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African Time Concept

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After reading the chapters from African Religions and Philosophies by Mbiti I discovered that Africans have a totally different perception of time than Westerners. In traditional African culture time is a chain of events. Once made, it belongs to zamani. Westerners want to have trains running on schedule and fly to the moon. Africans have different aims in life.

Time and reality end now, the future is unreal. There is no future yet. It still is to be made by the interaction of all forces in the world.

To an African as compared to a Westerner the present is larger and the future is smaller. Future enjoyment is more real to a Westerner and he is willing to work now in order to fill his future with enjoyment. This future is "big" to him, and he likes it to be filled with enjoyment. To an African, the same work, requiring the same number of hours, occupies his present, which is something very large. The sacrifice is very high. The reward, filling his future with enjoyment, is low, because his future is small. That explains why you do not see many rain gauges, proper sewage, lots of people sitting before houses that have roofs with unrepaired holes (in quite some African languages, "living" and "sitting" are denoted by one and the same word!). If you have money, you could save by living as if you were poor. If you are poor, you could save by living as if you were very poor. But you would suffer in your present, which is much bigger than that of saving Westerners, and enjoy in the future which is much smaller than that of the enjoying Westerners.

All this means that for an African to take it more easy in life than a Westerner is perfectly understandable and rational.

In Africa rain is waited for humbly, because rain is a gift from the living forces of nature. This also means that you will not start to dig the ground in anticipation of rain: the ancestors and spirits do not like their gifts to be counted upon and if you do so they might postpone rain angrily. While waiting



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