Nkrabea and Yuan in Akan and Chinese: Cultural Intersections and Communication Implications in an African and an Asian Society by Molefi Kete Asante and Rosemary Chai | Confucianism | Cross Cultural Communication

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Nkrabea and Yuan in Akan and Chinese: Cultural Intersections and Communication Implications in an African and an Asian Society
Molefi Kete Asante and Rosemary Chai Journal of Black Studies 2013 44: 119 DOI: 10.1177/0021934713476891 The online version of this article can be found at: http://jbs.sagepub.com/content/44/2/119

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Nkrabea and Yuan in Akan and Chinese:  Cultural Intersections and Communication Implications in an African and an Asian Society

Journal of Black Studies 44(2) 119­–136 © The Author(s) 2013 Reprints and permission: sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/0021934713476891 jbs.sagepub.com

Molefi Kete Asante1 and Rosemary Chai2

Abstract There are two central propositions in our epistemological essay on culture and communication in human communities. The first is that Western scholars tend to study African and Asian cultures in relationship only to Western culture. Therefore, one may see comparative studies of American and Japanese responses to communication or British and Nigerian systems of values and respect.What is rare is to see how Japanese and Nigerian cultures interact, compare, or contrast. The second proposition is that most research work done in the social sciences and communication carries forth concepts and ideas grounded in Western epistemology. Ideas that originate in ancient Asian and African cultures are slighted for those that have emerged out of the Greek-Roman cultural matrix. By exploring the concept of destiny, we seek to demonstrate how African and Asian concepts can provide important information about the way humans communicate. Thus, nkrabea and yuan from the Akan and Chinese cultures are examined for communication implications.
1 2

Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, USA SCAD Hong Kong, Sham Shui Po, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Corresponding Author: Molefi Kete Asante, Temple University, African American Studies, 1115 Pollett Walk, Gladfelter Hall 810, Philadelphia, PA l9122. Email: Masante@/temple.edu

120 Keywords communication, destiny, culture, ideology

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A Prologue to Cultural Dialogue
There are two central propositions in our epistemological essay on culture and communication in human communities. The first is that Western scholars tend to study African and Asian cultures in relationship only to Western culture. Therefore, one may see comparative studies of American and Japanese responses to communication or British and Nigerian systems of values and respect. What is rare is to see how Japanese and Nigerian cultures interact, compare, or contrast. The second proposition is that most research work done in the social sciences and communication carries forth concepts and ideas grounded in Western epistemology. Ideas that originate in ancient Asian and African cultures are slighted for those that have emerged out of the GreekRoman cultural matrix. By exploring the concept of destiny, we seek to demonstrate how African and Asian concepts can provide important information about the way humans communicate. There are those who question why these ideas have not become standard within the discourses on communication, culture, and behavior. In the first place, the studies of human communication that we use in the West are largely derived from European classical ideas (Ishii, 2001). Thus, the works of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Quintilian, and other ancient Europeans inform the modern discussions of rhetoric, interpersonal communication, and even intercultural communication. What we mean is that the assumptions of those fields are situated in the context of Europe’s own history. However, we have come to understand over the past 30 to 40 years that in order for social scientists, artists, and communicationists to create a universal theory of human communication, we need to open our minds to the varieties of human experiences. Fortunately, the field of communication has numerous interculturalists who have added to the plural understanding of how humans communicate (Miike, 2002). Africanists have sought to advance the philosophy that agency is a component of all cultures, and therefore, in any academic discipline, it is reasonable to expect that people from various societies will have concepts that are useful (Karenga, 2006; Mazama, 2003). Since we know from the research of many scholars in intercultural and international communication that Asian and African communities often operate on the basis of different value assumptions than those in the West, it is important that we continue the creation of a body of work that supports global

