AFRICA WAS GREAT BEFORE IT WAS CONQUERED; by the 15th Century the African Continent was already one of Great of Diversity
The blue-eyed blond-hair God cast an inferiority complex that would span every successive generation of African peoples. One of the most destructive elements in the making of the slave-master paradigm was Eurocentric Christianity’s depiction of God, and subsequently the divine ethnic social dynamic, which placed Whites as masters, Africans as Slaves. White God: These images single-handedly upheld a system of subjugation and oppression: God is white as your master is white, obey God, and obey your master for you master is God. Mental enslavement served the physical enslavement as slaves were cast into the understanding that it was simply the way of the world-their lot in life. The malicious prevalence of Christianity was strategic with military precision, a gospel for undermining African culture and laying the way for colonial servitude. It pacified and eliminated the last notion of home from the displaced Africans…
My people once existed and lived in one of the greatest regions in the world; in Africa. However, although the history of this continent before the transatlantic slave trade is often viewed as one of great empires and kingdoms, many of its inhabitants lived in societies with no great state apparatus. We once were governed by councils of elders or by other Kinship- or age-based institutions. Religious and philosophical beliefs concentrated on maintaining communication with ancestors who could intercede with gods on behalves of the living and ensure the smooth functioning of our society.
My history as an African does not begin with the names Jan van Riebeeck, Paul Kruger, Daniel François Malan, Hendrik Verwoerd, P. W. Botha, F. W. de Klerk, Joe Slovo, Eugene Terreblanche and De Klerk or either will it end with them. It has begun a very long long ago before a whiteman even thought of ever inventing a ship to sail the seas and come to Africa. My history begins with right at the start of life. I am original!
Many of the African societies were small scale, occupied with farming, herding and producing enough from agriculture to survive and exchange in local markets. They could also be part of larger empires and, as such, were expected to produce a surplus or perform other duties for an overlord. In short, while these societies varied greatly and were governed in different ways, they were all developing according to their own internal dynamics.
The Transatlantic Slave trade not only distorted Africa’s economic development it also distorted views of the history and importance of the African continent itself. It is only in the last fifty to seventy years that it has been possible to redress this distortion and to begin to re-establish Africa’s rightful place in world history. New African historians and researchers around the world emerged with a passion to re-write African history and tell true stories of how was Africa before the whiteman arrived.
We, as Africans, cannot continue to regard the adventurous stories told by the European travellers as our own history. We should be able to present African history from an African standpoint; designed to correct false histories about Africa. We should be able to open debates, to present a rich dialogue in other informational material for someone who wants to explore Africa besides history, such as traveling to Africa, African films, media and culture, to name a few. And those heroes and heroines who have taken the initiatives around the world to re-write African history have done so to in order to correct the wrongs of the past and turn on the tide for positive change for Africans around the world.
The African continent is now recognised as the birthplace of humanity and the cradle of civilization. We still marvel at the great achievements of Kemet, or Ancient Egypt, for example, one of the most notable of the early African civilizations, which first developed in the Nile valley over 5000 years ago. However, even before the rise of Kemet it seems likely that an even more ancient kingdom, known as Ta Seti, existed in what is today Nubia in Sudan. This may well have been the earliest state to exist anywhere in the world. Africa can therefore be credited not only with giving rise to the many scientific developments associated with Egypt, engineering, mathematics, architecture, medicine etc but also with important early political developments such as state formation and monarchy. This demonstrates that economic and political development, as well as scientific development was, during this early period, perhaps more advanced in Africa than in other continents.
The African continent continued on its own path of development, without significant external intervention until the fifteenth century of our era. Some of the world’s other great civilisations, such as Kush, Axum, Mali, and Great Zimbabwe, flourished in Africa in the years before 1500. In this early period Africans participated in extensive international trading networks and in trans-oceanic travel. Certainly some African states had established important trading relations with India, China and other parts of Asia long before these were disrupted by European intervention.
By the 15th century the African continent was already one of great of diversity. The existence of great kingdoms and empires, such as Mali in the west and Ethiopia in the east were in many ways exceptional rather than typical. In many part of the continent no major centralised states existed and many people lived in societies where there were no great divisions of wealth and power.
