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And among the earliest and most numerous class who found their way to the

new world, were those of the African race. And it has been ascertained to our minds . . .

that when the continent was discovered, there were found in the West Indies

and Central America, tribes of the black race

 

 

Books by Floyd W. Hayes, III

A Turbulent Voyage: Readings in African American Studies / Forty Acres and a Mule: The Rape of Colored Americans

*   *   *   *   *

The African Presence in America Before Columbus

A Bibliographic Essay by Floyd W. Hayes III

 

The contemporary Black educator has an enormous challenge. One of his prime tasks must be the research, resurrection, and dissemination of information about the long suppressed contributions Africans (in Africa and the diaspora) have made toward the development of world civilization. It is transparent from extant literature that traditional academic disciplines, mainly the social sciences, have given a distorted representation of the African experience and reminiscent of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The White Man’s Burden,” have until recent times characterized the Black man as “half-devil and half-child,”1 waiting in the darkness of ignorance before the coming of the European to bring the “light” of western civilization and culture.

Additionally, most western “scholars” until recently have falsely maintained that Africa made little substantial contribution to the evolution of world civilization. For instance, Greece is praised as the original foundation of world culture, the development of the Arts and Sciences, while the fact that the development of Greece was strongly influenced by Africa is ignored. It must not be forgotten that the Greeks did not carry culture and learning to Africa, but located them there.2 Generally speaking, little of Africa is known except on the issue of the slave trade.

More than anything else, the legacies of slavery and colonialism have been devastating to African peoples, and the effects of these human institutions linger on. Probably the most painful  legacy of European oppression was the systematic Miseducation of Black people in Africa and abroad).3

We have been ‘educated” or indoctrinated away from our true selves by our oppressor so that we do not actually know who we are. It might be suggested that we have received a perpendicular education. Indoctrinated by this method of education, which has prevented us from relating effectively with ourselves, we are instead pulled away toward the imitation of the white man and his culture, thus killing the man in us.4

It is this educational pattern, imposed on blacks, which renders agreement and unity difficult. On the other hand, the white man has provided for himself a horizontal education which allows him to know and get along with other whites. Surely, various difficulties of opinion are exhibited by whites, but there is a common denominator for agreement.

The contemporary Black education, then, is face with the problems of overcoming years of miseducation, for he must realize that he too has been miseducated. He also has the job of educating students to identify and analyze the actions of the oppressor with the goal of contributing to the liberation of African peoples of systematic dehumanization.

Realizing that the oppressed cannot fully examine, comprehend and tackle the problems placed before them by utilizing the traditional academic approaches, theories and analytical frameworks of their oppressors, the oppressed must create new theoretical approaches. For, in the words of Frantz Fanon, “let us decide not to imitate Europe; let us combine our muscles and our brains in an new direction. Let us try to create the whole man, whom Europe has been incapable of bringing to triumphant birth.”5

It is incumbent, then, upon the Black educator who focuses upon the African experience, to develop other means of examining the entire story of African peoples. A concept has been suggested that will allow for the study of the growth of the African world in all its multifaceted dimensions. Africanism incorporates a scientific examination of Africans and the African diaspora, i.e., African peoples in Asia, the Caribbean, Canada, United States, Europe, and central and South America.6 “Africanism is both a science and a philosophy aimed at freeing the black man from bondage to a culture and values which have been forced upon him.”7

The proposed methodology and theoretical framework employed for viewing the global African experience is Confrontational System Analysis, which will allow for the examination of all the systems brought into play between the oppressor and the oppressed. “Such a framework affords the opportunity to explore all the facets of the systems involved, the often ignored antithesis, the necessary and unnecessary reactions, the counter elements generated, the systems which persist (while having undergone some change), and the favorable results of such confrontations.”8

This creative approach is of considerable importance, for it allows one to consider and explore areas of knowledge that have long been ignored. For example, Columbus did not discover the Americas.9 One area of knowledge which has lacked popular attention and research is the extent to which Africa contributed to the growth of pre-Columbian America; those scholars who have courageously ventured into such a study have been quietly dismissed.10 Indeed, there is scarcely any discussion of this part of the dispersal of Africans in courses on African and Black American history in most universities and secondary schools. Hence, it is implied that Africans only traveled to Asia, Europe and the Americas as slaves. While  the main focus of this bibliographical essay is on the African influence in ancient America, one should be mindful of the early African presence throughout the world.11

The fact that Africans could have visited the Americas before Columbus should call for no stretch of the imagination, for Africa is less than 2,000 miles from South America. In the following discussion, then, I shall explore some of the existing research regarding the extent of the pre-Columbian African presence in the Americas.

Theories regarding the pre-Columbian presence of Africans in the Americas are not new. Rather, men in various times have discussed such a possibility. For example, in 1854, at the National Emigration Convention of Colored People, held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a statement was issued to the African inhabitants of the United States regarding the necessity for leaving the United States as the only alternative left for them. Within that statement, which incidentally was signed by Martin R. Delany among others, we find the following:

And among the earliest and most numerous class who found their way to the new world, were those of the African race. And it has been ascertained to our minds beyond a doubt, that when the continent was discovered, there were found in the West Indies and Central America, tribes of the black race, fine looking people, having the usual characteristics of color and hair, identifying them as being originally of the African race.12

By 1900, the notion that Africans could have traveled to the Americas had moved beyond the stage of speculation. It was now definite that Africans had made contact with the Americas. Peter ReRoo, in his History of America before Columbus, was quite firm in acknowledging the fact that Africans had settled in the western hemisphere and made contact with native Americans. He says,

Yet a better proof of ancient Negro arrivals is the fact of Negro colonies found by the Spanish and Portuguese discoverers on the eastern coasts of South and Central America. Mendoza encountered a tribe of Negroes, and Balboa, when on his famous expeditions of the discovery of the Pacific Ocean, met in the old province Quareca, at only two days’ travel from the Gulf of Darien, with a settlement of Negroes. . . .”14