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theorizing in culture and communication. Consequently, we have spent considerable time seeking to bring societies and cultures together through examination of major concepts, such as face, trust, respect, and power. Globalization and new technologies have made the world smaller, producing more awareness of conflicts. Yet there are other interactions that should allow us to entertain approaches to major human concepts that we have not experienced before. To make the world better, by which we mean, to make humans more satisfied with their lives and situations, we must know more about each other. Western domination of intellectual ideas about Asia and Africa has often meant that the authentic voices of Asian and African people have rarely been heard. Of course, in the case of the ancient histories of Asia and Africa, there are considerable literatures, but yet there has been limited information that has made its way into the discourse on communication. Few scholars in the West are familiar with the classical African philosophers, such as Duauf, Amemomope, Merikare, Akhenaten, Imhotep, and Amenemhat (Asante, 2000). While more Westerners know Confucius and Laotzu, they are essentially ignorant of other Asian thinkers. The efforts made by Asian scholars in the past decades have been noteworthy in the advancement of Asian approaches in communication theories (Chen & An, 2009; Chen & Chung, 2004; Dissanayake, 2003; Kim, 2001; Miike, 2002; Miike & Chen, 2003, 2006). Significant work has been done on Asian concepts in communication (Kim, 2005; Miike, 2009). Although it is recognized that the hegemony of European-centered ideology and theories continues to dominate the thinking of communicationists, progress is being made in reinterpreting how Asian culture is seen (Miike, 2010). In the same vein, numerous Afrocentric scholars have articulated the value of African ideas for communication (Asante, 2008; Blake, 2009; Karenga, 2006; Mazama, 2003). The process is an ongoing one that will continue to benefit critical thinkers.

Toward a Conference of Ideas Around Destiny
This essay interrogates the complex dimensions that people in China and Ghana understand about the idea of destiny. In ancient European thinking, destiny carried the idea of Fates. It had the meaning of something that is bound to happen to a person; it might even be called fortune or luck. What we wanted to explore in this article is how this term has come into use in an African and an Asian context. Of course, we are unable to discuss all of the examples in Asia or Africa and therefore have limited our discourse to meditations on the use of the concept of destiny in China and Ghana. Actually, in China, we have utilized the dominant Han culture, and in Ghana,


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we have used the dominant Akan culture as sites for our exploration of destiny. Thus, the limitations of this article are clear: We are not trying to explain all of Asia or all of Africa, yet we believe that an understanding of these two powerful cultures might give us some insight for intercultural relations. Destiny is not the only concept that scholars have examined for its variation in culture. Harry C. Triandis (1993) has contended that individualism and collectivism have often been used to provide a universal framework for cultural variation. John Mbiti (1992) examined the idea of religion in African culture with an eye toward demonstrating how Africans arrive at different conclusions than Westerners. Some people claim that Asians are more high context and indirect whereas White Americans are more low context, verbose, and direct. Communication modes among Asians tend to be more nuanced, more complex, and less straightforward as they are more skillful than Western counterparts in deciphering nonverbal cues and the surrounding context. White Americans, more sender oriented than Asians, who are more adept in expressing complicated nuances and unspoken underlying meanings, are theorized to be more direct and low context in their interaction with others. The intricate concept of face in Asian communication is inextricably interwoven with Asians’ predilection for high-context communicative behavior. Some claim that this predilection has its roots in Confucianism. From this philosophy, it is argued that the greatest spiritual achievement in one’s life is the search for a harmonious relationship with others. Among the values that are highly valued are duty, sincerity, loyalty, modesty, deference to authority, and avoidance of direct confrontation. Western philosophical traditions are thought to be more linear in explaining the process of interpersonal relationships. Westerners tend to experience more difficulties and challenges in accommodating and acculturating to the subtle ways of Asian communicative behavior than the more versatile, flexible, and culturally informed Asians, who are better able to adapt to Western culture and lifestyle (Chai & Fontaine, 2007). While the cultures of Asia and Africa are complex, dynamic, diverse, heterogeneous, and infused with their own distinct histories, cultures, and character, they must also be seen for their diversity. Yet the idea of destiny may hold useful lessons for the concept of cultural agency. In Ghana in West Africa, the idea of nkrabea is similar to the Chinese idea of yuan, and yet as can be expected, there are differences. Exploration of the similarities and differences will assist in building a truly intercultural understanding. Numerous scholars are approaching concepts with a more intense concentration on the thoughts of those usually unheard in the Western academy (Bellegarde-Smith, 2005).

