Africa-Asia Relations:
Historical, Cultural,
and Linguistic Connections
Adams B. Bodomo
University of Hong Kong
[email protected]
Visiting Professor
Ansted University, Penang, Malaysia
August 7, 2001
Outline of the Talk
Introduction and Themes of the Talk
Historical/ Archeological/ Genetic Links
Cultural Links/ Similarity
Linguistic Links
East-West Dualism and the African Absence in
Asia
The Way Forward: How to improve Asian-African
Links
Summary and Conclusions

Ansted as a Universal University
References and Bibliographical/ Web-based
sources
7 August 2001,
Ansted
2
Themes of the Talk
African presence in Asia – Hong Kong and China
Despite the not-so-tenuous historical, cultural, and
linguistic connections between Africa and Asia,
Africa is not so much present in the minds of Asians
as compared to other parts of the world
Africa has not much conceptual space in the minds
of Asians.
Most Asians know next to nothing about Africa as
compared to Europe and the Americas.
There is a certain kind of conceptual and
philosophical dualism in the minds of Asians.
this dualism is the East-West dichotomy that is so
pervasive and rampant in Asian parlance!
7 August 2001,
Ansted
3
Historical/ Archeological/
Genetic links
History of Mankind and
Humanity
began in Africa

East Africa and the Nile Valley
Homo Erectus migrated out of Africa
into Asia
Varieties of the early Africans
Peking man (first humankind found in
China)
 Java Man

7 August 2001,
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Recent Genetic Studies
Migration - first Africans to Asia

Early Asians - the closest cousins of the early
Africans!
Human race emerged ‘from Africa’
 “Scientists have uncovered the strongest evidence
yet that humans share a single African
ancestor…The idea that the entire world is African is
supported by powerful genetic analysis of the Y
chromosome.”

Victoria Griffith, the London Financial Times, May 10, 2001
Chinese Roots Lie in Africa
 “Most of the population of modern China--one fifth
of all people living today--owes its genetic origins to
Africa.”
7 August 2001,
Ansted

Robert Lee Holz, Los Angeles Times, Sep 29, 1988
6
African Asian Communities today
‘Within South Asia, A Little Touch of Africa’

Kenneth J. Cooper, Washington Post Foreign Service, April 12, 1999
the existence of African Asian communities such as the Siddis of
India who speak Gujarati, the Sheedi community near Karachi
in Pakistan most of whom speak Baluchi, and the Kaffirs of Sri
Lanka.
 these communities may not exhibit as much African
consciousness as we see among many African Americans
 but their music, their dance and many of their indigenous speech
forms and other linguistic characteristics point to strong African
connections.
 these groups “are…descended from slaves, servants and
soldiers brought from East Africa over the centuries, first by
Arab traders and later by Portuguese and British colonizers.”
Indigenous communities in other parts of Asia
 The Philippines, Malaysia (Orang Asli, ‘Original Man’), In
donesia,
Iran, Saudi Arabia
7 August
2001,

Ansted
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Vibrant Communities
Vibrant African communities in Asia

in megacities like Hong Kong, Beijing,
Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo, Delhi, Kuala
Lumpur, Jakarta and Manila
Vibrant Asian communities in Africa

7 August 2001,
Ansted
In African cities like Accra, Johannesburg,
Cape Town, Durban, Nairobi, Dar es
Salaam, Cairo and Lagos.
8
Cultural Links/ Similarity
Ancestor Worship
In BOTH African traditional religions and
Chinese traditional beliefs
Ancestors are worshipped like GODS
 Strong belief and practice

Families in Africa set up regular periods in the
year for ancestor worship
 Chinese – Ching Ming Festival (“gravesweeping”)
 Chinese families show their respect by visiting
the graves of their ancestors to clear away
weeds, touch up gravestone inscriptions and
make offerings of wine and fruit.

