Author Topic: The Concept of African Time  (Read 3816 times)

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Offline HabteSelassie

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The Concept of African Time
« on: June 20, 2011, 09:31:44 PM »
Greetings in that Divine and Most Precious Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

The other day while enjoying an almost mystical hike in the June gloom created cloud forests of the San Gabriels last week, a Rastafari brother and I were discussing our experience with African time and its radical difference from our own Western experience in which we were raised and thoroughly inoculated. There seems to be in Africa an entirely different ontology when it comes to the concept of “Time” in comparison with the Western mindset.  In Africa, time remains as fluid as it was before the invention of mechanical time pieces.  The word for “minute” evolved in the English around the 15Th century coinciding with the invention of more accurate clocks, and this word was the literal measurement along the circle (which in geometry a minute still is).  We now divide our day by minutes, seconds, hours, etc etc.  In Africa time is not yet so concrete, so rigidly defined.  Writer Ryszard Kapuscinksi in his book In the Shadow of the Sun noticed this in his extensive travels across the African continent. He explains that Newtonian time, the standard for Europeans, is ‘absolute, true, and from its own nature.”  Further, the European is a slave to time suffering from “an unresolvable conflict.”  Africans, according to Kapuscinski, view time as not a rigid, inviolate series of laws, but rather “it is man who influences time, its shape, course, and rhythm.”  The African concept of time is more abstract, as the time appears “as a result of our actions and vanishes when we neglect or ignore it.”  While the European feels that he is a slave to time for the African its time that is subservient and dependent to man.  He writes that Europeans admire Africans “fantastic talent for waiting” which consists of mute silence.  “Africans believe that a mysterious energy circulates through the world, and if it draws near and fills up, it will give us the strength to set time into motion- something will start to happen; until this occurs, however, one must wait: any other behavior is delusional and quixotic.”

Our Western misconception of Time often makes us dissatisfied and disagreeable with reality, which is really God's reality, and so when we are upset with how life seems to be based from our concept of the passing of time, we are really rejecting God.  When we get frustrated with the passing of time, either because it is moving to slow or is falling away too fast, we really are just getting out of touch with reality, and God only exists in reality, not in our imaginations or our recollections.  This is how this connects to Orthodox.

In Amharic "minute" is translated as deqiqa,  the root for this word viz. is “deq” which is the action of pounding grain into flour, which is then called duqit.  The implication then is that a “minute” on the clock is viz. pulverizing and grinding away at the day, or really to waste it by having measured it.  In the process of measuring a day's time into "minutes/deqiqoch" in the Amharic mind you are actually "pulverizing/temedeqeq" the day, the imagery of the language is lovely in this regard, as it suggests a person grinding at a mill or a grind stone, and surely we would think a day was wasted if we were to grind it at the mill.  This is how the Ethiopians interpreted the concept of time when they began to encounter Westerners with a new fascination with "watches" and measuring "time" around the 16th century.

ደቂቃ ~ minute (part of an hour)    (n.) /däqiqa/

ድቀቅ ~ pulverize    (v-inf.)    /madqäq/

 Africans exist in an altogether different concept of time, where past, present, and future essentially coexist, meant to be experienced rather than contemplated.  Surely Africans get bored, but they accept reality much more reasonably than folks like us from the Western mindset which counts away at the clock day after day. Further, they seem to have a remarkable ability to savor the moment however long it may take.  I’ve learned from my experience with Ethiopians and other Africans to let time flow by.  When celebrating, worshiping, eating, or just hanging out with Ethiopians, you really should just leave your watch at home, it will be of no use to you  ;)

ድር (der web)
ድሮ (dero old, olden, in past times)

   Another Amharic anecdote.. The concept of  “olden times, in the past” in Amharic is rooted in the word for “spiders’ webs, chain” (der) which implies the concept of a past-present interconnection.  Language both is defined by and defines our ways of thinking, so when Ethiopians speak of minutes on the clock in the same visual speech as grinding away flour, and when they think of the olden times as being like a spiders' web, clearly there is this embedded connection.  We in the Western world could really use a lesson on reorganizing our concepts of time more according to the African experience.


We can only meet God in the present moment.. We can only make decisions in the present moment. We can only enjoy sights and sounds in the present moment.. The present moment may appear tiny in duration-so much that the human mind thinks it hardly exists at all- but in depth it is infinite.. Actually it has no shape or form, there is nothing to measure here and that really infuriates the mind, because measurement is what the mind is good at..

Participation in the Holy Mysteries places God in our time and gives us a powerful incentive to meet with Him.  He provides the kairos, the opportune time in which we can meet.. The kairos only takes place in the present moment.  Any present moment will do, each is potentially as miraculous as any other.  Sacramental time, the time of the Mysteries, occurs when eternity breaks into our world.  This brings with it a new set of circumstances not generally experienced in everyday life.  In the presence of God, every moment is now, everywhere is here.  The individual meets God in this way at the center of the universe, at the crossroads of all possible intersections.  Any encounter with God is a mind-stopping experience.. The sanctification of time occurs when we offer the present moment to God.  We are not able to offer the past or the future, only the present moment.  The function of time in church is mainly to focus our attention on the eternity in which God lives. Ideally our clocks and watches stop working altogether until we re-emerge into the world at the end of the service..
Bread and Water, Oil and Wine by Father Meletios Webber

Hey, Americans and Europeans,lets forget our watches, lets readjust to African time, be a bit more accepting of reality then, and perhaps find God more often directly in our lives, in that ever-existing and filled with potential present moment.

stay blessed,
habte selassie

« Last Edit: June 20, 2011, 09:33:14 PM by HabteSelassie »
"Yet stand aloof from stupid questionings and geneologies and strifes and fightings about law, for they are without benefit and vain." Titus 3:10

Offline IsmiLiora

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Re: The Concept of African Time
« Reply #1 on: June 20, 2011, 09:48:27 PM »
I think that there can be pluses and minuses with both, but I do agree that we need to incorporate a little more African time into our lives.  :) (Thank you for the history and language lesson!)

Several years ago, I was close with several nuns from different countries in Africa: Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, etc. Once, when I was visiting one of them at her convent, my friend and I were going to drive one of the nuns to a friend's place in another state. The nuns had sat us down and talked for hours, not understanding that we were going to run into traffic. When my friend and I finally prompted the nun and told her that we were running late, she went into her room and opened the suitcase.

"Do you want me to carry that outside for you?"

"No," she said, opening the suitcase to reveal it was empty. She proceeded to spend the next hour packing!

We are not used to it! I do chafe with this in two situations: I am sorry, I think it's rude when I invite someone over and they arrive an hour late without saying anything (heh, my African friends tend to do this sometimes!). It's very difficult in our society to view time in that way. All I do is watch the clock with steam coming out of my ears, knowing that I should have been doing other things.

The other thing is with work, but that is very much because of U.S. culture, which is obsessed with productivity.

Something to ponder, though, especially when it comes to spending time with God. Put away the watch and just experience being with Him.
She's touring the facility/and picking up slack.
"For in much wisdom is much grief, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow." Ecclesiastes 1:18
I once believed in causes too, I had my pointless point of view --
Life went on no matter who was wrong or right