African History Month

More Than a Celebration of Struggle, Arts & Culture

By Michael De Gale
January 23, 2007

AfricansIf I didn’t know better, during the month of February I will be left with the distinct impression that the Civil Rights struggle, crafts and music mixed with a dazzling display of dance and a variety of cultural activities represents the sum of Africa’s contribution to civilization. In spite of the overwhelming scientific evidence and the existence of numerous artifacts, little is ever mentioned in the mainstream about Africa’s contributions to civilization in the fields of science and technology. With the exception of inquiring minds, the proliferation of numerous books and scholarly articles on the subject has done little to dispel the truncated view of Africa as simply a land of exoticism in the consciousness of the greater public.

As the editor of the book, “Blacks in Science – Ancient and Modern”, Professor Ivan Van Sertima of Rutgers University, USA, refers to the lost sciences of Africa, ranging from astronomy as practiced by the Dogon of Mali, to the writing systems of the Akan people on the west coast of Africa and the Mande or Manding-speaking people who flourished in the Sahara during its period of fertility. In the past few decades, archeologist and historians have made astonishing discoveries shedding new light on Africa and it centers of science and technology. However, these discoveries have been slow to penetrate the mainstream and even slower to become integrated into the science and technology courses of education systems. Among the African sciences identified are architecture, aeronautics, engineering, mathematics, metallurgy and medicine, navigation and physics to mention a few.

Van Sertima makes the point that historically, anthropologists have chosen to focus on the primitive, in particular the African Bushmen, and to forgo the complexities in the primary centers of large African nations. These are the areas where, according to contemporary archeologist and historians, the technological and scientific life of Africa was located. They include steel-smelting in Tanzania 1,500-2000 years old, an astronomical observatory in Kenya 300 years BC and an African glider-plane 2,300 years old. Using microwave beams to probe beneath the sands of the Sahara, an American radar satellite revealed cultures 200,000 years old and the traces of ancient rivers running from this African center. Some of these buried stream-valleys they concluded are ancient connections to the upper Nile tributaries, where blacks migrated and later populated Nubia and Egypt.

Given the proliferation of wars, famine, refugees in constant flight and the disturbing images of hungry children with swollen bellies, dying – with mouths and eyes infested with flies; it is understandably difficult to envision Africa as a land where science and technology once flourished. To shed some light on this dichotomous phenomenon, Prof. Van Sertima explained how science and technology may rise and fall with a civilization and why the destruction of a center could lead almost to the instant evaporation or disappearance of centuries of knowledge and technical skills.

According to Van Sertima, not unlike modern cities prior to the Industrial Revolution and to a great extent today, centers of science and technology tended to be highly concentrated in areas such as scholastic institutions, among the priest cast, trading posts or in royal capital cities. However, science and technology was slow to reach the peripheries and in many areas were entirely absent. With such a high concentration in selected areas, a nuclear war for example could shatter the primary centers of 21st century technology in a matter of days. The survivors on the peripheries, although they would remember the airplanes and the television sets, the robots and the computers, the satellites now circling our solar system, would not be able for centuries to reproduce that technology. In addition to the wholesale slaughter of the technocratic class, the interconnection between these shattered centers and the equally critical interdependency between the centers and their peripheries would be gone forever. Like the strands of a web which once stretched across the world, it will be left torn and dangling in a void, and a dark age would most certainly follow.

Given this scenario, one can understand why centuries afterwards, the technological brilliance of the 21st century would seem dreamlike and unreal. Future generations in centuries to come will obviously doubt what has been achieved in the centuries preceding the disaster. This happened before in the world. Not in the same way, but with the same catastrophic effects. Van Sertima stated emphatically, that this is what happened in Africa.

He contends that no human disaster with the possible exception of the biblical flood can equal in dimension or destructiveness, the cataclysm that shook Africa. Beginning with the slave trade and the traumatic effect of this on the transplanted blacks, it is difficult to appreciate what horrors were unleashed on Africa itself. Vast populations were uprooted and displaced. Whole generations disappeared. European diseases descended like a plague, annihilating both animals and people with impunity, cities and towns were abandoned, family networks disintegrated, kingdoms crumbled, the thread of cultural and historical continuity were so savagely torn asunder that henceforth, one would have to think of two Africas; the one before and the one after the Holocaust. Anthropologists have said that 80% of traditional African culture survived. What they mean by traditional is the only kind of culture the world has come to accept as African – that of the primitive on the periphery – the stunned survivor.

