1. Against the Eurocentrism of the opposition of oral and literate
Most of the philosophical wisdom in Africa has been handed down from generation to generation in a way which can be described as mainly oral. That is also the case with what is called "oral literature". This concept which is in use in the science of intercultural literature makes clear that it is wrong to speak of an opposition between oral and literate. There are elements of writing in a mainly oral tradition and elements of orality in a mainly literate tradition. Departing from Jacques Derrida's Grammatology a broad concept of writing can be introduced according to which writing is of the same age as language in general.  Broken branches of a bush, pictures on the body, traces in the sand are examples for different kinds of writing. If writing means to produce readable traces, it is connected with human behaviour of any kind. And as all forms of human behaviour it is an expression of relations of power. The meaning of a trace is not neutral, but connected with feelings of fear or respect, sorrow or carelessness.
In his Grammatology Jacques Derrida has also worked out that the opposition of oral and literate belongs to the European way of thinking which is in its core oppositional. This can be shown by pointing at oppositions as soul and body, heaven and earth, good and bad, true and false, upper and lower class etc. This way of thinking generally can be called hierarchic; one of the two is always higher or more powerful. That means with regard to the opposition of oral and literate, that it is Eurocentric. This is shown by Derrida by disclosing a strange paradox in the main stream of European philosophical tradition. From Plato via Rousseau to Hegel there is a clear preference of orality above literacy. Writing is only a help for the memory, not to forget what has been said orally. In accordance with that a culture should be preferred which is mainly oral in its forms of communication and tradition. But paradoxically the valuation is vice versa. Mainly literate cultures are highly preferred above mainly oral ones.
Of course, it would not help at all to invert this hierarchy. The opposition as such has to be avoided, and mainly oral cultures should be situated on the same level as mainly literate ones. They are not higher or lower in any sense, but just different. This intervention in the way of thinking clearly is in itself politically relevant. The politics of difference turns out to be basically democratic in the sense of treating all human cultures as equals.
This intervention can be worked out more in detail with regard to African philosophy. I should like to make clear what different forms of partly oral and partly literate traditions we can find in African philosophy. In doing that I will start with the written sources of Ethiopian philosophy (2). Ethnophilosophy holds a strange position in between oral language and written texts (3). Finally I want to show that in the oral tradition of sage philosophy certain elements of writing can be found (4). The broad range of orality and literacy is not given in order to belittle the importance of the transition from mainly oral forms of communication and tradition in African philosophy to mainly literate ones in the academic philosophy of contemporary African countries south of the Sahara (5). On the contrary, the meaning of this transition can hardly be overestimated and it would be a huge task to balance in detail what is lost and what is won by it.
2. Written sources of Ethiopian philosophy
In the language of the old coptic church in Ethiopia, the Ge'ez, there are handed down not only written documents of theology and ecclesiastical teaching or administration. Claude Sumner, Canadian by birth and Ethiopian by choice, has found rich sources of Ethiopian philosophy among these documents. It was a tremendous lot of work to read and translate all of them into English. Recently he has published a short version of some 150 pages from the whole corpus which contains six volumes. 
Manuscripts with the titles "The Physiologue" from the 5th century and "Book of the Philosophers" from the 16th century clearly belong to a theological and philosophical context. If you want to classify the contents according to well-known philosophical disciplines, one could say that in the oldest manuscripts besides symbolic allusions to animals and plants (Jezus, e.g., is compared with a phoenix or a pelican, the love of children for their parents with the way young lapwings take care of their father) there can be found before all cosmological conceptions and ethical instructions. The "Book of the Philosophers" contains wise sayings which "are attributed usually to Greek philosophers, but occasionally to Roman personages, to Old Testament figures and to Christians". Three examples from 3.020 sayings may be enough in order to give an impression what kind of texts we are speaking about: (1) "You do not store wisdom in containers, but in your chest"; (2) "All knowledge is obtained through justice"; (3) "He who misses a brother misses the flavour of life". 