In such societies there were generally more democratic systems of government by councils of elders and other kinship and age based institutions. As a consequence there was also a diversity of religious and philosophical beliefs. In many areas these beliefs remained traditional and stressed the importance of communing with common ancestors. The Ethiopian kingdom was unusual because the Orthodox Christian church, which was of ancient origin in that region, had increasingly important state functions. In Mali, and in some other areas of western and eastern Africa, as well as in throughout North Africa, Islam had already begun to play a significant role before 1500. Most importantly African societies were following their own patterns of development before the onset of European intervention.
Racism in Africa begins…
In the 18th century, racist views of Africa were most famously expressed by Scottish philosopher David Hume: ‘I am apt to suspect the Negroes to be naturally inferior to the Whites. There scarcely ever was a civilised nation of that complexion, nor even any individual, eminent either in action or in speculation. No ingenious manufacture among them, no arts, no sciences.’
We all know, that when the Europeans arrived in Africa in the 15th century Africans had already build libraries and universities and monarchs, they had already build dams and sowerages, they had cities and schools. They had Kings, councils and systems of governance – but the whiteman’s jealousy and agitation to destroy and steal what a Africans have build over the years made him blind to hardly see that there was a civilisation in Africa before he arrived. This was supported by the German philosopher Hegel, in 1899, who simply declared: ‘Africa is no historical part of the world.’
We now know that, far from Africa having no history, it is almost certain that human history actually began there. All the earliest evidence of human existence and of our immediate hominid ancestors has been found in Africa. The latest scientific research points to the fact that all human beings are likely to have African ancestors. So what does “’Africa is no historical part of the world.’” Means? Puzzling!
Africa was not just the birthplace of humanity but also the cradle of early civilisations that made an immense contribution to the world and are still marvelled at today. The most notable example is Kemet – the original name of ancient Egypt – which first developed in the Nile valley more than 5,000 years ago and was one of the first monarchies.
However, even before the rise of Egypt, an even earlier kingdom was founded in Nubia, in what is present-day Sudan. Ta Seti is thought to be one of the earliest states in history, the existence of which demonstrates that, thousands of years ago, Africans were developing some of the most advanced political systems anywhere in the world.
Africans were 500 years ahead of any nation before slavery…
I have mentioned the Kemet earlier. Kemet, more commonly referred to as the Egypt of the pharaohs, is best known for its great monuments and feats of architecture and engineering, such as the planning and construction of the pyramids, but it also made great advances in many other fields.
The Egyptians produced early types of paper, devised a written script and developed a calendar. They made important contributions in various branches of mathematics, such as geometry and algebra, and it seems likely that they understood and perhaps invented the use of zero. They also made important contributions to mechanics, philosophy and agriculture, especially irrigation.
In medicine, the Egyptians understood the body’s dependence on the brain more than 1,000 years before the Greek scholars came up with the same idea. Some historians now believe that Egypt had an important influence on ancient Greece, pointing to the fact that Greek scholars such as Pythagoras and Archimedes studied there and that the work of Aristotle and Plato was largely based on earlier Egyptian scholarship. For example, what is commonly known as Pythagoras’ theorem was well known to the ancient Egyptians hundreds of years before Pythagoras’ birth.
Religious influences in Africa…
However, one cannot separate religion and slavery when the question of religious influences in Africa is being addressed. First, it was Islam and then Christianity and then followed many centuries later, for one purpose – African conquest. But Africans normally never had any form of religious patens or institutions that they have practiced or followed. Africans were spiritual instead of religious; they never had a formal or routine method of praising their God, since they had many ways of praising their many Gods in many different ways.
The continent progressed on its own path of development without major external intervention apart from the Arab invasions of North Africa that began after the rise of Islam in the mid-7th century. Those invasions and the introduction of Islam served to integrate North Africa, as well as parts of East and West Africa, more fully into the Muslim-dominated trading system of that period and generally enhanced the local, regional and international trading networks that were already developing throughout the continent.