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Nkrabea and Yuanfen
In Akan culture, the idea of nkrabea is at the base of a spiritual relationship a person has to reality and others (Opoku, 1975/2010). Thus, some people think that a certain form of destiny, such as to become a leader of a community, is reflected in the term nkrabea. Yet one does not have to “see” the future or “hear” voices that dictate one’s personal direction in order to experience nkrabea. However, nkrabea allows a person to expect a positive relationship with nature, family, friends, and ancestors. When two people meet, they are meeting as two individuals with different nkrabea, and therefore in the meeting, they are always working out the relationship of their nkrabea to each other. Consequently, to the African in Ghana, success in human relationships or communication might be said to depend upon nkrabea. On the other hand, to the Chinese, intercultural relationships, interpersonal relationships, and success of interactions depend on yuan. Relationships in China are viewed multidirectionally, the primary cause is within the control of individuals, and the guide is from Confucianism because it is seen as the principle ethos for humanistic being. The choice is up to the individual whether to display benevolence (ren) and righteousness (yi) in a relationship. In other words, a relationship may succeed on the premise of making wise choices that may lead to a healthy outcome of the relationship. Yuan may be considered secondary to the person’s decision. In the Buddhist version of the philosophy, yuan is considered to be pivotal in determining the length of relationship, the time and place of encounter, and the process in which the relationship grows or digresses. Therefore, while Chinese may attempt to ensure that all goes well in their association by making “right” choices based on the ethos of Confucianism, the outcome could still turn out to be disastrous in the absence of yuan. Europeans tend to believe that interpersonal relationships can be worked out through personal effort; to the Chinese, without positive yuan, nothing may seem to work. Africans, especially in the Akan culture, believe that many things are determined even before birth and therefore a person’s nkrabea is always at work. A person’s life is spent seeking to ensure that he or she is on the path toward his or her destiny. Some people may never find the path, and when they are dislocated, they are under great stress and pressure to do all within their power to make the proper decisions in order to regain a sense of place and location on the road to destiny. Among the Chinese, yuan has been defined as something that supports, assists, or cooperates with an event rather than being the precise cause of it. Thus, yuan is different from yin, which is the direct cause of something. Yuan can be called


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the circumstantial or secondary cause, whereas yin may be called the direct or fundamental cause of action. Yuan anchors all interpersonal relationships. They can last only as long as yuan is present. Consequently, relationships are dissolved when yuan is no longer present.

Yuan in Chinese Society
Yuan has its origin in Buddhism and is found in the beliefs of predestination and fatalism. The development of interpersonal relationships, particularly in traditional Chinese society, is held to be predestined, predetermined, and unalterable. While Confucianism specifies the roles and rules in dealing with different relationships between (a) the ruler and the ruled, (b) fathers and sons, (c) husband and wife, (d) siblings, and (e) friends, it does not explain the complexities and intricacies of interpersonal relationships. Yuan fills the gap. Chinese scholars have used the lotus plant to explain the difference between yin and yuan: The lotus seed is the yin, but it cannot grow by itself into a plant; rather its growth is aided by human effort, soil fertilizers, sunlight, air, and a pond or earthen pot filled with water. These are the necessary conditions for the growth of the lotus plant and, as such, are the assisting yuan. (Sun, 2008, p. 96) In order for a thing to exist, the yuan must be present and ignited (Sun, 2008). There is the beginning (ignition) of yuan to start with, and the decline of yuan (yuan qi yuan mie) explains the life cycle of things, including interpersonal relationships (Sun, 2008). The meaning of yuan may be broken down in three main categories, according to (a) the duration, (b) the quality or nature of relationship formed, and (c) the type. Two different kinds of yuan are found in the category of duration: yuanfen and jiyuan (yuan of opportunity or chance). Yuanfen is thought to have permanent influence, and jiyuan is the yuan of temporary interaction (Yang & Ho, 1988). Yuanfen determines all lasing relationships involving family members, relatives, friends, or colleagues. Jiyuan, on the other hand, is thought to exist when two or more persons find themselves riding on the same tour bus, staying in the same hotel, or even experiencing similar misfortunate. The quality of yuan can be broken down into good yuan (liang yuan) and bad or evil yuan (nie yuan). Good yuan is said to be a gift from heaven,

