Barack Obama reflected upon Africa’s past as, ‘The worst thing that colonialism did was to cloud our view of our past’, in his book ‘Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance’. African-Americans are Americans of African and especially black African ancestry. They are now living as equals to white Americans, but their forefathers lived as slaves after the commencement of the slave trade in the fifteenth century till the abolition of slavery in 1865. The inhumane treatment towards Africans and derogatory remarks by some ill-informed historians, painted a false picture of blacks-an inferior race having no aptitude towards arts or science and representing no history whatsoever .
The truth, however, is amazingly in favor of blacks; that is, black Africans are neither inferior to any race nor lack talent of arts and science, but are representative of all human history since first human beings started living in Africa. First ever racist and derogatory views about African were uttered by Scottish philosopher David Hume. He reiterated Negroes inferiority time and again, classifying them as uncivilized nation lacking in aptitude towards sciences and arts. The momentum of racism declined to some extent over time, but some still continued a demeaning approach to blacks, as it is evident from the statement of German philosopher Hegel, ‘Africa is no historical part of the world’.
The assertion that Africa has no history is far from the truth. It is now a scientific belief that all human history started in Africa; all earliest evidences of human existence and our immediate hominid ancestors have been found in Africa. All human beings are said to have African lineages according to the latest scientific research. Earliest human civilizations developed here in the African continent, in addition to be crowned as the birthplace of humanity. ‘Africa has no history, as recently as 1963’ , this blatant lie was claimed by Hugh Trevor-Roper in the 19th century. Unaware of his own roots, he made this statement out of ignorance and arrogance.
The negative views propagated by some individuals gather little acclaim compared to achievements of African land and its people. Notable among those civilizations is Kemet-original name of ancient Egypt-whose contributions to the world are still admired. Egyptians pyramids are example of skill, dedication and scientific approach of those people, and it still mesmerizes tourists, archaeologists and historians today. But even before the rise of Egypt, there was another kingdom founded in ‘Nubia’, in present-day Sudan. The existence of these kingdoms illustrates that thousands of years ago, Africans were the one developing first of their kind advanced political systems in the world . Thomas Jefferson truly understood the untapped potential of Negros, he expressed in ‘Letters of Thomas Jefferson’ that he believed blacks to be equally talented as other colors of men, and that their present condition owed to the degraded scenario of their existence in Africa and America.
Despite the fact that there were large trading centers along river Nile- the Senegal, Gambia, Niger, Volta, and Congo- most Africans preferred living in small villages, and associated themselves with their extended family or clans, rather than ethnic or national identity. Wives, children and dependents were considered mark of wealth and power. Polygyny, the custom of marrying more than one woman, was prevalent. Long before the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, African societies practiced human servitude. In exchange for succor, one tribe would give itself in servitude to a sturdier tribe, to survive famine or enemy attacks. Debt was paid by some form of slavery. Prisoners of war were enslaved between different African societies. Toni Morrison sheds light on servitude in , ‘A Mercy’, that to give dominion of yourself to another is a wicked thing.
Although the history of African continent before the Trans-Atlantic slave trade is regarded as that of great Kingdoms and empires, many Africans did not live in centralized states rather small villages governed by a council of elders or kinship or age-based institutions. Religious beliefs revolved around maintaining communiqué with ancestors who could arbitrate with God on behalf of living. Many of these small societies focused on farming, agriculture and herding to produce enough for survival, while some societies worked entirely for an overlord. There was no specific political structure in these small inhabitancies, hierarchy of duties was age-based, and hence, age-based roles differed in their scope and complexity.
Each tribe developed their own governing system, and had full religious support. On a parallel plane, kingdoms and empires also flourished, which boasted a defined political structure, domestic and international trading, and governance of thousands of subjects. Christopher Hitchens shares important piece of information, ‘There is almost no country in Africa where it is not essential to know to which tribe, or which subgroup of which tribe, the president belongs. From this single piece of information, you can trace the lines of patronage and allegiance that define the state.’
To name a few of these civilizations, Kush, Axum and Great Zimbabwe, flourished in Africa. Islam provided proper political and legal system after it spread after the demise of messenger Muhammad. Owing to links with Arab traders, Islam deeply penetrated the African society, especially in the North, and gold mining and supply made Africans wealthy. Between 750-1200 CE, two empires flourished in West Africa, namely Ghana and Mali. Ryszard Kapuściński expressed beautifully the vastness of Africa in the book, The Cobra’s Heart, that Africa is so vast, diverse in natural landscapes that is seems a separate planet, a rich cosmos.
Then Portuguese exploration of the West Coast of Africa lead to the infamous Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, that according to statistics lead to the import of 12.5 million African slaves into the United States alone. The development of the indigenous African culture stopped and they lagged behind the world in terms of human, economic, cultural and social progress. Barbara Kingsolver said in ‘The Poisonwood Bible’, ‘No other continent has endured such an unspeakably bizarre combination of foreign thievery and foreign goodwill.’