Both texts are "translations" from originals which came from Egypt or via Egypt from Europe. To "translate" means in this context always at the same time to "adapt" to the African situation. A process of appropriation takes place which forms an independent philosophical achievement.
The manuscript "The Life and Maxims of Skendes", also from the 16th century, starts with a piece of biography. A tragic conflict which reminds us of the fate of Oedipus, forms the core of this text. Skendes wants to falsify the anthropological statement of a "wise master" that all women are prostitutes. Therefore he tries, when he comes back home after a long absence, to seduce his own mother who does not recognize him any more. He only stops with this experiment and discloses his identity, when it is clear that he could do it. As a consequence of this, his mother commits suicide, and he punishes himself by vowing not to speak a word again. As a sage at the court of the king, however, he gets the task to give advice and to answer questions to people who come to ask him. Thus he has no choice but deal with the questions by writing down his answers. That is the reason why this sage who was accustomed to teach and to discuss orally started to write. The second part of the manuscript contains a piece of written African sagacity. We find here two series of questions and answers: the first comprises 55 and the second 108 questions and answers. In this case it happens to be the translation-adaption of an Arabic original.
I shall give three examples of these kinds of questions and the answers which are well-considered, pithy, highly speculative and at the same time practically orientated: (1) "They questioned the wise man and said to him: 'What is the soul?' He answered: 'The soul is a heavenly fire, an immortal creature like the angels, a lamp ... a good and rational fire, full of knowledge, an intelligence; it speaks, stimulates and teaches reason to the body.'" (2) "They questioned the wise man and said to him: 'What is water?' He answered: 'Water is more powerful than all the creatures; it is healthful; it is below the depth and above the skies; it supports the earth and also the sky; it surrounds the whole world like a crown; it is stronger than all creatures; it feeds all; it is the nourishment for all animated beings ...'". (3) "They questioned the wise man and said to him: 'What is sleep?' He answered: 'Sleep is the best of physicians; it is the image of death, the misery of passionate longings, the joy of all spririt of life, the remembrance of darkness, a daily remembrance.'" 
The most important philosophical work of this tradition, which is no translation, but quite originally Ethiopian, is a treatise of Zera Yacob, titled: "Hatata", which means according to Sumner "to question bit by bit, piece-meal; to search into or through, to investigate accurately; to examine; to inspect". It is written in 1667 and forms an Ethiopian counterpart to Descartes' Discours de la methode, which was written some 30 years earlier. Zera Yacob's text is closely connected with the early Portugese mission in Ethiopia. (In 1626 king Susenyos was converted to the Roman catholic faith.) Zera Yacob tries to find his own way in judging the controversial discussions between jewish, coptic, islamic, and Roman catholic theologians. The criteria of truth which he chooses are reason and nature, both of which are created by God and therefore are good. This type of investigation leads him to refute polygamy as well as celibacy and to criticize slavery as well as any form of violence. 
The Treatise is thought out when Zera Yacob had to hide from king Susenyos who persecuted him because of his religious conviction. It is written down, when one of his disciples, Walda Haywat, who later wrote a Treatise himself, asked the master to do so. "Although Walda Heywat's ideas are essentially those of his master, his presentation of them is remarkable for its pedagogical qualities". He stresses before all the "value of work", the "equality of human beings", and the "beauty of marriage and family life". 
I hope to have shown, that for and within the written sources of Ethiopian philosophy oral forms of communication and tradition are very important. It is by chance that sages as Skendes and Zera Yacob have written down their teachings, and without further investigation we can presuppose that there have been other Ethopian sages in similar situations of teaching and giving advice to people who did not write down their wisdom, because there was no specific reason to do so.
