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Bo School Symbols: A Deep African-centered Analysis

14 September 2015 at 22:51 | 3927 views


By Abdul Karim Bangura, USA.


A Google Internet search of the name Bo School at 4:17 PM on September 06, 2015 yielded 197,000,000 results in 0.39 seconds. This means that the school is worthy of and is getting a lot of attention. From the search, one learns about the school’s illustrious history, alumni and their organizations, location, religious background, traditions, and leadership (see, for example, The Bo Government School, 2006; Standard Voice, 2008; Bah, 2010; Awoko Newspaper, 2015a & 2015b). One also discovers that there are many published works about the school, such as Richard A. Coby’s article titled “Bo School and Its Graduates in Colonial Sierra Leone” in the Canadian Journal of African Studies (vol. 15, no. 2, 1981), Dylan Sogie-Thomas’ article titled “Manners Maketh Man—So What Do We Need to Change?” in The Patriotic Vanguard (October 22, 2010), and Siaka Kroma’s book titled Manners Maketh Man: Adventures of a Bo School Boy (2012). Yet, one still finds stories about the corruption and violence that plague the greater Sierra Leonean society also taking place at the school (see, for example, Lamin, 2013; Sierra Express Media, 2013; Kawa, 2015). The question that arises here then is the following: What good lessons can we learn from Bo School’s symbols that can help us to deal with these human fault lines?

To answer this question, I examine in this article Bo School’s motto, song, colors, and Abrahamic connection to demonstrate that the institution is the bearer of extraordinary symbols which are endowed with rich tenets that are African-centered (i.e. “the placing of African ideals at the center of any analysis that involves African culture and behavior” [Asante, 1987:6]) that can guide anyone—whether affiliated with Bo School or not—to live an exemplary life. It is the hope that this article will inspire others to conduct more research on the topic and provide additional valuable lessons for humanity. This endeavor is important because symbols, as some scholars and I have observed, are critical in promoting social integration; fostering legitimacy; inducing loyalty; gaining compliance; providing citizens with security and hope; and yielding deeper dyadic, triadic and polyadic meanings (e.g., Edelmam, 1964; Jones, 1964, Merelman, 1966, Cobb and Elder, 1976; Elder and Cobb, 1983; Bangura, 2002a & 2002b).

Bo School Motto

The Bo School motto (i.e. a short sentence or phrase chosen as encapsulating the beliefs or ideals guiding an individual, family, or institution) is “Manners Maketh Man.” The denotative meaning of this metaphor is that a person’s outward bearing or way of behaving toward others is what forms an adult human male. The metaphor is perceived to be so important that late President Alhaji Ahmed Tejan Kabbah during his address on April 14, 2006 on the occasion marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of Bo School stated that the motto is quite relevant for present-day Sierra Leone (The Sierra Leone Web, 2006). Also, Sierra Leone’s First Lady Mrs. Sia Nyama Koroma during a speech she delivered at the unveiling of the bust of her late Father, Abu Aiah Koroma, at Bo School recalled that her father openly boasted about his days at Bo School and how the motto served as his everlasting principle (Awareness Times, 2009).

But like any metaphor, there is more to this figure of speech than its denotative meaning and perceived sentiment. This is because as I demonstrate elsewhere, metaphors are not just “more picturesque speech” (Bangura, 2007:61; 2002c:202). The power of metaphors, as Anita Wenden observes, hinges upon their ability to assimilate new experiences so as to allow the newer and abstract domain of experience to be understood in terms of the former and more concrete, and to serve as a basis and justification for policy making (1999:223). Also, as George Lakoff and Mark Johnson put it,

The concepts that govern our thought are not just matters of the intellect. They also govern our everyday functioning, down to the most mundane details. Our concepts structure what we perceive, how we get around the world, and how we relate to other people. Our conceptual system thus plays a central role in defining our everyday realities. If we are right in suggesting that our conceptual system is largely metaphorical, then the way we think, what we experience, and we do every day is very much a matter of metaphor (1980:3).