Nevertheless, in spite of the oppressive and inhospitable circumstances faced by Africans on the continent and throughout the Diaspora, there was no loss of black ingenuity and technological innovation. The thread of African genius unraveled like light speeding through spools of the glassfibre lightguides that black scientist Dr. Northover developed. Or like impulses traveling along the transatlantic cable Dr. Richardson helped to lay down, channeling voices from one continent to another, one time to another, bridging the chasm between the ancestral African and the modern black, between root and branch, seed and flower, an old heart and a new brain continued to spark with ingenuity.

The destruction of Pompeii and the ongoing efforts to locate the lost city of Atlantis is common knowledge worldwide despite the fact that the existence of Atlantis is still questionable and mired in mythology. By contrast, Africa’s history of scientific and technological innovation, though meticulously documented and scientifically proven, is less familiar than both Pompeii and Atlantis. The perverse resistance to acknowledge Africa’s contributions to civilization has deep historical roots and would require another paper to explore its genesis and perpetuation. Nevertheless, to quote Dr. John Henrick Clarke – the great African thinker and ardent promoter of Pan-Africanism, “…African history is the missing pages of world history”. When this truth becomes universally accepted and is integrated into the general history of human civilization, the need for Black History Month will no longer be necessary. Africa’s numerous and continuing contributions to the development of civilization will finally be known, opening the door to honest debate of other pressing issues and possibly, to the realization of Dr. King’s dream.

44 Responses to “African History Month”


  • I have listed a number of books that will give important insight into Africa’s role in the advancement of civilization and the correction of historical misinformation. With the exception of Horodotus & Count Volney all the authors are exceptionally qualified to do the necessary research and are of African origin. If the truth is to be revealed people must be prepared to tell their own stories. Books and knowledge Mr. Blacks, is not the exclusive preserve of any particular race.

    The following is a profile of one of the most distinguished scholars whose work went a long way in reversing the negative perceptions of Africa. Visit this site for a brief profile:

    http://www.africawithin.com/diop/diop_bio1.htm

    Granted there are issues affecting people from different ethnic groups globally that must be addressed, this paper was particularly concerned with that of the African. Perhaps the gentleman who raised the issues regarding Sri Lanka, Nothern Ireland, Bosnia etc, etc, etc will like to submit related articles.

    For the gentleman who made the condesending statement regarding teaching muslims, while there is always something to learn from others, I am certain that there is much that they can teach us. Are you willing to learn?

    For those who get their news exclusively from CNN, ABC and other mainstream media, you should consider alternative sources globally for a more comprehensive understanding of historical and contemporary issues.

  • At a conference on religions, held at the Kapok hotel in 1986, in Port-ofSpain, I pointed this out as a correction to the paper presented by Dr. Brinsley Samaroo which had indicated that the first Muslims were on the Fatel Razack. This was a public forum, and the correction was in the papers. The Mandingoes purchased their freedom from Trinidad slavery by helping each other. A man would purchase the freedom of his wife, then she would work and purchase him, then they pooled their resources and puchased other Mandingoes. This also happened in the US too. The first African American ever ordained as an Anglican priest, in Philadelphia, in 1805 or so, was Absalom Jones, a slave who purchased his own freedom. He is considered a saint of the church.

    As Campbell says in his monograph, the slave trade was not selective. They grabbed whoever they could. It has been part of Caribbean mauvais langue that Muslims were not enslaved, that was a falsehood. Even sons of kings were captured and enslaved. Every American child in high school, unless the teacher deliberately skips that chapter, has heard of Eludah Equiano, the son of a chief who was captured into slavery and eventually set free in England. His testimony is there to read. Look up his name on yahoo, or http://www.blackvoices.com.

    The documentary record is there. To read, to care enough, we have to be willing to get past the lies that were deliberately created. We have to teach our children to read.During American SLAVERY, THE FINE FOR TEACHING AN AFRICAN ENSLAVED PERSON TO READ, EXCEEDED THE FINE FOR A WHITE MAN MURDERING ANOTHER WHITE MAN. EVER WONDERED WHY?

