Indigenous Spiritual Practices from an African Perspective: A Talk with Dr. Njoki Wane

Teaching and embracing spiritual practices is often overlooked or outright absent in Western education, and in Western society more generally. In this sense, most classrooms tend to teach a one-sided, Eurocentric approach to understanding the world, which fails to acknowledge and embrace spirituality. This has largely led to a type of learning in North American education that keeps the personal and the spiritual distant from academic learning. This past week, Dr. Njoki Wane lead a discussion on African Indigenous spiritual practices with the intention of expressing the importance of establishing a spiritual connection with the self and the world around you.

Dr. Njoki Wane began her talk by arguing that situating ourselves in the spiritual world is crucial because, otherwise, we lose sight of who we are. To correct this, Dr. Wane emphasized that we need to continuously ask ourselves who we are to break this disconnection. She argued that we are so absorbed in a technological age that we tend to forget that we’re human beings experiencing the world. Speaking from an African Indigenous standpoint, Dr. Wane called attention to the ancestral pasts and cultural stories of her people, that hold wisdom which goes beyond material wealth and traditional conceptions of success. Therefore, in order to return back to ourselves, we have to go back to our history, to our culture, and attempt to imagine the holistic self. To achieve this, we have to see oursleves as a part of nature and consistently look inward.

The discussion was primarily based on how African Indigenous spiritual practices can help with individual and collective spiritual situatedness. Dr. Njoki Wane spoke of MAAT, a kemetic philosophy that means balance and harmony. According to Dr. Wane, most African Indigenous spiritual practices revolve around MAAT, which brings spirituality, justice, and rightness into the world through the philosophical concept of KARMA. Therefore, Dr. Wane finds her spirituality in the ancient wisdom of Indigenous African theories, but that types of spirituality vary from person to person.

Spirituality was also described as “a source of creativity”– a source that is open to everyone. It allows us to embrace the feeling of being alive, it fosters curiosity, asks us to pay attention and observe our surroundings, and evokes feelings of empathy and artistic expression. It connects us to one another and allows us to hold onto ourselves and our courage in times of darkness, specifically because we have our true selves to fall back on–a self that has values that are based in a value system unconnected to materialism and consumerism.

The search for the spiritual reminded me of All About Love, a book by bell hooks that I read recently. Hooks argued that Western society has become obsessed in with individualism and consumerism, which has created an absence of true love and care for one another. Rather, we have begun to care primarily for ourselves and see others, and love itself, as a means to an end. For hooks, to get back to loving one another in a deep and truthful manner, we must embrace spirituality rather than materialism. I found this philosophy similar to Dr. Njoki Wane’s.

Towards the end of the discussion, Dr. Wane argued that spiritual connectedness is a collective responsibility that cannot be rooted in judgement, but in curiosity, respect, and acceptance. Therefore, education needs to be formulated around multiple perspectives rather than on one Eurocentric understanding of the world. Furthermore, this learning must be based in listening to one another, rather than speaking over each other. However, to achieve this, Dr. Njoki Wane emphasized that we must also reflect on our own personal values, how we relate to the world, and how we define our relationship with spirituality.

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