In light of the preceding excerpt, we should be horrified by the metaphors that have become the currency in our daily discourses. We hear again and again how our relations mirror Darwinian survivalism. If we are to accept this characterization, we would be quite properly justified in outlawing all human relations as brutal and uncivilized behavior that no society should have to tolerate. Indeed, human rights advocates have effectively used just such descriptions to push their approach.
We must therefore reject those metaphors that cast our relations in a bad light and encourage such hostile, uncaring and, ultimately, selfish behavior. Some of these are quite crude and explode as soon as they are seen for what they are, but others are much more sophisticated and built into every fabric of our current thought processes. Some can be summarized in a slogan; others do not even have names. Some seem not to be metaphors at all, notably the uncompromising emphasis on the importance of greed, and some seem to lie at the very basis of our conception as individuals, as if any alternative concept would have to be anti-individualistic, or worse. The major question probed here is therefore quite straightforward: What type of metaphor does the Bo School motto, “Manners Maketh Man,” symbolize?

From its object (i.e. “Man”), it is safe to say that the Bo School motto symbolizes a personhood metaphor. This type of metaphor reflects the quality or condition of being an individual person. Amia Lieblich and Ruthellen Josselson (2012) inform us that metaphors of personhood comprise the quandary of progression and change over the life course and the episodes of meaning-making. They add that these metaphors are “fuzzy” and free-flowing and symbolize, albeit they do not inhibit, the ways in which people perceive their experiences and situate themselves in society and in time.

Thus, for Dylan Sogie-Thomas, an alumnus of Bo School, the motto “is impossible to forget because of the emphasis that was put on manners as a value which will lead to virtues. Students are trained in a manner that will enable them to improve their performance, which will enable them to excel in public life and failure to comply to laid down rules and procedures will lead to disciplinary actions” (Sogie-Thomas, 2010). The problem in Sierra Leone in terms of the Bo School credo, according to him, is that there is a contradistinction between punishment and disciplinary actions. He provides many examples to show how in the country’s justice system some criminals are punished and others are disciplined for the same crimes (Sogie-Thomas, 2010).

Also, as I point out in my article titled “Ubuntugogy: An African Educational Paradigm that Transcends Pedagogy, Andragogy, Ergonagy and Heutagogy” which appears in the Journal of Third World Studies (vol. xxii, no. 2, 2005:13-54), Ado K. Tiberondwa in his Missionary Teachers as Agents of Colonialism (1978) reminds us that in traditional Africa, each ethnic group had its own customs and traditions and, depending on the environment of the group, young boys and girls were expected to have sound knowledge of the essential skills. Good manners were emphasized. Members of each ethnic group or society had some accepted core values, and the elders would condemn strongly any action or behavior that tended to undermine the promotion of the accepted values. It was not uncommon for any elder in the community to discipline any child s/he found doing anything that was regarded as wrong. It mattered not whether the child was his/her own, a neighbor=s or just any child (Tiberondwa, 1978; Bangura, 2005).

Respect for elders, good eating manners, virginity before marriage, courage among boys and girls are some of the examples of what clans or ethnic groups tended to protect as accepted values. Parents were usually held accountable if their children were found lacking in good manners. Consequently, parents as well as the community at large formed a group of traditional teachers whose duty was to guide the children so that they could develop the values, beliefs and manners accepted in their society. As such, every member of the community was expected to play a role in promoting the values of his/her society (Tiberondwa, 1978; Bangura, 2005).

Western education has made many Africans selfish. It has transformed their families from extended ones to nuclear ones—i.e. husband, wife and their own children only. Children not born in the nuclear families and members of the extended families are all regarded as outsiders. In pre-colonial Africa, divisions into cousins, nephews, nieces, half-brothers, half-sisters, uncles and aunts were absent. Uncles and aunts were called fathers and mothers, respectively; cousins were simply called brothers or sisters, as they were all members of one family. In some areas, families went beyond biological relationships. There were relationships known as blood-brothers or blood-sisters acquired through special traditional ceremonies. These and their own relatives also became members of the extended families. All these and any other beliefs connected with kindness, reliability and respectability were meant to promote goodness and good manners among the people, especially members of the extended family or close family friends (Tiberondwa, 1978; Bangura, 2005).

Bo School Song

The method employed here to analyze the text of the Bo School song is linguistic presuppositional analysis. This approach is based on the premise that there exist in every discourse some background assumptions against which the main import of utterances or statements can be assessed (Levinson, 1983:173).

