WHOEVER argued that Molefi Kete Asante, the celebrated African American scholar, came by his current name because he considered his maiden one slavish, really hit the nail on the head.
In fact, the US-based,Temple University professor does not only regard his birth name – Arthur Lee Smith Jnr. – a slave name, but a mockery of his true ancestors from Africa.
In an exclusive interview in Accra on Tuesday, Dr. Kete Asante, renowned globally for his scholarly contributions to African Studies, explained to The Spectator what informed the name change.
Branding himself “az radical transformatist,” Dr. Kete Asante likened an African bearing European name to a slave glorifying his master, which no self-conscious person should do.
He explained that names like his previous ones “are not names of our ancestors. The white people gave us those names, to ensure that their ancestors will always be praised, because every time you say Wilson or Washington, you are talking about a white person, and I refuse to do that”.
“I’m a radical, transformatist. I don’t believe we should be giving white people any glory at all. I’ve no faith in that. This is what we have learnt in the diaspora…we have to get Europe out of our imaginations.”
Suggesting to him that ‘Arthur’ and ‘Wilson’ were now Ghanaian and African names because of the Fantes, Dr. Kete Asante disagreed with this reporter.
“The Fantes had contact with Europeans, people with Dutch names. I’m sure blacks, even in the US, have names like Smith for over 200 years, but that’s not a name of our ancestors.
“I think the Fante people should really interrogate that, and question why we can’t find a name that is more in accordance with the Akan tradition. That’s what I would do, and that’s what most conscious African Americans are doing,” he asserted.
Called by the Utne Reader as one of the “100 Leading Thinkers in America,” Dr. Kete Asante was born in Valdosta, Georgia, in 1942 by black parents.
He is known for writings on Afrocentricity, a school of thought which urges Africans to wean themselves of any European domination, a cause he has dedicated his life.
“I came here and went to the University of Ghana and asked if they had a copy of my book, published in 1969, called, The Rhythmic of Black Revolution, which was published under the name of Arthur Smith.
“They said, ‘yes, we have the book, but we thought the person was Briton. I said ‘no,’ the name must go,” he said.
Asked about why the name Molefi Kete Asante, he explained that he chose Molefi to solidarize with the Apartheid struggles in South Africa.
“It is a name from the Sotho people, which means one who keeps his traditions,” he said, adding that the ‘Kete’ and ‘Asante’ were suggested to him in 1972 by Otumfuo Opoku Ware II, the then Asantehene, “during my first visit to Ghana.”
He said he eventually opted for the names because Ghana had always been “my first love,” and Ghanaians accepted him. He was enthroned Kyidomhene of Akim Tafo in 1995, under the stool name Nana Okru Asante Peasah I.
“But then, I later discovered that my wife’s DNA says she is from Ghana, but my own DNA says I’m from Yuroba,” he disclosed, bursting into laughter.
Following his DNA discovery, Dr. Kete Asante said the Yurobas also gave him a name, Adewale, which means ‘the crown has returned,’ but he has not used it.
A leading figure in the fields of African American Studies, African Studies and Communication Studies, Dr. Kete Asante has published over 77 books.
Currently the Chair, Department of African American Studies at Temple University, he arrived in Ghana on Monday, June 15, to deliver a lecture at the National Theatre on the topic: “This river is from long ago: Imagining a new African Studies future.”
It was hosted by the African University College of Communications (AUCC), as part of activities to rename its Africana Studies Centre after Prof. J.H. Kwabena Nketiah, the world-renowned ethnomusicologist.
By JAMES HARRY OBENG