I had some interesting discussions today with both friends and readers. Some are academically trained and some aren’t. One reader with whom I spoke admitted to me that she dropped out of high school in the ninth grade (she is an olorisha with 30 years of Yemayá on her head). One friend who is an adjunct professor made some very interesting comments while discussing another similar situation. And sitting here now, balancing the comments of the adjunct professor with the high school dropout, I realized something important: there are people in the world who don’t know what plagiarism is.
And suddenly, a lot of things make sense.
Maybe we should define plagiarism. If we look at plagiarism.org, specifically the link http://plagiarism.org/plagiarism-101/what-is-plagiarism, plagiarism is defined by four qualities:
• “to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own”
• “to use (another’s production) without crediting the source”
• “to commit literary theft”
• “to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source”
[A side-note you will soon understand – because I quoted my source for those four comments, it’s not plagiarism!]
The high school dropout referred me to several acts of “plagiarism” on my own blog at the following URL: https://ochanilele.wordpress.com/2012/10/10/what-is-written-is-not-forgotten/. She pointed out what she thought was plagiarism – from the work of John Mason, from the work of George Brandon, and from the work of Angarica. She told me that her godfather, who is degreed (he has a college education), insisted that my work was plagiarized, and he used that blog as an example of my plagiarism.
I was stunned. Here was an iyalorisha looking at a properly written and cited blog, yet she was telling me that the entire blog was filled with plagiarism because her godfather, who had the luxury of a college education, told her so. I didn’t understand her logic so very abruptly I ended the conversation; but then, in a conversation this evening, my friend who is an adjunct professor told me, quite simply, those without formal education don’t understand what is or is not plagiarism.
So for the sake of clarification, let’s break down my blog.
The olorisha of 30 years told me I plagiarized from John Mason and passed his work off as my own when I referred to the concept of a folkloric library. Specifically, I wrote the following in that blog:
“Many years ago I was reading the works of an elder priest named John Mason, and in one of his books (I can’t remember which), he compared the mind of each olorisha to that of a folkloric library. The past, the present, and even an idea of the future is contained in each head; and the longer that olorisha lives, the more life-experience he gains, the more valuable that library becomes. But just as a fire can wipe out an entire collection of books, so can death wipe out the olorisha’s entire life-experience unless . . . there are more copies of that “book” in existence. In other words, unless the olorisha has taught his knowledge to his godchildren or peers, there are no other copies of his knowledge in existence. Death wipes it out.”
It’s true that I used John Mason’s idea and concept of a folkloric library in that passage; however, I acknowledged that it was not my original thought and I gave credit for that term to the babalorisha John Mason. Because I acknowledged that he was the source of that thought, it’s not plagiarism. I did not steal; I wrote about his concept and gave him credit. The only thing I could have done better in my blog would to have been to search for the exact book and cite the exact page on which he wrote about folkloric libraries. But John Mason has written many books, and it would take me forever to find the exact page on which he wrote about folkloric libraries. Still, I gave him full credit for the concept.
The olorisha of 30 years said that I plagiarized from George Brandon when I used the English translation of Angarica’s writings from his own book, “Santería from Africa to the New World.” However, I gave the correct citation for each and every passage that I used: (Angarica qtd. in Brandon, Santería, 94-95.) Because I properly cited each and every quote, that, my friends, does not constitute plagiarism.
The olorisha of 30 years said that using Angarica’s work at all was plagiarism according to her godfather; however, I attributed each word written to its author, Nicolas Angarica; and, remember, I gave the proper credit and citation to the source from which I got the material.
Dear readers, it is not against the law to use the thoughts or writings of another person in one’s work. Information is meant to flow and grow; and with the processing of ideas, new ones are built. It does not take away from the abilities or accomplishments of another person when an author writes about them; if the author goes on to be well-read by his readers, it takes those accomplishments in front of a larger audience. What is against the law is to take an idea or thought from a writer and pass it off as your own; and, even more scandalous is to take entire passages and use them as if they were your own work. If you use the idea of another author or a passage from a book to support your own ideas and theories – all you have to do is cite your source. That’s not plagiarism. It is considered fair use.
So now I’m off to contemplate yet another puzzling concept: why would olorishas with education try to convince their less-educated brothers and sisters that properly cited work is plagiarism? Is there a hidden agenda there? Remember: those that are in control of a culture’s or society’s education are, in essence, in control of that culture. If you extinguish all lights save your own, you are the only one with light – and people in darkness travel to it.
This will be a subject of much thought for me over the coming weeks and months.