The rhetorical tactic of presupposition in discourse is by now familiar to many of us. A paradigm example is a friend’s query: “Is our friend cheating on his wife again?” Without explicitly making the assertion, the opponent implicates that the friend has indeed cheated on his wife before giving the iterative "again." Less contentious presuppositions can be suggested as well: that the friend is a male given the pronoun “his” and that the friend has only one wife. This example illustrates the fact that speakers or writers often express more than they assert. Their utterances or scripts convey not only their surface contents, but a great deal of auxiliary content as well. Anyone interested in greater details on the methodology vis-à-vis the constancy under negation test, logical presupposition, semantic presupposition and implications for logic, presuppositional defeasibility, projection problem, and pragmatic presupposition can consult my many works on the subject (Bangura, 2002a, 2002b, 1999, 1997, 1996; Bangura and Thomas, 1998). The text of the Bo School song reads as follows:

Bo School Beloved our Alma Mater Dear
Devotedly, our thoughts to thee we turn,
In all our ways, from morn till setting sun,
.....We think of thee, to us who art so dear,
Thy hall of learning, in light to us have given,
To tread earth’s way, in wisdom and in truth,
To run life’s race, with strength and speed of youth,
To bless our days, with virtue’s richest heaven.

Oh Alma Mater dear, of thee we sing,
With raptures pure and fresh as morning dew,
To thee we ever always will be true,
Of thee our school, our source of joy and cheer,
For God and for King, and for our country dear,
Our lives give we in loyal service free,
In words and deeds may we examples be,
Bo School believed, our praise to thee we sing.

It is quite evident from the preceding Bo School song that all the presupposition triggers in that text are performative verbs/predicates, or what Laurie Karttunen (1973:174) refers to as plugs: “turn,” “think,” “given,” “bless,” “sing,” “will be true,” “give,” “be examples,” and “praise.” What is common to these verbs/predicates is that they are used to report on what illocutionary acts (in the sense of Austin 1962) are to be performed. As Karttunen (1973:174) observes, one can report that a certain illocutionary act has taken place (in the text of the Bo School song, that certain illocutionary acts are to take place) without thereby committing oneself to the presuppositions of whatever was said or written on that occasion. For all the stretches of the discourse in the text of the song, then, the complement sentences have presuppositions which are not presuppositions for the main sentences. (It is assumed here that infinitival and gerundive clauses originate as complete sentences in the underlying syntactic representation. Nothing important hinges on this assumption, as Karttunen correctly points out.)

Moreover, the appearance of these verbs/predicates together in the Bo School song seems to reflect what late Guinean President Sékou Touré once referred to as “gnoseology”: that is, positive-intuitive thinking that is driven by the African’s spiritual mind (1959:7). Indeed, throughout history, the African, whether on the continent or in the Diaspora, has appeared to consistently maintain a positive mental attitude about dealing with rather challenging situations while disregarding the opposing negative form of thinking. Thus, the following four presuppositions can be derived from the text of the Bo School song:

(1) People can turn to and think about Bo School.

(2) Bo School is for learning to give and tread the earth in order to get the blessings of a rich heaven.

(3) People can sing and be true to Bo School.

(4) People can give their lives for and praise God, king, and country.

From these presuppositions, it is evident that the presupposition triggers in the Bo School song carry propositions of some necessary and sufficient conditions which determine whether the events described in the text of the anthem took place. The writer’s main statements can thus be looked upon as statements about whether the decisive conditions the writer envisioned for generating the text were fulfilled, and under what spatial and temporal circumstances.

This is good to know because these presupposition triggers indicate the sort of range of presuppositional phenomena the author of the text had. This set of core phenomena makes it possible for the examination of some further basic properties that the author’s presuppositions exhibit. In essence, while it is important to know the presuppositions of the Bo School song, it is equally important to explore explanations of why the given presuppositions are present in the text. This will allow for a systematic and an empirical analysis of those antecedent factors that are responsible for the suggestions of these presuppositions.

