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Africa-Asia Relations: Historical, Cultural, and Linguistic Connections. Adams B. Bodomo University of Hong Kong Visiting Professor Ansted University, Penang, Malaysia August 7, 2001. Outline of the Talk. Introduction and Themes of the Talk

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africa asia relations historical cultural and linguistic connections

Africa-Asia Relations:Historical, Cultural, and Linguistic Connections

Adams B. Bodomo

University of Hong Kong

Visiting Professor

Ansted University, Penang, Malaysia

August 7, 2001

outline of the talk
Outline of the Talk
  • Introduction and Themes of the Talk
  • Historical/ Archeological/ Genetic Links
  • Cultural Links/ Similarity
  • Linguistic Links
  • East-West Dualism and the African Absence in Asia
  • The Way Forward: How to improve Asian-African Links
  • Summary and Conclusions
    • Ansted as a Universal University
  • References and Bibliographical/ Web-based sources
themes of the talk
Themes of the Talk
  • African presence in Asia – Hong Kong and China
  • Despite the not-so-tenuous historical, cultural, and linguistic connections between Africa and Asia, Africa is not so much present in the minds of Asians as compared to other parts of the world
  • Africa has not much conceptual space in the minds of Asians.
  • Most Asians know next to nothing about Africa as compared to Europe and the Americas.
  • There is a certain kind of conceptual and philosophical dualism in the minds of Asians.
  • this dualism is the East-West dichotomy that is so pervasive and rampant in Asian parlance!
history of mankind and humanity
History of Mankind and Humanity
  • began in Africa
    • East Africa and the Nile Valley
  • Homo Erectus migrated out of Africa into Asia
  • Varieties of the early Africans
    • Peking man (first humankind found in China)
    • Java Man
recent genetic studies
Recent Genetic Studies
  • Migration - first Africans to Asia
    • Early Asians - the closest cousins of the early Africans!
  • Human race emerged ‘from Africa’
    • “Scientists have uncovered the strongest evidence yet that humans share a single African ancestor…The idea that the entire world is African is supported by powerful genetic analysis of the Y chromosome.”
          • Victoria Griffith, the London Financial Times, May 10, 2001
  • Chinese Roots Lie in Africa
    • “Most of the population of modern China--one fifth of all people living today--owes its genetic origins to Africa.”
          • Robert Lee Holz, Los Angeles Times, Sep 29, 1988
african asian communities today
African Asian Communities today
  • ‘Within South Asia, A Little Touch of Africa’
    • Kenneth J. Cooper, Washington Post Foreign Service, April 12, 1999
    • the existence of African Asian communities such as the Siddis of India who speak Gujarati, the Sheedi community near Karachi in Pakistan most of whom speak Baluchi, and the Kaffirs of Sri Lanka.
    • these communities may not exhibit as much African consciousness as we see among many African Americans
    • but their music, their dance and many of their indigenous speech forms and other linguistic characteristics point to strong African connections.
    • these groups “are…descended from slaves, servants and soldiers brought from East Africa over the centuries, first by Arab traders and later by Portuguese and British colonizers.”
  • Indigenous communities in other parts of Asia
    • The Philippines, Malaysia (Orang Asli, ‘Original Man’), In donesia, Iran, Saudi Arabia
vibrant communities
Vibrant Communities
  • Vibrant African communities in Asia
    • in megacities like Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo, Delhi, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and Manila
  • Vibrant Asian communities in Africa
    • In African cities like Accra, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Cairo and Lagos.
ancestor worship
Ancestor Worship
  • In BOTH African traditional religions and Chinese traditional beliefs
    • Ancestors are worshipped like GODS
    • Strong belief and practice
      • Families in Africa set up regular periods in the year for ancestor worship
      • Chinese – Ching Ming Festival (“grave-sweeping”)
      • Chinese families show their respect by visiting the graves of their ancestors to clear away weeds, touch up gravestone inscriptions and make offerings of wine and fruit.
  • Africans and Asians are superstitious in their beliefs.
  • Belief in ghosts
    • Dead people’s souls will not depart this world and linger about among the living as ghosts to hound people if they are not given a fitting burial
    • Theme of the novel Beloved, by Toni Morrison (African-American Nobel laureate)
  • Duality of existence between man and animals
  • Humans are given animal characteristics and some animals are given human characteristics
  • In some ethnicities in Africa, e.g. the Dagaare-speaking people of the central parts of West Africa
    • Every person born has a totem, an animal that lives somewhere in the wild
    • The fate and destiny of a human and their totem are linked
    • If the totem dies the human dies
  • My totem: the PYTHON
    • Cool, calm, collected, humour, grace, compassion, compunction
    • Don’t step on its tail!
chinese horoscope the twelve year cycle twelve animal signs













