From an African point of view

From an African point of view, community is paramount, fundamental and is that which defines the individual. It serves as a foundation upon which the individual is built and gives that individual a framework , the framework in which the individual exists. According to Mengiti (1984;171) the African view of man denies that persons can be defined by focusing on this or that physical or psychological characteristics of the lone individual. Rather , man is defined by reference to the environing community. This however is an articulation of Mbiti’s classic phrase , ‘I am because we are, and since we are therefore I am’, thus showing the depth of communal identity. It may be noted that one may not speak of an individual without mentioning the community, in an African sense. Mill ( ) as cited by Stephen(1967;28) posits that the community is indeed the framework through which the individual exists. For Mill , without the society we are little more than base animals, for Africans an individual ceases to exist without the community. This essay seeks to give an analysis of Ifeanyi Mengiti’s views of community in traditional Africa. For Mengiti, it is important to discuss personhood from an African perspective so as to understand the concept of ‘a community’.

Mengiti argued that , in Africa the community had priority over the individual as compared to the Western view which generally hold that a person is a lone individual. According to Menkiti, “as far as Africans are concerned, the reality of the communal world takes precedence over the reality of individual life histories”. Menkiti also defended the communitarian view on biological and social grounds because the individual comes from a common gene pool and belongs to a linguistic community. He notes that personhood is defined by community and not by qualities such as rationality, will, or memory.