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while nie yuan stems from the manufacturing of negative karma (zao nie); the effect is not an act of heaven but, as we see also in Akan culture, the consequences of human acts. A long-lasting friendship is thought to be of good yuan, while a relationship that ends in a catastrophic fashion, such as one partner’s taking the life of another, is considered nie yuan. Yuan by type is categorized by functions served. Yuan by type cuts across a wide spectrum of activities that individuals engage in. For example, yuan of marriage must be present for love to be consummated; the yuan of healing, for an illness to be successfully diagnosed and treated; the yuan with books, for a student to excel academically (otherwise the student is said to have no yuan with books [shu yuan]; and the yuan in gambling, for one to win (if someone keeps losing in a game of chance, he or she is said to have no yuan in winning at a gambling [du yuan]). Yang and Ho (1988) argue, The formation of interpersonal relationships is held to be predestined and therefore unalterable. Yuan is said to predetermine whether a relationship will be characterized by attractive or repulsion—which is why some relationships are harmonious and fortunate, whereas others are awkward and even disastrous. Close relationships—such as those between father and son, or husband and wife—are supposed to result from yuan; and so are superficial acquaintanceships—such as those formed following a casual meeting. Indeed, yuan is said to exert its influence in virtually all interpersonal relationships . . . on the basis of predestined affinity or enmity. (pp. 59-60) For the Chinese, yuan is pivotal in any form of interpersonal encounter, ranging from superficial to committed relationships. Yuan is placed in the central role of relationships as reflected in these idioms clearly articulated by Sun (2008): 1. You yuan qian lilai xiang hui, wu yuan dui mian bu xiang feng. Translated, it means that if yuan is present, people will travel thousands of miles to meet each other. However, if there is no yuan, two people might have a face-to-face encounter and not have any form of connection at all. 2. Yin yuan bens hi qian sheng ding, bus hi yin yuan mo qiang qiu. Translated, it means that the yuan available to form an intimate or marital relationship is predetermined in one’s past lives. If such yuan does not exist, one should not forcibly try to make it happen.


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The Expressions of Yuan
Some key Chinese language expressions relating to yuan articulated by Chang and Holt (1991) are summarized as follows: 1. Presence or absence of association: As stated earlier, success or failure in relationships between two people is dependent on whether two people “have yuan.” Two common expressions to describe such situation are yu yuan, meaning “to have yuan,” and wu yuan, meaning “not to have yuan.” For the Chinese experiencing wu yuan, yuan is used as a defense mechanism to save one’s face and as a form of consolation. For example, a couple may love each other (presence of emotions) but the unfortunate existing conditions do not allow them to be together; hence they comfort themselves by saying, “Perhaps in the next life, we can have yuan.” 2. Bad relationship: Nie yuan describes a “bad relationship.” Nie is an extremely derogatory term that simply means “very bad,” or the relationship cannot work out. An example is when two people, each married to someone else, develop feelings for each other. It could also apply to when two people, married to each other only to find out later that they do not love each other, finally get a divorce. 3. Matched yuan (tou yuan). An example of tou yuan is when two people meet and one party feels very comfortable and connected with the other. Even two people with very different personalities may experience tou yuan 4. Unmatched yuan (bu tou yuan). The opposite of matched yuan, one party feels uncomfortable with the other person not because of differences in personality incompatibilities but because of a feeling that the association with the other is “just not right.” 5. Human yuan: Ren yuan refers to people who are generally very likable by others—a relation between a person and a group of people. Personality, in this respect, plays a large part when a person has ren yen. 6. Follow yuan: Sui yuan exists when one does not force contact with another person but allows things to fall naturally. If it works out, it works out; if it does not, it is better to leave it than to strategize the situation so that things might work out. 7. Xi yuan: Cherish yuan extends mere follow yuan. Instead of just allowing things to fall naturally, xi yuan is proactive and filled with action. For example, for two people to remain together, they have to

