What is the hurry

The key to understand the existential conception of the African people is in their relationship with time: they worry about the past, Zamani, towards what we approach, and they live the present as a capacity of plenitude, Sasa. In many African languages, there are no words designed to describe the future and they use the same word to symbolize “time” and “space.” What is time? The relationship with our ancestors; the elderly are praised because they are mature.
Sasa is the most significant because it is an experiential extension of the present that projects itself into the unlimited past. They don’t believe in “progress” or in a pretended “development.” One is not “born completely” until one has gone through the whole process: receiving a name, puberty rites, and yielding children. Death takes people to the plenitude of Zamani.
One is born for the immortal life; one does not go from life to death, as in the East.
Our lineal concept of time is strange to African thought. Future does not have a reality because it has not taken place.
It is only an extension of the present. There are calendars in which happenings are calculated: a pregnant woman counts the lunar months of her pregnancy; a traveller counts the days that it takes to move from one place to another. When a person says that you will meet “when the sun comes out” it doesn’t matter what time; it matters that you meet. This troubles Westerners because they have converted time and space into economic values. Time is not “possessed” in Africa; one “makes” time and content defines space.
When Westerners arrive in Africa and see people sitting “without doing nothing,” they say “they waste time” or “are always late.” This results from their ignorance, as it happened to missionary people, colonizers and some “cooperating people” who couldn’t read their traditions. Those who sit without doing anything are not “wasting” their time. How could they lose what they don’t have? They wait for time. It is important because the African economic life is linked to this concept of time. And Westerners, as well as those Africans who are uprooted, destroy these roots with the already known results. Are they happier that way? That’s what it’s about: not of producing more, but of being happy.
The African concept of time is indifferent. “Eternity” lies in the past towards which we approach. Are we, Westerners, happier? Who has who when we talk about space and time?

José Carlos Gª Fajardo
Translated by Carlos Miguélez

This article was published in the Center of Collaborations for Solidarity (CCS) on 07/19/2004