Education for a New Reality in the African World

By John Henrik Clarke

Part 4 of 10

African Historiography

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:

Geographers in Africa maps
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:

A race is like a man
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.


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