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do their best to maintain their relationship. Hence, treasuring relationships here and now is important as mere follow yuan might be too passive. A recent preliminary study among a sample of Hong Kong residents, of whom 86% were college students between the ages of 18 and 33, revealed a significant, positive correlation between participants’ belief in yuan and relationship satisfaction (Chen, 2009). In another study, among the Taiwanese participants, extended interviews with 10 graduate students revealed that the Buddhist conception of yuan plays a significant role in structuring how Chinese think about their interpersonal relationships (Chang & Holt, 1991). In another study that explored contemporary conceptions of yuan, surveys distributed to more than 500 students from a Taiwan and Hong Kong university resulted in three themes: (a) conceptions of yuan and yuanfen, (b) belief or disbelief in yuan, and (c) relationships involving yuan. Using statistical analysis to examine the responses, the authors found that 62% of the participants subscribed to the notion of yuan as changeable, unpredictable, or uncontrollable. The category on whether participants believe or do not believe in yuan revealed that a high percentage of them subscribe to the Chinese sayings attributed to yuan (Yang & Ho, 1988). It appears that many Chinese still believe in the power of yuan; however, they also feel that whether a relationship works out or not can be affected by the individual. Indeed, in the classic book The Art of War, Tzu Sun (2008) says one of the “heads” that must be answered by the one who will engage in war is “with whom lie the advantage derived from Heaven and Earth” (p. 17). Although the association between yuan and traditional Buddhist beliefs has weakened (Yang & Ho, 1988), the belief in yuan is a reality for most young Chinese today (particularly, students), given the results of four studies that have so far been conducted in the past 20 years (Chang & Holt, 1991; Chen, 2010; Yang & Ho, 1988). These young people see themselves as “the modern Chinese,” who are separate from both Westerners and traditional Chinese but still maintain a stronghold of Chineseness in their cultural beliefs and practices (Bond, 1991; Goodwin & Findlay, 1997). Yuan is no longer seen as fatalistic but is considered “fatalistic voluntarism,” in which the conception of relationships is no longer dichotomized as either predestined or brought upon by personal choice and effort but, rather, is seen as a combination of the two forces. Three elements in fatalistic voluntarism are highlighted (Sun, 2008): 1. It does not negate the notion of predestination.


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2. It emphasizes that achievement is possible through personal effort and willpower. 3. It empowers individuals to transform predestinations into motivation for achievement. Representing a crossroads of the old and new, the concept does not seek to negate the importance of yuan, but it empowers the individual to take responsibility for his or her actions. Fatalistic voluntarism provides an explanation when a relationship is not working out, using yuan as the reason for its negative outcome, thereby creating equilibrium and possibly peace of mind. By attributing failures to some external, unknown, but credible forces alleviates an individual from blaming others or himself or herself (Sun, 2008). Freedom plays a significant role in Chinese cultural understanding along the continuum of yuan traditional beliefs (fatalistic determinism and predestination) at one end and modernistic yuan beliefs (congeniality, harmony, and comfort) at the other end. The culture of China is ancient. Among the earliest philosophers in China were Confucius and Laotzu. While Confucianism has much impact in the social and political value system, Buddhism came in during the Han dynasty as a philosophy with elements of karma and predestination. Actually, karma is associated with the idea of what we were born with, and predestination is an aspect of what we can expect. Yuan predetermines whether two people are able to get along and establish a close bond and relationship. The predestined affinity or enmity between the two parties depends largely on whether they have yuan or no yuan. Yuan fen is the idea that when things happen to a person in a wonderful way, the person has experienced yuan fen. This is a good quality. Thus, when communication between two persons appears to be easy, comfortable, and without problems, it is possible to say that yuan fen exists in that situation.