  • [ I am especially pleased with the way Mrs Linda handled her dialogue. If you are Trini, i must say that you are one of the first ones i ever came accross who can evidently prove that there were Muslim africans who were enslaved in the Caribbean. Thank you very much. I want to serve this discussion by putting together a detailed account based on the references both you and Mr Micheal gave about this topic so that it could be included within the curiculum that we are proposing.

    I can see some progress now… ]

    Maybe Linda can more enlighten us on the Mandingos settlement in Palmiste Village, San Fernando and what really happened in to them around 1890. Not much is told of these Muslims that settled there and were eventually evicted by the colonial powers of that time. And how about ‘Kofi’, the African King that was captured and brought to T&T?

  • Note to Ruel Daniels: On my visit to Saudi Arabia in 2004, I met medical doctors from the Sudan and England who were African women working there. One is in private practice, one is a medic with Saudi Aramco. Some of the princesses of the Royal House of Saud are of African origins, and they were not playing football. Until the Suez Canal was cut, the Arabian Peninsula was a continuous part of Africa, and people moved freely back and forth. Just as technically skilled people from all over come to work in TnT, so technically skilled people from all over go to work in Saudi Arabia.Islam as a faith is not a requirement. Respect for Islam, and the rules of the country, are.

    I do not dispute what you saw or your personal experiences. Like I said, me and the majority of the world who have never visited Saudi Arabia see what I referenced. Look, I take equal stick to all sides that offend my sensibilities of what is fair and what is right. To ignore what is occuring in places like Darfur, the relative silence of Leaders of our Islamic brothers in Egypt and Syria when we would be screaming bloody murder over its eqivalent was occurring on the other side of the religious spectrum is a mite too noxious for me.

    I get my news from the world, from my ability to access information from all parts of the world, from my conversation with those clasified as the “lost boys of the Sudan”. I owe no affiliation or will accord reverence to no individual or group where there is evidence of hypocrisy. And there is ample of evidence of hypocrisy to call to account brothers and sisters of the Muslim faith who are silent when from within their midst there are Darfurs. I reject any nonsense about discrimination or like polemic designed to obscure reality because it does not comport with some set notion of political correctness.

  • Sorry, I do not have additional information on this, perhaps the public library may have some dusty old tomes that address the subject. The public records off ice in London is where CArl Campbell did his research on Jonas Mohammed Bath. Years ago, the West Indian section of the Public library had extensive records and old newspapers. I do not know what happened to those files. Perhaps the university may have something.

    Unfortunately, old paper does not stand up well to tropical damp, mold and mildew. Selwyn Cudjoe’s recent book, Beyond Boundaries cites some references that you may check. You can e-mail him at scudjoe@wellesley.edu or contact him through NAEAP.

  • I must say that the success this article has realised can be felt from the way the dialogue has matured.

    I beleive some genuine work need to be directed on getting African history from some of the Africans themselves, I should hope that every country has a department that deals with their history and cultural preservation. The barrier here is the language.

    By accessing this information, one can do a comparitive study which is by far more effective and precise. As for the African arabic states[egypt,mauritania,algeria,morrocco,sudan,chad ...etc], I will liaise with some if my friends here and see if they can bring over some of the reliable works done on this topic.

    Can you please give more details on that public library you referred to to…the one in London.

    Thank you for the invaluable information.

  • I received this video from a Palestinian friend. While it is not directly related to the topic being discussed, I felt a need to share it with a global audiance and people of conscience. Take a look at the conditions that give rise to suicide bombers and so-called extremists as they are commonly labelled by the mainstream media.

    http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.fullscreen&videoid=1380469430

  • “…In spite of the oppressive and inhospitable circumstances faced by Africans on the continent and throughout the Diaspora, there was no loss of black ingenuity and technological innovation”.

    The following is an email I received from a friend who asked me to circulate it widely. Be sure to visit the website at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/julian/ and to see this important PBS documentary.

    ***************************************************

    Share the history
    I want to alert you to a 2-hour film I finished for NOVA, the PBS
    science series, that will air February 6th for Black History Month. It’s
    called “Forgotten Genius,” a documentary biography of Percy Julian, the
    pioneering black chemist, entrepreneur, civil rights champion and educator.
    He’s best known in scientific circles for his work synthesizing steroids
    from plants, and did much of his groundbreaking synthesis at a paint
    factory!

