That said, I've become increasingly aware of and interested by cultural images of Africa and Africa-ness in Russia and America. For example, on one warm spring day in Moscow I encountered a group of musicians at Chistye Prudy, dressed as crocodiles, lions, and bears, performing for a crowd of children and parents. They were singing this popular children's song, which is, from what I can gather, a kind of Russian Jabberwocky:
When I returned to the U.S., I decided it would be nice to spend some time doing something totally unrelated to my research and to my visit to Africa. I eventually settled on what seemed to be the furthest possible thing from my travels: installing Linux on an old laptop.
(I'll wait for you to stop chuckling before I continue. Yes, I know. Linux. The supremely nerdy but cost-free operating system. I try very hard to hide it, but at heart I really am an ultratechnogeek.)It turns out, though, that I was wrong. While searching for which "flavor" of Linux would best suit my aging Hewlett-Packard, I came across a popular version called Ubuntu. What does Ubuntu mean? Here's what the makers of this version of Linux have to say:
Ubuntu is an African concept of 'humanity towards others'. It is 'the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity'. The same ideas are central to the way the Ubuntu community collaborates. Members of the Ubuntu community need to work together effectively, and this code of conduct lays down the "ground rules" for our cooperation.Where to begin, huh? I mean, there's nothing terribly extraordinary about the cultural image of Africa -- not a country, nor a nation, nor even really an actual continent, but an ideal of Africanness -- used in the service of marketing a product, even in the case of computer software. Rhetoric by non-Africans about African knowledge, rituals, legends and proverbs has a long and rather distasteful history. Suffice it to say that whenever I hear someone talk about "African concepts", I'm immediately reminded of Calgon's "Ancient Chinese Secret."
And maybe this is just more of the same, with these Linux programmers and users casting themselves as more than mere nerds but ethical and socially conscious nerds undertaking a revival of the Ancient Chinese Secret... excuse me... the African Concept of fairness, sharing, and humanity that is Ubuntu. But I must admit that even after installing Ubuntu on my computer, I was not prepared to discover that the system came preloaded with a video file about the relationship between Ubuntu the software and Ubuntu the concept... featuring Nelson Mandela!!!