Origin of Nkrabea in Ghana
The classical civilizations of Africa are Kemet and Nubia, two Nile Valley cultures that have influenced many aspects of African life from libation to burial, from ancestral reverence to reincarnation. Ghana is located in West Africa and among the many ethnic groups in Ghana are the Akan, the largest group, with kinship affinity to ancient Kemet (Meyerowitz, 1960). Among the Akan, there is a general belief in human destiny. The idea of destiny recognizes both the power of the unknown as well as the limitations of human beings. The word for destiny in the Akan language is nkrabea.

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Everyone is born with nkrabea; there cannot be a human without it because it is something that comes with birth itself. It is composed of several important elements. In the first place, the verb kra means to “take leave of” or to bid farewell to the realm of the unknown so as to capture the idea that when one is born, one is actually saying goodbye to Providence. Nkrabea literally means “the manner in which a soul departs for the earth.” One may call this “fate,” “life,” “granted life,” or “prescribed lot.” The idea also carries with it the manner of one’s death; that is, it is fixed beforehand and remains unchanged.

The Wisdom of the Elders
Since the Akan believe that a person receives his or her nkra from the Divinity prior to entering the earth, the nkra, message, is a link between the human and the divine. As Kwame Gyekye (1996) and Kofi Asare Opoku (1975/2010), two of Ghana’s leading intellectuals, understood, there are numerous expressions in Akan that refer to the nkrabea of a person. For example, the Akan have these important sayings: The yam that will burn when fried will also burn when boiled. The tree that will shed its leaves knows no rainy season. If you are destined to die by the gun, you will not die by the arrow. What is destined to succeed will not fail to prosper. If wood remains in the water for a thousand years, it will never become a crocodile. In these passages, the Akan philosophers are stating the precise idea that all things have their own nkra as dictated before they began to function. In fact, wood will remain wood and will never become a crocodile because the destiny of wood and the destiny of a crocodile are different. One can say that the tree that sheds its leaves is not a tree of the tropic regions because the destiny has already been decided. Like the tree or the crocodile, the human being has a particular destiny. While the idea of destiny is often thought of in connection with free will, determinism, and punishment, the African thinkers who designed the concept for the Akan society had their own reasons for doing so. As Gyekye (1995) observed, in Akan, if a thing is named, then it is real. Furthermore, each human being has one head, but heads differ; so it is with destiny. There are many destinies according to the number of human beings, but all humans have destiny. Thus, the Akan notion of nkrabea is tied to Divine Providence in a way that yuanfen is not. Indeed, Western humanism


