Celebrating history must be more than entertainment, food


First rape a people
simmer for centuries
bring memories to a boil
foil voice of drum
add pinch of pain
to rain of rage
stifle drum again
then mix strains of blood
over slow fire
watch fever grow
till energy burst
with rhythm thirst
cut bamboo and cure
whip well like hell
stir sound from dustbin
pound handful biscuit tin
cover down in shanty town
and leave mixture alone
when ready will explode

“Pan Recipe” by Guyanese poet John Agard.

John Agard published Pan Recipe in 1982, five years after he immigrated to Britain. Agard, in writing this poem, documents the history of Africans in the Diaspora.

The “pan” to which Agard refers in the title of his poem is the steel pan (the only musical instrument invented in the 20th Century), which was invented by Africans in Trinidad. Africans were prohibited the use of drums in the places where they were enslaved in this so-called New World, regardless of the European enslavers.

The Europeans were aware of the power of the drum in the hands of Africans. However, the enslaved Africans, expressing their Kuumba (creativity), found ways to circumvent the banning of drums. They developed what is sometimes referred to as “body music” and “patting juba” where the body was used in place of the drum. The development of the pan is also the result of Africans expressing their Kuumba.

Agard’s poem also expresses the turbulent and painful history of Africans in the Diaspora. Although our history did not begin with slavery, the European enslavement of Africans has contributed to the state of today’s disconnection from our African culture, loss of language, names, etc.

Europeans renamed the people they kidnapped and enslaved and over the years many Africans accepted the names they were given; Negro, coloured, even n _ _ _ _ r. Through the years of enslavement and subsequent colonization, Africans were made to feel ashamed of being African through miseducation.

The history of Africans has been misrepresented, marginalized, ridiculed and denied. Hugh Trevor-Roper, in 1965 when he was Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Oxford (Britain), declared that Africa had no history, merely “the unrewarding gyrations of barbarous tribes in picturesque but irrelevant corners of the globe”.

Unfortunately, many people who were educated during the time when Europeans were in control of the education system of their colonies still believe the words that they considered came from “on high” from people like Trevor-Roper.

Some of us were fortunate to have knowledgeable elders who could counter the miseducation of the colonial system. Others were fortunate to attend schools where teachers understood the concept of Africentricity, were knowledgeable about the history of Africans from the continent and of the Diaspora and made the links.

The marginalization of African history is a legacy of colonialism, imperialism and globalization. The European colonizers sought to justify their systemic oppression and exploitation of Africans by resorting to claims of racial superiority. Over the years African academics, artists, filmmakers and writers countered such claims by producing artistic works and scholarly studies that documented and illustrated that African civilization and culture were equal if not superior to that of the colonizers.

As we observe African Heritage Month 2010 we must recognize the importance of the work of people like Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson. The recognition of February as African Heritage Month began in the United States in 1926 when Dr. Woodson chose the second week of February to commemorate the birthday of Frederick Douglass. Woodson admired Douglass, an enslaved African who escaped slavery and worked as an abolitionist, eventually publishing his autobiography in 1845: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.

Beginning as Negro History Week in 1926, the week eventually became Black History Month. Woodson is a pioneer of African studies which is part of the curriculum in many universities, secondary schools and even some elementary schools.

When Woodson began the study and writing of African history it was a challenge to the superiority complex of White people and the inferiority complex that many Africans displayed.

He founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History and established the publication of the Journal of Negro History. He believed that “the achievements of the Negro properly set forth will crown him as a factor in early human progress and a maker of modern civilization”.

In 1976, Negro History Week expanded into Black History Month. We Africans expressing our Kujichagulia (Self-determination) also refer to February as African Heritage Month and even African Liberation Month.

The recognition of African Heritage Month in schools, community gatherings, in places of worship, workplaces etc., has to be about more than entertainment and sampling African food. Woodson established the recognition of African history in 1926 because of the omission of African contributions and history from text books and from the curriculum.

The teaching of African history must include the ancient African societies, the struggle for freedom by enslaved Africans, the maroon societies that resulted from Africans seizing their freedom even in places where they were enslaved and the role that the Africans who seized their freedom in Haiti contributed to the eventual emancipation of enslaved Africans in all the European dominated colonies.

African Heritage Month should not be the only time that we recognize the glorious history of Africans and their contributions to the ancient and modern world.


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