Last Updated 13 Jan 2021

Amadou Ham Pate Ba

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Amadou Ham pate Ba (1901-1991), Malian ethnologist, narrator and author, played an important role in introducing the world to African oral heritage, especially the folktales of West Africa. The man known as the “living Memory of Africa” he liked to say he was “one of the eldest sons of the century,” was one of the major intellectual literary figures of the 20th century. The saying with which he will always be associated for (his often quoted statement), that “In Africa when an old man dies, a library has burned down” has become so famous that it is sometimes used as an African proverb.

He was commenting on the loss of African oral heritage, in praise of both old age and oral tradition, which contributes to the historical components of humanities memory. “The folktale is a key source of oral tradition, as are other forms of narrative and rituals that are considered essential components of cultural anthropology and ethnology”. (folkculture. org) There is a certain characteristic and significance of indigenous knowledge, especially in Africa. Indigenous knowledge has been defined as the local knowledge. Knowledge that is unique to a given culture or society.

The expressions traditional local and indigenous knowledge, are used in the literature inter-changeably, is learned through repetition which aids in its retention and reinforcement. Agricultural or desert-based societies slowly created communities that were mostly self- contained and based on self-help. Their approach to problem solving was through ambulated individual or communal experiences and knowledge derived from trial and error. This aggregated validated knowledge improved and increases in time but remained mostly unrecorded. Even in the present information age, agricultural and desert-based communities, have remained practically cut off, thus they have been out of the mere necessity and for the sake of their survival, depending on and making use of their traditional unrecorded knowledge”. (Anwar, 1998) Amadou Ba feared that a lot of it is being lost due to rapid urbanization and continuous attrition in the older population. “Indigenous knowledge is predominantly tacit and embedded in practices and experiences and exchanged within the community through oral communication and demonstration.

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Recording and disseminating it across communities is not easy” (Anwar. 2005). It’s sometimes fragmented. It does not exist in its totality either in one place or one individual. It is distribution is socially differentiated, based on gender and age. “When discussing language, ethnic groups, cultures (and subcultures), and religions. The key concepts are diversity and complexity. There are conservatively many hundreds of different ethnics groups. Thus, there are many hundreds of distinct languages and cultures.

The sheer number of such groups throughout Africa makes this dimension unique to the continent. ” (The Other World ch. 6 pg. 187) Amadou Ham pate Ba passed away in 1991, leaving the world a library and an extensive archive to protect the wealth of knowledge that he had collected from fire, which he warned about repeatedly. He said “that part of every speech is lost to fire; chaos can result from tiny sparks just as a match can lead to a fire that destroys an entire village”. (folkculture. rg) What role do oral traditions play in the displacements and/or migrations of communities? Oral tradition: “the process of handing down information, opinions, belief, and customs by the word of mouth or by example” (Merriam-Webster unabridged 7th Ed). A transmission of knowledge and institutions through successive generations without written instruction. Thus an inherited principle, standard, or practice serving as the established guide of an individual or group. In comparing different cultures we tend to evaluate the custom of others in light of our own beliefs and values.

Members of all cultures assume that their own design for living is the best and only correct way. The belief that one’s own culture is the only true and good way, as well as the tendency to judge other cultures by those standard, is call Ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism serves several important functions for individuals and groups. Certainly about the rightness of one’s beliefs and behaviors reinforces the tendency to confirm and to defend one’s society. Ethnocentrism becomes dysfunctional when beliefs in one’s superiority lead to hostility and conflict. More important, oral traditions can provide a rich history predating the written word. ” (The other world ch6 pg. 189) In traditional soufies people tend to regard the way things have always been done as sacred, which stems from the beliefs and practices passed down from generation to generation. Account of first European contacts with black Africa are a study in Ethnocentrism the letters and journals of 15th and 16th century explorers, merchants, and missioners, overflowed with lurid descriptions of cannibalism, incest and unbridled lust. Since the Africans did not practice Christianity they were labeled ‘heathens’; since their laws were incomprehensible to the European, they were said to be ‘LAWLESS’; and since their marriage and family practices differed from those prevalent in Europe they were judged to be ‘savages’ and ‘barbarians’. (George 1968) “Africa was artificially divided to suit the objectives of the colonial governments. Preexisting ethnic, linguistic, and cultural until were ignored. Throughout Africa, closely knit people speaking the same language were suddenly separated”. The other world Ch6 pg. 190) As evident in the class text book (see enclosed references) European colonization of the coast of Africa in 1884 (see fig 6. 2) undoubtedly hasten the displacement and migration of the indigenous people further inland toward the desert (see fig 6. 1) so they could control; the rich fertile land. By 1895 (see fig 6. 3) it only got worse. Even today the African map reflects the extraction goals of the imperial powers. ‘’ Moreover, foreigners exploited the natural habit in many parts of the region.

For instance, the colonial powers instituted cash crops and export of livestock, which in turn meant widespread clearing of the land and sometimes depletion of the soil. Similarly, Europeans carving up the continent created or heightened local rivalries, which resulted in conflicts that also affected the landscape (ch6 p. 201) Carried to an extreme, ethnocentrism is destructive as evidence by the Nazis in Germany who believed in absolute superiority of the white Aryan race and culture.

The result was the displacement and death of millions of people who didn’t fit that category mostly Jews. In American history, each different ethnic, religious, or racial group was thought to be inferior to white Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASP) and therefore deserve less than humane treatment. “Ethnic divisions are a powerful force today. Ongoing struggles in such diverse states as Angola, Burundi, Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya,Liberia Mauritanian, Nigeria, Ruanda and Sierra Leon may be explained in past by deep-seated ethnic division

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