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Re-evaluating the Geometry of African Civilisation; Fractal Geometry

Part 2 Dissertation 2014
Sonia Ricketts
Birmingham City University UK
Anthropologists have observed that patterns produced in different cultures can be characterised by specific design themes. For example in Europe the Cartesian grid pattern that underlines our city plan forms the foundation of our mathematics. In China, the hexagon is of significance stemming from the importance of six in many Chinese belief systems. However, the fractal design themes of the African nations have been dismissed and devalued from a Eurocentric perspective as primitive or copying nature. In the book ‘African Fractals Modern Computing and Indigenous Design’, the ethnomathematician Ron Eglash takes a revolutionary mathematical perspective on the geometry of African culture. Eglash expounds how fractal geometry is deeply imbued throughout African culture in sophisticated deterministic systems that underlie our shared civilisation.

This dissertation explores the works of Ron Eglash using Nigerian author Chinua Achebe’s novel ‘Things Fall Apart’ to set a cultural context. Based on the Ibo culture of Nigeria, Achebe’s novel tells the tale of the protagonist Okonkwo, who struggles to save his village and the Ibo way of life from colonial powers.

What draws these two works together is that they both challenge the Eurocentric perspective on Africa- a perspective which is rooted and shaped by issues of race, colonialism and slavery. Achebe paints a delicate web of the sophisticated intricacies of the Ibo culture, whilst Eglash reveals the advanced mathematical knowledge rooted and expressed in African cultural artefacts.

Using the works of Achebe and Eglash this dissertation aims to redress any persisting notion that Africa and the African is devoid of any higher culture. Looking at the geometric framework within African belief systems, African textiles as well as Architecture, the cultural depth of fractal systems is revealed pointing to an informed application of advanced mathematics.

Sonia Ricketts

Prof Mohsen Aboutorabi
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