We have a right to self-determination. It is a birthright which we need not either justify or explain.
Tom Mboya 1959
This is a continuation of our Education of a New Reality, we must be educated to a new level of African Consciousness. This consciousness must be shared with all African people of the Diaspora. It's not a matter of whether you'ready for this level of consciousness, at this juncture, our survival depends on it. So again we call on African leadership to allow all African's abroad to be members of the African Union. It is up to you to lead by example, the disenfranchised must be allowed to participate in the discussions, that effects us all. Now let's examine the African Holocaust.
The African Holocaust - The Slave Trade
There is a need to look holistically at African history, good and bad. If African people are to be educated to face a new reality on the eve of tne twenty first century, we must know about the good times as well as the bad times. We must also know that history has not made Africa and Africans an exceptional case. In the great unfolding of history, Africans have played every role from saint to buffoon and we need to learn how to live with the good as well as the bad. We need to understand the triumphs as well as the tragedies in our history. At the end of what I have been alluding to as the last of the three golden ages in Africa, we entered a period of internal and external tragedy, partly of our making, but mainly imposed on us by foreigners in search of new land, new energy and new resources. We made the terrible mistake of thinking some foreigners could settle our internal "family" disputes. Instead of settling our family disputes, the foreigner turned us, one against the other, and conquered both. This is the great mistake we made in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries at the end of Africa's third golden age. It is the greatest mistake we are making right now. This mistake grows out of our misinterpretation of our greatest strength which is our universal humanity.
As a people we have always been hospitable to strangers. The weakness in this noble gesture is that we have not been alert enough and suspicious enough to examine the intentions of the stranger that we have invited into our homes. All too often in our history strangers come in as guests and stay as conquerors. This is, at least in part, how and why the slave trade started. You cannot explain the slave trade and vindicate or rationalize the European participation in the slave trade by saying some Africans were in the slave trade and sold slaves to the Europeans. In some instances and in some regions, this was basically true. You cannot excuse the European slave trade by saying that slavery was practiced among the Africans before the Europeans came. In some instances and in some regions, this is also basically true. But the system of internal servitude in Africa that existed in some parts of Africa before the coming of he Europeans and the chattel slavery imposed upon Africa by the Europeans had no direct relationship, one to the other. In the African system of servitude which deserves critical analysis, families were broken up but not a single African was shipped out of Africa. In no way am I trying to say or imply that this system was good. My main point is that it was not the same as the European system. The European slave trade was a three continent industry that brought about a revolution in maritime science, international trade and a system of mercantilism that had not previously existed in world history. No Africans had this kind of international contact or were in a position to establish it at this juncture in history.
For more enlightenment on this subject, I invite you to read the following books, Black Mother, The Years of Our African Slave Trade: Precolonial History, 14501850, by Basil Davidson, Forced Migration, by Joseph E. Inikore, Christopher Columbus and The African Holocaust, by John Henrik Clarke and How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, by Walter Rodney.
Like most world tragedies the Aflantic slave trade, or the European slave trade, started slowly, almost accidentally. At first the Europeans did not visit the coast of West Africa looking for slaves; they were searching for a route to Asia for the spices and the sweets they had heard about because they needed something to supplement the dull European food of that day. In general they needed new energy, new land and new resources. Plagues, famines and internal wars had left Europe partly exhausted and partly under-populated. In the years between the first European entry into West Africa from about 1438 to the year of Christopher Columbus' alleged discovery of America in 1492, there were no slaves of consequence taken out of Africa because there was no special work outside of Africa for slaves to do. The creation of the plantation system in the Americas and the Caribbean Islands set in motion a way of life for Europeans that they had not previously enjoyed. This way of life and the exploitation of the resources of the Americas and the Caribbean Islands, after the destruction of the nations and civilizations of the people referred to as "Indians," renewed the economic energy of Europe and gave Europeans the ability to move to the center stage of what they refer to as world progress. This was done mainly at the expense of African people who are still not thoroughly aware of their impact on every aspect of world history. Education for a new reality in the African world, must train African people to understand the nature of their contribution to the different aspects of world history, past and present, and the possibilities of their future contribution.
