As South Afrika celebrates “Heritage Month” (a dangerous month that is said to make everyone proud of who they are, but in reality has little to do with real/relevant knowledge and mostly ends up with in ridiculous “traditional-food-and-garments” showdown), it’s important to ask: What heritage should Afrika celebrate? I spoke about the Afrikan calendar this week and several people contacted me to shed more light on this. Here are some basics:
The calendar that we are forced to follow now is called the Gregorian (or Western/Christian) calendar. This calendar has been globalised for a long time and endorsed by international institutions such as UN. The Gregorian calendar was a reform in the late 1500’s to the Julian Calendar. The difference between the two was a disagreement about when the celebration of Easter should take place. The Gregorian reform was adopted first by Catholic countries in Europe, while protestants and some orthodox countries continued to use the Julian calendar. The last European country to adopt to the reform was Greece in 1923. The history of the European calendar is linked their striving for domination, interpretation of the Bible/Christian faith and also calculations of the leap-year.
The globalisation of adapting to ONE calendar is a long and painful history of conquest and imperialism. Scientific research of the solar and lunar cycles, the universe and movements of stars has been prevalent in many major cultures. So also in Afrika. Afrikan calendars were closely linked to the Afrikan worldview and spiritual knowledge. So, to understand an Afrikan calendar, one also needs to understand the significance of God, nature, cosmos, creation, the moon, the sun etc.
The earliest Afrikan calendar we can trace was developed in Kemet (today’s Egypt – you might know that this was once a Black, great civilization) around 4000 B.C. But, as eminent scholar, Prof Cheikh Anta Diop, has found, for this calendar to be accurate at that time, it means the research and knowledge about the movement of stars and planets must have been on a very high level several thousand years before that. The Kemetian calendar was based on the cycle of a star-system called Sirius whose rise coincides with the sun every 1461 years (now you can imagine what kind of high knowledge you need to take note of a phenomena that happens 1000 years apart!).
Kemetians based their observations and research on what they could see and find in nature and space (f.ex. star formations, changes, nature etc). They divided the year into 36 weeks of 10 days each (this is the background of how the number 360 degrees is the measure of a perfect circle). They acknowledged the universe to have 3 hemispheres (the northern sky, the southern sky and the central sky), each divided into 12 divisions (which is called a Zodiac – a circle divided into 12 equal parts). All divisions were guided by a particular divine power, so the link between science and spirituality has always been strong in Afrikan knowledge. The Kemetian calendar was associated with agriculture and the process of producing food. So it was a social/human instrument, not just one for scientific purpose.
So: The Afrikan Calendar, basically, had 12 months of 30 days and each month making up three weeks of 10 days each. Three seasons were recognised: Summer, Fall and Winter (note: no spring). Later versions of Afrikan calendars differed mostly in how they dealt with the leap-year (the fact that the cycles of stars and planets go a little bit “off” and a way to make up for that is today to add one extra day every four years).
Is it important to know this today, since we are all using one, Western calendar, anyway? Well, not everyone is using the Gregorian calendar. Even today, there are many different calendars in existence and use, although they may not all be used OFFICIALLY (examples: Bengali, Germanic, Hebrew, Hindu, Berber, Bhuddist etc). The main Afrikan calendars in use are Akan (Ghana), Igbo and Yoruba (Nigeria) and Ethiopian. And it is essential to remind ourselves that we have our own knowledge systems. Especially since most institutions of knowledge today do not contain much information about our knowledge. We must take pride in what we have produced and the high, unprecedented scientific level Afrika once mastered – this will motivate us and make us understand that even the challenges we face today, we can overcome them and bring Afrika back to the greatness it once was known for.
When it comes to Southern Afrika, the research about the use of traditional calendars differ a bit. Remember that a lot of knowledge from this area has been corrupted (especially through the extermination of KhoiSan speaking peoples). What is more popularly known in the Southern region is normally not very ancient. I have found several sources saying that in Nguni-cultures there are four (not three) seasons: eKwinda (autumn), uBusika (winter), iNtwasahlobo (spring) and iHlobo (summer). The reason for four seasons could be that the climate in Southern Africa is quite different from further north in Africa, or it could be a clash of information systems and knowledge corruption.
We live in a time where research on Afrika should NOT be left to academic institutions and World Bank funded projects. We all need to get involved. I encourage you to do further research on Afrikan wisdom, science and knowledge. Start with the Elders in your family. You might come up with more information and hidden knowledge that should be exposed and shared.
Each one, teach one.