African designs reflect thought, culture: Nyathi

IF YOU ever wondered why for example African buildings are circular in form or how the traditional sitting arrangements connote a certain value and norm, read The Chevron and Circle Iconography in African Aesthetics: Celebrating AU’s Golden Jubilee by Pathisa Nyathi.

The book will give you the answer.

The book is an exposition of African thought as encapsulated in African design. It is a thoroughly riveting literary work unravelling the aesthetic aspects of African design and the distinct undergirding philosophy. I found the decoding of the meaning of the chevron design at Great Zimbabwe monument to be very enlightening.

The book is on sale at the National Gallery in Bulawayo and in Harare.

Nyathi’s imprint — Amagugu Publishers — has published the book and Kudzai Chikomo of Multimedia Box did the design and typesetting.

Quizzing the writer about the inspiration for the book in an interview Nyathi recalled: “In 2009 during the 2nd Pan-African Culture Festival in Algiers, Algeria, I realised that all countries that were represented at the expo had the chevron design. When I asked some of the exhibitors as to the underlying meaning of the decorative design, they professed ignorance.

“I have said elsewhere, what is common to Africa is not the black skin hue of its people, rather, it is their common worldview, and it is the African thought which is embedded in the African expressive arts such as architecture.”

Common in African artistic design, Nyathi observes in his book, are the circle and chevron motifs. He poses and answers the questions as to why the two are chosen, almost invariably, by all the different ethnic groups and communities situate in Africa.

There is the aspect of how communities “infused identities into artifacts” and how that is revelatory of the material culture and distinct belief systems of African people.

The foreword is by former Education, Sport, Arts and Culture ministry principal director Reverend Paul Bayethe Damasane and I quote: “This book is tapping on the salient software, culture and thought, which underlie the intricacies that make Africa and its peoples the deep and spiritual people that they are. But do you really understand what you are reading?

“Africans, as the Swahili say, are a people of the day before yesterday and shall still be a . . . Let us, with a vigilant awareness of our culture and heritage, defend our continent from the scourge of neo-colonialism and coloniality that seeks to destabilise our states.”

Though Africa Day is celebrated on May 25, this past year marked the 50th anniversary of Africa unity.

The foundation of African unity was laid through the intellectual and material contributions of African titans in Africa and in the Diaspora.

In his foreword on the book Damasane further states:“The names of Osagyifu Kwame Nkrumah, Prof William Edward Dubois, George Padmore, Jomo Kenyatta, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere and Kamuzu Banda are the names of some of the African leaders and scholars in the Diaspora that sowed the seeds of Pan–Africanism among many freedom fighters in the early sixties. The leadership and support of the Emperor Haile Selassie and his Foreign minister Ketama Yifru forged the thirty-two-member grouping on the African soil.”

The book under review is an exploration of the iconography utilised by Africans in their design culture.

The book, which may well be Nyathi’s magnum opus, is not just for the scholarly, it is even for any one whose heart is in the motherland. You are left feeling more rooted after reading this book. Better still, more Afro-centric.

“The circle motif signifies that there is only one shape, one design. Look at the cosmos, the planets, the sun, the moon.

“They are moving along elliptical paths. You will not find anything that is angular in shape that God created. In all that is created, there is a bit of the Creator.

“All forms of life have circles in their design. Look at the stem of plants and you can see packed circles. Look at the human
body, everything, testicles, hearts, our everything. There is no exception.

“This helps us to understand the cyclical nature of things, about periodicity, seasonality (implying investment of time and effort), rhythm. If you alter that rhythm, you will become ill. It is also about understanding that development is not linear,” Nyathi says.

Indeed there are four seasons: summer, autumn, winter and spring representing different stages of development in the days of our lives.

Ultimately, there are writers who talk about writing and then there are writers who actually write. Nyathi is a prolific producer of cultural and literary knowledge apart from being the founder of Amagugu Cultural Centre that lies some sixty kilometres along Matopos Road.

This past year alone, Nyathi published over 10 books on varying subjects under his Amagugu Publishers imprint.Commissioned projects are the Kolobeja, autobiographies of retired Reverend Geoffrey Bizeni Mkhwananzi of the Assemblies of God, liberation war collaborator and businessman Dickson Netsha among others.

I must add that I also have in my possession another recently published book called Kolobeja which is a collection of Ndebele tales that was distributed to schools in Matabeleland this past year.

Nyathi is a credit to the intellectual brain trust of our nation and Africa at large.

He is a bona fide literary giant, a worthy candidate for an honorary doctorate in letters.

Case closed!

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