If slavery was the African people's holocaust, we should not be ashamed of saying so. We should have no hesitation in using the word "holocaust" because no one people has a monopoly on the word and I know of no law that gives a people the right to copyright a word as though it is their exclusive ownership. In relationship to this subject I have previously said that slavery was already an old institution before the European slave trade. However, the European slave trade in Africa is the best known and best recorded in the history of the world and also, in my opinion, the most tragic. The neglected tragedy of this system is that it did not have to occur at all. Had the European entered into a genuine partnership with the Africans instead of reducing them to slaves there would have been more goods and services to be had, both for the Europeans and the Africans, through contract labor.
The European slave trade in Africa was started and reached its crescendo between 1400 to 1600. This was also a turning point in the history of the world. Europe was emerging from the lethargy of the Middle Ages. Europeans were regaining their confidence, manifesting a new form of nationalism and extending that nationalism into racism. The African had goods and services that the European needed, and the European had the basic technology that the African needed. Had the African needs and the European needs been considered on an equal basis, there could have been an honest exchange between African and European and the European could still have had labor in large numbers without the slave trade and the massive murder that occurred in the slave trade. This idea, only a dream in the minds of a few men, could have changed the world for the better had it been seriously considered.
Slavery is taught as though it is something that victimized only African people. Slavery is an old institution. It is as old as human need and greed. It grew out of a weakness in the human character and the need to cover-up that weakness by dominating other people. In teaching about slavery, the one thing African people seem not to know is that for most of their existence on this earth they have been a sovereign people, free of slavery. The period of their enslavement is the best known and the best documented in history in comparison to other slave periods in history. When other people were the victims it was comparatively short. Feudalism in Europe, a form of European enslavement of Europeans, no matter what you call it, lasted much longer. This is why a holistic view of history is needed in order to understand this particular part of history that relates to a single people. This is where so-called Black Studies Programs missed both the objective and the subject in the study of slavery.
In evaluating the African slave trade, there was another "Middle Passage" often neglected by most scholarsthe Arab slave trade. It is often forgotten that the Arab slave trade in East Africa and the slave trade from North Africa into Inner West Africa was protracted and ruthless. Sometimes the Arabs from the north who were Moslem enslaved Africans in the south who were also Moslems, thereby violating one of the most basic customs of their faiththat no Moslem should enslave another Moslem. There is a small library of books on this subject that most scholars have chosen not to read, thereby making the Arab slave trade the best kept secret in historyalthough it is not a secret at all. Of the many books and documents that I have read on the subject, Slavery in the Arab World by Murray Gordon, 1987, and The African Slave Trade From the 15th to the 19th Century, in The General History of Africa: Studies and Documents 2, UNESCO,1979. I find the most informative the UNESCO book, especially the chapter, "The Slave Trade in the Indian Ocean."
Like most strangers to Africa the Arabs entered Africa, allegedly. as friends. The Africans who are curious and uncritical about new people, new religions and cultures treated the Arabs as well as they treated other strangers. The Arabs were not always kind in their spread of Islam in Africa. In fact, they were usually ruthless and often disrespectful of societies and cultures that existed in Africa before they arrived. In North Africa the two wars of Arab conquest that came in the seventh and tenth centuries, the first being religious and military, broke the back of Roman influence in the area and replaced the corrupt Roman regimes. At first the Arabs were welcomed in North Africa as a replacement for the ruthless Romans. When the North Africans and Berbers discovered that the Arabs were also ruthless, although in a different way, it was too late because the Arabs now had the military upper hand.