Chinese Horoscope - the twelve-year cycle (twelve animal signs)

mentorship as educational model
Mentorship as Educational Model
  • Belief in authority, deference to the elders as custodians of knowledge, rigorous mentorship relationship between pupil and master
  • University of Hong Kong’s mentorship program
  • African traditional education systems
    • No formal classes and lectures
    • Children of farmers and fishermen understudy their parents
genetic linguistic relationships
Genetic Linguistic Relationships
  • Languages do not move until people have moved
  • The Afro-Asiatic group
    • African languages - Hausa, Oromo, Tigrinya, and Berber
    • Asian languages – Hebrew, Assyrian, and Arabic
  • The Dravidian group
    • South Asian languages - Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada
    • Have variants in Southeast Asia, South Africa, and Mauritius
  • A web of communities in Africa and Asia speaking either the same languages or similar ones belonging to the same language families
typological linguistic relationships 1 tone
Typological Linguistic Relationships(1) TONE
  • Tone languages in Africa and Asia
    • Akan , Dagaare, Ewe, Ga, Igbo, Yoruba
    • Chinese, Thai, Zhuang
  • Two tones in Dagaare
    • High – Nyu (‘to drink’)
    • Low – Nyu  (‘to smell’)
tones in cantonese
6 tonemes

1 – High

2 – High rising

3 – mid level

4 - Low Falling

5 – Low rising

6 – Low level

Tones in Cantonese
typological linguistic relationships 2 serial verb construction svc
More than one lexical verb may be found in the same clause

Example - ‘I bought some water and drank it’


Ngo5 maai5 seoi2 jam2

1.SG buy.PERF water drink


N da la koO nyu

1.SG buy.PERF FOC water drink

Tones and serial verb constructions have received the attention of many linguists

contributed very useful data for this linguistic inquiry (Luke and Bodomo 1998)

Association for Languages of Far East, Southeast Asia and West Africa (LESEWA)

Typological similarities as important aspect Comparative African and Asian Studies

Typological Linguistic Relationships(2) Serial verb construction (SVC)
my experiences as an african living and working in hong kong
My experiences as an African living and working in Hong Kong…
  • Africa is not much present in the minds of Chinese and other Asians as other parts of the world are in their minds
  • Asians I have interacted with know next to nothing about Africa
  • In Asian academic setups, compared to the institutions of Europe and America, Asian universities and colleges have very little content about Africa.
why is africa so much absent in the minds of asians
Why is Africa so much absent in the minds of Asians?
  • The way Asians, especially people of Hong Kong (the group of Asians I know best), categorize the world
  • Conceptual and philosophical dualism in the minds of Asians
  • This dualism deprives Africa of any conceptual space in the Asian mind
  • This dualism is called
  • EAST means Chinese or Asian in general
  • WEST refers to European, American or any white person


examples of east west dichotomy in hong kong
Examples of East-West Dichotomy in Hong Kong
  • In search for restaurants
    • often involves choice between a Chinese or a Western restaurant
  • Politicians and many people in Hong Kong
    • Like to see their city as a meeting point between East and West
    • The REALITY: Hong Kong is indeed a global business hub
  • A positive move
    • Government of Hong Kong has moved away from the maxim, Hong Kong: where East Meets West to HONG KONG: ASIA’S WORLD CITY
consequences of the east west mindset
Consequences of the East-West Mindset
  • Non-Western and non-Asian countries are relegated to the background in their minds and daily practices
  • When Africa is glanced at with a wink, it is often with borrowed lenses
  • In Hong Kong,
    • Africa is hardly mentioned on the main English-speaking TV channels
    • No African city is mentioned in weather reports of the world’s “major” cities
    • When African news is reported
      • It is negative news
      • It is to be curled from Western sources such as Agence Press, Associated Press and other news media which portray Africa as some backward, uncivilized part of the world
consequences of the east west mindset25
Consequences of the East-West Mindset
  • The potentials of Africa as an economic force and as a business and cultural partner of Asia are lost
  • Africa has no economic significance to Asians
  • The reality
    • growing presence of Chinese communities and businesses in Africa
    • rich resources of gold, diamond, manganese and oil
  • Asians must revise their world-view, moving away from a conceptualization of world affairs in terms of East and West
improving the links step 1 a global approach
Improving the linksSTEP (1) A Global Approach
  • Asians must accord Africa new conceptual spaces in their mindsets
  • They must dispel and desist from constructing a bi-polar view of the world
  • They must not see relations between them and the rest of the world as one of East and West
improving the links step 2 establishing economic and cultural links
Improving the linksSTEP (2) Establishing Economic and Cultural Links
  • Tourism
    • Africa is a potential tourist destination of the highest magnitude, with its wild life and uninhabited and unspoilt nature
  • Trade, cultural, and educational exchanges
    • Benefit a lot from a rediscovery of Africa in a new Asian mindset
improving the links step 3 africans in asia and elsewhere serve as catalysts
Improving the linksSTEP (3) Africans in Asia and elsewhere serve as catalysts
  • There is an emerging trend of African communities in parts of Asia, especially in megacities like Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur
  • These must play a pioneering role in drawing the attention of Asia to the potentials of Africa, i.e. to sell Africa to Asia and other parts of the world
summary and conclusions
Summary and Conclusions
  • SUMMARY of the talk
    • Africa-Asia relations
      • Historical links (Archeological and Genetic studies)
      • Cultural links (ancestor worship, totems)
      • Linguistic links (Genetic and Typological relationships)
    • Africans and Asians have not taken advantage of these links because of the way many Asians see the world
    • To move forward, people in all parts of the world ought to discard a bi-polar view of the world and embrace a more universalist view in which Africa can gain new conceptual spaces
    • Trade, tourism, and other economic, educational and cultural links can only flourish if Africans and Asians work towards greater cooperation
ansted as a universal university
Ansted as a Universal University
  • Africans and Asians can take advantage of new paradigms of education in our age of information technology
    • Consolidating open and distance education
    • Training their populations for manpower needs
  • Ansted – a Universal / Global university
    • It transcends the West, the East, the North and the South
    • Campuses in many parts of the world
    • It represents the new paradigm of higher education that must be emulated by many other educational institutions in the world for a better understanding of our vast universe
    • A better understanding of the world is a precondition for fostering peaceful relations among the different regions and peoples of the world
further issues
Further issues
  • to know how Africans on the continent think of Asia and the nature of Asian communities in Africa
  • to investigate the consequences of the inability of Africans and Asians to relate more to each other on the nature of comparative studies in either continent
  • to investigate the impact of an increased African-Asian corporation on world bodies and global politics
references and bibliographical web based sources
The African-Asian Society. 2000. An NGO website managed from South Africa