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also emphasizes the idea of the evolution of human beings that may run in a different manner than nkrabea. The Akan thinkers found their notion of nkrabea in the experiences of human being. Thus, abrabo, human life, determines the location of all thoughts about nkrabea. In the mind of the Akan, one cannot live in a village among other human beings and not see that destiny is real. Quite frankly, if one observes life, one will see that different people have certain propensities, talents, and abilities, and that some other people demonstrate in their lives the reality of fortune, misfortune, disappointments, joys, and richness whereas others do not experience life in the same way. This is the basis for nkrabea; it is found in the individuality of the human experience. We can see that there are individuals who seem to have good fortune all the time, and then there are those who seem to be constantly in trouble. These are the ideas that suggest nkrabea to the Akan thinker. However, if a person commits an act (asiane) not influenced by destiny, which means that it is an accidental act, then he or she will not commit it again. Such an act is easily corrected. Yet if a person commits an act that is influenced by destiny, this is shown to be a part of the person’s unalterable character. It is the persistence of an activity that dictates whether or not it is a part of destiny. The Akan say that it is your destiny that makes you who you are. The same is true for every individual, and therefore, the key for human society has to be the uniqueness of each person in communication with others. There is an expression, obiara ne ne nkrabea, which literally means “each person has his own destiny.” The centrality of human beings in the universe is a part of the African idea of destiny. This means that the person must show respect and reverence for both the visible and the invisible spheres of life (Magesa, 1998, p. 72). Magesa (1998) says of the finality of the human being that “sociability with all people and harmony with the universe is the guiding ethical principle” (p. 72). Now what are the implications of this principle for communication? It is important to remember that in the Akan view, the human must be in harmony with both the animate and the inanimate worlds in order to claim the energies and vital forces in them. The Akan say, “Nkrabea mu nni kwatibea.” This means that the destiny one has been assigned cannot be escaped. In effect, the order that has been given is settled and cannot be altered unless one carries out certain rituals to alleviate the harshest aspect of one’s destiny. So for nkrabea to be fixed does not mean that it is immutable; it means only that if one believes that his or her destiny is negative, then ritual is necessary to change the destiny. However, it is not easy. One must learn to come to terms with one’s destiny rather than try to change it.

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It is believed that a person’s okra receives his or her destiny before birth. Thus the nkrabea is often called the hy3bea, which means “the way and manner in which one’s destiny was ordered.” Once the okra, similar to Western idea of soul, has been imprinted with destiny, a person enters the world with certain attributes that would assist in achieving the destiny. Since the idea of destiny is not like saying that one’s destiny is to be a teacher, engineer, lawyer, or any other professional occupation but, rather, like saying that one’s character will reflect justice, mercy, truth, righteousness, and goodness, one can see just how critical it is for a person to communicate with others. Everyone wishes for a good destiny. It is an indication that the person “fits” well in the community of ancestors as well as among the living. A good destiny is akraye; a bad destiny is called akrabiri in Akan. When one seems to have akrabiri, a bad destiny, as indicated by how one gets along with others, treats one’s parents, interacts with strangers, communicates with the elders, and “fits” into the society, it is a serious existential problem that can be dealt with only through ritual (Owusu-Frempong, 2005). One finds similar ideas among other groups of Africans. For example, among the Yoruba of Nigeria, the idea of destiny is also well developed. A good destiny is olori-re, and a bad destiny is olori-buruka in Yoruba. Among the Yoruba, the idea of destiny is called ipinori, that which is given to the ori, the head. The Yoruba believe that a person receives this in one of three ways. A person may kneel and choose his or her destiny; this is called A-kunle-yan, “that which is chosen.” One may kneel and receive one’s destiny; this is called A-kunle-gba, “that which is given.” An individual may have a destiny attached to him or her; that is A-yan-mo. Both the Akan and the Yoruba believe that while in theory, destiny is unalterable, in practice, there are some factors that can influence it for good or evil. A person may consult a divinity to have a good destiny maintained or prolonged. The Yoruba believe that a good destiny that is accompanied by a bad character is disaster. Among the Akan, it is said that Opanyin ano sen suman, that is, “the wisdom of the elders is worth more than any amulet or charm.” This is not a fatalistic concept. People tend to work to have their destinies prolonged and changed. It is only the inexplicable traits of humans that are explained by destiny. Consequently, how one communicates with another human being can be affected by destiny, particularly if one is a victim of an inexplicable character issue. For example, if a person is constantly misunderstanding the intentions or the language of another, then it might be considered a problem of destiny. On the other hand, if a person is able to communicate with another without difficulty, then it is also a function of destiny. Of course, if one has a problem with communication, the Akan idea of nkrabea demands that the person seek measures to


