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Cosmological Basis of the African Environmental Ethic


In traditional African cultures the survival and vibrancy of human life and community is caught up in a unified concept of nature and the universe. Humanity is conceived integrated into the universe in a way that suggests that uncontrolled human activity could destroy nature and lead to chaos. A general tenet of this belief has been that nature could not be violated without endangering life in its totality - human, animal, plant - and destroying the very element that give and support life: light, air, water and earth; and this has made environmental awareness an important part of African politico-religious consciousness (Hagan, 1998).

Consequently, Most ethnic groups of in Africa that believe in a common essence in nature postulate one or several of these statements:

1. All things are gods "Bosom" in Akan (Hagan, 1964). On the basis of this libation prayers invoke the sea, lakes, flora and fauna to come and receive their drink,

2. All things possess spirit "Sunsum" in Akan (Rattray, 1927). The traditional Akan drummer recognises this when he drums praises to the species spirit of the elephant for the drum cover, the cedar for the wood and the "ofema" tree for the pegs used for the drum. He pleads for support and safety from their "Sunsum",

3. All things are medicines "Aduro" in Akan,

4. Everything has power "Tumi" in Akan.

These statements appear to occur in different kinds of discourses and reflect different levels of abstraction but the fourth postulate stands at the highest level of abstraction and sums up all of them. The medicinal properties of entities, the spiritual essences of entities and the reactive power of entities are all explained with the proposition that all things have power; and their power derives from the Creator who is the supreme power. These postulates constituted the set of ideas that established the culture of respect, protection and fear for nature that guaranteed the preservation of all species for sustainable use and affirmed the belief that all things have their proper use and role to play in the ecological environment.

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