7 August 2001,
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Ghosts
Africans and Asians are superstitious in their
beliefs.
Belief in ghosts


Dead people’s souls will not depart this world and
linger about among the living as ghosts to hound
people if they are not given a fitting burial
Theme of the novel Beloved, by Toni Morrison
(African-American Nobel laureate)
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Anthropomorphism
Duality of existence between man and animals
Humans are given animal characteristics and some
animals are given human characteristics
In some ethnicities in Africa, e.g. the Dagaarespeaking people of the central parts of West Africa



Every person born has a totem, an animal that lives
somewhere in the wild
The fate and destiny of a human and their totem are
linked
If the totem dies the human dies
My totem: the PYTHON


Cool, calm, collected, humour, grace, compassion,
compunction
Don’t step on its tail!
7 August 2001,
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Chinese Horoscope - the twelve-year
cycle (twelve animal signs)
EM
Y E A R O F B IR TH
TOTEM
C H A R A C TE R ISTIC S
Rat
1900
1912
1924
1936
1948
1960
1972
1984
1996
C harm ing, bright, creative, thrifty
Ox
1901
1913
1925
1937
1949
1961
1973
1985
1997
Steadfast, dependable, m ethodical
R
Tiger
1902
1914
1926
1938
1950
1962
1974
1986
1998
D ynam ic, w arm , sincere, a leader
IT
Rabbit
1903
1915
1927
1939
1951
1963
1975
1987
1999
H um ble, artistic, clear-sighted
GON
Dragon
1904
1916
1928
1940
1952
1964
1976
1988
2000
Flam boyant, lucky, im aginative
E
Snake
1905
1917
1929
1941
1953
1965
1977
1989
2001
D iscreet, refined, intelligent
E
Horse
1906
1918
1930
1942
1954
1966
1978
1990
2002
Social, com petitive, stubborn
P
Sheep
1907
1919
1931
1943
1955
1967
1979
1991
2003
A rtistic, fastidious, indecisive
KEY
Monkey
1908
1920
1932
1944
1956
1968
1980
1992
2004
W itty, popular, good-hum ored, versatile
Rooster
1909
1921
1933
1945
1957
1969
1981
1993
2005
A ggressive, alert, perfectionist
Dog
1910
1922
1934
1946
1958
1970
1982
1994
2006
H onest, conservative, sym pathetic, loyal
Pig
1911
1923
1935
1947
1959
1971
1983
1995
2007
C aring, industrious, hom e-loving
TER
7 August 2001,
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http://www.discoverhongkong.com/eng/interactive/horoscope/index.jhtml
Mentorship as
Educational Model
Belief in authority, deference to the elders as
custodians of knowledge, rigorous
mentorship relationship between pupil and
master
University of Hong Kong’s mentorship
program
African traditional education systems


No formal classes and lectures
Children of farmers and fishermen understudy
their parents
7 August 2001,
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Linguistic Links
Genetic Linguistic Relationships
Languages do not move until people have
moved
The Afro-Asiatic group


African languages - Hausa, Oromo, Tigrinya, and
Berber
Asian languages – Hebrew, Assyrian, and Arabic
The Dravidian group


South Asian languages - Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada
Have variants in Southeast Asia, South Africa, and
Mauritius
A web of communities in Africa and Asia
speaking either the same languages or similar
ones belonging to the same language families
7 August 2001,
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Typological Linguistic Relationships
(1) TONE
Tone languages in Africa and Asia
Akan , Dagaare, Ewe, Ga, Igbo, Yoruba
 Chinese, Thai, Zhuang

Two tones in Dagaare
High – Nyu (‘to drink’)
 Low – Nyu  (‘to smell’)

7 August 2001,
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Tones in Cantonese
6 tonemes
1 – High
 2 – High rising
 3 – mid level
 4 - Low Falling
 5 – Low rising
 6 – Low level

7 August 2001,
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Typological Linguistic Relationships
(2) Serial verb construction (SVC)
More than one lexical verb may be found in the same clause
Example - ‘I bought some water and drank it’