In 1920 Leo Weiner, a Harvard University philologist, produced a pioneering examination of the existence of Africans in the Americas prior to the arrival of Columbus, which appeared as volume one of African and the discovery of America. Volumes two and three followed in 1922. While doing an investigation of native American languages, Wiener learned to his amazement that there was a considerable African influence on these languages. After further study he was led to conclude that much of the American archaeological work done on both Africans and native Americans was erroneous. Commenting on his work he says,

In the first volume I show that Negroes had a far greater influence upon American civilization than has heretofore been suspected. In the second volume I shall chiefly study the African fetishism, which even with the elaborate books on the subject, is woefully misunderstood, and I shall show by documentary evidence to what extraordinary extent the Indian medicine-man owes his evolution to the African medicine-man.15

His third volume is concerned with an examination of African social and religious influences on pre-Columbian American societies.

Arguing that West Africans had made numerous voyages to America before Columbus, Wiener noted that:

The presence of Negroes with their trading masters in America before Columbus is proved by the representation of Negroes in American sculpture and design, by the occurrence of a black nation at Darien early in the XVI century, but more specifically by Columbus’ emphatic reference to Negro traders from Guinea, who trafficked in a gold alloy, guanin, of precisely the same composition and bearing the same name, as frequently referred to by early writers in Africa.16

As additional proof, he noted the presence of West African words for numerous crops in various native-American languages and suggested that the crops were indigenous to Africa.

Indeed when we turn to the appellations of the sweet potato and yam in America, we find nothing but African forms. Here as there the two are confounded, and chiefly those names have survived which Dr. Chanca mentioned in 1494. he called the plant he described, apparently the sweet potato, both nabi and hage. We see that the first is a phonetic variation of Wolof nyambi, etc., ‘yam.’ . . .17

Wiener further indicated that the West African penetration of the Americas varied:

There were several foci from which the Negro traders spread in the two Americas. The eastern part of South America, where the Caribs are mentioned seems to have been reached by them from the West Indies. Another stream, possibly from the same focus, radiated to the north along roads marked by the presence of mounds, and reached as far as Canada. The chief cultural influence was exerted by a negro colony in Mexico, most likely from Teotihuacan and Tuxtla, who may have been instrumental in establishing the city of Mexico. From here their influence pervaded the neighboring tribes and ultimately, directly or indirectly, reached Peru.18

Another scholar concerned with pre-Columbian African influence in the Americas strengthens Wieners’s position regarding the African presence in ancient Mexican history. Joel A. Rogers, the prolific Black writer and student of world civilization, in Africa’s Gift to America suggested that “Africa played a role, perhaps, the chief role in the earliest development of America—a period that antedates Columbus by many centuries, namely Aztec, Maya, and Inca civilizations. About 500 B.C. or earlier, Africans sailed over to America and continued to do so until the time of Columbus.19 Additionally, Rogers quoted several Mexican authorities on the subject:

C.C. Marquez says, ‘The Negro type is seen in the most ancient Mexican sculpture. . . . Negroes figure frequently in the most remote traditions.’ Riva-Palacio, Mexican historian, says, ‘It is indisputable that in very ancient times the Negro race occupied our territory (Mexico). The Mexicans recall a negro god, Ixtilton, which means ‘black face’.”20

Archaeological expeditions and findings in Mexico provide empirical evidence regarding the position set forth in this essay. In his authoritative study, The Ancient Sun Kingdoms of the Americas, Victor W. Von Hagen discussed the pre-Aztec civilization known as the Olmecs. Von Hagen puts the existence of the Olmecs between 800 B.C. and 600 A.D., indicating that they were situated in the south of Mexico near Vera Cruz, Tabasco, and La Venta. Of the Olmecs, Von Hagen writes:

 

In Aztec mythohistory, the Olmecs were known as ‘the people who lived in the direction of the rising sun’ and a glyph history of them shows that their paradisiacal ‘wealth’ consisted of rubber, pitch, jade, chocolate, and bird feathers. We do not know what they called themselves. ‘Olmec’ derives from olli  (rubber). . . . They traded rubber and they presumably made the rubber balls used for the game called tlachtli. . . . For untold centuries burial mounds and pyramids built by them lay covered by the jungle; here archaeologists have found carved jade, sensitively modeled clay figurines ‘of an unprecedented high artistic quality,’ said Miguel Covarrubias. . . . Only in recent times have the great Olmec stone heads been unearthed, by Dr. Matthew Sterling. At Tres Zapotes he found one colossal head seven feet high, flat-nosed and sensually thick-lipped.21

The huge stone heads of Olmec deities, exhibited an unmistakably African physiognomy, as can be easily seen from the photographs and drawings of these massive sculptures.22 During the last decade of the 19th century, the first of these gigantic heads was found in Vera Cruz  by J. M. Melgar, who in 1896 published a monograph on his findings. “This cabeza colossal, as the Mexicans called it, was half buried, but enough of it was visible for an occasional observant traveler to notice its ‘Ethiopian features’ and the presence of a headdress resembling a football helmet.”23

Later, in 1902, an Olmec artifact was found near the Bay of Campeche in the Gulf of Mexico. The jade figurine contained a date on it corresponding to 98 B.C. Interested in this find, Matthew Sterling, an American archaeologist and director of the Bureau American Ethnology, was to lead nine expeditions into the Mexican Gulf coast commencing in 1938, at which time he found five colossal heads in La Venta in the state of Tabasco, five to nine feet high and weighing as much as 20 to 30 tons each. 24

In 1946, Sterling carried out another expedition in the San Lorenzo plateau, an area in southeastern Vera Cruz. Once more the huge stone heads were found, all of which again contained African facial features.

