Dr. Kofi Boahene, The Man Who Rebuilds Faces 4
The Ghanaian-born Dr. Boahene makes other controversial claims in his memoir. For instance, he incorrectly conflates Ghana and the Gold Coast. “The giving of English names dates to the days when Ghana was the slave-trading hub of West Africa (our emphasis),” he writes (Boahene, p. 136). Of course Ghana came into geopolitical existence in 1957, before then it was the Gold Coast. The Ghana Empire we studied in high school had since long been dead!
Again, he notes elsewhere (Boahene, p. 85): “With me were two fellow students, women from Guinea, a former French colony on Africa’s west coast, north of Ghana.” Guinea has never been identified with the cardinal north of Ghana. Rather, Guinea has been perching or sitting directly on the parietal lobe of Sierra Leone since European powers carved up the continent for themselves. On the other hand Burkina Faso is the one that sits directly on Ghana! Dr. Boahene therefore fits the description of this statement which he attributes to his American mother, Cindy: “chuckled over my father’s apparent geographical myopia” (Boahene, p. 67; our emphasis).
His other anecdotal assertion (Boahene, p. 136) that “Ghanaians are as likely as Brits or Yankees to give their children the names of movie stars or singers…” is highly debatable. What does this example of gross generalization say about the teeming generality of Ghanaian Muslims, of those inhabitants in the hinterland who lack access to the repertoire of Hollywood filmography—Western movies and Western tabloid journalism for that matter?
Furthermore, not even his version of the titular anglicization of Gold Coasters, and later of Ghanaians, is entirely accurate. He cites the difficulty of Europeans’ ability to pronounce and spell native names, names whose cultural assignation correlate(d) with particular days of the week a child was and is born, as the primary reason for the natives being assigned an assortment of European names.
What he refused or failed to tell his readers is even more revealing, in that the colonizing missionary saw African culture and African humanity as primitive, and specific cultural motifs, like native names, as paganistic and evil, hence the Christianized titular anglicization of the natives. That was how the natives ended up as “noble savages” and “savages.” The sad stories of Sarah Baartman and Ota Benga readily come to mind, thus reinforcing the Christianized stereotyping of the natives, African culture, and African people. Biblical and Talmudic exegesis gave birth to and reinforced these deadly stereotypes. Here is an example (Brenner, 1994):
“There is no denying that the Babylonian Talmud was the first source to read a Negrophobic content into the episode by stressing Canaan's fraternal connections with Cush…The Talmudic glosses of the episode added the stigma of blackness to the fate of enslavement that Noah predicted for Ham's progeny (The Ebb and Flow of Conflict: A History of Black-Jewish Relations Through 1900, pages 79-81)…
“Ham is told by his outraged father that, because you have abused me in the darkness of the night, your children shall be born black and ugly; because you have twisted your head to cause me embarrassment, they shall have kinky hair and red eyes; because your lips jested at my expense, theirs shall swell; and because you neglected my nakedness, they shall go naked" (page 81).”
Dr. Boahene then stops short of delving into the rich cultural history involving the assignation of theophoric names to the natives. Neither does he bother to inform his readers that the cultural assignation of theophoric names has never been a universal practice across the multiethnic spectrum of the Gold Coast, and now of Ghana. What is interesting here is that we have touched on this very important question in a piece we wrote for our international readers some years ago (Kwarteng, 2015):
“Then of course, application or adoption of theophoric names is common among certain ethnic groups in Africa including Akans, as Molefi Kete Asante, Ama Mazama et al. show in their edited volume, Encyclopedia of African Religion. They write: ‘Most important, it is held that children share some of the qualities of the specific deity that presides over the universe on that particular day of their birth…In Ghana, another type of theophoric name is known as ‘cosmological names.’ Among the Asante and Fante, children receive their names according to the day of their birth and, this, carry on the character of the spirit that presides over the cosmos on that particular day. Africa has a longstanding tradition of theophoric names, by which parents give to their children that express their relationship with God and their desire to see children grow in virtues…”
“They add: ‘Thus, children born on Friday, like UN Secretary General Annan, are called Kofi (with Efua as the female version) and those born on Saturday like the legendary president Kwame Nkrumah are called Kwame or Kwamena (with Ama as the female version)…’ Agyekum calls these theophoric names kradin or souls name (see The Sociolinguistic of Akan Personal Names)…”
Dr. Boahene’s limited knowledge about cultural anthropology and his tendentious, post-modernist oversimplication of cultural motifs as well as of general historical matters may have been his undoing. Delving into the sordid history of slavery and colonialism, and of the role of Christians and Christianity in making the institution of slavery and colonialism possible, may have been unsettling for him.
