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Why, amidst their suffering, do Blacks sing, laugh and dance?


Thousands of people all over South Africa mixed tears with dance, celebrations with lamentations, over the death of Nelson Mandela. This is how they express culturally the rite of passage from this side to life on the other side, where their ancestors, the wise ones, and the guardians of the people, their rites and their ethical norms are. Now Mandela is there, invisible but plainly present, accompanying the people whose liberation he aided so greatly.

Moments like these make us remember our greatest human ancestry.  We all have our roots in Africa, even though the great majority does not know it or does not give it importance. But it is crucial that we retake our origins, that, in one way or another, are inscribed in our genetic and spiritual code.

I will refer here to aspects of a text I wrote long ago, with the title, “We are All Africans”, that has been realized, in light of the world situation, that has changed.

To start, it is important to denounce the African tragedy: Africa is the continent most forgotten and vandalized by world politics. Only her lands count. They are bought by large world consortiums and by China, to organize immense grain plantations to assure food, not for Africa, but for their countries, or to be sold in the speculative markets. Together, the famous “land grabs”  would cover the whole of France. Today, Africa is a sort of rearview mirror of how in the past, and, still now, we humans can be so inhumane and terrible. The present neo-colonization is more perverse than the colonizations of past centuries.

Without forgetting this tragedy, let us concentrate on the African inheritance that lies within us. There is consensus nowadays among paleontologists and anthropologists that the adventure of hominization began in Africa some seven million years ago. It then accelerated, passing through the homo habilis, erectus, neanderthal… until it reached homo sapiens, some ninety thousand years ago. After being on African soil 4.4 million years, homo sapiens moved to Asia, about sixty thousand years ago; then to Europe, forty thousand years ago; and to the Americas, thirty thousand years ago. That is to say, the majority of human life has been lived in Africa, which is now forgotten and despised.

Africa is not only our geographic place of origin: it is the primitive archetype, the collection of impressions left on the soul of the human being. It was in Africa where the human being developed his first sensations, where his growing neural connections were created (cerebralization), the first thoughts shone, creativity emerged, and the social complexity arose that allowed language and culture to appear. The spirit of Africa is present in all of us.

I see three principal axes of the spirit of Africa that can help us overcome the systemic global crisis we are now experiencing.

The first is Mother Earth, Mother Africa. While spreading out over the vast African spaces, our ancestors entered into profound communion with the Earth, feeling the connection that all things guard with each other: the waters, the mountains, the animals, the woods and the jungles; and the cosmic energies. We need to retake this spirit of the Earth to save Gaia, our Mother and only Common Home.

The second axis is the relational matrix, as anthropologists say. Africans use the word, ubuntu, that means: “I am who I am because I belong to the community” or “I am what I am because of you and you are what you are because of me”. All of us need one another; we are interdependent. What quantum physics and the new cosmology teach about the interdependence of all with all is evidence of the African spirit.

To that community also belong the dead, like Mandela. The dead do not «go» to heaven, because heaven is not a geographic place, but a form of being in this, our world. The dead remain amid the people as counselors and guardians of the sacred traditions.

On the third axis are the rites and celebrations. We admired the fact that an entire day was dedicated to honor Mandela with masses and prayers. Africans feel God in their skin, Westerners in their heads. This is why Africans dance and move their whole body, while we Westerners remain as cold and rigid as broom sticks.

The important experiences of personal, social and seasonal life are celebrated with rites, dances, music and offerings of masks. The masks represent energies that can be beneficial or detrimental. It is in the rituals where the negative and positive forces are balanced and the primacy of good sense over the absurd is celebrated. If we retake the spirit of Africa, the crisis would not have to become a tragedy.

We know that through feasts and rites society restores its relationships, and social cohesion is strengthened. Moreover, work and struggle are not everything. There is also the celebration of life, the rescue of collective memories and the remembering of the victories over the threats we have endured.

I am pleased to offer the personal testimony of Washington Novaes, one of our most brilliant journalists: «Some years ago, in South Africa, Novaes writes, it impressed me that it was enough for three or four Blacks to get together to start to sing and dance with a wide smile. One day, I commented to a young taxi driver: “Your people have suffered and still suffer a lot. Yet, all it takes is for a few people to get together and you are already dancing, singing and laughing. Where does such strength come from?” And he answered me: “With the suffering, we learn that our happiness cannot depend on anything outside of ourselves. It has to be our own only, to be within us”».

Our Afro-descendent population also offers us that form of happiness, that neither capitalism nor consumerism can provide.

Free translation from the Spanish sent by
Melina Alfaro,,

4 Comentários leave one →
  1. 22/12/2013 19:46

    Boa noite!

    Recebo as publicações em Ingles…

    Não teria como vir em português?

    Muito obrigado!



  2. claudio Mattos permalink
    24/12/2013 14:16

    Very deep and thought provoking words.
    thank you so much for sharing.
    claudio Mattos


  3. marcio siqueira permalink
    07/01/2014 13:29

    frei boff, sempre lucido e visionario em relação ao cuidado do ser… tao essencial e presente. obrigado. sou leitor de suas obras



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