3. Ethnophilosophy between spoken languages and written texts
In the same line with disciplines as ethnology and ethnography which deal with African ethnic groups, also ethnoscience and ethnomethology and finally ethnophilosophy have emerged. As we all know, the status of ethnophilosophy has been heavily in dispute. As it deals with implicit philosophies, which can be found in myths, legends, rituals, proverbs or quite generally in the structure of languages and which are not worked out as philosophy by members of the concerned ethnic group, the philosophical character of them is denied by many African and non-African authors. Paulin Hountondji argues in his "Critique of ethnophilosophy" that Placide Tempels, the father of this kind of philosophy, chooses wrong starting points and comes to illicit consequences dealing only with one African language,  and that the philosophical claim of a thought which does not present itself as philosophical has to be rejected.  Although Hountondji has modified his position in the meantime his argumentation in the mentioned book recently has strongly been affirmed by the editors of its German translation. 
This criticism is countered by the fact that African philosophy only is put on the agenda of international scientific debate by Tempels' investigation of the language and the thought of the Luba, a Bantu people in an area which belongs now to Zaïre and Rwanda. The weakness of his starting point, dealing only with one single Bantu group, is compensated strongly by the broad comparative research of Bantu languages by Alexis Kagame,  and the productiveness of investigating the wisdom which is contained in myths, legends and proverbs is proved repeatedly by quite a number of texts which are written by African authors.  These works cannot simply be put aside as being unphilosophical. Also another argument of Hountondji cum suis, that ethnophilosophy, being directed at traditional wisdom only, escapes actual questions, especially those of political philosophy, cannot be maintained. The wisdom of traditional communities is continuously adapted to the actual situation and it is also relevant for philosophical questions of present times.
That Tempels, Kagame and Mbiti have developed their research departing from theological and missionary presuppositions surely is problematic and deserves to be criticized. But this is the critique of one aspect, not of the whole enterprise. And Tempels' basic insight, that in Bantu thought not "being" is the most general category, but "force", seems to be valid, indeed, for most of Africa south of the Sahara. We meet with the concept of "life force" in this basic sense, when we - with Griaule - try to listen to the Dogon sage Ogotemmêli, when we read Koloß' analysis of the world-view in Oku in the Grassland of Cameroon or when we look at the Minkisi, the power statues of the Kingdom of Kongo. 
Another topic of the critique is that ethnophilosophy is not thought out by individual thinkers, but by a whole people or other collective groups. In that respect also H. Odera Oruka makes a difference between "Sage philosophy", which he has put on the agenda of the debate on African philosophy (see chapter 4), and ethnophilosophy. In a collective thought no dispute between different opinions and no critical discussion would be possible which, according to him, essentially belongs to philosophy. Ethnophilosophy would try to express the unanimous thought of a whole ethnic group which does not exist in reality.  This critical view strangely contrasts with the broad, differentiated and surely also critical discussions which have taken place around the project of ethnophilosophy.
However, we can only come to a decision in this difficult question, if we take into account that ethnophilosophy is constituted by two different instances: the myths, proverbs and language structures on the one hand, the authors, who make a philosophical text of them, on the other hand. Only when both instances do exist together, ethnophilosophy emerges. Myth, legends or proverbs are not already philosophy by themselves. And also the opposite is true: the authors who conceptualize ethnophilosophical texts do not take them out of their own ideas. The former belong to the spoken language, which is for all kinds of philosophy (that is to say: not only for ethnophilosophy, for it, however, in a very specific way) a constitutive starting point of philosophizing. The latter produce written texts, which become part of the history of continuous interpretation and critique. Ethnophilosophy is constituted commonly by spoken language and written texts. From the interaction of both instances ethnophilosophy emerges as philosophy.
For our problem it is interesting that in between spoken language and ethnophilosophical text other kinds of texts are to be found which are not directly philosophical: collections of proverbs, written versions of myths and legends or the construction of "belief systems" in anthropological literature. Ethnophilosophy can critically make use of these kinds of texts by relating them to the spoken language from which they have been drawn.
From ethnophilosophy another step leads us to "sage philosophy", which has been handed down during the centuries mainly in an oral way and which is written down and interpreted nowadays in the context of academic African philosophy. I shall try to trace within the oral forms of communication and tradition certain elements of textuality.
