The elder as a Symbol of Moral Authority on the African Continent. Part. 1

I begin with the African phrase/saying according to which “In Africa, when an “eldest” dies, it is a library that burns down

Talking about morals, morality, ethics and wisdom on the African continent is most often synonymous with talking about an older person, an adult or an elderly person. It happens naturally and the younger ones introject the same perception, without even questioning where it comes from and why it happens. On this path, we will explore some dictates about and try to explain the possible justifications from the elders’ speeches themselves or attributed to them in order to understand its unfolding. For this analysis we will use two arguments/justifications.

1- The knowledge and knowledge on the African continent is passed through orality

A good part of African cultures is based on oral tradition, it occupies a relevant space in the way people see and see themselves in the world, that is, their cosmovision is imbued and perceived with and through orality. For a better understanding I will bring examples.

According to Amaro (HÂMPATÉ, 2010), the Bambara tradition of Komo teaches that the word, Kuma, is a fundamental force that emanates from the Supreme Being himself, Maa Ngala, creator of all things. In other words, words do not constitute merely an intonation through which we can transmit a message, but are and above all an essential element of the link between God and men.

2- The oldest are our living libraries                    

The eldest are considered wise in African societies, because the same, having lived for several years, it is understood that the subjects are depositaries of the oral heritage and knowledge produced throughout their lives.

Depending on the African society the elders will be called by various names. In Mali they are called Doma or Soma, “Wiser”, while the Fulini peoples call them Silatigui, Gando Tchiorinke, “Wiser”. In Angola, depending on the people, it also gains different names, Soba, “Traditional Authority”, or the Kota term “Someone older or Elder Brother”, in Mozambique, they call Madoda “An Elderly Person”.

The two arguments mentioned above in a broader sense help us to understand the relevance of these subjects in society and they are responsible for resolving conflicts in societies and especially within countries on the African continent. The most experienced experts and advisers are considered. They are considered moral authorities because they must be imbued with a sense of responsibility and commitment to society, they must be a subject that defends the values, principles and ethics of the community. That is why the statement that in Africa when an older person perishes, many things have been lost is justified, and I would add that I have not simply lost a living library, but also a subject who provides us with the experiences of space of knowledge like JANGO (Normally place under trees).

Sentence to Think

“In the mouth of an eldest, teeth may be missing, but conscious (wise) words will never be lacking” – Kkongo Proverb

“When a king has good advisers/(wiser), his reign is peaceful.” – Ashanti proverb


HAMPATÉ BÂ, Amadou. A tradição viva. In: História geral da África, I: Metodologia e pré-história da África. 2.ed – Brasília: UNESCO, 2010.

Site Pensador. Link de acesso (2021):

Name of the personalities in the image (From right to left):

Paulina Chiziane – Mozambican writer

Amadou Hampaté Bâ – Malian writer

Unknown Author – Angolan Grandma

Unknown Names – Guinea Conakry and Mali

Pepetela – Angolan writerCheikh Anta Diop – Senegalese historian, anthropologist, physicist and politician.

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