The presuppositions identified in the text of the Bo School song can be placed within the following content categories in terms of their subject matter:

(a) God: (4)

(b) Love and Joy: (3)

(c) Earth and Heaven: (2)

(d) Faith and Hope: (1), (4)

God: The African notion that God blesses (that is, the gift of divine favor) is derived from the belief of a Supreme Being as an integral part of the world-view and practiced religion of Africans. The nature of God in African belief is evident from the qualities attributed to him/her. That God is almighty and the Supreme Creator (as the Temne of Sierra Leone say, Kuru Masheba, and the Mende say Ngewo and Leve) are some of the most obvious assertions, since supremacy calls for it. As Geoffrey Parrinder points out,

All-powerful is a common name for him (her) and he (she) receives many similar titles: creator, allotter, giver of rain and sunshine, the one who began the forest, the one ‘who gives the rots’, maker of souls, father (mother) of the placenta, the one who exists by himself (herself). The omnipresence of God, less commonly expressed, is found in sayings such as ‘the one who is met everywhere’, and ‘the great ocean whose head-dress is the horizon’. More clearly God is omniscient: the wise one, the all-seeing, the ‘one who brings round the season’ (1969:39-40). [The feminine attributes in parentheses are mine to indicate that some African cultures have no gender markers for God and some ascribe a feminine gender to God.]

These attributes suggest the transcendence and immanence of God. As such, s/he is in a position to bless persons, places, things, and ideas.
The African belief that God raises up one’s spirit (that is, vivacity, courage, vigor, enthusiasm, etc.) when a person encounters misfortune, sickness, barrenness, quarrels, drought, and any disruption of normal life is manifested in sacrifices of propitiation. Prayers, petitions, and praises all seek augmentation of force by recognizing and invoking the powers of the Supreme Being. Great endeavors are, therefore, made by Africans to ‘get up,’ improve and modernize their lot to become successful because they believe that God has not fixed an order that can never change or placed people in positions where they are doomed to stay (Parrinder, 1969:72-73).

Love and Joy: Before they were brought to the shores of the New World, the Africans had expressed themselves musically in all life situations. Likewise, in America and in the Caribbean the various generations of enslaved Africans used songs to accompany menial labor, learn facts, vent their frustrations, share religion, and relate their life conditions. Songs served as a master index to the mind of the enslaved African (Taylor, 1975:387).

The Africans enslaved were able to develop a means of ingenious covert expression which was their own through their songs. Using the Judeo-Christian vocabulary, they attached secondary meanings, images and concepts to the song texts. They were able to harbor and express thoughts indiscernible to outsiders by developing this type of communication. Not understanding what the enslaved were doing, Whites poked fun at them for using such unintelligible jargon. In order to preserve for themselves a degree of intellectual freedom, the enslaved Africans endured this ridicule (Taylor, 1975:387).

As John Taylor points out, the “happy songs” were means used by the enslaved Africans to make themselves happy, not of expressing happiness. Indeed, there was nothing glamorous about being an enslaved person that could make the individual happy. A matter of fact, many songs openly expressed despair, frustration, and sorrow (1975:389).

Earth and Heaven: The notions of earth and heaven (or heaven and earth) were not foreign to Africans before their arrival to the New World. As Parrinder, for example, has pointed out, when a grave is dug in the ground, a libation is made to the spirit, a custom that was taken to America and other parts of the New World by the enslaved Africans (1969:54). This veneration of the earth by African Americans and Jamaicans, for example, can be traced back to a number of African cultures. Ashanti drummers address the earth in the following words (Parrinder, 1969:54):

Earth, while I am yet alive,
It is upon you that I put my trust...
We are addressing you,
And you will understand.

The powers of earth include the spirits of hills and great monuments like Mount Cameroon and Mount Kilimanjaro. Even the small hills in Ibadan, Nigeria have rituals recording the foundation of the city. A holiday is proclaimed every year when work stops and fires are extinguished till they are relit by the priest who is regarded the “worshipper of the hills.” Rocks and outstanding formations are seen as centers where special power is manifested and available (Parrinder 1969:55).

Many Africans believed (and many still do) that the first users of metals descended from heaven with metal weapons and tools to clear the forest. Blacksmithery is still an expert profession, and many smiths serve as priests to the god of metal (Parrinder 1969:56).