Another aspect of Arab conquest, generally neglected, is the spread of Arab influence in East Africa through accommodation and sexual conquest. Many times the Arabs moved down the coast of East Africa rendering the service of the much needed East African coastal trade. Soon after this, Arabs began to marry or cohabit with African women. This in turn resulted in a generation of African-looking Arabs. These Arab half-breeds facilitated the spread of the trade inland at a time when the Arab face was held in suspicion in this part of Africa. In the fierce competition in the West African slave trade, the Portuguese were driven from West Africa around to East Africa. The Arab slave trade, moving from north to east met the Portuguese slave trade moving up from the south. These two slave trades complemented each other and culminated with the establishment of one of the largest slave trading forts, in the history of the world, on the Island of Zanzibar. This event is well documented in any good history of East Africa, including the Cambridge History of East Africa, and The Cambridge History of Africa. Basil Davidson's A History of East and Central Africa to the late 19th Century, and certain chapters on East Africa in his Lost Cities of Africa is a popularization of the subject. There are two old but valuable books on the subject, East Africa and Its Invaders by Reginald Coupland, and the chapters on East Africa in the book, The Colonization of Africa by Alien Races, by Sir Harry Johnston.
While the East African drama of slavery was unfolding with the Arabs and later with the Portuguese as the protagonists, the larger drama in West Africa was changing the course of history. The Africans, all along the coast of West Africa were being subjected to a form of humiliation never before known, in quite the same way, in their history or human history. The collecting of Africans, sometimes prisoners of war from other Africans, the movement of Africans from the hinterlands to the coast, where very often seven out of ten lost their lives, were forms of unrecorded genocide. This is one of the numerous missing statistics in the attempt to estimate the number of Africans who died in the slave trade within Africa, the number of those who died in the slave dungeons waiting for shipment to the Americas, and the number of those who died on the journey to the Americas. The precise figures will never be known. Good estimations in this case are the best that we have.
There are a number of books describing the tragic living conditions in the slave forts and dungeons along the coast of West Africa. Books written by Europeans tend to tone down the tragedy. Books written by African scholars tend to be academic and objective to the point of being noncommittal to the tragedy of slavery. The following is a brief description of some of the conditions in these slave dungeons. In the early slave trade the forts sometimes contained between three hundred to five hundred captives. During the eighteenth century most forts had been adaped to the larger scale slave trade and they held many hundreds more. There were sections for the female captives and sections for the male captives. There were smaller and more tortuous dungeons for the rebellious and unruly captives. The conditions within and around these slave holding castles were great tragic horror stories. Within the castles there were no beds, no drinking water, no installed toilet facilities, and no means of day by day sanitary maintenance. The apartments of the slave traders and captains were directly above the main holding dungeons. And they lived there in luxury and were unmindful of the misery and degradation one or two floors below.
These conditions were forced upon a people who had never done European people any harm or had ever allied themselves with the enemies of the Europeans in any way. The Europeans who forced this condition upon African people professed to believe in a loving God who was no respecter of kith, kin and geographical boundaries in the dispensing of his mercy and understanding to all human beings. In their action toward the Africans that would last for more than three hundred years, the Europeans were saying that Africans had no soul or humanity, no culture or civilization worthy of respect, and that they were outside of the grace of God.
The long journey across the sea was another tragic story of misery. Figuratively, the slave ship was a floating city of prisoners presided over by a crew of ruffians gathered from the human scum of Europe. The period of the European slave trade in Africa is best known to us because it is the best-documented. However, the documentation is often confusing because it was created by people who were trying to justify the slave trade. Most people, especially Europeans who created most of the documents on the slave trade, write about the subject with the intent to make the victim of slavery feel guilty and to vindicate the perpetrators of this inhuman trade.
There is probably more dishonesty related to the interpretation of this subject than any other subject known to mankind. The African slave trade, like African history, is often written about, but rarely if ever understood. This misunderstanding probably grows out of the fact that we nearly always start the study of the African slave trade in the wrong place. The germ, the motive, the rationale for the European aspect of the African slave trade started in the minds of the Europeans in the fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries. And this slave trade could not have started at all had there been no market for it. The slave trade started when the Europeans began to expand into the broader world. And the market for slaves was created by Europeans for European reasons. The story of the European slave trade in Africa is essentially the story of the consequences of the second rise of Europe.