During the spring of 1967, Michael Coe, of Yale University, led an expedition to San Lorenzo in southeast Mexico. As did Sterling, Coe located numerous Olmec artifacts, which again included a giant stone head, as well as altars and pyramids. Coe suggests that the Olmecs were the earliest Maya and had declined by the rise of the Aztecs.25

One might merely ask himself: if Africans were not present in the Americas before Columbus, why the typically African physiognomy on the monuments? It is in contradiction to the most elementary logic and to all artistic experience to suggest that these ancient Olmec artists could have depicted, with such detail, African facial features they had never seen.

From the preceding discussion there should be little doubt that Africans arrived in the Americas long before Columbus; rather, they had an extensive influence on early American cultures: social, religious and artistic. A recent study of pre-Columbian art in Latin America reveals that the African presence was profound. Although acknowledging the presence of Asiatic influences in pre-Columbian art, Alexander von Wuthenau, in The Art of Terracotta Pottery in Pre-Columbian Central and South America, is very firm about pervasive African influence. Describing photographs of Olmec figurines contained in his book, von Wuthenau says, “The two Negroid heads on page 48 are quite conspicuous. They prove that this racial type can be found nearly everywhere in ancient America.”26

Likewise, it should be kept in mind that Africans held positions of considerable importance in ancient American societies. It would thus be flying in the face of truth to deny the African presence in pre-Columbian America. Von Wuthenau comments further:

The Negroid element is the exception, but is well proven by the large Olmec stone monuments as well as the terracotta items and therefore cannot be excluded from pre-Columbian history of the Americas. Furthermore, it is precisely the Negroid representations which often indicate personalities of high position, who can unhesitatingly be compared to the outstanding Negroes who served as models for great works of art in Egypt and in Nigeria.”27

Recent discussions of the high level of culture and maritime skill of West Africans lend additional credence to the claims of Wiener, Rogers, von Wuthenau and others that Africans braved the roaring waters of the Atlantic Ocean and established relationships with native Americans more than one thousand years ago. Harold G. Lawrence, in an article, “African Explorers of the New World,” states emphatically, “We can now positively state that the Mandingoes of the Mali and Songhay Empires, and possibly other Africans, crossed the Atlantic to carry on trade with the Western Hemisphere Indians and further succeeded in establishing colonies throughout the Americas.”28 Due to diplomatic relations with Morocco, the Malian emperor Sakura (1285-1300 A.D.) learned of advanced maritime techniques and the spherical nature of the earth. Various Arab writers, some of whom were Abdul-feda, Idrisi, Masudi, Abu Zaid, and Istakhri, developed geographies and formulated astronomical theories.29

Lawrence indicates that Abubakari II (1305-1307) curious about the Arab theories on the spehericl nature of the earth and voyages around the world, sent a fleet of 400 ships into the Atlantic ocean, informing the captains not to return until they had found land or run out of supplies. After a considerable time had passed, one ship returned, its captain telling Abubakari that the others had perished in violent waters. Abubakari then led a fleet of some 2,000 ships into the Atlantic. Before departing Abubakari conferred temporary authority to his brother, Mansa Musa, certain that he would return.30 Unfortunately, Abubakari never did.

Ronald W. Davis, utilizing Arabic and French sources in an essay entitled, “Negro Contributions to the Explorations of the Globe,’ corroboratesLlawrence’s account of Malian voyages into the Atlantic. Mansa Musa, who has by the early 1320s conquered new territories and integrated the older provinces into the Mali empire, gained lasting international fame primarily because of the lavish hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) he undertook in 1324. Arriving in Cairo and receiving considerable attention, as would be expected, Mansa Musa was asked about his succession to the throne. He thus told of his predecessor’s speculation about the outer reaches of the Atlantic and his sending a fleet. Davis’ account is thus very similar to that of Lawrence. Commenting on Mansa Musa’s narrative, Davis says, “It is difficult to accept the proposition that Mansa simply invented this story,”31

Elsewhere, Davis says,

We know that Mali, although essentially an inland empire, did have an outlet to the sea in the Senegambia region during parts of the fourteenth century. There is no better point of departure for the Americas than this particular portion of the African coast, for here expeditions may take advantage of the Northeast trade winds, which blow steadily and evenly almost year round in a vast arc skirting the northwest coast of Africa and curving toward the great eastern bulge of South America. Columbus himself, for reasons not yet certain, chose to drop from Spain to latitudes comparable to those of Senegambia before starting the ocean crossing.32

We might be a little more certain about Columbus’ reasons if we consult J. A. Rogers, who writes, “it is even possible that Columbus had heard of the New World from Africans brought* to Spain and Portugal in his time. Furthermore, Columbus spent some time in West Africa just before he left Spain for America.”33

              A. Guerrero

B. Vera Cruz

C. Central Plateau of Mexico

 

Von Wuthenau used this pottery as examples of African influence in pre-Columbian Central and South America. He said about B.: "This is very clearly a work of portraiture." . . . The 20-ton heads each with distinctive features were the largest sculptures in the Western Hemisphere

Basil Davidson, in The Lost Cities of Africa, supplied further evidence, showing that trans-Atlantic voyages were made by West African seamen before and during the reign of Mansa Musa. He comments:

Omari, in the tenth chapter of his Masalik al-absad, reproduces a story which suggests that Atlantic voyages were made by mariners of West Africa in the times of Emperor Kankan Musa of Mali; and which roundly states that the predecessors of Kankan Musa embarked on the Atlantic with “two thousand ships” and sailed westward and disappeared . . . yet Mali had outlets of the Atlantic seaboard, while North African mariners evidently knew of the Azores several centuries before the voyages of Columbus.”34

Probably one of the most recent historical examinations of the extent of the pre-Columbian existence of Africans in the Americas has been undertaken by John G. Jackson. In his Introduction to African civilizations,35 the author spent a chapter discussing African cultural influences in ancient America. Utilizing a plethora of sources, Jackson traced the African presence in the Americas as far back as three thousand years. Citing several authorities, Jackson shows that the African influences in ancient America religious systems were profound. For instance, examining the African religious influence on the Mayans, Jackson quoted the following from A. Hyatt Verrill:

The great cities of the Mayan Empire were deserted, many were completely lost and hidden in the rank jungle and forest growth of the tropics, and the existing Indians had little more than vague traditions and legends regarding their origin and past. Yet they worshipped their old gods, using the ancient temples for their ceremonials wherein the Chilams or priests performed the rites. . . . Even today, many of the Indians of Central and South America secretly venerate or worship the gods of their forefathers. The Mayan tribes are no exceptions, although often the ancient Mayan deities and rites and the Christian rituals and saints are almost inextricably confused.