4. Textual elements in the oral tradition of "sage philosophy"
"Sage philosophy" has become known by H. Odera Oruka. He himself is the son of a wise man (sage) of the Luo: Oruka Rang'inya. But he has also got an education in Western philosophy in Sweden and the USA. According to me it is his special merit to have recognized that the thoughts of his father and the teachings at Western Philosophy Departments essentially are the same thing. Who knows whether, without this personal coincidence, the philosophical status of traditional African wisdom would ever have been discovered at all. If "sage philosophy" once is recognized as philosophy, certain well known philosophical authors can be regarded as sages. Odera Oruka gives three examples for that: Mahatma Gandhi, Vladimir I. Lenin, and John Rawls. 
It is remarkable that the institution of the sages in African societies has not been noticed by all the research which is done by cultural anthrolpology through about 150 years. Oruka determines clearly that the sages are different from elders, priests, medicine men or prophets, although there may happen to be personal unions. Ogotemmêli, the Dogon elder, who has confidentially told his wisdom to Griaule, according to Odera Oruka is not a sage, nor are the "onisegun", Yoruba people disposing of medical wisdom, who have been interviewed by B. Hallen and J.O. Sodipo.  The article of M. Tshiamalenga Ntumba on African Wisdom with the Luba and the book of A. Hampaté Bâ on Tierno Bokar, the "sage of Bandiagara", who was at the same time an islamic scholar, make clear that we should not use a too narrow concept of a sage.  Besides that, it is a wrong statement of Odera Oruka, that Kwame Gyekye in his book on The Akan conceptional Scheme did not really give the teachings of Akan sages, because he did not cite them personally.  For Gyekye does not only give their names, he also informs about the place and date of the discussions which he has had with Opanin Apenkwa, Opanin Kofi Adu, Ankobeahene and other Akan sages. He does so in the notes, which are printed back in the book, and not in the text itself. 
A last difficulty which I have with the presentation of sages by Odera Oruka is the sharp difference which he makes between "folk sages" and "philosophical sages". On the one hand it is true that not all philosophy is of the same status. Wiredu has rightly pointed at the fact that you may not compare highly elaborated Western philosophical thought with African folk wisdom.  Nevertheless, the border line between folk wisdom and philosophical sagacity cannot always easily be drawn. Why, for instance, is Peris Njuho Muthoni, a wise woman of the Kikuyu, a folk sage, while Stephen M'Mukinda Kithanje is classified as a philosophical sage of the Meru people. The criteria which Oruka is applying are taken over from Western philosophy, which he has got acquainted with in Sweden and the USA.
Thus the classification of the sages shows us which type of philosophy is chosen as a yardstick. Oruka and his research team have written down what the sages have said answering questions which were put to them in order to find out what the sages had to say with regard to certain main topics of philosophy as they are taught at Western universities. This procedure is used with care, I must admit, as we can see from some remarks in the dissertation of Anthony Sunday Oseghare. There we read: "The philosopher does not ... permit himself to dominate the conversation and even more importantly, is very clearly disposed to allow arguments of the sage to influence his own views and opinions."  But no endeavour is made to grasp and take as a starting point the situation in which the sages traditionally have formulated their thought and their teaching. I should like to circumscribe this critique by saying that the specific textuality of the forms of communication and tradition of sage philosophy is not taken seriously.
How the situation in which the sages have thought and lived, has looked like practically, we can derive from some remarks in the Introduction of Oruka's book. Sages belong to the guards of a society who help this society to survive in theoretical and practical respect. They defend and maintain its existence under the hard conditions of intersocietal conflicts and mutual expolitation. A short description of this situation we find, too, in the article of a Nigerian philosopher, Jim I. Unah, who refers to a text of a colleague of his own faculty in Lagos, Campbell Shittu Momoh, but strangely enough not to Odera Oruka. Momoh rightly puts a question mark by the characterization "traditional" thought for the philosophy of his ancestors, because this notion is meant already in an evolutionist and a devaluating sense. Unah writes literally: "Ancient African philosophy deals with ... the strenuous attempts of African elders to ponder over the mysteries of the universe, the hostility of the environment, the difficulty of living with fellow beings, human and non-human, the desire to establish and live in a stable society, the necessity to communicate freely with others, and to know and master the environment either through cooperation or by conquest."  Gyekye's presentation of the teaching of the sages shows us, that these persoms often have been asked to give advice, and that they have given it finally in the form of a proverb, so that we can regard them as the authors of a certain kind of proverbs.