The peopling of the so-called new world by African people in the Americas and the Caribbean Islands was an enterprise of monumental proportions. This act would change the status of Europe and the world forever, and the Africans brought to the new world would be transformed into a new kind of people, neither wholly African nor wholly American. They would not easily adapt to their new condition though they gave their slave master, in some cases, the impression that they were doing so. They did not easily give up their African way of life, in spite of the attempt to destroy and outlaw it. This was the basis of massive slave revolts throughout the Caribbean Islands, South America, especially Brazil, and the more than two hundred and fifty slave revolts recorded in the United States.
Every attempt was made through the church and through oppression to deny that Africans hid a revolutionary heritage. There is documentary proof that Africans fought on the shores of Aftica to keep from getting on the slave ships. After being forced on the slave ships they continued the fight. Some fought to keep from being taken off the slave ships. Many, many more continued the fight once they got here. In parts of South America, and on some lslands in the Caribbean where the slaves outnumbered the Europeans, some Africans bypassed the auction block, fled into the hills and the forests and never became slaves at all. Some of these Africans who escaped slavery were called Maroons. The best books on the subject are, The Maroons, by Mavis Campbell, Maroon Societies, by Richard Price, and The Haitian Maroons, and Black Jacobins by C.L.R. James.
The drama of African survival in what is called the new world went beyond drama itself. In conditions that defied human imagination, for a protracted period lasting over three hundred years, Africans, using various techniques, pretenses, and acts of both submission and rebellion, went beyond survival and prevailed in order to live and still be a people in spite of the massive effort to destroy every aspect of their humanity. Part of what kept them alive, away from home, is that they would not give up their African culture in spite of being consistently pressured to do so. Many Africans, away from home, depending on the prevailing conditions that could change any day or any moment, had to become two persons in a single body. Some went beyond schizophrenia and changed their personality to suit the prevailing situation in order to survive so that the next generation could prevail.
Joel A. Rogers, a Jamaican scholar, whose work in the field of African world biography is still not appreciated as well as it should be by blacks, is comparatively unknown by whites. The following quote is from my Introduction to the re-publication of his book, World's Great Men of Color Vols. I & II:
"J. A. Rogers devoted at least fifty years of his life to researching great black personalities and the roles they played in the development of nations, civilizations, and cultures. This book is his greatest achievement. In his lifetime his books did not reach a large popular reading audience. All of them were privately printed and circulated mainly in the black communities; he died, unfortunately, on the eve of the "Black Studies Revolution." Mr. Rogers had already delivered what some of the radical black students were demanding. He had looked at the history of people of African origin, and had showed how their history is an inseparable part of the history of mankind.
J. A. Rogers started his research at a time when a large number of black people had some doubts about their contribution to human history. In books like, Blacks in Antiquity by Frank M. Snowden, Jr. (1970), The African Genius by Basil Davidson (1969), The Prehistory of Africa by Desmond Clarke (1970), Topics in West African History, by A. Adu Boahen (l967), Introduction to African Civilizations, by John G. Jackson (1970), and Great Civilizations of Ancient Africa, by Lester Brooks (1971) these doubts are put to rest.
Europeans have long been in contact with Africa, that is, Northern Africa. The names of Aesop and Memnon, of Terence and Cleopatra are the names of Africans who have figured in legend and the literature, the arts and history of Greece and Rome. Indeed, the land of Africa was a land of wonder for the ancient Greeks and Romans, and this, to such an extent, that among them it was a proverb that out of Africa there is always something new. The concept of "darkest Africa" refers to the comparative ignorance of Europeans regarding that continent and its people over the last four centuries. An English writer, Jonathan Swift, made a sharp but witty comment on his fellow Europeans' lack of knowledge of Africa when he wrote:
With savage pictures fill their gaps,
And o'er uninhabitable downs
Paint elephants instead of towns.
There is another reason why the people of Africa, with the notable exclusion of Egypt, were depicted as uncivilized and lacking in cultural attainments. A number of pious people in Europe would have been struck with horror if they knew of the cruel and bloody acts of their countrymen in the course of the inhuman slave trade. Ruthless European adventurers promoted the hunting down of men, women and children like beasts, and the destruction of complete villages in order to capture the inhabitants and sell them like cattle. Therefore, slave traders would invent fantastic tales of savagery about the Africans so that their capture and transportation to labor on the plantations of the Americas would appear to be acts of Christian concern and high-minded enlightenment.