In the little church at Esquipultas, Guatemala, is the image of the Black Christ to which thousands of Indians journey annually from all parts of central America, and even from Mexico and South America. The spot has become a shrine or Mecca for the Indians, and for hundreds, even thousands of miles, they travel to the obscure Guatemalan village carrying with them all of their possessions in order to have them sanctified at the famous church. To all outward intents and purposes they are Christians making a pilgrimage to a Christian church in order to worship before a figure of Christ.

No doubt many if not most of them actually are sincere in believing this to be the case. But, as a matter of fact, the underlying cause, the real urge that leads them to the spot is the ineradicable faith in their ancient gods and religion. The very fact that the image is black has a symbolic significance which can be traced directly to the ancient religions and mythologies . . . and, delving deeper into the details of the annual pilgrimage and the shrine, we find evidences of the observance of the Mayan religion numerous. The Indians who care for the church and the image are of the Mayan priest clan or caste.

Many of the ceremonies, rites and festivals of the pilgrims are obviously of ancient Mayan origin, and the little santos or images which the devout Indians bring to the church to be sanctified, and which serve as their own household gods, are figures of the ancient Indian deities. Moreover, among many of the Indians, the black Christ is referred to in private as Ekchuah or as Hunabku (the former, the Mayan god of merchants; the latter, the God-father or supreme deity of the Mayas), often prefixed with the Spanish Cristo (Christ), as Cristo Ekchuah or as Cristo Hunabku. [Old Civilizations of the New World, pp. 143-46, by A. Hyatt Verrill].36

Lawrence also corroborates this account when he writes:

An examination of ancient Indian religions yields additional information of the condition of early Africans in the Americas. Several Indian nations, such as the Mayans Aztecs, and Incas, worshipped black gods along with their other deities, and the mayan religion particularly exemplifies the high esteem in which the negroes were held. Among the black deities, Quetzalcoatl, the serpent god and messiah, and Ek-ahua (Ekchuah), the trader-god and war captain, are the most revealing. Their surviving portraits show them, black and wooly haired, to have been unmistakably Negro.37

The above should be no cause for alarm, for, as earlier mentioned, in many ancient societies throughout the world there have been at times some Black religious symbols—Krishna, the east Indian god was Black.38

Let me summarize by stating that the importance of this essay is to indicate the necessity of exploring a new theme in the history of Africa and her diaspora. The appellation “new” is used only in the sense that the segment of the  African diaspora presented here is not regarded as significant and consequently is excluded from the attention of Africanists. Although some research already has been done, obviously questions need to be answered which require more extensive investigation. However, if the idea that the Norsemen might have arrived in America on the flimsy bases of myth and a few scattered artifacts, then it can be positively concluded , in view of a far more abundant volume of information, that Africans arrived in the Americas long before Columbus and established relationships with and had a profound influence upon native Americans.

The investigation, resurrection, and dissemination of knowledge about the early voluntary dispersal of Africans throughout the world should help to destroy the myth Europeans and their descendants have encouraged that world civilization developed without any substantial African influence. The examination of the pre-Columbian African presence in the Americas will provide a most important link between the African past and the history of the African diaspora. It is incumbent upon Africanists to acknowledge that Africa’s initial contact with the Americas was not through slavery at an arbitrary set date of 1619.

A more accurate account of Africa’s long and pronounced influence on ancient American cultures must be projected. It is a travesty of scholarship that college and university courses on the history of the African experience continue to ignore the pre-Columbian influence of Africans on the Americas. Additionally, it must be recognized that the continued instruction to secondary and elementary school children that Columbus “discovered” America serves no enlightened purpose and should be curtailed.

The study of the African diaspora will give the Black man, wherever he is, a sense of identity and pride in himself, his people and his past, which will enable him to deal effectively with the present and the future.. Every true African scholar should constantly seek the truth, and this enterprise necessitates several things: the reappraisal and reconstruction of traditional academic approaches to African studies (for example, we have suggested Confrontational Systems Analysis), the implementation of creative means for the attainment of knowledge about the African experience, the vision to exhume that part of the African past that has been suppressed, and the confidence to recognize these academic endeavors as true scholarship.

 *   *   *   *   *

 

Notes

1 Rudyard Kipling, “The White Man’s Burden,” in Rubin W. Winks,  British Imperialism: Gold, God, Glory (New York: Holt Rinehart and Winston), p. 59.

2Noted historian Will Durant, in The Life in Greece, says the following:

It was the belief of most Greeks that many elements of their civilization had come to them from Egypt; their legends ascribed the foundations of several Greek cities to men who, like Cadmus and Danaus, had come from Egypt, or had brought Egyptian culture to Greece. . . . From the seventh century [B.C.] onward many famous Greeks—Thales, Pythagoras, Solon, Plato, and Democritus may serve as examples—visited Egypt, and were much impressed by the fullness and antiquity of its culture. ‘You Greeks,’ said an Egyptian priest to Solon, ‘are mere children, talkative and vain, and knowing nothing of the past.’