Bodomo, A. B. 1998. Publish or Perish: Notes from Africa. In CERCular: Newsletter of the Comparative Education Research Centre, University of Hong Kong, no 2, pp 6-7.

Bodomo, A. B. 2000. AfricansInHongKong website:

Bodomo, A. B. 2001. Historical, Cultural, and Linguistic Links between Africa and Asia, ms, University of Hong Kong

Brunson, James E. 1985. Black Jade: The African Presence in the Ancient East and Other Essays. Introduction by Runoko Rashidi. DeKalb: Kara.

Brunson, James E. 1989. The Image of the Black in Eastern Art. Pt. 1, Black Roots in Most Ancient China (1766 B.C. - 950 B.C.) DeKalb: Kara.

Brunson, James E. 1989. Kamite Brotherhood: African Origins in Early Asia. DeKalb: Kara.

Chai, Chen Kang. 1967. Taiwan Aborigines: A Genetic Study of Tribal Variations. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Chang, Kwang-chih. 1968. The Archaeology of Ancient China. Rev. ed. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Chi, Li. 1967. The Formation of the Chinese People: An Anthropological Inquiry. 1928; rpt. New York: Russell & Russell.

Cooper, Kenneth J. 1999. "Within South Asia, A Little Touch of Africa." Washington Post Foreign Service, April 12,1999.

Duyvendak, J.J.L. 1949. China's Discovery of Africa. London: Probsthain.

Filesi, Teobaldo. 1972. China and Africa in the Middle Ages. Translated by David L. Morison. London: Frank Cass.

References and Bibliographical/ Web-based sources
references and bibliographical web based sources34
References and Bibliographical/ Web-based sources
  • Griffith, Victoria. 2001. "Human Race Emerged ‘from Africa’." The London Financial Times, May 10, 2001.
  • Horton, Mark. 1987. "The Swahili Corridor." Scientific American (Sep 1987): 86-93.
  • Hotz, Robert Lee. 1998. "Chinese Roots Lie in Africa, Research Says."Los Angeles Times, Sep 29, 1998.
  • Kochiyama, Yuri. 1998. A History of Linkage: African and Asian, African American and Asian American. In “Shades of Power: Newsletter of the Institute for Multi-Racial Justice”, Spring 1998.
  • Luke, K. K. andAdams Bodomo. 1998. A semantic typology of serial verb constructions in Dagaare and Cantonese. ms, University of Hong Kong.
  • Rashidi, Runoko and Ivan Van Sertima. (eds). 1995. The African Presence in Early Asia. Rev. ed. New Brunswick: Transaction Press.
  • Rashidi, Ronoko. 1998. The Global African Community website:
  • Rashidi, Runoko, 2001. The African Presence in Early China: a Bibliography. Website:
  • The 1990 Trust. 2001. A website for the promotion of the interests of people of Asian, Caribbean and African origin living in Britain
  • Winters, Clyde-Ahmad. 1978. "Trade Between East Africa and Ancient China."Afrikan Mwalimu 4, No. 3 (1978).
  • Winters, Clyde-Ahmad. 1979. "The Relationship of Afrikans and Chinese in the Past."Afrikan Mwalimu (Jan 1979): 25-31.
  • Winters, Clyde-Ahmad. 1984. "Blacks in Ancient China, Pt. 1: The Founders of Xia and Shang." Journal of Black Studies (1984): 8-13.