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There was this goat

For me, this was the best book I have read all semester. It was particularly poignant because I have two “daughters” in Nairobi Kenya who refer to my wife and myself as “mum and dad”, and through this book I seem to have gathered a better understanding of the cultural implications of this relationship which has grown over the last 8 years or so. Besides educating them, I also support the family in numerous ways. I am as the son was to Notrowse Nobomvu Konile . I also have come to a fuller understanding of the need for caring relationships and a shack of your own if you are a single woman trying to survive when you live day to day…For example I was ask for money so they as a family they could go and visit their cousin Bibiana and her siblings and a grandmother for Easter ( both parents died of AIDS and the cousins live in the bush with the ailing grandmother and her siblings…of course one of the reasons for going is so they can take food to them since they are going through the “hunger time”; there small hand tilled crop of maze failed because of the drought. The last few years have been a difficult time for subsistence farmers in Kenya.
This is supposed to be about a psych course. So back to topic. Two more things particularly nstood for me.
Pg 202. The South African word, Ubuntu, is not, according to the book captured in the phrase, “I am because you are.” However it seems to me that the phrase, “I am because you are,” does capture Liebermann’s whole thesis about our brains being formed for social interaction without having to resort to any biology or neurology. Just as it seems to capture the “I-thou” relationship describe in Martin Buber’s book, “I Thou”, or even Coe’s work that we read earlier this semester. One primitive, primeval phrased seems to wrap up for me the interdependence of homo sapiens living and forming each other, usually kicking and screaming, toward a cooperative living organism. Which regretfully is still generations away; if our species manages to survive its self-destruction tendencies. We could use a little of the humility implied in the word Ubuntu. “The African kind of connectedness is much more open than the community sense of other cultures.” Pg 202. “It opens up all the time, it broadens. First we take care of the person next to us, then it opens up to the family, you share, then it grows to the community. Whatever we do we do not do it alone. The rituals are not for the family alone, we have to consult the clan, then it grows, so it spreads. When the ritual takes place anybody can come, if there is somebody who is foreign he is also welcome.” The shame and sadness for me is that many American citizens cannot extend this idea to those who come to this country out of economic necessity; as if most of our own ancestors came for other than the unlimited exploitation of its natural resources, and in the process were far more destructive to the native population.
The second thing that struck me has to do with my research paper proposal. Particularly pg. 54 thru pg. 58, of There Was a Goat. This book seems to say that, for many Africans, there exist links between our limited biological life and another world where the ancestors exist. According to many of the authors we have been reading (Anonio Damasio’s work, and even Liebermann’s work) such ‘links’ are the sole product of an individual’s biological brain evolved through the process of Darwinian evolution. Put another way, many human minds are evolved in such a way that a biological brain can create a mind that is capable of believing in the duality of a self that survives the death of the biological brain that creates it. For example, 54., “These rituals are a way of maintaining a bond between people and their ancestors. Some families slaughter a goat when a child is introduced to the ancestors, while other families use a sheep.” From a physiological point of view there must be some sense of the ancestors surviving death as an intact entity for the child to be introduced too. That belief must come from our biological created brains according to neurologists. For my argument it’s not important that we personally believe in the idea or not that such entities exist; but merely that we accept that other human minds, back through our biological evolution, have or still believe it is true for them. The rituals, myths, or communities that support these beliefs are also not relevant, unless you yourself believe in some kind of quid pro quo, regarding your sense of life affirmation after the death of your own biological brain at some future date. How does a solely biological evolved brain, which creates mind, consciousness and self, give credence to a duality beyond the realities of our scientifically measurable physical world which allows some people to believe what they are celebrating at Easter or Passover?
I particularly like the following passage on pg 58, in regard to the otherness of African beliefs talked about though out the book.
“Connection between worlds
The dream of the goat was a connection to the ancestral world. The goat and the dream were messengers from the other world. Dreaming of a goat, Mrs Konile was suggesting, was like receiving a letter from the ancestors that something was amiss.
The dream of the goat also meant that the ancestors were not too far away- they were not far from her mind, nor from her lived reality. Any contact with the ancestors was not only psychological but also cultural, spiritual and given the history of South Africa, political. The dream of the goat connected Mrs Konile to herself, her culture and her Gods. In culture and spiritual term, then, the dream meant that her ancestors were communicating to her that they were still around, irrespective of the nature of the news they were about to bring to her door. What was much more important was that she was reminded that she was connected to a wider world of her people, and to other worlds.” Un like so many Neo Darwinist, Mrs Konile need to believe she was connected to the another world in order to survive in this one. I wonder what part of her brain did or did not neurally fire when she was believing in the other world?

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One Response to There was this goat

  1. Jason Tougaw says:

    I wonder what Mrs. Konile would make of Darwin. His legacy influences the way we think about the world, but it’s interesting to think about a way of being in which his ideas and legacy don’t matter at all.

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