In my book on African Philosophy I have derived from such descriptions that the situation of formulating and handing down sagacity has been one of teaching and giving advice. I have characterized "certain ways of stage-managing ... of the situation of telling and teaching" in sage philosophy as textual elements in an oral tradition. This is described more in detail as follows: "To break and eat together a colanut belongs as well to the situation of asking for advice as the pause of silence before the announcing of an important decision ... Repeating the same formulas has been as important in this connection as giving shape to new ideas."  We could add to this, that a young man becomes a sage not only by learning the contents of sagacity, but also by taking over the whole attitude and way of life of his master.
It is obvious that I have used a broad concept of text when speaking of textual elements in the oral tradition of sage philosophy. We have seen in the beginning of this contribution that such a concept of text belongs to a new conception of writing as it is worked out by Derrida, and that this conception allows us to overcome the Eurocentric opposition of cultures who know writing and others who do not.
5. The transition from mainly oral to mainly written forms of communication and tradition in African political and academic philosophy since about 1960
The leaders of the struggle for independence have written down and published as articles and books a certain kind of political philosophy. A lot of their speeches which they have delivered at conferences, party meetings etc. are also printed and broadly distributed. All these texts function as sagacious reasoning for the sake of a whole people or even the totality of colonized peoples in Africa. These authors acted as sages and made their sagacity known to a broad public by writing it down and publishing it. I am thinking of persons as Jomo Kenyatta, Léopold Senghor, Amilcar Cabral, Sékou Touré, Kwame Nkrumah or Julius Nyerere. It is a categorical mistake to read their texts as documents of academic political philosophy. These persons are sages and it is the specific situation of their teaching and advising that they utter themselves mainly in a written way. One can easily see that they combine in their sagacity Western political ideas of socialism and liberalism with traditional African thoughts of communalism and solidarity. Through the conditions of this situation, pieces of African sagacity have become parts of the literature of the world, and they also belong to this context.
We get a very different type of literature when we look at articles and books functioning in connection with the Departments of Philosophy at African universities. These are for 90 percent texts from Western philosophical origin. In this connection we could better speak of "philosophy in Africa" than of "African philosophy", although, of course, the selection which is made and the way in which it is used in teaching and in research, is already an Africanization of Western philosophies. Besides the teaching of Western philosophy at the University of Ghana in Legon, for instance, there is 1 of the 12 philosophical courses dealing with African philosophy, and at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria 2 of the 35 courses. These two examples can give an impression of the general situation.
If one questions this strange proportion, an explanation can be found in the fact that traditional or ancient African philosophy has not been academic in a Western sense of the word and that it has to be transformed in order to make it fit into the academic context. On the other hand one could expect that the use of ancient African philosophy in the academic context will not leave this context unchanged. We have seen that the way in which ethnophilosophy is judged and sages are interviewed by academic African philosophers is depending on a Western view of philosophy. In doing so, the distinguishing marks of Western academic style are not really applied in a critical way, although one of these marks themselves says that you have to be critical, even radically critical. Thus an African academic philosopher who is missing a critical attitude with a "traditional" sage and is calling him or her a "folk sage" for that reason, could be asked whether he or she is using the notion "critical" in a radical way. A. Hampaté Bâ recognizes the enormous difficulties which he is facing when he tries to write down what the oral teachings of Tierno Bokar have been. He stresses that much of the diversity and the force of these teachings, which they have had in the context of mainly oral communication, gets lost, when they are written down and printed in a book which can be read at any place and any time. And he is also conscious of the tragic situation that these teachings would be lost forever, if they were not preserved in such a deficient way.  On the other hand there are advantages of the written version. They make these teachings preservable and comparable in a nearly universal manner. What had been kept in an individual memory, becomes part of a stock of knowledge which can grow exponentially.
