Friday, April 13, 2012

Freemasons: Masters in Africa

It should come as no surprise that whether as a legacy of colonization or viewed as a return to it's birthplace, Freemasonry has spread throughout Africa.

Freemasonry has always fascinated Africans, particularly south of the Sahara, where initiation, esoteric worldviews akin to Hermeticism and rites of passage are the basis of community life. Although found in Anglophone Africa, in Francophone Africa the fraternity of "sons of light" has long been at the heart of what was called Françafrique. Whether leftist and right wing, many leaders of France's African policy were Freemasons. Diagne in the early 1920s until more recently Omar Bongo - who was the most famous African insiders have been active in the growth of the craft in Africa. A complex of mutual dependence where one can not distinguish what is lobbying, comprehensive insurance or pure spirituality, Freemasonry serves as many roles in the mother continent as it does elsewhere in the world.

This relative opacity that obscures rivalry as well as the amazing pageantry symbolic science of "three brothers" have led many fantasy wizards fan the flames of " Masonic conspiracy "that haunted Felix Houphouet-Boigny in the early 1960s. The high ranking involvement of Gabon's Omar Bongo, as with Côte d'Ivoire's Henri Konan Bedie, made it impossible to be influential in Libreville and Abidjan without being a mason. Freemasonry whether viewed as totem or taboo was absolutely essential to survival. What about today in the age of the Internet? The brotherhood of aprons, white gloves, squares and pillars of the temple is more than ever a path that works.

In the 1930s in Ghana, a Masonic lodge known as the Good templars was photographed by J.K. Bruce Vanderpuije. I have found no other information about them, but even in relative anonymity, they speak profoundly of the way in which Freemasonry, born out of Egyptian Hermeticism, and interpreted for centuries through the lens of European intellectualism and esotericism, was none the less evoked a strong sense of belonging to Africans across the continent.

Present but unobtrusive, in a "philosophical school" traditionally considered macho and on a continent where feminism is hardly viewed with respect, obediences which admit women have none the less found their space. Masonry where diversity is accepted - such as Le Droit Humain- but also in various lodges created by the Feminine Grand Lodge of France (GLFF), which opened lodges in seven African countries has grown. Madagascar even has a national obedience which is specifically feminine, the Great Malagasy Women's Rite. As their "sisters" of France, African Feminine masons are distinguished by their strong commitment to certain principles, such as defense of secularism and promoting women's rights, including the right to abortion.

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