Thus, it is not surprising that Taylor found, after studying earlier African American spirituals, that the enslaved held the belief of heaven being a dimension of self-extension in the sense of private possession. They believed that in heaven, there will be no proscription, no segregation, no separateness, no slave row. They also believed that there will exist the most psychologically dramatic of all manifestations of freedom: that is, complete freedom of movement (1975:397).

Faith and Hope: According to Taylor, one aspect of self-pity reflected in African American spirituals derived from the enslaved Africans’ hope that the tables would eventually be turned on their oppressors. Put differently, the greater the suffering at the hands of the Whites in this life, the greater the victory over them in the afterlife would be. Self-pity was one way for the enslaved to resolve the crisis, not an end in itself; that although they felt sorry for themselves, and would ask others to pity them as well, they believed that they would not be ultimately defeated (1975:392-393).

Another way the enslaved Africans coped with their status was their identification with Jesus—the suffering hero. This identification was valuable to them not only because it helped them explain their position (whether unjust fate, or even the will of God), but also to avoid feelings of personal inferiority. It allowed them to experience vicariously feelings of achievement and adequacy through the figure held in great esteem by members of the master-class. Moreover, it helped them divert their hatred and resentment toward their White masters and overseers (Taylor, 1975:393-396).

Bo School Colours

The colors of Bo School are black and gold as represented in Figure 1. The following is an African-centered analysis of the colors. Such an analysis is vital because different colors have conveyed different meanings to Africans since antiquity. For example, as April McDevitt points out,

In ancient Egypt, color (iwen) was an integral part of the substance and being of everything in life. The color of something was a clue to the substance or heart of the matter. When it was said that one could not know the color of the gods, it meant that they themselves were unknowable, and could never be completely understood. In art, colors were clues to the nature of the beings depicted in the work. For instance, when Amon was portrayed with blue skin, it alluded to his cosmic aspect. Osiris’ green skin was a reference to his power over vegetation and to his own resurrection (McDevitt, 2014).

Bo School Colours

Another example is the Kente cloth. As the Midwest Global Group, Inc. notes,

[The Kente cloth] has it roots in a long tradition of weaving in Africa dating back to about 3000 B.C. The origin of Kente is explained with both a legend and historical accounts. A legend has it that a man named Ota Karaban and his friend Kwaku Ameyaw from the town of Bonwire (now the leading Kente weaving center in Ashanti), learned the art of weaving by observing a spider weaving its web. Taking a cue from the spider, they wove a strip of raffia fabric and later improved upon their skill. They reported their discovery to their chief Nana Bobie, who in turn reported it to the Asantehene (the Ashanti Chief) at that time. The Asantehene adopted it as a royal cloth and encouraged its development as a cloth of prestige reserved for special occasions (Midwest Global Group, Inc., 2014).

The Midwest Global Group, Inc. adds that

Kente is used not only for its beauty but also for its symbolic significance. Each cloth has a name and a meaning; and each of the numerous patterns and motifs has a name and a meaning. Names and meanings are derived from historical events, individual achievements, proverbs, philosophical concepts, oral literature, moral values, social code of conduct of conduct, human behavior and certain attributes of plant and animal life. Patterns and motifs are rendered in geometric abstractions of objects associated with the intended meaning (Midwest Global Group, Inc., 2014).

Each of the Bo School colors is discussed separately for the sake of clarity. The discussion of each color begins with its spectral coordinates, when applicable, and then the Africancentric historical development and characteristics of the color. It should be mentioned here that Ancient Egyptians must have been well learned in spectral analytical techniques, since such tools were critical in the consistent development of the Egyptian blue, polychromic funerary figurines, and chromotherapy. As Philip McCouat states,

First developed some 4,500 years ago, Egyptian blue—a bright blue crystalline substance—is believed to be the earliest artificial pigment in human history. The pigment is a synthetic form of the rare mineral cuprorivaite, and commonly also contains quantities of glass or quartz. It is made by heating to around 850-950C a mixture of a calcium compound (typically calcium carbonate), a copper-containing compound (metal filings or malachite), silica sand and soda or potash as a flux…Egyptian blue was widely used in ancient times as a pigment in painting, such as in wall paintings, tombs and mummies’ coffins, and also as a ceramic glaze known as Egyptian faience. The fact that it was not available naturally meant that its presence indicated a work that had considerable prestige. Its use spread throughout Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and the far reaches of the Roman Empire. It was often used as a substitute for lapis lazuli, an extremely expensive and rare mineral sourced in Afghanistan (2014:1).