Our working theory? The idea that divine agency may have sponsored and maintained slavery and colonialism is not only morally objectionable—but intellectually unsettling as well. Dr. Boahene may therefore have fallen back on tactical silence as a means of escape from the fiery turbulence of his conflicted conscience. In this case divine agency becomes its own defense.
Finally, his pontifical statement (Boahene, p. 139) to the effect that “In general, Ghanaians are ardent Christians” is a serious contentious claim that does not easily lend itself to the critique of empirical substantiation. Christianity in Ghana today is more about the economics of exploitation for exclusive material gain and less about the imperatives of soteriology and communal neighborliness. Prosperity theology and greed and moral hypocrisy have alchemized divine agency into a bloodsucking kleptocrat—and a criminal cannibal whose only subsistence is the compromised carcass of human conscience.
People are wondering why with Christianity—and to a lesser extent Islam—on the rise in Ghana the country rather seems to be descending into the stinking gutter of moral decay and universal institutional corruption (Kwarteng, 2016). The ruling class, for instance, is predominantly Christian, and yet all we see and hear on daily basis is this shameless, kletocratic and kleptomaniacal Christian ruling class stealing everywhere under the glaring deception of Christian rhetoric, mostly culminating in the depletion of the national coffers not for the development of the country and its citizens but for the absolute enrichment of itself, while the masses wallow in abject poverty and institutional structures crumble in the infrastructural desert of decay for lack of sustained repair and renovation.
As a matter of fact, many in the clergy are filthy rich while the teeming generality of church-going Christians are as poor as a church mouse. The shameful irony of it all is that it is these same church-going Christians who have made these clerics so filthy rich. Thus political morality has overstayed its welcome in the Ghanaian political economy. Dr. Boahene's inspiring memoir glosses over these hard facts of social and political life in Ghana.
The church itself is an institution of corruption. And the church, the spiritual soul of this compromised carcass of human conscience, has become a den of thieves who steal in the name of the Lord without qualm, which is why some view the concepts of Christianity and Christian as mere nominal diversions from godliness and incursions into uninhibited indulgence in materialism, seemingly soaked in the moral imperative of righteous living. Christianity therefore does not mean much in the Ghanaian cultural economy, and yet Christianity is big business in the Ghanaian political economy, like it is in Nigeria and other places. Thus the Ghanaian Christian has reduced divine agency to a ridiculous nothingness of Nietzscheean absurdity. Ghanaian Christianity and Ghanaian Christians have murdered God in cold blood!
So, too, was Christianity reduced to the economics of exploitation prior to and during the heyday of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, which Dr. Asante alternatively calls the European Slave Trade (Asante, 2010), of the commodification of African humanity, a point we have belabored elsewhere. And of course, we are not excusing Islam and Muslims for the crimes committed against Africa during the Trans-Saharan Slave Trade (Soyinka, 2013). A cursory reading of Wole Soyinak’s Of Africa, Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Something Torn and New, and Chinweizu’s The West and the Rest of Us would have both informed and reinforced Dr. Boahene’s authorial credibility which has been hemmed in by this controversial question of public and academic interest.
FAITH, QUANTUM PHYSICS, AND BIOLOGY
And as we pointed out earlier in the first installment of this four-part series, we will not judge or question the basis of Dr. Boahene’s grudging infatuation with religion and his personal beliefs as he, just like Drs. Ben Carson and Francis Collins before him, poignantly acknowledges the pivotal role which his faith has played in his personal journey and the success story of his professional career. On the other hand Dr. Carson believes that God “performed” his high-profile surgeries in his behalf, the more reason why he also believes it is only divine intervention that could sufficiently account for the high degree of surgical precision he was able to attain in the operating room, in connection with neurological procedures—when he was in active service at Johns Hopkins. He has written about and publicly admitted to praying before conducting any surgical procedure.
