What it Means to Have an African Outlook

features that characterize an “African” outlook to the world as represented by Mbiti and Tempels. How coherent and how convincing do you find them, and why?

For the Bantu, it appears that the unique experience which influence and shape an “African” outlook to the world is one which the African sees himself as a being of force. For the Bantu, a great deal of their specific perspective on the world is shaped by the fact that they find the concepts of being and force absolutely inextricable from one another. Tempels is quick to explain that this concept represents a truly fundamental difference between Western thought and the thought which largely shapes the world of the Bantu people. “Force’ in his thought is a necessary element in ‘being’, and the concept ‘force’ is inseparable from the definition of ‘being’. There is no idea among Bantu of ‘being’ divorced from the idea of ‘force’. Without the element ‘force’, ‘being’ cannot be conceived” (Tempels, 16). This causes the Bantu to have a static viewpoint of what a “being” is, as an entity which possesses force; Tempel explains that one can go even further in this perspective to demonstrate that within Bantu thought that these people engage with the world in a manner which suggests that they are all entities with intense force. This is because, “Force is not for them an adventitious, accidental reality. Force is even more than a necessary attribute of beings: Force is the nature of being, force is being, being is force” (Tempels, 16). Thus, this means that the difference between the African and the European experience is that the African experience considers the world with the notion of being, when the European would use the notion of force (Tempels, 16). This distinction continues to inform the African experience.

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With these distinctions taken to heart, one could argue that they largely shape a tremendous amount of the unique Bantu experience of the world and of the human condition. For instance, the Bantus create fewer rifts between parts of the human, such as body and soul, and that even when those distinctions are created, they’re less divisive than those made by the European community members. “When ‘we’ differentiate in man the soul and the body, as is done in certain Western writings, we are at a loss to explain where ‘the man’ has gone after these two components have been separated out. If, from our European outlook, we wish to seek Bantu terms adequate to express this manner of speaking, we are up against very great difficulties, especially if we are proposing to speak about the soul of man” (Tempels, 17). This sentiment reveal a tremendous amount about the specific African perspective of the human experience in the world: it’s a less divisive perspective. The Europeans are the ones which have a range of categories for over-explaining and dividing up man into a series of components. Europeans are the ones who categorize man and the parts of man into a range of characteristics, categorizing the body of man, versus the shadow of man and the breath of man, and the soul of man vs. The corporeal body (Tempels, 17). However, because the Bantu are so heavily influenced by the specific notion that there is no separation between the being and force, and that all entities are as inextricable from the force which moves them and allows them to move other things, that this perspective can’t help but inform notions about the soul and the body. By this unique perspective, the soul and the body are less separate and less divisive than a European standpoint would concern itself with.

All of these factors come together to represent how the unique African outlook on the world is one which is simply less separatist and less compartmentalized and that this trend truly extends to all aspects of the human being’s experience. This is something which can particularly be noticed when it comes to the Bantu’s viewpoint on the dead vs. The living and the afterlife. Europeans might subscribe to a Christian view of the afterlife, and believe that the dead are simply away, or in heaven, but according to the Bantu, the dead still experience the act of living in some manner, they question is simply one of degree: “but theirs is a diminished life, with reduced vital energy. This seems to be the conception of the Bantu when they speak of the dead in general, superficially and in regard to the external things of life. When they consider the inner reality of being, they admit that deceased ancestors have not lost their superior reinforcing influence; and that the dead in general have acquired a greater knowledge of life and of vital or natural force” (Tempels, 23). According to this African perspective, this means that the dead do not stop experiencing; they are still able to acquire certain knowledge and to bolster the life of man on earth (Tempels, 23). However, not all of the dead are able to do this; some of the dead are no longer able to maintain active relationships with people on earth and are viewed as being “completely dead”(Tempels, 23). But such a notion just works to further highlight the truly specific and special viewpoint that Africans can have about the afterlife: in being so profoundly less divisive, it serves to demonstrate that there are even less beginnings and ends. This is demonstrated in the fact that according to Tempels and the philosophies of the Bantu, the dead are capable of having active relationships with the living. The dead are all in possessing of a certain amount of vital force; this force can be diminished over time, but it doesn’t have to be (Tempels, 23). Such a concept in and of itself is a refreshing and revelatory way of viewing the specific experience of the dead, the living and the afterlife. These concepts work together to demonstrate yet again, that the African experience in the world is one which is profoundly less divisive and less categorized and compartmentalized as the European perspective (Tempels, 23).