From Lynn Swartz Dodd et al., we learn that:

A polychrome painted wooden funerary figurine has been radiocarbon dated to 1220–1050 BC and is painted with a white pigment that includes gypsum, huntite, and tridymite. This is the first discovery of the use of tridymite as a pigment in Ancient Egypt. This unusual white pigment yields an exceptionally bright white paint…Egyptian artisans engaged in a sophisticated, deliberate manipulation of mineral-based pigments to achieve specific desired sacral effects (2009:94).

We also glean from the work of Samina T. Yousuf Azeemi and Mohsin Raza that

Ancient observation chromotherapy is a centuries-old concept. The history of color medicine is as old as that of any other medicine. Phototherapy (light therapy) was practiced in ancient Egypt...The Egyptians utilized sunlight as well as color for healing. Color has been investigated as medicine since 2000 BC. They used primary colors (i.e. red, blue and yellow) for healing as they were unaware of the mixing up of two colors. According to ancient Egyptian mythology, the art of chromotherapy was discovered by the god Thoth (2005:482).

It behooves me to also state here that Graciela Gestoso Singer’s excellent article titled “Color in Ancient Egypt” (2014) was extremely helpful for the analysis that follows.

Black: According to the Google online dictionary, black is “the very darkest color owing to the absence of or complete absorption of light; the opposite of white” (, 2014). Also, as Charles Moffat points out, black was one of the first colors employed by Neolithic artists in their cave paintings (2007:1).

According to Singer, black was referred to in Ancient Egypt as km and was made from “carbon compounds such as soot, ground charcoal or burnt animal bones” (2014:9). She mentions that the color stood for death and night, and Osiris, the god of the afterlife, was named “the black one” as a reference to his role in the underworld and resurrection after his murder. She adds that Anubis—the god of embalming—was depicted as a black dog or jackal, although the color of these animals tends to be brown (2014:9).

Nonetheless, according to Singer, even though black was depicted as a symbol of death, it also symbolized life and fertility among Ancient Egyptians because of the abundance of the dark black silt from the floods of the Nile. As she puts it, “The color of silt became emblematic of Egypt itself and the country was called the ‘Black Land’ (Kmt) from early antiquity” (2014:10). She further points out that black stones were used for statues with magical healing powers during the Ptolemaic period—i.e. 323-30 BC (2014:10).

Also, named after the black color inside its mouth, the black mamba endemic in Africa is one of the most venomous, feared and fastest-moving snakes in the world. Its venom can cause instant death or paralysis. Because of its ability to strike in any direction, even when moving very fast, not many predators dare to challenge the adult black mamba.

Furthermore, at the height of the American Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement popularized the “Black Is Beautiful” slogan in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The statement symbolized the African American struggle for political equality.

This era also saw the emergence of the revolutionary Black Nationalist and Socialist organization called the Black Panther Party which from 1966 until 1982 monitored the behavior of police officers and challenged their brutality. The organization made the promotion of community social programs, especially Free Breakfast for Children, its principal activity from 1969 until 1982. It was dormant until 1989 when it reemerged with the name the New Black Panther Party. The organization inspired the births of the Black Panther Party (HaPanterim HaShhorim) of Israel in 1971 and the Dalit Panther Party of India in 1972.

In Sierra Leone, the symbolic eminence of black is evident in many cultural artefacts and activities. During the Sande or Bondo ceremony, newly-initiated girls are led back to the community by a dancer who dons a glossy black mask and covered by a black costume from head to toe. The mask portrays the feminine ideal of beauty. Also, the fetenke dance is done by two young males waving black scarves while moving heel to toe. In addition, black dye is the most prominent in the making of the internationally famous Sierra Leonean gara, a traditional tie-dye cloth.

Gold: I must begin by quoting Jenny Hill here that “In ancient Egypt gold represented by the color yellow (khenet or kenit) represented that which was eternal and indestructible, and was closely associated with gold (nebu or nebw) and the sun. Gold was thought to be the substance which formed the skin of the gods and numerous statues of the gods were either made of gold or covered with gold leaf and the skin of the god was often painted gold in two dimensional images” (Hill, 2010).