In the books of J.A. Rogers an attempt was made "to locate Africa's proper place on the maps of human geography. That is what his life and research was about." Rogers came from a large family of African researchers, away from home, searching for the proper place of African people in world history. Almost two hundred years before Ivan Van Sertima, wrote his book of inquiry. They Came Before Columbus, black scholars, mostly informally trained, suspected that African people were part of the new world before the arrival of Columbus and they were searching out documents and evidence to prove their point. Some of these black scholars were drawing upon evidence from artifacts noted in their travels, some from research and some from Leo Weiner's three volume work, Africa and the Discoverv of America. Because the greatest assault on African history and African personalities was made in the United States, many scholars born in the Caribbean did their best research and wrote their books while residing in the United States. They were joining African American scholars, writers, and teachers in an attempt to answer the question: Why Africana or African world history in the first place? The following is my own explanation.
Africa and its people are the most written about and the least understood of all of the world's people. This condition started in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries with the beginning of the slave trade and the system of colonialism. The Europeans not only colonized most of the world, they began to colonize information about the world and its people. In order to do this, they had to forget or pretend to forget, all they had previously known about the Africans. Europeans were not meeting Africans for the first time; there had been another meeting during Greek and Roman times.
The African, Clitus Niger, King of Bactria, was also a Cavalry Commander for Alexander the Great. Most of the Greeks' thinking was influenced by this contact with the Africans. The people and the cultures of what is known as Africa are older than the word "Africa." According to most records, old and new, Africans are the oldest people on the face of the earth. The people now called Africans not only influenced the Greeks and the Romans, they influenced the early world before there was a place called "Europe."
When the early Europeans first met Africans, at the crossroads of history, it was a respectful meeting and the Africans were not slaves. Their nations were old before Europe was born. In this period of history, what was to he later known as "Africa" was unknown to the people who would someday be called, "Europeans." Only the people of some of the Mediterranean Islands and a few states of what would become the Greek and Roman states knew of parts of North Africa that was a land of mystery. After the rise and decline of Greek civilization and the Roman destruction of the City of Carthage, they made the conquered territories into a province which they called Africa, a word derived from "Africa" and the name of a group of people about whom very little is known. At first the word applied only to the Roman colonies of North Africa. There was a time when all dark-skinned people were called Ethiopians, for the Greeks referred to Africa as, "The Land of The Burnt-Face People."
Africa, in general, is a manmade mystery, and Egypt, in particular, is an even bigger one. There has long been an attempt on the part of some European "scholars" to deny that Egypt was a part of Africa. To do this they had to ignore the great masterpieces of Egyptian history written by European writers such as, Ancient Egypt, Light of the World, Vols. 1&2. and a whole school of European thought that placed Egypt in proper focus in relationship to the rest of Africa.
The distorters of African history also had to ignore the fact that the people of the ancient land which would later be called Egypt, never called their country by that name. They called it, TA-MERRY or KAMPT and sometimes KEMET or SAIS. The ancient Hebrews called it MIZRAIN. Later the Moslem Arabs used the same term but later discarded it. Both the Greeks and the Romans referred to the country as the "Pearl of the Nile." The Greeks gave it the simple name AEGYPTUS. Thus, the word we know as Egypt is of Greek origin.
Until recent times most Western scholars have been reluctant to call attention to the fact that the Nile River is 4,000 miles long. It starts in the south, in the heart of Africa, and flows to the north. It was the world's first cultural highway. Making Egypt a composite of many African cultures. In his article, "The Lost Pharaohs of Nubia," Professor Bruce Williams infers that the nations in the South could be older than Egypt. This information is not new. But when rebel European scholars were saying this one hundred years ago, and proving it, they were not taken seriously.
It is unfortunate that so much of the history of Africa has been written by conquerors, foreigners, missionaries and adventurers. The Egyptians left the best record of their history written by local writers. It was not until near the end of the eighteenth century when a few European scholars learned to decipher their writing that this was understood.