 

When Hecataeus of Miletus boasted to the Egyptian priests that he could trace his ancestry through fifteen generations to a god, they quietly showed him, in their sanctuaries, the statues of 345 high priests, each the son of the preceding, making 345 generations since the gods had reigned on earth. From Egyptian cults of Isis and Osiris, in the belief of Greek scholars like Herodotus and Plutarch, came the Orphic doctrine of a judgment after death, and the resurrection ritual of Demeter and Persephone of Eleusis. Probably in Egypt, Thales of Miletus learned geometry, and Pheocus and Theodorus of Samos picked up the art of hallow casting in bronze; in Egypt the Greeks acquired new skills in pottery, textiles, metal-working, and ivory. . . . It was presumably his acquaintances with Egyptian and Babylonian astronomy that enabled Thales to predict an eclipse of the sun.” [Will Durant, The Life in Greece (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1966), pp. 68-69.]

Philosophy and religions have historically been very closely related. Accordingly, while Greeks learned philosophy in Egypt, they were also influenced by Egyptian religious symbols. Godfrey Higgins, an early 19th-century archaeologist, humanist and social reformer, completed a massive study of ancient civilizations in 1836. Concerning the Greeks, he has this to say:

In my search into the origin of the ancient Druids, I continually found, at last, that my labours terminated with something black. Thus the oracles at Dodona, and of Apollo at Delphi, were founded by black doves. Doves are not often, I believe, never [sic] really black. Osiris and his bull were black, all the Gods and Goddesses of Greece were black: at least this was the case with Jupiter, Bacchus, Hercules, Apollo, Ammon. The goddesses Venus, Isis, Necati, Diane, Juno, Metis, Ceres, Cybile, are black.

[Higgins, Anacalypsis: An Attempt to draw Aside the Veil of the Saitic Isis; Or an Inquiry into the Origins of Languages, Nations and Religions  (New York: University Books, Inc., new edition, 1965, Volume I, pp. 137-138]

Aristotle himself acknowledged that, “the history of Egypt attests the antiquity of all political institutions. The Egyptians are generally accounted the oldest people on earth: and they have always had a body of law and a system of politics. [This may teach us a lesson.] We ought to take over and use what has already been adequately expressed before us. . . .” [Ernest Barker (ed. and trans.) The Politics of Aristotle (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 304.]

Further, it should be noted that Greeks were influenced by other areas in Africa, i.e., Carthage.

See these books by Yosef ben-Jochannan: Black Man of the Nile (revised Edition, 1972); Africa: Mother of Western Civilization, 1971. Both New York: Alkebu-Lan Books Associates (209 W. 125th St., Suite 218, N.Y., N.Y. 10027).

3See E.N. Njaka, “Afrocentrism,”, A Quarterly Journal of Opinion Issue #1 (African Studies Association, Fall, 1971) and Carter G. Woodson, Miseducation of the Negro (Washington, D.C.; Associated Publishers, Inc., 1933).

4E.N. Njaka, “African Nations Versus European-Carved Countries in Africa,” paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the African Studies Association, Denver, 1971.

5Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Press, 1963), p. 253.

6E.N. Njaka, “Africanism,” p. 12.

7Ibid.

8Ibid.

9J.H. Parry and P.M. Sherlock, A Short History of the West Indies (London: Macmillan and co., LTD, 1963), p. 2.

10Africanists fail to recognize Leo Wiener, Africa and the Discovery of America (Philadelphia: Innes and Sons, 3 volumes, 1922) or J. A. Rogers, Africa’s Gift to America (new York: Futuro Press, Inc., 1961).

11Joseph Harris, The African Presence in Asia (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1971), see especially the Introduction and pp. 115-117; John G. Jackson, Introduction to African Civilizations  (New York: University Books Inc., 1970), see especially chapter 4, 6, and 7; Sir Harry Johnston, The Negro in the New World (New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1969), chapter 1; Yu. M. Kobishchanow, “On the Problem of Sea Voyages of Ancient Africans in the Indian Ocean,” Journal of African History, Volume IV, No. 2, 1965, pp. 137-141; Stanley Lane-Poole, The Story of the Moors in Spain (New York: Putnam’s Sons, 1886); J.A. Rogers, Sex and Race (New York: J.A. Rogers, 1967), Volume I, 9th edition; J.A. Rogers, Nature Knows No Color Line (New York: J.A. Rogers, 1952), 3rd edition; George Shepperson, “The African Abroad or The African Diaspora,” in T.O. Ranger (ed.), Emerging Themes in African History (East African Publishing House/Northwestern U., 1968), pp. 152-153; Sir Percy Sykes, A History of Persia (London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd, 1963), see Chapter 4; “Says Nakhis Now Have Culture 2000 Years Old,” New York Times, November 26, 1933, p. 8E.

12John H. Bracey Jr., August Meier, and Elliot Rudwick (eds.),  Black Nationalism in America (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1970), p. 100.

13John D. Baldwin, Ancient America, in Notes on American Archaeology (New York: Harper and Brothers, Publishers, 1871), p. 172. My thanks are to Mr. Reginald Lawrence for supplying me with this book.

14Peter DeRoo, History of America Before Columbus (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1900), Volume 1, p. 341.

15Wiener, Volume 1, op. cit., p. i.

16Wiener, Volume 2, op.cit., p. 365.

17Wiener, Volume 1, op. cit., p. 262

18Wiener, Volume III, loc. cit.

19J.A. Rogers,  Africa’s Gift to America, p. 14

20Ibid, p. 15

21Victor W. Von Hagen, The Ancient Sun Kingdoms of the Americas (New York: The World Publishing Co., 1957), p. 48, italics added.

22See Rogers, Africa’s Gift to America, pp. 26-28; Bradley Smith, Mexico: A History in Art (Garden City, Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1968), p. 38-39; Von Hagen op. cit., p. 49; and the front cover of Science Digest, September 1967.

23Jackson, op. cit., p. 238.