Yet, unlike other deeply religious scientists and philosophers, Dr. Boahene does not consider instinct and common sense as inconsequential vehicles of human intellectual, spiritual and character development. In fact he considers the two as extremely important to survival, personal safety, and self-perpetuation. While Albert Einstein, who did not make any seminal contributions to the theory of relativity and of special relativity (Raju, n.d), would rank inspiration and intuition and imagination, especially the latter, over knowledge, Drs. Boahene, Collins, and Carson tended to bring the three variables together. However Far the Stream Flows is absolutely clear on this.
Of course Einstein did not imply knowledge was irrelevant to natural inventiveness, except that his view of imagination being superior to knowledge assumes a positon of a highly controversial character in the informed context of Dr. Chandra Kant Raju’s claim that Einstein did not make any seminal contributions to the theory of relativity, because anyone who has taken an in-depth look at the development of modern physics knows it takes imagination to come up with a theory as bold as relativity!
Now we bring up this contentious question of religion and of faith again, because since Dr. Boahene is a man of uncompromising faith, in fact a man whose unwavering faith in God and Christianity is not something he is ready to give up for any reason or in exchange for anything, and since he discountenances chance or luck as explanatory model for happenings in human existence, but willingly accepts divine agency and divine mercy as determiners of mortal fate, of events, one wonders what he actually makes of quantum physics which has room for probability?
Here he may side with Einstein’s “God does not play dice” statement, but what will he say about the randomness and entropy we see in nature? We do not think Stephen Hawking may be of help to our dear Dr. Boahene because many of his core ideas on quantum physics and even time (Hawking, 1998)sharply contradict Dr. Boahene’s about nature and life, for instance the occurrences of miracles. Our close reading of Dr. Boahene’s However Far the Stream Flows points to a world of miracles and inexplicable happenings in the life of a man who shuns serendipity and stochastic ideals about the human condition in favor of divine agency and divine mercy.
And yet quantum biology holds so much promise for Dr. Boahene’s field (Schrödinger, 1948).
SOME CRITICAL PERSPECTIVES
Nearly all of Dr. Boahene’s literary references draw upon the Eurocentric paradigm. In fact as far as we can recall, Dr. Boahene did not allude to any major literary work from the great intellectual library of the African world. We took Dr. Theresa Brown, another healthcare professional, to task for ignoring the rich literary universe of the African world in her book The Shift (Kwarteng, 2017).We wrote in part:
“Ms. Brown’s formulaic poetic and literary allusions are direct artefacts of the Western literary canon, as seen from her hagiographic references to Shakespeare, E.M. Forster, William Blake, John Milton, Rudyard Kipling, John Keats, Homer, and Ernest Hemingway, all writers this reviewer has read…
“On the contrary, there is no African voice in the entire narrative landscape of The Shift. This is deeply troubling as we strive to erect a society based on an ideological scaffolding of inclusiveness and cultural competency…
“The crux of the argument is that that patina of penetrating universalism and pervasive hegemony which this Eurocentric model stands for is such that it discountenances inclusive liberalism and cultural competence, in which case we have the Western voice alone assuming a majestic state of focused centrality, universality, and idealistic indispensability in our shared experiences.
“In our special case the Western literary canon becomes the ultimate triumphalist, arbitrative voice—the only authoritative voice of reason in behalf—of humanity. Yet our natural diversities and differential experiences in the midst of our common humanity dictate otherwise.
“It is therefore extremely important that we critically interrogate this tendentious, hegemonic Eurocentric model in the American academy even as we also explore other competing alternatives, built around accommodating models of inclusiveness, cultural sensitivity, political correctness, cultural and linguistic competence, and scientific objectivity…”
THE SCOURGE OF EUROCENTRISM: THE DANGER OF WRITING OUTSIDE OF HISTORICAL CONTEXT
Avoiding the literary universe of the African world and of other cultures, non-Western mostly, makes it possible for public intellectuals such as Dr. Boahene, to gloss over the long history of plastic surgery and medicine, as well as of the contributions of the non-Western world to medicine, plastic surgery and science in general (Finch, 2000; Obenga, 2004; Raju & Lal, 2009; Diop, 1989; Asante, 2000; Dompere, 2017; Bernal, 1987; Du Bois, 1979; Haber, 1992; Sertima, 1991 &1996, James, 2014; Bernal 1987, 2001).