The empire of Songhay – which stretched from modern-day Mali to Sudan –was known for, among other things, the famous Islamic university of Sankoré based in Timbuktu, which was established in the 14th century. The works of the Greek philosopher Aristotle were studied there, as well as subjects such as law, various branches of philosophy, dialectics, grammar, rhetoric and astronomy. In the 16th century, one of its most famous scholars, Ahmed Baba (1564–1627), is said to have written more than 40 major books on such subjects as astronomy, history and theology and had a private library that held over 1,500 volumes.
World’s first illustrated Christian bible was recently discovered at Ethiopian monastery; The world’s earliest illustrated Christian. Experts believe it is also the earliest example of book binding still attached to the original pages. It was written on goat skin in Ge’ez.
One of the most destructive elements in the making of the slave-master paradigm was Eurocentric Christianity’s depiction of God, and subsequently the divine ethnic social dynamic, which placed Whites as masters, Africans as Slaves. The blue-eyed blond-hair God cast an inferiority complex that would span every successive generation of African peoples. These images single-handedly upheld a system of subjugation and oppression: God is white as your master is white, obey God, and obey your master for you master is God. Mental enslavement served the physical enslavement as slaves were cast into the understanding that it was simply the way of the world-their lot in life. The malicious prevalence of Christianity was strategic with military precision, a gospel for undermining African culture and laying the way for colonial servitude. It pacified and eliminated the last notion of home from the displaced Africans.
But all for one and one for all – slavery. Between the 7th and 15th centuries, the external Muslim trading demand for African goods also included a demand for captives.
Forms of slavery have existed on all continents at different times in history – for instance, as a means of exploiting those captured in war – especially where there were labour shortages and an abundance of land. Slavery was certainly present in some African societies before the rise of Islam. In ancient Kemet, for example, there are descriptions of European slaves being branded. Later, in other African societies, especially those that were powerful states, enslaved or unfree people could be found, although generally their status was little different from that of poor farmers. It may indeed have been similar to that of the serfs of medieval Europe, who were required to produce an agricultural surplus or perform other duties for a particular ruler.
But when an external demand for enslaved people arose, some African societies could and did supply slaves. There was, for example, an export ‘trade’ in enslaved people, taking them via the Sahara from West to North Africa, following a similar route to other trade goods, such as gold and salt. Enslaved Africans were also forced to go to parts of the Middle East, to India and perhaps even as far as China. The most well-known slave of East African origin is Malik Ambar (1549–1626) who was born in what is now Ethiopia. Enslaved at an early age, he eventually became the regent of the Indian kingdom of Ahmednagar, famous for his military campaigns against the Mughals.
In most parts of Africa before 1500, societies had become highly developed in terms of their own histories. They often had complex systems of participatory government, or were established powerful states that covered large territories and had extensive regional and international links.
Many of these societies had solved difficult agricultural problems and had come up with advanced techniques of production of food and other crops and were engaged in local, regional or even international trading networks. Some peoples were skilled miners and metallurgists, others great artists in wood, stone and other materials. Many of the societies had also amassed a great stock of scientific and other knowledge, some of it stored in libraries such as those of Timbuktu, but some passed down orally from generation to generation.
There was great diversity across the continent and therefore societies at different stages and levels of development. Most importantly, Africans had established their own economic and political systems, their own cultures, technologies and philosophies that had enabled them to make spectacular advances and important contributions to human knowledge.
The significance of the transatlantic slave trade is not just that it led to the loss of millions of lives and the departure of millions of those who could have contributed to Africa’s future, although depopulation did have a great impact. But just as devastating was the fact that African societies were disrupted by the trade and increasingly unable to follow an independent path of development. Colonial rule and its modern legacy have been a continuation of this disruption.
The devastation of Africa through transatlantic slavery was accompanied by the ignorance of some historians and philosophers to negate its entire history. These ideas and philosophies suggested, that among other things, Africans had never developed any institutions or cultures, nor anything else of any worth and that future advances could only take place under the direction of Europeans or European institutions.
Africans must never think they are inferior, they are not. They have existed and survived the worst barbaric human activity ever taken on this earth against other humans – that’s slavery and colonialism.