24Jeanne Reinert, “Secrets of the People of the Jaguar,” Science Digest, September 1967, pp. 8-9.

25Reinert, ibid., pp. 10-11.

26Alexander von Wuthnau, The Art of Terracotta Pottery in Pre-Columbian Central and South America (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1970), p. 79. I am indebted to Dr. John H. Clarke for bringing this book to my attention.

27 The Revolution Will Not Be Televised., p. 187, Italics added.

28Harold G. Lawrence, “African Explorers of the New World,” The Crisis, June-July 1962, p. 322.

29Ibid. pp. 322-323. It should also be remembered that the Moorish invasion of Andalusia in the 8th century laid the foundation for a new civilization in Spain. Arab-Moorish scholars there preserved the wisdom and knowledge of the arts and sciences of ancient Egypt and Greece, thus enabling Europe to advance out of the “Dark Ages.’ See Jackson, op. cit., chapter 4; J. C. deGraft-Johnson, African Glory: The story of vanished negro Civilizations (New York: Walker and company, 1966), Chapters 7 and 8; Lane-Poole, op. cit.; Peter Tompkins, Secrets of the Great Pyramids (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1971).

30Lawrence, op. cit., p. 23.

31Ronald W. Davis, “Negro Contributions to the Explorations of the Globe,” in Joseph S. Roucek and Thomas Kiernan (eds), The Negro Impact in Western Civilization (New York: Philosophical Library, Inc., 1970), p. 42.

* Using “brought,” Rogers might give the impression that Africans were Spanish and Portuguese slaves at this time; however, the reader should be aware that when European traveled to West Africa in the 15th century, they marveled at the high level of African civilization and consequently respected Africans as allies and equals.

32Ibid., p. 43.

33Rogers, Africa’s Gift to America, p. 17

34Basil Davidson, The Lost Cities of Africa (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1959), p. 74.

35Jackson, op. cit., Chapter 6.

36Jackson, Ibid., pp. 255-256.

37Lawrence, op. cit., p. 326.

38James G. Frazer, Adonis, Attis, Osiris: Studies in the History of Oriental Religions, 2 Volumes and The Golden Bough, Part IV (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1966); Yosef ben-Jochannan, African Origins of the Major “Western Religions.” (New York: Alkebu-Lan Books Associates, 1970); Harris, op. cit., pp. 273-283; Higgins, op.cit.; Rogers, Sex and Race, op.cit., pp. 265-283.

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Bibliography

Anonymous. “Says Nakhis Now Have Culture 2,000 Years Old,” New York Times, November 26, 1933.

Baldwin, John D. Ancient America, in Notes on American Archaeology. New York: Harper and Brothers, Publishers, 1871.

Barker, Ernest (ed. and trans.). The Politics of Aristotle. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971.

Ben-Jochannan, Yosef. Black Man of the Nile. New York: Alkebu-Lan Books Associates, 1972. Revised edition.

Ben-Jochannan, Yosef.  Africa: Mother of Western Civilization. New York: Alkebu-Lan Books Associates, 1971.

Ben-Jochannan, Yosef.  African Origins of the Major “Western Religions.” New York: Alkebu-Lan Books Associates, 1970.

Bracey, John J.; August Meier, and Elliott Rudwick (eds.). Black Nationalism in America. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1970.

Davidson, Basil. The Lost Cities of Africa. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1959.

Davis, Ronald W. “Negro Contributions to the Explorations of the Globe.” In Roucek, Joseph S. and Kiernan, Thomas, eds. The Negro Impact on Western Civilization. New York: Philosophical Library, 1970.

DeGraft-Johnson, J.C. African Glory: The Story of Vanished Negro Civilizations. New York: Walker and Company, 1966.

DeRoo, Peter. History of America Before Columbus. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1900, Volume I.

Durant, Will. The Life in Greece. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1966.

Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press, 1963.

Frazer, James G. Adonis, Attis, Osiris: Studies in the History of Oriental Religions, 2 Volumes, The Golden Bough, Part IV. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1966.

Harris, Joseph. The African Presence in Asia. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1971.

Higgins, Godfrey. Anacalypsis: An Attempt to draw Aside the Veil of the Saitic Isis; Or an Inquiry into the Origins of Languages, Nations and Religions. New York: University Books, Inc., 1965. New edition, Volume I.

Jackson, John G. Introduction to African Civilizations. New York: University Books, Inc., 1970.

James, George G. M. Stolen Legacy: The Greeks were not authors of Greek Philosophy, but the people of North Africa, commonly called the Egyptians. New York: Philosophical Library, 1954.

Johnston, Sir Harry. The Negro in the New World. New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1969.

Kobishchanow, Yu. M. “On the Problem of Sea Voyages of Ancient Africans in Indian Oceans.” Journal of African History. Volume IV, No. 2, 1965.

Lane-Poole, Stanley. The Story of the Moors in Spain. New York: Putnam’s Sons, 1886.

Lawrence, Harold G. “African Explorers of the New World.” The Crisis, June-July, 1962, pp. 321-332.

Njaka, E.N. “Africanism.” A Quarterly Journal of Opinion. Issue #1. Fall 1971. African Studies Association.

Njaka, E.N. “African Nations Versus European-Carved Countries in Africa.” Paper presented to the Annual meeting of the African Studies Association. Denver 1971.

Parry, J. H. and P. M. Sherlock. A Short History of the West Indies. London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1963

Reinert, Jeanne. "Secrets of the People of the Jaguar.” Science Digest. September 1967.

Rogers, J.A. Nature Knows No Color Line. New York: J.A. Rogers, 1952. 3rd edition.

Rogers, J.A. Africa’s Gift to America. New York: Futuro Press, 1961.

Rogers, J.A. Sex and Race. New York: J. A. Rogers, 1967. Volume I.  9th edition.

Shepperson, George. “The African Abroad or the African Diaspora.” In T. O. Ranger, ed. Emerging Themes in African History. Nairobi: East African Publishing House, 1968.

