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The Legacy of the African Woman

The African woman is neither a mirror image of man nor a slave. She feels no need to imitate men to express her personality. Her work, her own genius, her preoccupations, her way of speaking, and her manners mask an original civilization. She has not allowed herself to be colonized by either men or male culture.

Albertine Tshibilondi Ngoyi


Quick question: What do Margaret Ogola, Edith Stein and John Paul II have in common?

Quick answer: The Eternal Feminine.

All  of them were familiar with the story of “The Woman” – a story as old as time. They all perceived The Woman as the representative and archetype of the whole human race; i.e. as the one who represents (and will always represent – hence “Eternal”) the humanity which belongs to all human beings – both women and men.

The Eternal Feminine is the conviction that the power to humanize is the quintessential charism of the Woman. It is the belief that the feminine is the locus of awe and wonder in both creation and culture.

In the world of religion, the Eternal Feminine is a sort of lingering awareness in the imaginations and hearts of soulful and simple people. It is a “vague conviction” in their consciences that if any resurrection of culture (any “Great Reset” as some would prefer to call it), is ever to take place, it will find its source in the beauty of woman, the beauty of motherhood … that sisterly, spousal beauty which finds its special culmination in the Mother of God.

Within such a religious worldview, history culminates in the sacred. More specifically, the sacred in human history comes full circle, not merely when the material world is spiritualized, but more so, when the spiritual world is materialized… and this, not in a technocratic or Marxist or secular way, but in a feminine, humane and sacred way.

Last question: What does this Eternal Feminine have to do with the African Woman?

Quick answer: Everything!

Western culture, in its “enlightened” and militant zeal to sever the secular from the sacred, has left all mankind enveloped in that darkness in which, (to riff off from Hegel), “all cows are black”. The Cartesian desire for absolute certainty destroys mystery, deracinates culture and severs umbilical cords. It paradoxically makes the “clear and distinct” obscure and indistinguishable.

It is from this dung-heap of modernity’s obscure darkness that the proverbial lowly handmaid is raised. She, the primordial woman, ever-present from the dawn of history, emerges from the ashes of a jaded and dreary world with a new song on her lips … a new song that retells the ancient story. She emerges in much the same way as Caravaggio’s characters emerge from the shadowy blacks of his canvases. She emerges as if in response to the call of “the One” who calls all things from nothingness.

She is black, therefore, not so much because of the pigmentation of her skin, but because of her antiquity. She has spent much time under the sun …. The author of the book of Ecclesiastes lied to us when he said “there is nothing new under the sun”. He belonged to the old world – the world of the eternal return to nothingness. A world devoid of Hope because it had not heard of the story of the Eternal Feminine.

Not only is she then, in the sense adumbrated above, “historically black”; she is also simultaneously, “metaphorically black” because she is ever shrouded in darkness – the luminous darkness of Faith – not the obscure darkness engendered by the blind reason of secular humanism.

She is the provincial girl-child, the neglected sister, the self-effacing bride, the weary warrior, the sorrowful mother who nevertheless maintains the best traditions of her culture as in an ark; she tells heart-warming tales of heroes and heroines to her children and to her children’s children … she nurtures the seed entrusted to her care and brings it to fruition.


This article was written by Robert Odero and is a summary of the latest Philosophy conversation hosted by the School of Humanities and Social Sciences.



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