Sunday, October 16, 2011

Understanding Africa's role in World History...Why is it important?

The idea of history as we know it, that is in the most general form, is not new. It can be argued that the first "Historians" were an African people, that is the Ancient Egyptians. To the royal scribes of Ancient Kemet(the name of Egypt as known by her indigenous people) it was their duty to remind the future generations of Suten(Pharaoh) of the exploits and victories of their ancestors. Adorning the Temple Walls, Tombs and stacked in the Temple Libraries were the history of the nation going back thousands of years. However this form of history was hidden or at least unknown to the average Egyptian. Only the royals, nobles and priests were trained to read the Mdu-ntr that told the History of Km.t. The average Egyptians history was more than likely oral in nature passing onto the next generation by word of mouth. Oral history was in fact the main way that most African cultures told and passed on their stories. Even when literacy was attained, as in the case of Ancient Egypt, oral history remained a vital component to many African people and cultures. This has often left the African story in world history silent and most often told from the perspective of non Africans, many who do not understand or care much for the African story.

So some people might wonder or ask, why Africans should get "special treatment", why should historians care, why should the average person living in the modern world care? Well as a student and future historian I can say that African people are not getting special treatment. African cultures and history are either neglected, ignored, or attributed to other regions of the world to this say. Take for example Ancient Egypt, despite Egypt confirmed African origins, African population, African religion and language, you can find many books claiming the 25th Dynasty as the "Black Pharaohs" yet one would have to search hard to find ancient Chinese Emperors labeled as "Yellow Emperors" or the Greek and Persian usurpers in Egypt referred to as the "White" Pharaohs. With the recent attention given to Timbuctou and her Libraries you will find some historians making mention of "Arabs" bringing culture to African Muslims in West Africa. However when it comes to Islamic History these same people will hardly if ever mention the Byzantine Influence on the Arabs, the Jewish, Egyptian and Persian influence on the Arab Muslim learning. When it comes to history, African contribution south of the desert is often ignored and silent. The only thing worth mention by historians is the African contribution to the slave markets(both ancient and middle age.) You won't have to search very far to find mention of Nubian slaves raids and slave trades, the Slave trade of the Western African people, etc. On the other hand despite the role played by Eurasians in the very same slave markets, the same historians remain silent.  This biased and imbalanced version of history leaves the average lay-person who researches history with a story of Africa that is blurred and incomplete.

So what is the solution to this problem? Should we write our historians and make our complaints known? Well my answer is yes and no. To me it is up to us, as African people and those interested in African history, to write our own history books and to complete the African story ourselves. We should work alongside historians who are willing to listen, but our history should not be left in the hands of those whom do not seem that interested in the African story.

 With that I would like to post a video of a lecture by Anthropologist Shomarka Omar Yahya Keita, aka S.O.Y Keita on the approach of history by African people. @2:00 His contention is that for people who want to study various African Cultures, citing various African cultures from the Numidians to the Axumites is going to require education and less a reliance on "old books". At 3:35 Keita makes it clear that the African World must do its own research be that African World in Brazil, Nigeria or Europe but that there are standards in academia we must meet. In Conclusion it is up to us to complete this story and give the voice to the African contribution to world history.

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