Smith, Bradley. Mexico: A History in Art. Garden City: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1968.

Sykes, Sir Percy. A History of Persia. London: Macmillan and Company, Ltd., 1963.

Tompkins, Peter. Secrets of the Great Pyramids. New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1971.

Von Hagen, Victor W. The Ancient Sun Kingdoms of the Americas. New York: The world Publishing Company, 1957.

Wiener, Leo. Africa and the Discovery of America. Philadelphia: Innes and Sons, 1922. 3 volumes.

Winks, Robin W. British Imperialism: Gold, God, Glory. New York: Holt, Rinehard and Winston, 1963.

Woodson, Carter G. The Mis-Education of the Negro. Washington, D.C.: Associated Publishers, Inc., 1933.

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Floyd W. Hayes III, author of “A Bibliographic Essay: The African Presence in America Before Columbus,” is an instructor and assistant to the coordinator in the African American Studies program at the university of Maryland Baltimore County. Mr. Hayes earned his B.A. in French and political science at North Carolina Central University, his M.A. in African Studies at UCLA, and is presently studying for his Ph.D. in government and politics at the University of Maryland College Park. This is the young scholar’s first professional publication.

Source: Black World (July 1973)

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Responses

Atlantis, Mu and the Maya—Early theories attributing Mesoamerican civilization to lost civilizations continue to deprive Native Americans of their cultural legacy today.—Of course, the late nineteenth century thinkers were troubled by the seemingly African features of the Olmec sculptures, since the Egyptians, whose civilization was the antecedent of all, were believed then to be Caucasian people. The so-called Negroid type was thought to be biologically inferior, as well. The genius of van Sertima's hypothesis was that it made the African phenotype the biologically superior one, and thus "established" that the old views were correct, but in the wrong color: "It is curious that this hypothesis has resurfaced in the late 20th century in revised form, with the biologically superior people now being identified as blacks' [Haslip-Viera et al. 1997:420]."

The African origins hypothesis has been refuted successfully on purely scientific grounds. Nevertheless, the manifold theories of African origins, in the words of Jacques Sostelle [1985:10], "continue to haunt Mexican archaeology like unsuccessfully exorcised ghosts."—Jason Colavito

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The Nubians and Olmecs—Haslip-Viera, Ortiz de Montellano and Barbour (1997: 419, 423-25) argue that the claims of the Afrocentrists that the Olmecs were Africans, must be rejected because 1) the Olmecs do not look like Nubians, and 2) the absence of an African artifact recovered from an archaeological excavation. These authors are wrong on both counts, there are numerous resemblance between the ancient Olmec people and ancient Nubians, and an African artifact: Manding writing, is engraved on many Olmec artifacts discovered during archaeological excavation (Winters, 1979, 1997)

Haslip-Viera, Ortiz de Montellano and Barbour (1997) argue that the Olmecs could not have been Nubians or Kushites of the Napata-Meroe civilization, as claimed by van Sertima (1976) because the Olmec civilization preceded the civilization of the Kushites by hundreds of years. They also claim that the Olmecs had flat noses, while the Nubians had "thinner noses" because they lived in the desert (Haslip-Viera, Ortiz de Montellano & Barbour, 1997:423).

This view is false. The ancient Nubians like African- Americans today were not monolithic, they had different hues of skin, facial features and nose shapes (Keita, 1996: 104). This is evident in from the wall-painting from the tomb-chapel of Sebekhotep at Thebes, c.1400 BC, which show Nubians, of different types bringing rings of gold, incense and other luxury items to the Egyptian Pharaoh (Taylor, 1991).

One of the major Pharaohs of Egypt and Nubia/Kush was Taharqo. The Sphinx of Taharqo c. 690-664 BC, found in Temple 1 at Kawa and the shabti (tomb figure) of Taharqo in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is strikingly similar in facial features, including, the short round face, thick lips and flat nose associated with the Olmec people (Taylor, 1991).C.A. Winters

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Olmec alternative origin speculations—Some writers claim that the Olmec were related to peoples of Africa based primarily on their interpretation of facial features of Olmec statues. They additionally contend that skeletal, genetic, and epigraphic evidence supports their claims. Some, such as Ivan Van Sertima and Clyde Ahmad Winters have specifically identify the Olmecs with the Mandé people of West Africa. . . . The idea that the Olmecs are related to Africans was suggested by José Melgar, who discovered the first colossal head at Hueyapan (now Tres Zapotes) in 1862 . . . The great majority of scholars who specialise in Mesoamerican history, archaeology and linguistics remain unconvinced by these speculations. Others are more critical and regard the promotion of such unfounded theories as a form of ethnocentric racism at the expense of indigenous Americans.

The consensus view maintained across publications in peer-reviewed mainstream academic journals that are concerned with Mesoamerican and pre-Columbian research is that the Olmec and their achievements arose from influences and traditions that were wholly indigenous to the region, or at least the New World, and there is no undisputed material evidence to suggest otherwise. They, and their neighboring cultures with whom they had contact, developed their own characters which were founded entirely on a remarkably interlinked and ancient cultural and agricultural heritage that was locally shared, but arose quite independently of any extra-hemispheric influences.Wikipedia

 

The Olmec Problem

The Olmec problem also derives in part from the Negroid appearance of these heads.  Davies describes them as follows:

The colossal heads are confined solely to the heartland and a total of sixteen are known, of which four come from La Venta and nine from San Lorenzo.  They range from 1.6 to 3 metres in height and are all carved from blocks of basalt rock.  Their features are very alike, and only the expression differs; one even smiles, though most have a more solemn aspect; all wear the helmet-like headdress, though the design of each varies slightly.

The problem continues with the fact that the colossal heads are certain to be sculptures of the rulers of the Olmec culture.  It is likely that these heads were created to record the source of Olmec culture. . . .