If the opposition of oral and written is dissolved, we have to speak of several mixed forms. African philosophy comprises texts in alphabetical writing (in the Ethiopian philosophy), a strange coincidence of spoken languages and a reflection upon them in written forms (in ethnophilosophy) and textual elements in mainly oral traditions (in the philosophy of the sages). Since philosophy is an academic subject in Africa, positions are changed. Written ways of communication and tradition are prevalent now. It belongs to the task of an intercultural dialogue in philosophy, that we try to use Derrida's concept of writing not only to show textual elements in mainly oral traditions, but also oral elements in mainly written forms of communication.
So we can say that written texts as such have rhetorical aspects, which are expressed in a more or less direct way. The style of writing signifies whether a text has been used for an academic lecture, a business conversation or a publc speech. Written texts are also determined by the occasion in which they were formulated. "Holiday greetings from the seaside or from the mountains are different from a scientific treatise, a shopping list belongs to another occasion than a lyrical poem," although these different ways of writing should not be regarded as unchangeable. There might be occasions in which they are mixed or several of them used in the same connection. Personal letters can play a role in a scientific context or in historical documentations. Also ironical intentions can be the cause for mixing up different ways of writing or using them besides each other. "Therefore it is not in the first instance the knowledge of readable signs which is culturally relevant, but the correct feeling which style of writing is apt to the occasion. That is the way how oral elements are mixed with written forms of communication." 
It will always be profitable for a philosophical text, if the writer disposes of different styles or if he is able, as in the case of Nietzsche, to write in between different styles.  Thus, certain dimensions of a language as irony and parody or other forms of disclosing contrasts can be introduced more broadly into the philosophical discourse. If we look at Nietzsche, philosophers of today are still in a process of learning. The dialogue of Western philosophers with African philosophy, which puts the relation of oral and written tradition and with that the question of style on the agenda, can lead to an acceleration of this process. In any case this dialogue will make a contribution to conceptualize more openly what to understand by a philosophical text, to discover in it new possibilities how to express philosophical issues in a more differentiated manner. I hope, this lecture gives an example for the advantage which Western philosophers can draw from a dialogue with African philosophy. Even more important would it be, if by now the hierarchical view on the philosophies of different cultures is getting abandoned, and the eyes are going open for differences which are situated on the same level.
11 J.S. Mbiti: African Religions and Philosophy. London 1969; K. Gyekye: An Essay on African Philosophical Thought. The Akan Conceptual Scheme. Cambridge 1987; G.J. Wanjohi: The Philosophy of Gikuyu Proverbs. An Epistemological Contribution. In: H. Oosterling/F. de Jong (eds), Denken unterwegs. Philosophie im Kräftefeld sozialen und politischen Engagements. Amsterdam 1990, p. 383-394.
12 M. Griaule: Conservations with Ogotemmeli. An Introduction into Dogon Religious Ideas. Introduced by G. Dieterlen. London 1965; H.J. Koloß: Feyin und die Lehre vom Keyus. Zum religiäsen Weltbild in Oku. In: Baessler-Archiv. Neue Folge. Bad XXXV, 1987/88, p. 383-453; Astonishment and Power. Kongo Minkisi and the Art of René Stout. Exhibition in the National Museum of African Art in Washington, April 28, 1993 - January 2, 1994.
16 M.T. Ntumba: Afrikanische Weisheit. Das dialektische Primat des Wir vor dem Ich-Du. In: W. Oelmüller (ed.), Philosophie und Weisheit. Paderborn/München/Wien/Zürich 1988, p. 24-38; A.H. Bâ: Vie et enseignement de Tierno Bokar. Le sage de Bandiagara. Paris 1980.
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