By MURPHY BROWNE
Modern (wo)man originated on the African continent some 115 million years ago so African history goes back further than the history of any other place on earth. Scientists are convinced that these first people originated in Southeast Africa, which covers an extensive area including several countries, e.g., Botswana, Burundi, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
Genetic evidence shows that until about 60,000 years ago, Africa was the only place on earth where modern people lived. Then some people began to migrate, going around the Arabian Peninsula and India and as far as Australia. Researchers from the universities of Leeds and Glasgow, analyzing DNA samples from remote populations in Southeast Asia, propose that early humans may have moved steadily eastwards along the coast, through India and Southeast Asia and onto Australasia.
However, most people lived in Africa until an Ice Age set in. As a result, people began to drift into West Asia, following herds of animals. By 3,000 BC, the people living in Africa began to develop kingdoms which included Egypt, Ethiopia and Nubia in the North and East; Mali, Ghana and Songhay in the West and Zimbabwe in the South.
During this month when we in North America celebrate African Heritage Month (people in the UK celebrate in October), much of the information about African history is centred on the enslavement of Africans or the history of those in the Diaspora. The kidnapping, forced removal of Africans from their home continent and their enslavement (the Maafa) is a fact and has been acknowledged by the United Nations as a crime against humanity.
The effects of the Maafa are felt in the 21st century because many of the people who live with the results of those centuries of enslavement are reluctant to acknowledge the spirit injury that remains to haunt us. Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary has documented some of the lasting effects in her book, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome.
Those who continue to benefit because their ancestors were enriched on the backs of enslaved Africans’ unpaid, coerced labour, continue to resist the call for reparations. The slave holders were paid reparations in the 1830s when they lost their “property” through the Emancipation Act that ended chattel slavery.
However, our history did not begin with slavery and we need to celebrate our glorious past, including the contributions to civilization. We also need to move beyond the food and dance aspect of African Heritage Month celebrations and do some educating or, at least, edutaining.
It is alarming to note the number of Africans, especially in the Diaspora, who do not know their history but they know European history because this is the education they received. This is one of the reasons why we need to be vigilant to ensure that the Africentric Alternative School (which will open in September in Sheppard Public School) is a success.
The Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey (father of the modern Pan-African movement) said: “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots”. Many of us who are the descendants of those Africans who were ripped away from their homes in Africa and scattered around the world do not identify with the African continent because of Eurocentric mis-education.
The “formal” education received by those who were enslaved, then colonized by the British, mis-educated those Africans into believing that they were British, until they arrived in Britain to study or work and suffered the rabid White supremacist culture and anti-African racism.
The informal education or brainwashing which was transmitted through Tarzan movies, comic books and similar types of material convinced Africans in the Diaspora that their origin was something of which to be ashamed. The work of the enslaver and colonizing European was thorough since there are Africans in the Diaspora who today in the 21st century still believe those images to be an accurate portrayal of their ancestral home.
Far from being the “dark continent” with natives who needed Tarzan and other White men to teach them about civilization, African students and others were attending the Sankore University (founded in 989) in Timbuktu, Mali, West Africa, when there were no universities in Europe. African emperors, kings and queens ruled empires and kingdoms when Europeans lived in the Dark Ages.
Yet, our children learn about Medieval Europe and nothing about the African empires and kingdoms. World history is taught from a Eurocentric viewpoint with Europe being the centre from which all things emerged. Mathematics, geography, social studies, etc. are all taught from a Eurocentric place of privilege.
Now that an Africentric school is a reality, our community can begin to work towards making sure that our history is included in the regular curriculum in all schools. Since quite a few of the people in power who were against the establishment of the Africentric school said that they were willing to work towards an inclusive curriculum, we can now urge or challenge them to put their money where their mouths are.
Students in the education system need to learn about Queen Nzingha of Angola, Emperor Mansa Musa of Mali, Queen Makeda of Ethiopia, Piankhy of Nubia and Egypt and the kingdoms they ruled. The same care that is taken to teach Canadian students of all races about the people of Europe, their cultures, languages and achievements must be taken to teach our students about Africa, its history, cultures, languages and achievements.
There were important differences between African and European societies; ancient African societies did not involve the huge differences between rich and poor people that plagued Europe. Africans lived in well ordered societies within clean well-kept towns and villages where craftsmen and women, farmers, religious leaders, healers and scholars co-existed.
This history we must ensure is taught not only to African Canadian children in the Africentric school, but it should be included in the curriculum for all students. This history must be as well known as the history of Europe not only during African Heritage Month, but all year. We are almost at the end of February but we do not have to stop learning about our history.