Yellow is found on the spectrum of visible light between green and orange. Its paramount wavelength when stimulated by light is roughly 570-590 nm or a frequency of 525-505 THz (Madigan and Chambers, 2014; Nave, 2014; Optoplex Corporation, 2014).

According to Anne Varichon (2005), reseda luteola—also referred to as “dyers weed,” “yellow weed,” or “weld” was utilized as a yellow dye during the Neolithic period. She adds that the weed was used extensively in North Africa.

It is noted by the WebExhibits that adjudged to be an eternal, imperishable and indestructible color, Ancient Egyptians equated yellow to gold. It is also stated that Ancient Egyptians conjectured that the skins and bones or the gods were made of gold. It is further mentioned that Ancient Egyptians utilized yellow considerably in tomb paintings by using yellow ochre or the luminous orpiment, and that a small paint box containing orpiment pigment was discovered in the tomb of King Tutankhamun (WebExhibits, 2014).

As Singer points out, Ancient Egyptians called yellow qnt or qnjt [allomorphic variations are khenet or kenit] and first produced it by employing natural ochre or oxides. But by the end of the New Kingdom [i.e. 1570–1544 BC], she notes, a new technique was launched to produce yellow by using orpiment—an arsenic trisulphide. She adds that Ancient Egyptians assigned yellow to the female principle, sun and gold because they perceived these aspects to be eternal, imperishable and indestructible (2014:11).

Gold, represented by yellow, is part of the Pan-African colors, also referred to as the African colors, the African Nationalist colors, the Universal African colors, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) colors, the Marcus Garvey colors, the International African colors, the Black Liberation colors, the Black Nationalist colors, the New Afrikan Liberation colors, and the Bendera Ya Taifa (Kiswahili for “Flag of the Nation”). The other colors are black, green, and red, and were derived from the traditional Ethiopian flag (the modern version has seen a number of different emblems placed at different positions on the flag over time) and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) or Pan-African flag. These colors comprise a highly revered political symbol to Africans in the continent and the Diaspora.

In addition to Sierra Leone being one of the leading producers of gold in the world (Senehun Minerals, 2015), the people also revere the locally-made gold necklaces, bracelets, armlets, and earrings. In fact, for most Sierra Leoneans, especially newly-initiated Sande or Bondo girls and newly-married women, they do not consider themselves to be well dressed if they are not adorned with gold ornaments.

Bo School Abrahamic Connection

It is well documented that while Bo School is secular, nonetheless, both Christian and Muslim rites have been observed there since its founding and continue to this day. So, one may ask: Why is this Abrahamic connection relevant?
As we may recall, in one way, all Muslims understand Islam to begin with Adam (PBUH): that is, with creation of humanity, the descendants of Adam (PBUH) are traced through Noah (PBUH), to the son of Noah (PBUH)—Shem (from whom we get the term Semite, referring to his descendants, including both Jews and Arabs), on through the generations to Abraham (PBUH), who was the first to believe in a monotheistic God, and then on to the sons of Abraham (PBUH)—Ishmael and Isaac (PBUT). It is at this point that we find two narratives which become cornerstones of Islam. The first begins in the Qur’an with the story of the birth of Abraham’s (Ibrahim’s) two sons, Ishmael (Ismai’il) and Isaac (Ishaq) (PBUT), telling the expulsion of Ishmael (PBUH) and his Egyptian mother Hagar (MGBPWH) from the home of Abraham (PBUH) and their subsequent residence in Mecca where Abraham built them the Kaaba in which to worship. It continues with the descent of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) from the biological line of Ishmael (PBUH). The second involves the Qur’anic story of Abraham (PBUH) and his attempted holy sacrifice of his son, which demonstrated the submission of Abraham (PBUH) to God’s will, from which we get the word Islam.
It is widely believed that Ishmael (PBUH) is associated with the Arab population, and particularly with Arab Muslims. Historical records do link ancient northern Arabians to Ishmael (PBUH).

According to Genesis, Ishmael’s (PBUH) wife was an Egyptian (21:21). However, Jewish midrash expands on this story. It says that Ishmael (PBUH) chose his own first wife, a Moabite. Abraham (PBUH) disapproved. So Hagar (MGBPWH) sent for a wife from Egypt, of whom Abraham (PBUH) approved on his next visit. This is the wife represented in Genesis 21:21.