Cantonese
Ngo5
maai5
seoi2
1.SG
buy.PERF
water
Dagaare
N
1.SG
da
buy.PERF
jam2
drink
la
FOC
water
koO
nyu
drink
Tones and serial verb constructions have received the
attention of many linguists
contributed very useful data for this linguistic inquiry (Luke and
Bodomo 1998)
Association for Languages of Far East, Southeast Asia and
West Africa (LESEWA)
Typological similarities as important aspect Comparative
7 August 2001,
African and Asian Studies
Ansted
19
East-West Dualism and
the African Absence
in Asia
My experiences as an African
living and working in Hong Kong…
Africa is not much present in the minds of Chinese
and other Asians as other parts of the world are in
their minds
Asians I have interacted with know next to nothing
about Africa
In Asian academic setups, compared to the
institutions of Europe and America, Asian
universities and colleges have very little content
about Africa.
7 August 2001,
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Why is Africa so much absent
in the minds of Asians?
The way Asians, especially people of Hong Kong (the
group of Asians I know best), categorize the world
Conceptual and philosophical dualism in the minds of
Asians
This dualism deprives Africa of any conceptual space
in the Asian mind
This dualism is called
EAST means Chinese or Asian in general
WEST refers to European, American or any white
person
7 August 2001,
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Examples of East-West
Dichotomy in Hong Kong
In search for restaurants

often involves choice between a Chinese or a
Western restaurant
Politicians and many people in Hong Kong


Like to see their city as a meeting point between East
and West
The REALITY: Hong Kong is indeed a global
business hub
A positive move

Government of Hong Kong has moved away from the
maxim, Hong Kong: where East Meets West to
HONG KONG: ASIA’S WORLD CITY
7 August 2001,
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Consequences of the
East-West Mindset
Non-Western and non-Asian countries are relegated to
the background in their minds and daily practices
When Africa is glanced at with a wink, it is often with
borrowed lenses
In Hong Kong,



Africa is hardly mentioned on the main English-speaking
TV channels
No African city is mentioned in weather reports of the
world’s “major” cities
When African news is reported


It is negative news
It is to be curled from Western sources such as Agence Press,
Associated Press and other news media which portray Africa as
some backward, uncivilized part of the world
7 August 2001,
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Consequences of the
East-West Mindset
The potentials of Africa as an economic force and
as a business and cultural partner of Asia are lost
Africa has no economic significance to Asians
The reality


growing presence of Chinese communities and
businesses in Africa
rich resources of gold, diamond, manganese and oil
Asians must revise their world-view, moving away
from a conceptualization of world affairs in terms of
East and West
7 August 2001,
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The Way Forward:
How to Improve AsianAfrican Links
Improving the links
STEP (1)
A Global Approach
Asians must accord Africa new
conceptual spaces in their mindsets
They must dispel and desist from
constructing a bi-polar view of the world
They must not see relations between
them and the rest of the world as one of
East and West
7 August 2001,
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Improving the links
STEP (2)
Establishing Economic and Cultural Links
Tourism

Africa is a potential tourist destination of
the highest magnitude, with its wild life and
uninhabited and unspoilt nature
Trade, cultural, and educational
exchanges

Benefit a lot from a rediscovery of Africa in
a new Asian mindset
7 August 2001,
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Improving the links
STEP (3)
Africans in Asia and elsewhere serve as
catalysts
There is an emerging trend of African
communities in parts of Asia, especially in
megacities like Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore,
and Kuala Lumpur
These must play a pioneering role in drawing
the attention of Asia to the potentials of Africa,
i.e. to sell Africa to Asia and other parts of the
world
7 August 2001,
Ansted
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Summary and Conclusions
SUMMARY of the talk

Africa-Asia relations






Historical links (Archeological and Genetic studies)
Cultural links (ancestor worship, totems)
Linguistic links (Genetic and Typological relationships)
Africans and Asians have not taken advantage of
these links because of the way many Asians see the
world
To move forward, people in all parts of the world ought
to discard a bi-polar view of the world and embrace a
more universalist view in which Africa can gain new
conceptual spaces
Trade, tourism, and other economic, educational and
cultural links can only flourish if Africans and Asians
work towards greater cooperation
7 August 2001,
Ansted
30
Ansted as a
Universal University
Africans and Asians can take advantage of new paradigms
of education in our age of information technology
 Consolidating open and distance education
 Training their populations for manpower needs
Ansted – a Universal / Global university