What is the point of all these? To attempt to write outside of the proper context of history is not only devastating to human psychology, overall, but also dangerous to the health of race relations. Therefore in a sense one is compelled to acknowledge a general assumptive overlap between the stylistic formulation of Dr. Boahene’s authorial subtlety and Mary Lefkowitz’s “Not Out of Africa Thesis” (Lefkowitz, 1997).
Dr. Boahene could not even bring himself to mention Sushruta Samhita, a resourceful ancient Indian physician, let alone belabor his encyclopedic, seminal contributions to the fields of plastic surgery, gynecology, dentistry, medicine, and obstetrics. This glaring omission makes it possible for him to cut off New Zealand’s Sir Harold Gillies, the father of modern plastic surgery (Boahene, p. 193), from the long umbilical cord of plastic surgery history, thus rendering his historical timeline very problematic and in some other notable instances, his analysis of historical matters completely out of whack. This is exactly what Dr. Molefi Kete Asante meant when he wrote (Asante, 2017):
“A revolutionary pedagogy begins with a proper corrective at the level of chronology as a feature of place (our emphasis).”
It also partly explains why Dr. Boahene could reference Hippocrates rather than Imhotep (Bauval & Brophy, 2013) as the preeminent embodiment of medical knowledge. The ancient Egyptian medical text, the so-called Edwin Smith Papyrus, for instance, provides vital information on a set of practical-, rational- and scientific-based medical procedures which predates and surpasses the medical knowledge and wisdom of Hippocrates (Zimmerman & Veith, 1967).
Dr. Boahene makes the additional claim, a general one at that, and still a claim he clearly delineates on pages 188-189 of his memoir, However Far the Stream Flows, which he says cannot be taught to a medical student yet the Smith Papyrus implies this general claim was known in Ancient Egypt, and even transmitted to ancient Egyptian and foreign students seeking medical education, many thousands of years ago (Diop, 1991).One important fact we tend to overlook is the fact that, the ancient Egyptians did many things which modern science and technology cannot, and have consistently failed to, replicate, although several attempts have been made to suppress the rich legacy of this high civilization in historical time and still continuing (Bauval & Osman, 2012).
Even so Dr. Boahene got it right when he wrote “The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, considered the father of Western medicine…” (Boahene, p. 164), implying that Hippocrates could not have been the Father of Medicine! Of course Hippocrates, like some of his Greek contemporaries, according to the Ancient Greek author, Herodotus, who also spent some time in Ancient Egypt himself (Asante, 2009), was a student of the ancient Egyptians who came into contact with superior medical knowledge that had been known to the ancient Egyptians some 2000 years before his birth. As one notable scientist, scholar, historian, cultural theorist, nuclear physicist and Egyptologist put it (Diop, 1991):
“The Egyptian physicians were the ones who first had the idea of taking the pulse…
“The Smith Papyrus speaks of forty-eight cases of bone surgery and of external pathology. Its scientific conciseness has won the admiration of modern scientists. It is not a collection of prescriptions, but rather a veritable treatise on bone surgery.
“The method indicated by the papyrus for the treatment of the lower jaw was copied by Hippocrates and modern scholars. ‘The clinical observations have great precision and do honor to the surgeons of the Ancient Empire, 2600 B.C., who lived 2000 years before Hippocrates.’
“The Egyptian surgeons had reached the peak of their art from the Memphite epoch onward, at least in the domain of bone surgery: everything about them is to be admired, their ingenuity, their good sense.”
And of course, the ancient Egyptians were Africans (Bauval & Brophy, 2011; Diop, 1989; Raju, 2013).
This is why and where we think Dr. Boahene should upgrade his historical consciousness. We bring up this matter again because he unapologetically acknowledges his knowledge deficit about Africa. He and his Jamaican medical colleague paid a visit to Ghana as medical missionaries and wrote of his impressions about his colleague’s intimate knowledge of the great continent (Boahene, p. 165-166): “Dr. Anthony Brissett…born in Canada to Jamaican parents…Jamaican by heritage, he had a strong affection for and interest in Africa and Africana. He collected and studied African art and knew more about the continent than I (our emphasis).”