The Greek traveler, Herodotus, was in Africa about 450 B.C. His eyewitness account is still a revelation. He witnessed African civilization in decline and partly in ruins, after many invasions. However, he could still see indications of the greatness that it had been. In this period in history, the Nile Valley civilization of Africa had already brought forth two "Golden Ages" of achievement and had left its mark for all the world to see.
In approaching this subject, I have given preference to writers of African descent who are generally neglected. I maintain that the African is the final authority on Africa. In this regard I have reconsidered the writings of W.E.B.DuBois, George Washington Williams, Drusilla Dungee Houston, Carter G. Woodson, Willis N. Huggins, and his most outstanding student, John G. Jackson. I have also reread the manuscripts of some of the unpublished books of Charles C. Seifert, especially manuscripts of his last completed book, Who Are The Ethiopians? Among the Caribbean scholars, like Charles C. Seifert, Joel A. Rogers is the best known and the most prolific. Over fifty years of his life was devoted to documenting the role of African personalities in world history. His two volume work, World's Great Men of Color is a pioneer work in the field.
Among the present-day scholars writing about African history, culture and politics, Dr. Yosef ben-Jochannan's books are the most challenging. I have drawn heavily on his research in the preparation of this article. He belongs to the main cultural branch of the African world, having been born in Ethiopia, growing to early manhood in the Caribbean Islands and having lived in the African American community of the United States for over thirty years. His major books on African history are Black Man of the Nile and His Family, Africa: Mother of Western Civilization, and The African Origins of Major "Western Religions." They tell the African story, and in the distance it is a part of the African American story. It is difficult for depressed African Americans to know that they are a part of the larger story of the history of the world. The history of the modern world was made, in the main, by what was taken from African people. Europeans emerged from what they call their "Middle Ages," people poor, land poor, resource poor, and to a great extent culture poor. They raided and raped the cultures of the world, mostly Africa, and filled their homes and museums with treasures, then they called the people who created these items, primitive. The Europeans did not understand the cultures of non-Western people then; they do not understand them now.
History, I have often said, is a clock that people use to tell their political time of day. It is also a compass that people use to find themselves on the map of human geography. History tells a people where they have been and what they have been. It also tells a people where they are and what they are. Most importandy, history tells a people where they still must go and what they still must be. In his book, Tom-Tom the writer, John W. Vandercook, makes this meanmgful statement:
Until it uses its own talents,
takes pride in its own history,
and loves its own memories,
it can never fulfill itself completely.
This, in essence, is what African history and what African American history is all about. The phrase African American or African American History Month, taken at face value and without serious thought, appears to be incongruous. Why is there a need for an African American History Month when there is no similar month for the other minority groups in the United States. The history of the United States, in total, consists of the collective histories of minority groups. What we call "American civilization" is no more than the sum of their contributions. The African Americans are the least integrated and the most neglected of these groups in the historical interpretation of the American experience. This neglect has made African American History Month a necessity.
Most of the large ethnic groups in the United States have had, and still have, their historical associations. Some of these associations predate the founding of the Association For The Study of Negro Life and History in 1915. Dr. Charles H. Wesley tells us that, "Historical societies were organized in the United States with the special purpose in view of preserving and maintaining the heritage of the American nation." Within the framework of these historical societies many ethnic groups, black as well as white, engaged in those endeavors that would keep alive their beliefs in themselves and their past as a part of their hopes for the future. For African Americans, Carter G. Woodson led the way and used what was then called, "Negro History Week," to call attention to his people's contribution to every aspect of world history. Dr. Woodson, then Dircctor of the Association For the Study of Negro Life and History, conceived this special week at a time when public attention should be focused on the achievements of America's citizens of African descent.
Ghetto life alone makes it a miracle for anyone to live up to adulthood. There we see a situation of absolute want in which black will kill black to be able to survive. This is the basis of the vandalism, murder, rape, and plunder that goes on while the real sources of the evil-white society are sun-tanning on exclusive
beaches or relaxing in their bourgeois homes. Steve Biko
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