Such notions are absolutely echoed by the thoughts and writings of Mbiti, which truly showcase the lack of divisiveness and thus the lack of discord present within the African experience in the world. “Because traditional religions permeate all the departments of life, there is no formal distinction between the sacred and secular, between the religious and the non-religious, between the spiritual and the material areas of life” (2). This notion truly summarizes very aptly the specific African viewpoint: what someone from a more European frame of reference might view as ordinary or as mundane, someone from an African background might still see it as sacred or holy. This is indeed a very refreshing aspect of the African perspective on the world and on the human experience: sacredness and holiness can occur at various times during the everyday. This is indeed a remarkable concept as it demonstrates that the commonplace or the daily experience of life on this planet is not empty of all that is holy and sacred.

Mbiti continually finds a meaningful way to express these uniquely African outlooks on the world. So much of what Mbiti is able to express is that there is no divisiveness in the human experience, the way a European outlook might view it divisively. As Mbiti eloquently describes: “In traditional religions there are not creeds to be recited; instead, the creeds are written in the heart of the individual, and each one is himself a living creed of his own religion. Where the individual is, there is his religion, for he is a religious being. It is this that makes Africans so religious. Religion is in their whole system of being” (Mbiti, 3). This is exactly evocative of the notion that Tempels described of the African viewing the individual as a being of force, and the notion that force and being are absolutely inextricable from one another within the African mindset. This demonstrates another aspect of the absence of divisiveness within the African experience: this overwhelming sense of unity is something which extends to the experience of religion as well. Whereas a European viewpoint might view religion as something which is practiced by the individual, and is something which the individual can sort of schedule into his or her day or life at will, the African views religion as something which is almost an inextricable aspect of his or her being. This means that religion is seen as something which is interwoven throughout the individual’s experience of life on this planet. This makes sense as it implies that one’s belief system, at least according to the African outlook, is something which is considered altogether inseparable from the individual. The religion and the corresponding belief system are elements which shape and fashion the outlook on the world, are thus always present with the individual.

This is particularly true when one considers the unique perspective of the African when it comes to religion and magic, which also possess a certain degree of overlap. To a European mindset, magic is something which is considered pagan, or something which is simply invented by man as an idea or as a silly hobby but which have very little value or worth outside of these viewpoints. As Mbiti explains, “Some consider magic to have evolved before religion, as man’s attempt to manipulate the unseen world. When man failed to control natural phenomena by magic, he then resigned himself to forces beyond him, which led to a belief in God as the source of all power. As such, magic is considered to be the mother of religion” (9). This sentiment reveals a great deal on the uniqueness of the African viewpoint on the world. First of all, by even allowing religion and magic to overlap demonstrates the wide degree of sheer “openness” that an African viewpoint has about the world. This connection between magic and religion generally demonstrates again the amount of overlap that an African viewpoint will be able to see within two very distinct items (or two items which are at least distinct to a European outlook).

Thus, instead of viewing the world in terms of separateness, distinction, and strict categories, the overall African viewpoint is shaped from a perspective which sees the inter-relatedness between factors and forces in this world. These ideas all remarkably stem from the fundamental idea that there is no separation between being and force. Many of the subsequent ideas which present themselves are simply an outgrowth of this idea. The lack of separateness, the lack of division are some of the elements which profoundly influence the African experience in the world, and many basic principles, views and pillars. These unique perspectives are both refreshing and convincing and in many ways, present a more cohesive view of life on this planet and the experience of the human condition.


Mbiti, J.S. African religions & philosophy. London: Heinneman, 1969. Print.

Tempels, P. . Bantu Philosophy. Praesence africaine, 1969. Print.

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