Essentializing Indigenous Epistemologies: An African Vantage Point

Written by a WSTB05 student from the University of Toronto

This text was submitted as part of OPF's partnership with the WSTB05 class (Understanding Power and Knowledge in Research). More information about our partnership can be found here.     

The process of colonialism and imperialism forever brought change to the world in countless ways. One of these changes was in knowledge production. As a postcolonial feminist, I am interested in the ways that the process of decolonization can occur in post colonized societies by utilizing Indigenous ways of knowing. Unlike hegemonic and colonial epistemologies, the sources used in this project showcase the importance of considering multiple ways of knowing instead of marginalizing certain voices to create societal change. To ensure specific and credible sources were used, the University of Toronto’s online library and research tools were used.

Abdi, Ali A. “Eurocentric Discourse and African Philosophies and Epistemologies of Education: Counter-Hegemonic Analyses and Responses.” International Education, vol. 36, no. 1, 2006, pp. 15–31.

In summary, Abdi engages in a conversation surrounding the history of Indigenous African epistemologies prior and post colonialism. This leads to a further discussion about how Indigenous epistemologies became marginalized considering how Western philosophers regarded Africans as uncivilized and their epistemologies as useless. To combat these notions, Abdi discusses the ways in which the education system in postcolonial African nations should counter hegemonic understandings of education by being “culture inclusive”. Moreover, Abdi argues that this approach should not exclusive but inclusive of all ways of knowing that are beneficial to the population. This source is extremely valuable as it contributes to the discussion regarding the decolonization through Indigenous Epistemologies in academia. The education system is one of the most vital chambers of knowledge production in a society. Therefore, this article proves that for social change to occur, the current education system must be tackled and reformed to be inclusive of Indigenous epistemologies and other advantageous epistemologies. 

Buntu, Baba A. “Claiming Self; the Role of Afrikology in Social Transformation.” Scriptura, vol. 112, no. 1, University of Stellenbosch, 2013, pp. 1–12, doi:10.7833/112-0-62.

In this article, Buntu is concerned about Africa’s self-determination as its image is usually explained and determined by outsiders. This ends up creating predominant ideas of Africa as a continent with numerous struggles (economic, political, etc.) Buntu discusses that to encounter these images of Africa, certain institutions such as academia need to be countered through African epistemologies like African theology. Ultimately, he argues that this process of decolonialization can be socially beneficial to the continent when African epistemologies are authentically included in academia, innovation, and politics. Buntu’s article is one the most notable works that must be included when discussing decolonization. Decolonization cannot occur if Africa is constantly told what it is. It must determine its image for itself first. Most importantly, Buntu gives evidence that for this process to occur, Africa needs to dig down at its roots and discover and utilize Indigenous Epistemologies. This realization will be essential for Africa’s innovative and political future and will thus direct the continent to greater social change.

Iloka, Nnamdi G. “Indigenous Knowledge for Disaster Risk Reduction: An African Perspective.” Jamba, vol. 8, no. 1, African Online Scientific Information Systems (Pty) Ltd t/a AOSIS, 2016, pp. 272–272, doi:10.4102/jamba.v8i1.272.

In this article, Iloka documents the importance of Indigenous epistemologies in Africa on the basis of climate change and risk reduction. Iloka discusses the ways in which this knowledge became marginalized due to colonialism and the use of scientific methods for mitigating climate change. Iloka argues that mitigation strategies used by governments and experts are not adequate because they can exclude the cultural voices of communities. For these projects to work African cultural and Indigenous epistemologies must be used as well to increase participation. Thus, Iloka notes that the government shouldn’t solely invest in Western knowledge when it comes to risk reduction. Although this source is more specific, it is entirely salient to the topic of decolonization. The environmental perspective aids one to notice the ways in which postcolonial societies are still held by western power through western knowledge. Furthermore, this article showcases the importance of various ways of knowing to counter issues that pose risk to society as Indigenous Epistemologies can be just as adequately used to fight against climate change.

Mashingaidze, Sivave. “Cosmovision and African Conservation Philosophy: Indigenous Knowledge System Perspective.” Environmental Economics, vol. 7, no. 4, Business Perspectives Ltd, 2016, pp. 25–33, doi:10.21511/ee.07(4).2016.03.

To summarize, Mashingaidze discusses the importance of Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) in postcolonial African societies. Mashingaidze discusses how these epistemologies were used to bring “peace, harmony, and order”. However, colonialism disrupted IKSs and marginalized and villainized them. Moreover, the article essentializes the importance of IKSs in resource conservation as it relates to the physical and environmental wellbeing of society. Ultimately, Mashingaidze argues that the current physical and social crises in Africa are a result of the marginalization of African epistemologies. This source is important to the topic of decolonization and social change because it discusses the importance of Indigenous Epistemologies to both the people and our environment. Using this type of knowledge would be productive in decolonizing the way people interact with their environment. Moreover, this article counters Western epistemologies and adds a fresh perspective on the way we see the world. IKSs promotes the simultaneous wellbeing of the people and the environment which Western Knowledge sometimes overlooks.

To conclude, the research taken during the production of this assignment entails something remarkable: Indigenous Epistemologies can be applicable to many structures within society. Through this short paper, I was able to discuss a few (education, environment, & social). However, as I have learned, it goes beyond that. It is applicable to technology, medicine, agriculture, spirituality, art, communication, community organization, and more. The action of dismissing and marginalizing these epistemologies is counter-productive to the well being of our world. Indigenous Epistemologies are not at all “uncivilized” or “barbaric” and the scope of the knowledge they hold is evidence. Thus, including these forms of knowing in the decolonization process is productive and salient to the future of society.