First of all I want to apologize for the lack of proper orthography in the use of the Yoruba (and related) names in this article. On the cover of the Dutch edition the orthography is used, but in between the covers the words are stripped to their basic essentials.
I will try to give a numbered impression of this book that I have read:
- SBO is a Nigerian lady who was born in 1935 in Ondo State. She studied in Nigeria and abroad and published many books and articles. She learned the language of the Yoruba people (mainly in Nigeria) and made a thorough study of Yoruba thought and philosophy.
- In 2017 the third edition of her ‘Socrates and Orúmilá; Two patron saints of classical philosophy’ was published. The Dutch version (that I have read) is based on the third edition, but it is not a translation. In close consultation with the writer the book has shed its academic tone to reach a general readership and the order of the book has been changed as well. So I consider this book to have been written by SBO even though it differs from the original. In the adaption the proper orthography is not being followed (just as in this booknote ;)), but I do not know how this has been handled in the original English edition.
- This edition starts with an introduction by the translator and editor Saskia van der Werff. In it she describes the position of African philosophy on the world stage. The African philosophy is positioned on the side of practical and intercultural philosophy as opposed to comparative philosophy. She sees African philosophy as a specific way of thinking that has been sidelined by the West [or the North]. It has the marks of complementarity and respect for human experience.
- In part I of this book SBO writes about The two main characters of her book: Socrates and Orunmila. She sees both of them as patron saints [a term coming from a specific christian tradition] of classical philosphy. According to SBO these two have remarkable similarities, so why did one did not make it to the ‘Hall of Fame’of philosophy. SBO looks at both from three different perspectives, without being able to see more than an illusion. The caricature of S. en O.; the exemplary S. and O. ; the historical S. and O. ; followed by the Socratic problem (since the 18th century) and the Orunmilatic problem (did these people live actually in real life or were they historical props?). Next in this part of the book SBO sketches the content of thier thinking on the basis of several topics. For the content of the thought of Socrates we depend on Plato and others, for those of Orunmila we depend on the Ifa-collection (a written account of a long tradition of oral texts). Some of the topics that have been touched upon are: thinking, the limits of our knowledge, truth and wisdom, necessity of education and critical thinking, human way of life, fate and fear of death.
- Part II of this edition is titled ‘African Philosophy. [ to me it is hard to follow one specific philosophy as ‘Africa Philosophy’, the African continent is more complicated than that. I know that is not written ‘the’, but still. SBO is of the opinion that the thinking of Orunmila has been sidelined because people [western people?] thought that Orunmila was a god and his thinking occult. SBO is of the opinion that there has been a mistranslation and misunderstanding of Orunmila by westerners who came to West Africa, especially to the Yoruba people. BSO gives a definition of philosophy: it is a rational, critical and scientific way of thinking in which the thinker shows respect for logic and human experience. This does not mean there will be one one way of philosophical thinking as there is an influence form culture. There fore we cannot judge the African tradition of thought with western eyes [ and I assume the other way around as well, judging the western tradition of thought with African eyes]. One of the reasons for the hidden existence of African philosophy is the way people looked through western glasses, in this way obscuring what was available. SBO writes that the Ifa body of thought has been accepted as a mathematical system that has logic, a precision and a depth comparable to presentday computer science [ this brings to mind a remarks SBO made in an interview in a Dutch newspaper concerning Orunmila: he is actually the founder of quantumphysics.] African philosophy has been characterised by a complementary dualism. It shows an inclusion, not an exclusion, as opposed to western thinking in which exclusion is very important. SBO is of the opinion that this complementary dualism has not been influenced by colonial and pre-colonial education in Africa. Much is to be learned from this African way of thinking for instance in the world of democracy. She offers the Yoruba tradition since 1830 in Ibadan where there was [and is ?] a dual rulership, one from the military society and one from the civil society. Yoruba rulers (Oba) do not have immunity. [On Jethro, the father-in-law of the Moses, the leader of Israel, she writes that he hailed from Nubia (a nice way of inventing an Africa connection), but the man hailed from Midjan, most probably east of the river Jordan.] [At several points in her discourse she opposes African theory with Western practice, for instance the participation of women in democratic rulership.] [ BSO includes the biblical persons Ruth and Esther in her thoughts on the fate of European women, stating without foundation that the bible books carrying their names were written by men. We just do not know who wrote these booklets.]
- Following Part II of this book is a collection of addenda: * parts of the Ifa corpus (with an explanation of the omission of the proper orthography) with a translation in to English and into Dutch; * biographical and academic information on BSO [including a very wrong translation of a booktitle]; biographical information on some philosophers from the African continent, like Senghor, Wiredu, Oruka and Ramose [who taught in Venda and South Africa, I thought Venda was part of South Africa, or does BSO follow apartheid classification?]; * bibliography * a word of thanks by BSO; * notes on the translation and editing of this book; * register.
- This book gives food for thought and food for discussion (or should I say ‘dialogue’ instead of ‘debate’, one is inclusive and the other is exclusive, the one is African, the other is western.) I think SBO could have focussed more on the African part of her book, instead of hauling western philosophies (plural !) into the discussion. Maybe this not complementary dualism, but it could have clarified more the position of Orunmila and the Ifa-corpus.
Sophie Bósèdé Olúwolé – Socrates and Òrúnmìlà; Two patron Saints of Classical Philosophy – Lagos Nigeria 2017
Sophie Bósèdé Olúwolé – Socrates en Òrúnmìlà. Wat we van Afrikaanse filosofie kunnen leren – Utrecht Nederland 2017