    The prelim website is at
    If you could pass this info along to as many folks as you can I’d appreciate it. NOVA has been on
    the air for 30 years and they’ve never had a film about a black scientist or about chemistry until now. Best and thanks!

  • The literate people of Africa write in English, French, Swahili and Arabic, and to a lesser extent, Spanish and Portugese. Those wishing to do oral histories need translators fluent in the indigenous language. There is hardly a language barrier in that many of them speak and write more than one internationally known language. Furthermore, until 1960, records were kept in colonial offices in their mother countries in duplicate. Yahoo.com can list every records office for those willing to search. Its free.

  • This is a link to a snapshot bio of Julian. I do not find it odd or strange that Europeans experience some measure of discomfort in fitting people like Julian, Charles Drew, Lewis latimer, and other black inventors responsible for the lubricating cup to the traffic lights, into the mechanics of their rationale for the enslavement of Africans. What I find odd and strange is the fact that all those other groups who harp on the racist nature of Europeans have no problems or issues building their impressions of Africans on the very pillars of intolerance and prejudice they purport to despise.

    Think about this for a moment. How effective a tool can European manipulation of African history be without the support and endorsement of others. How come the Julian’s, Charles Drews and Garret T Morgans are also absent from the history of those who supposedly share so much with us, when they now own and control the telling of their story. It is not racist to reason outside of the box of political correctness. Being allies entail more than a joining at the hips.

  • Here is some interesting news that both supports this article in some respects and opposes it in otheres.

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/02/070223-first-americans.html

    came across it while researching chimpanzees who use tools. Evidence shows that chimps have been using tools in Africa around the same time as the begining of man’s stone age – perhaps showing that man and chimps started/learned tool use from a common ancestor – in Africa.

  • A note of interest. For the month of February, which in my presumptous way I chose to re-name African History Month, I required my classes of thirteen year olds to research and present on Ancient African Empires. They all had to be prior to 1500CE. I wanted to be sure that they found out what Africa was before the slave trade ravaged it. I had to provide the names of the empires to research, because they had never heard of them. I gave them Meroe(Nubia, Kush) Kemet(Egypt)Great Zimbabwe and the Shona People, The Kingdom of Benin- not the modern country called Benin, which is somewhere else, Songhai, Ancient Ghana and Ancient Mali.There sources were all on the internet. I gave them a time line from 3500BCE to 1500CE. There were to be thre mini posters to accompany each presentation. Location of the ancient empire on the modern map of Africa, Artifacts of the culture and facts about the culture.

    It was wonderful to see them discover a continent where learning was highly valued. The University of Sankore at Timbuctu is still there, connecting the place to the Malian Empire under Mansa Musa. If i draw a double circle with staggered entrances, they know that that was the defensive walls of Great Zimbabwe.

    What they found most fascinating was that Kush-Nubia defeated Egypt in battle more than once. When they found out about the Aswan High DAm, and the fate of Nubia- its mostly under water, the felt that Egypt had finally won. They were also fascinated by the fact that the Egyptins, after one crushing defeat by the bowmen of Nubia, began to carve the faces of nubians onto the soles of their sandals, to symbollically walk on them!All of this is available on the internet.

    Nowadays, to be ignorant of the greatness of the ancient African Kingdoms, is to almost admit to being so diseased by racism as to be unwilling to know the truth. That could be particularly sad.

    I post this also so that younger teachers could copy the idea if they want to. I reject Black History Month, because Black is not a country or a culture, it is an absence of light. Dr. Carter Woodson would have changed the name if he understood what we now do.

  • Oopps! Just re-read my piece. Typos due to not wearing my glasses, which I should at the end of the day. sorry! FActs are still good.

  • Linda,
    I was pleased to hear about the work you are doing with your young students. I believe that once kids have a better understanding of their history it will have an empowering influence of how they view themselves. It is also important that they get an early start before they succumb to the negative images of Africa as is prevelent in European history books. I have always encouraged my kids to take an Afrocentric view of history for their school projects. They are now in the 20’s, conscious of their African heritage and consequently comfortable in the castle of their skins. Keep up the good work.

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