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correct the course of destiny. The key objective is to hold back chaos. The Akan belief is that humans are not the masters of the universe; they are only the beneficiaries and therefore must live in harmony with it. The universe has existed long before humans and will exist long after humans; it is important to maintain the idea of humility, even as humans walk upon the earth. The Akan say the earth is Asase Yaa, a sacred place, and must be walked on carefully and softly. Nkrabea also suggests nkra, life, which corresponds to the ancient African idea of ankh, life, or living. During the rise of the ancient Kemetic civilization in 3400 BC, the African people along the Nile River found the concept of ankh as a key to their culture. The Akan culture is related to ancient Kemetic culture in fundamental ways that have been pointed out in numerous articles and books. Ritualized structures and symbolic processes suggest a direct connection between Akan and the classical Nile Valley civilizations of Africa in the concepts of naming, kinship, and destiny. One of the central ideas in ancient African cultures is maat, which is usually rendered justice, balance, harmony, order, truth, righteousness, and reciprocity. Thus, when one discovers in a communicative relationship an adequate or proficient sense of unity, one can say that maat exists. Similarly, in a person’s home, when the chairs, paintings, beds, sofas, cabinets, and vases are said to be in perfect unity, then maat also exists in that space as an expression of destiny, a good destiny for the items in the room. This is the essence of nkrabea, the idea of destiny, that is the key to understanding human relationships. The Chinese and the Akan philosophy see the notion of destiny as being greater than the human being. The Chinese idea of ming yuan carries with it the notion of fate that comes from a source outside of the human, hence, yuan from ming, heaven. In Africa, the Akan say that nkrabea is from Nyame, that is, from a divine energy greater than humans.

Nkrabea and the Concept of Personhood
Nkrabea must begin with the concept of the person. In the Akan culture, a person is basically composed of several components: okra, mogya, sunsum, and so on. But people are also members of an abusua, family, and exist in the context of community, which includes both the living and the dead. Therefore, all communication has certain ritualized ideas of respect and loyalty based essentially on the concept of family. 1. One exists within a community and therefore must work to assist others in carrying out their destinies.

Asante and Chai


2. One cannot communicate alone as there is no dancing alone. 3. One’s destiny must be recognized in order for one to detect communication problems. 4. We are all part of the same existential condition and must ferret out our destinies. Even the idea of kinship reflects this closeness so that age groups share common mothers and common siblings. There are no first cousins, only brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, uncles and aunts. Nkrabea suggests that each human is unique and has value apart from others but this value is meaningless without community. No person is without nkrabea, although many people will never discover their nkrabea. Only through conscious communication with other people can one truly discover nkrabea. The reason for this is because within the community of humans, there is an endless variety of possibilities, and it is when we interact with others that we observe that which completes us, makes us feel whole, satisfies us, and brings us to maat. In ancient Africa, the priests would say, “Amenhotep,” meaning “the divine is satisfied,” when an action that was considered difficult or extraordinary had been achieved. One wanted to arrive at the point when every action, however small or large, would seem natural, expected, like water running off of a duck’s back. It is then that one would have achieved all the possibilities of nkrabea because there would be order, balance, and harmony.

A Concluding Word
Western consciousness carries the conviction that adults are masters of their fate. Unexpected events and mysterious coincidences challenge this cultural bias. For Westerners, however, these challenge can evoke a spiritual response—greater openness to dimensions of life that lie beyond autonomous personal control. Having a strong connection to their extended families and institutions, the Akan and the Chinese have a complex sense of personal agency in the interest of family and community. As we have shown, the concepts of yuan and nkrabea as well as other ideas must be explored in any attempt to construct a clear pathway to a holistic philosophy of communication. An appreciation of the various manifestations of African and Asian cultural concepts will broaden and enlighten the discourse in communication and other disciplines.

134 Declaration of Conflicting Interests

Journal of Black Studies 44(2)

The authors declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

The authors received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

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Author Biographies
Molefi Kete Asante teaches African history, culture, and aesthetics in African American Studies at Temple University. Rosemary Chai teaches communication and culture at the SCAD Hong Kong University.

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