Certain things in African culture have been viewed wrongly by the Europeans basing on the fact that there is nothing like African philosophy. Whereas the existing African philosophy, though unwritten, justifies rationally the elements of African culture, hovering around experienced traditions and beliefs that are handed over from one generation to another. One of the major task of hermeneutics in the activities of man is that it stands between what is rational and what is irrational. And in most of African cultures and traditions, certain things are not completely right unless we apply our rationality. I will use an aspect of burial ceremony in African culture as a point of discussion. But at this point, we look at what African philosophy is and take a cursory look at what hermeneutics is.
African philosophy has been understood in so many ways by so many philosophers. According to C. B. Okolo, “African philosophy explores the particular way or ways the African experiences, conceives and interprets nature, society, religion, man, God, human conduct, and so on. In short, it deals with the African in his radical subjectivity, that is to say, precisely as an African.”
Coming to Hermeneutics, scholars like J. C. Ekei would say that “Hermeneutics engages the sense of our mortality and enables it to discover the inner meanings of human life and existence from their outward meaning… it provides the interpretative inner meaning of cultural symbol available to us”
In some African cultures, killing of Cow or Cows during funeral is one of the major rituals people usually perform during burial ceremonies. Consequently, families always put it first among other things in the list while preparing for burial ceremony of a deceased member of the family. This ritual is performed in the burial of elders only. Men who were able to train their families according to the norms of the land, provide shelter, food and protection for the family, and then were of good services to the society at large.
The Cow is presented some days before the burial to the kinsmen, and then is slaughtered after the burial ceremonies in the presence of the kinsmen. The major parts of the meats from the Cow are shared raw among the family men of the community beginning from the eldest. And then, the rest of the meats are added to the food for the guest sympathisers.
In some cases, where the family members of the deceased are not ready to provide the Cow, they are considered debtors of the dead until the ritual of the Cow killing is performed later if not immediately after the burial.
The killing of Cow is not just to feed the people that have gathered to grieve for the dead. It mainly indicates the greatness of the deceased person. It is believed that when a great man dies, a prodigious animal like Cow is slaughtered in his honour. Therefore, killing of Cow is never certified in the burial of one who is considered to be a fiasco in life. It does not certify the peaceful repose of the dead, but as a sign to the living that the dead member of the community was of great symbol to the community.
The elders partaking in the meats from the Cow believe that by doing so, they share in the blessings of good life of the dead. At the same time wishing to have such ritual performed during their own funerals.
Looking at this awkwardly, one may doubt the significance of this particular cultural act. And that if such is the case, every dead of a rich family will be considered great individual since they lack not the money for the provision of the cow. And also, the poorer families will strive to enlist their dead member among the great figures of the community, even when the money is not there.
But then, looking at this critically, the spirit of the ritual moves to encourage those still living. Because the people will testify to the goodness and greatness of the dead before certifying the ritual of Cow killing.
Opportunely, this ritual serves as a means of inculcating the desire to imbibe positive living in the people which will better the society and go a long way in promoting harmony and progress in the society. Because, for an elder to seek or wish for the ritual of Cow killing to be performed during his funeral, he has to earn it by uphold justice in the community starting from his family where he is the head.
From the above remarks, one would attest to the fact that Ethno philosophy can be made African philosophy through hermeneutics. This can best be achieved through Ricoeur’s processes of hermeneutics, which include: observation, interpretation and reflex. By observation of what happens within African cultures and traditions, one gives hermeneutical interpretations of things observed and then there are responses and reactions from these interpretations and these reflexes can be termed African philosophy.