunder" that which has, heretofore, "been joined together". Perhaps no greater tribute can be offered in honor of our Babas and Babakazis than to heed the call of Artist Debra Hand and Ancestor

The Hon. Marcus Mosiah Garvey:

"to stop and reflect on those who came before us...and plan how we will carry the legacy of our culture forward." [3]

"Forward forever! Backward never!" [4]

A Luta Continua (The Struggle Continues).

Hotep, Alafia, Shalom, As-salaam alaikum,


Recommended Viewing

Recommended Reading

Purchase your books and more from the official bookstore of Omni-University, Afriware Books at the following link: AfriWare Books Website - Store

"Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nahesi Coates

"Essays in Ancient Egyptian Studies" by Ancestor Jacob H. Carruthers

"The Falsification of Afrikan Consciousness" by Ancestor Amos N. Wilson

"Breaking the Chains of Psychological Slavery" by Na'im Akbar

"African Religions and Philosophy" by John S. Mbiti


[1] ''What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black:..? by Ancestor Dr.Margaret Taylor Goes Burroughs in " Life With Margaret: The Official Autobiography" by Dr. Margaret T.G. Burroughs

[2] The George E. Kent Lecture by Ta-Nahesi Coates (May 27, 2021)

[3] "In Celebration of Black Women Artists and Legacy: A Woman's Work" by Debra Hand in "Pigment" Fall/Winter 2020

[4] Ancestor, The Hon. Marcus Mosiah Garvey

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