African Percepts of Behavior
These rules of conduct mold a person’s
mind, yielding what can be understood as "Soul Power". This
expression refers to a particular sort of power or force that seems to be
specific to each person and that allows the individual to fully affirm his or
her own participation to humanity. When applied to a group of people who thinks
and acts in a relatively coherent manner, one may safely refer to it as the
group’s or the community’s "Soul Power".
In fact, Soul Power is indicative of a total
affirmation of one’s personality and
at the same time of a relentless quest for what could be interpreted as the self’s
or the group’s "real usefulness". This search does not necessarily
imply looking for the greatest amount of material comfort nor the longest life
expectancy. Rather, it is the search for a non-affected or non-hypocritical kind
of life that brings about the greatest amount of freedom and happiness. This
truest sort of life has nothing to do with living forever, which nobody can do,
but instead with living better and well, given natural limitations and
In other words, Soul Power embodies the sum
of efforts one necessarily has to exert upon oneself to live well, behave
correctly and be recognized by others as an honest human being. "Being
poor but honest" seems to be the most valid answer most Haitian persons
would offer when questioned about his or her economic condition.
sum of efforts makes the difference between human beings’ lives and those of
all other animals. It defines what may be meant by "living a reasonable
kind of life". So, Soul Power makes the difference between what is
understood as hominisation, which is a biological fact, and humanization which
is a cultural one. It is thus the capacity every human being has to live
humanly, that is to think more clearly and in a more just manner, and to act
better. Without this Soul Power, people would simply be inhuman and even cruel.
These principles are real in most African
societies that live in Africa or in the New World. Though unwritten, these laws
prescribe the use of proper manners as the consequence of a particular frame of
mind. What is termed here "proper manners" is the desire to
think and act in conformity with virtuous morale, character and with the
admitted usage and customs.
To expose just a few of these precepts - some
of them being quite different from Judeo-Christian teachings and values and
sometimes even antithetic to them -, I will freely translate some of the ideas
generally regarded as wise by the people of Haiti. Most of them are included in
Vodoun, this country’s popular religion:
"For a human being, the body which
is also called ‘Ko Kadav’ or cadaver is just a stepping stone upon which
individuals should elevate themselves toward the development of the mind and
then to spirituality."
"Prudence is an excellent
disposition of the Soul that should never remain idle in a normal human
being. It allows one to judge correctly what is good or what is bad in all
"Good and evil are not creations of
God, but rather of the human being. So they should not be considered as
absolute in value. A glance at everything the human mind might have
conceived reveals nothing which may be viewed as absolutely Good or
absolutely Evil, except one’s good will and the goodness of one’s heart.
Intelligence, sharpness of the mind, ability to judge and the capacity to
think ... all the many talents, whatever their name might be, such as
courage, power of decision, intuition, perseverance ... are certainly
desirable qualities for one to have. But, they may also be very Evil if and
when the Will of the person using them (his or her character) is not a good
"Respect, politeness and
gratefulness are basic qualities that everyone should always make use of.
One starts learning them when one learns to say hello, please, thank you and
"A dancer unwillingly steps on your
foot, that is not wickedness but clumsiness. When you accept his or her
apologies, that is not a pardon. It is simple politeness."
"Faithfulness is an obligation among
friends, lovers and spouses. One must always remain faithful to oneself, to
one’s word, to the Tradition of the ancestors and to the Lwa. The point is
that one should never betray one’s self, one’s community, one’s
country and what humanity has made of one as a human being."
"We regard virtue
as acquired through self-discipline and predicate it of human beings only. Morality
involves conformity to an accepted code of right conduct. It is less elevated
but more concrete than virtue. Rectitude also
implies conformity to a moral code, but stresses intention or disposition.
Hence, a human being’s morality may arise from fear of punishment or of
censure, but that person’s rectitude can only come from a love of the right
and a conscious desire to follow it. The opposite of any kind of virtue are
vices, evil and despicability, all the many forms of ignobleness."
"Lying is never a virtue, but
neither are stupidity or putting oneself in a suicidal position".
"In life, it would be pure stupidity
to put forward the other cheek when someone hits you in the face. Against
violence, pull your machete. But make sure you had previously learned how to
hit well and how to ward off."
"Those who behave like earthworms
should never be surprised when people walk over them."
"Justice is the respect one shows
for the equality of the other person’s rights, not for his/her might or
"It is never good enough to live and
not suffer, one must also live happily. Happiness is not just a question of
luck, it has to be built on a daily basis by a constant practice of
politeness and good morales. It is never given and should never be taken for
granted." etc... etc...
These principles or rules of conduct are many
and they take into account the many different relationships which may exist
between the human being and the Universe, these include relationships with the
entirety of celestial bodies, the cosmos, and in a more restricted sense, the
earth, sun, moon, humanity, plant and animal kingdoms. Consequently, they
determine a definite and specific personality.
By using the freedom of
will that everyone disposes of, one may "willingly" decide to ignore
some, or even all, of these precepts, particularly when migrating toward foreign
lands. But, generally, in choosing to disregard any single one of them, one
automatically becomes conscious of doing wrong. Therefore, and at the same time,
in choosing not to behave properly, one also chooses to endure the negative
consequences of that decision.