Yet in his sobering memoir he did not mention exploring or studying African art himself, and the immense possibilities of African art for reversing distortions in facial anatomy and for advancing the art of plastic facial-cosmetic surgery, just as his Shakespearean Hamlet skull has provided surgical breakthroughs and technical insights for him in the face of dire procedural challenges. As he himself later solemnly acknowledges (Boahene, p. 195): “For these highly complex procedures, I keep on my desk a skull that I often pick up and contemplate, much like Hamlet. In this case, however, I am not brooding about death but about how to preserve and enhance life.”
That is exactly what African art does, or is primarily for, preserving and enhancing life. Pablo Picasso and others invented or created cubism out of the daring aesthetic majesty of African art. African art also livens and animates top museums and galleries across the world—from the US, Europe, Australia, Asia, and Canada to Latin America. The influence of traditional African art forms on certain components of the national literature of the US for instance, as well as on literary theory and literary criticism, and on music has been explored in some appreciable detail by one of America’s foremost critical and literary theorists, Harvard’s Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Gates 1997 & 1998).
Finally, it is important we recognize that since Africa is the most genetically diversified continent on the planet, one can make the case that there is no typology of facial anatomy on the planet that cannot be found in the African prototype. This is what cubist artists such as Pablo Picasso taught us.
Western scholars and scholarship make Ancient Greece the birth of human civilization contrary to all available evidence. The received consensus from the literary canon of the ancient Greeks themselves points to a different story. These ancient Greeks agree that Ancient Greece was in fact the grandchild of other advanced civilizations—of Ancient Egypt primarily (Poe, 1997; Sertima, 1995).
What is more, a number of Greeks studied in ancient Egypt—who later became influential in the development of Greece civilization, and wrote about their experiences there (Obenga, 1996). Notes Dr. Asante (Asante, 2009): “Among Greek historians and others who wrote about what the Greeks learned from Egypt are Homer, Herodotus, Iamblicus, Aetius, Diodorous Siculus, Diogenes Laertius, Plutarch, and Plato. Who were some of the Greek students of Africans, according to the ancient records? They were Plato, Solon, Lycurgus, Democritus, Anaxamander, Anaxagoras, Herodotus, Homer, Thales, Pythagoras, Eudoxus, and Isocrates and many others. Some of these students even wrote of their studies in Egypt as well(our emphasis).”
We now know Hippocrates may not have authored the so-called Hippocratic Oath. As one writer puts it (Tyson, 2001): “While Hippocrates, the so-called father of medicine, lived in the early 5th century B.C., the famous oath that bears his name emerged a century later. No one knows who first penned it (our emphasis).”
Hippocrates also studied the works of Imhotep who appears as Asclepius in the Hippocratic Oath. While the unknown author of the original Hippocratic Oath makes the physician or healer swear by gods, we are told by none other than Herodotus, the father of Western history, in his Histories that all the Greek gods came from Egypt. Then also Homer, the legendary author of Iliad and Odyssey, wrote about Greek gods traveling across the ocean to feast with Ethiopians (Harvard University, n.d):
“Zeus went yesterday to Ocean to a feast with the blameless Ethiopians, and all the gods followed.”
We are also being taught that Pythagoras was the inventor of the so-called Pythagoras’ Theorem when, in fact, he too studied in Ancient Egypt where the Egyptians had known about and used the said Theorem a thousand years or so prior to his birth (Diop, 1991). The advanced civilizations of ancient Babylon/Mesopotamia, China and India knew about the Theorem too. Neither did philosophy originate in Greece (Asante, 2000; Obenga, 1998; Bernal,1987).
The point? Although we acknowledge the signal role which Dr. Boahene’s parents and Ghanaian teachers played in his character and intellectual development, we equally believe that he should have dedicated equal pages to the discussion of historical role models, scientists, physicians, philosophers, mathematicians, anatomists, biologists, and surgeons from the non-Western world—Africa, Asia, and Latin America—who also contributed to medicine and more specifically, to his specialties. Diversity is extremely important in race relations and therefore we hope to see more of it, that is, the question of diversity, explored in his subsequent book publications. After all, his target niche audience also includes non-Westerners—like this reviewer!
SPECIAL NOTE TO OUR INTERNATIONAL READERS
Readers should watch Dr. Boahene’s CNN interview here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_8kt6kCnLk
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