Also, as Mwalimu (Honourable Teacher) Yosef A. A. ben-Jochannan (1970/1991) reminds us, Bilal ibn Rabah or Bilal al-Habashi, who had been an enslaved African in Arabia when Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) got the revelations from Allah (SWT) through Archangel Gabriel, was the very first Muezzin (High Priest, or Caller of the Faithful to prayer) and treasurer of the Islamic Empire. He was also the first “soul” (i.e. man) Muhammad (PBUH) reverted to Islam, while the Prophet (PBUH) himself was a camel driver and hardly anyone else wanted to listen to him and his teachings (ben-Jochannan, 1970/1991:199). Is it therefore not only fitting that the Imam of the Grand Mosque of Mecca today is the African/Black Saudi Arabian Sheikh Adil Kalbani?

In Sierra Leone, one of the most striking things one observes is the degree to which religious tolerance is a deeply held value. Christians and Muslims live side by side, they celebrate and work together, they intermarry, and they elect political leaders of all faith traditions. In fact, even though there are an estimated 4,050,000 (71% of the total population) Sierra Leonean Muslims, about 20% Christians, and the rest belong to other foreign and indigenous religions, ten of the 11 heads of state that have ruled Sierra Leone since its independence in 1961 have been Christians (Bangura, 2012).
Going back to the era of British colonialism, some of the leading Christian clergy were among the strongest advocates of Muslims, who suffered more oppression from British colonial administrators. One of these Christian clergy was John Augustus Abayomi-Cole (1848-July 1943), a talented and versatile Creole who, in the course of his long career, made his mark as priest, politician, author, agriculturalist, herbalist, and administrator. He contributed regularly to the Sierra Leone Weekly News, a leading West African newspaper, and also wrote a news summary in Arabic that was published in Saturday Ho, a magazine-like publication that appeared from 1891 to 1896. He was known to be sympathetic to Islam, and it was said that his father was an imam: i.e. the spiritual head of an Islamic community (Wyse, 1979:35; Bangura, 2012).


The preceding discourse has been edging towards the proposition that in order for Sierra Leoneans to combat civil strife and underdevelopment, African-centered tenets that undergird Bo School symbols would add a distinctly African flavor and momentum to the endeavor. This is both a given and a task or desideratum for educating Sierra Leoneans. It is undoubtedly part and parcel of the cultural heritage of Sierra Leoneans. However, it clearly needs to be revitalized in the hearts and minds of some Sierra Leoneans.

Although compassion, warmth, understanding, caring, sharing, humanness, etc. are underscored by all the major world orientations, the African-centered tenets of our symbols serve as a distinctly African rationale for these ways of relating to others. They give a distinctly African meaning to, and a reason or motivation for, a positive attitude towards the other. They urge Africans to be true to their promotion of peaceful relations and conflict resolution, educational and other developmental aspirations.


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About the Author

Abdul Karim Bangura is a researcher-in-residence of Abrahamic Connections and Islamic Peace Studies at the Center for Global Peace in the School of International Service at American University, the director of The African Institution, and a professor of Research Methodology and Political Science at Howard University.

He holds five PhDs in Political Science, Development Economics, Linguistics, Computer Science, and Mathematics. He is the author of 86 books and more than 600 scholarly articles. The winner of more than 50 prestigious scholarly and community service awards, among Bangura’s recent awards are the 2012 Cecil B. Curry Book Award for his African Mathematics: From Bones to Computers, the 2014 Diopian Institute for Scholarly Advancement’s Miriam Ma’at Ka Re Award for his article titled “Domesticating Mathematics in the African Mother Tongue” published in the Journal of Pan-African Studies, and the 2015 Special United States Congressional Award for “outstanding and invaluable service to the international community.”

Bangura is fluent in about a dozen African and six European languages, and studying to increase his proficiency in Arabic, Hebrew, and Hieroglyphics. He is also a member of many scholarly organizations, has served as President and then United Nations Ambassador of the Association of Third World Studies, and is a Special Envoy of the African Union Peace and Security Council.

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