It transcends the West, the East, the North and the South
Campuses in many parts of the world
It represents the new paradigm of higher education that
must be emulated by many other educational institutions
in the world for a better understanding of our vast
universe
A better understanding of the world is a precondition for
fostering peaceful relations among the different regions
and peoples of the world
7 August 2001,
Ansted
31
Further issues
to know how Africans on the continent think of
Asia and the nature of Asian communities in
Africa
to investigate the consequences of the
inability of Africans and Asians to relate more
to each other on the nature of comparative
studies in either continent
to investigate the impact of an increased
African-Asian corporation on world bodies
and global politics
7 August 2001,
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References and Bibliographical/ Web-based sources
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•
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•
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The African-Asian Society. 2000. An NGO website managed from South Africa
http://www.africanasiansociety.com/
Bodomo, A. B. 1998. Publish or Perish: Notes from Africa. In CERCular: Newsletter of
the Comparative Education Research Centre, University of Hong Kong, no 2, pp 6-7.
Bodomo, A. B. 2000. AfricansInHongKong website:
http://communities.msn.com/AfricansInHongKong/home.htm
Bodomo, A. B. 2001. Historical, Cultural, and Linguistic Links between Africa and
Asia, ms, University of Hong Kong
Brunson, James E. 1985. Black Jade: The African Presence in the Ancient East and Other
Essays. Introduction by Runoko Rashidi. DeKalb: Kara.
Brunson, James E. 1989. The Image of the Black in Eastern Art. Pt. 1, Black Roots in Most
Ancient China (1766 B.C. - 950 B.C.) DeKalb: Kara.
Brunson, James E. 1989. Kamite Brotherhood: African Origins in Early Asia. DeKalb: Kara.
Chai, Chen Kang. 1967. Taiwan Aborigines: A Genetic Study of Tribal Variations.
Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Chang, Kwang-chih. 1968. The Archaeology of Ancient China. Rev. ed. New Haven: Yale
University Press.
Chi, Li. 1967. The Formation of the Chinese People: An Anthropological Inquiry. 1928; rpt.
New York: Russell & Russell.
Cooper, Kenneth J. 1999. "Within South Asia, A Little Touch of Africa." Washington
Post Foreign Service, April 12,1999.
Duyvendak, J.J.L. 1949. China's Discovery of Africa. London: Probsthain.
Filesi, Teobaldo. 1972. China and Africa in the Middle Ages. Translated by David L.
Morison. London: Frank Cass.
References and Bibliographical/ Web-based sources
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Griffith, Victoria. 2001. "Human Race Emerged ‘from Africa’." The London Financial Times,
May 10, 2001.
Horton, Mark. 1987. "The Swahili Corridor." Scientific American (Sep 1987): 86-93.
Hotz, Robert Lee. 1998. "Chinese Roots Lie in Africa, Research Says." Los Angeles Times, Sep
29, 1998.
Kochiyama, Yuri. 1998. A History of Linkage: African and Asian, African American and
Asian American. In “Shades of Power: Newsletter of the Institute for Multi-Racial Justice”,
Spring 1998.
http://www.hardboiled.org/2-3/linkage.html
Luke, K. K. and Adams Bodomo. 1998. A semantic typology of serial verb constructions in
Dagaare and Cantonese. ms, University of Hong Kong.
Rashidi, Runoko and Ivan Van Sertima. (eds). 1995. The African Presence in Early Asia. Rev.
ed. New Brunswick: Transaction Press.
Rashidi, Ronoko. 1998. The Global African Community website:
http://www.cwo.com/~lucumi/runoko.html
Rashidi, Runoko, 2001. The African Presence in Early China: a Bibliography. Website:
http://www.cwo.com/~lucumi/east.html
The 1990 Trust. 2001. A website for the promotion of the interests of people of Asian,
Caribbean and African origin living in Britain http://www.blink.org.uk/organ/1990t.htm
Winters, Clyde-Ahmad. 1978. "Trade Between East Africa and Ancient China." Afrikan
Mwalimu 4, No. 3 (1978).
Winters, Clyde-Ahmad. 1979. "The Relationship of Afrikans and Chinese in the Past."
Afrikan Mwalimu (Jan 1979): 25-31.
Winters, Clyde-Ahmad. 1984. "Blacks in Ancient China, Pt. 1: The Founders of Xia and
Shang." Journal of Black Studies (1984): 8-13.
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