[intro]The philosophy symbolised by the mythical Sankofa bird of the Akan tribe in Ghana is that you need to know where you come from in order to know where you are going. The bird flies resolutely forward while casting its head back regularly. In Africa, colonisation was accompanied by the erasure of history. Part of renewal, of renaissance is to once again connect to that history. In this Africa Month edition of The Journalist, we build on the efforts to achieve that.[/intro]
History has bequeathed Africa an unequal and inferior status. The characterisation of Africa as a dark continent that required civilisation was integral to the process of colonisation.
This mythology was vigorously advanced by the coloniser and even internalised by the colonised. Western historians advanced the notion of Africa as a place with a scant history and very little or no achievements.
In the post-colonial period efforts have been made to address this historical injustice. In this Africa Month, it is important for people in the continent to connect with their own histories and identities. This will allow for faster forward movement.
Many have made attempts to set the record straight. About a decade ago, a document called 100 things that you did not know about Africa, was produced. It was published on various platforms, including on Black History Studies, two years ago.
The full content can be read and studied above, but we wish to draw the attention of readers of The Journalist to just a few of the conclusions that emerge from the research.
- The human race is of African origin. The oldest known skeletal remains of anatomically modern humans (or homo sapiens sapiens) were excavated at sites in East Africa. Human remains were discovered at Omo in Ethiopia that were dated at 195,000 years old, the oldest known in the world.
- Skeletons of pre-humans have been found in Africa that date back between 4 and 5 million years. The oldest known ancestral type of humanity is thought to have been the australopithecus ramidus, who lived at least 4.4 million years ago.
- Africans were the first to organise fishing expeditions thousands of years ago. At Katanda, a region in northeastern Zaïre (now Congo), was recovered a finely wrought series of harpoon points, all elaborately polished and barbed. Also uncovered was a tool, equally well crafted, believed to be a dagger. The discoveries suggested the existence of an early aquatic or fishing based culture.
- Africans were the first to engage in mining 43,000 years ago. In 1964 a hematite mine was found in Swaziland at Bomvu Ridge in the Ngwenya mountain range. Ultimately 300,000 artefacts were recovered including thousands of stone-made mining tools.
- Africans pioneered basic arithmetic thousands of years ago.
- Africans cultivated crops 12,000 years ago, the first known advances in agriculture. Professor Fred Wendorf discovered that people in Egypt’s Western Desert cultivated crops of barley, capers, chick-peas, dates, legumes, lentils and wheat. Their ancient tools were also recovered. There were grindstones, milling stones, cutting blades, hide scrapers, engraving burins, and mortars and pestles.
- Africans mummified their dead 9,000 years ago. A mummified infant was found under the Uan Muhuggiag rock shelter in south western Libya. The infant was buried in the foetal position and was mummified using a very sophisticated technique that must have taken hundreds of years to evolve. The technique predates the earliest mummies known in Ancient Egypt by at least 1,000 years.
- Africans carved the world’s first colossal sculpture 7,000 or more years ago. The Great Sphinx of Giza was fashioned with the head of a man combined with the body of a lion. A key and important question raised by this monument was.
- On the 1 March 1979, the New York Times carried an article on its front page also page sixteen that was entitled Nubian Monarchy called Oldest. In this article we were assured that: “Evidence of the oldest recognizable monarchy in human history, preceding the rise of the earliest Egyptian kings by several generations, has been discovered in artefacts from ancient Nubia” (i.e. the territory of the northern Sudan and the southern portion of modern Egypt.)
- Malian sailors got to America in 1311 AD, 181 years before Columbus. An Egyptian scholar, Ibn Fadl Al-Umari, published on this sometime around 1342. In the tenth chapter of his book, there is an account of two large maritime voyages ordered by the predecessor of Mansa Musa, a king who inherited the Malian throne in 1312.
- Many old West African families have private library collections that go back hundreds of years. The Mauritanian cities of Chinguetti and Oudane have a total of 3,450 handwritten mediaeval books. There may be another 6 000 books still surviving in the other city of Walata. Some date back to the 8th century AD. There are 11,000 books in private collections in Niger. Finally, in Timbuktu, Mali, there are about 700,000 surviving books.
- Evidence discovered in 1978 showed that East Africans were making steel for more than 1,500 years:
Autopsies and caesarean operations were routinely and effectively carried out by surgeons in pre-colonial Uganda. The surgeons routinely used antiseptics, anaesthetics and cautery iron. An author wrote in the Edinburgh Medical Journal in 1884: “The whole conduct of the operation . . . suggests a skilled long-practiced surgical team at work conducting a well-tried and familiar operation with smooth efficiency.”
Above we carry just a small selection drawn from just one study. In the age of the world-wide web, there is much research to be drawn from. Africans must never stop engaging with all aspects of our history and share it with our family, friends and other members of our society.
The liberatory and transformative value of the knowledge cannot be underestimated.