Meglar was the first to speculate that the heads represent African voyagers.  Michael Coe calls this wild speculation. 

So struck was Meglar by his theory of Negro voyages from Africa to Mexico that he took up his pen again in 1871 for further wild speculations, quite in line with the migrationist theories of his time."[20] Davies also refers to this theory as speculation.  "It is therefore not surprising that their so-called Negroid features led to speculation as to the antecedents of people whose traits seemed untypical of the American Indians, and revived Meglar's speculation on African migrants."

American archaeologists (Caucasian) are certain of two things: that the Olmec homeland lay somewhere outside of Veracruz, and that the homeland could not conceivably have been in Africa.  "We do not know where the Olmec homeland lay," said Michael Coe.  "Wherever it was, they already knew how to move and carve huge basalt boulders." . . .

In the words of Davies himself:

In so far as Negroid features are depicted in pre-Colombian art, a more logical explanation surely exists that does not depend upon flights of fancy involving African seafarers.  Negroid peoples of many kinds are to be found in Asia as well as Africa, and there is no reason why at least a few of them should not have joined those migrant bands who came across the Bering land bridge that joined north-east Asia and north-west America for so many millennia.

Source: ThePhylaxis

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Olmecs

 c. 1200-400 b.c.e.
Southern Gulf coast of Mexico
Related Civilizations: Maya, Zapotec, Teotihuacán

Significance

The Olmec culture, Mesoamerica’s “mother culture,” established the basic pattern for later high cultures in the region. The Olmec heartland or core area extended along Mexico’s southeastern Gulf coast lowlands, a humid and hot tropical environment abounding with lush vegetation and streams. The identity and origins of this early people are unknown. Olmec, a name applied by modern archaeologists, is a term from the Nahuatl language spoken by the Aztecs and other later peoples; it roughly translates “Rubber People” in reference to a product naturally found in this area.

History

During the time archaeologists denote as Early Formative (1500-900 b.c.e.), increased agricultural productivity in Mesoamerica gave rise to permanent villages whose inhabitants cultivated basic staples such as maize, beans, and squash. The Olmecs, however, were noticeably more advanced than the contemporary small village and farming cultures of this era. The fertile lowlands of southern Veracruz and Tabasco were rich enough to allow specialization in nonfarming activities such as the arts and commerce. It is believed that struggles for control of the area’s limited but rich farmland gave rise to the dominant landowning class that shaped Mesoamerica’s first high culture.

Olmec civilization initially flourished at the site of San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán in southern Veracruz province from 1200 to 900 b.c.e. Some radiocarbon dating indicates a presence as early as 1500 b.c.e., and early Olmec settlers may have inhabited the area even before this time. However, most of the site’s monuments that distinguish this civilization date from the mid-1100’s b.c.e. Another important Olmec center, La Venta, in Tabasco province, functioned between 800-400 b.c.e. These Olmec sites were not true cities but impressive political and religious centers run by an elite of religious specialists and ruling families. Artisans and farmers also figured among their inhabitants. Monumental structures, such as huge platforms 3,000 feet (914 meters) long, 1,000 feet (305 meters) wide, and reaching heights of 150 feet (46 meters), as well as pyramids, altars, and tombs, indicate that these centers served as gathering places for religious rituals and burial sites for the leadership.


At San Lorenzo, elaborate drainage systems and hydraulic works were constructed from joined sections of U-shaped carved stones covered with capstones. These constructions served as aqueducts that channeled water into sacred and decorative pools and created fresh streams running throughout the complex for drinking and bathing. Some flow was also diverted for waste runoff. The scope of massive labor-intensive projects at these sites suggests the existence of Mesoamerica’s first political state, which exercised strong governmental control and direction over the farming populace.

After 800 b.c.e., Olmec stylistic influence over the region waned, and the civilization ceased to be the cultural leader, although some centers continued to exist. By 300 b.c.e. the culture had disappeared. Nevertheless, other regional civilizations such as the Maya, Totonac, and Zapotec flourished during the Late Formative and Classic periods (300 b.c.e.-900 c.e.) and represented distinctive variations of a shared Olmec heritage.

Source: SalemPress

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Dr. Ivan Van Sertima: The Afrikan Presence in Ancient America

Ivan Gladstone Van Sertima (26 January 1935 - 25 May 2009) was a historian, linguist and anthropologist

at Rutgers University in the United States.[1] He was noted for his controversial Afrocentric theory

of pre-Columbian contact between Africa and the Americas.

Ivan Van Sertima was born in Guyana, South America. He was educated at the School of Oriental and African Studies (London University) and the Rutgers Graduate School and holds degrees in African Studies and Anthropology. From 1957-1959 he served as a Press and Broadcasting Officer in the Guyana Information Services. During the decade of the 1960s he broadcast weekly from Britain to Africa and the Caribbean. He is a literary critic, a linguist, an anthropologist and has made a name in all three fields.

As a literary critic, he is the author of Caribbean Writers, a collection of critical essays on the Caribbean novel. He is also the author of several major literary reviews published in Denmark, India, Britain and the United States. He was honored for his work in this field by being asked by the Nobel Committee of the Swedish Academy to nominate candidates for the Nobel Prize in Literature from 1976-1980. He has also been honored as an historian of world repute by being asked to join UNESCO's International Commission for Rewriting the Scientific and Cultural History of Mankind.

As a linguist, he has published essays on the dialect of the Sea Islands off the Georgia Coast. He is also the compiler of the Swahili Dictionary of Legal Terms, based on his field work in Tanzania, East Africa, in 1967.

He is the author of They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America, which was published by Random House in 1977 and is presently in its twenty-ninth printing. It was published in French in 1981 and in the same year, was awarded the Clarence L. Holte Prize, a prize awarded every two years "for a work of excellence in literature and the humanities relating to the cultural heritage of Africa and the African diaspora."

He also authored Early America Revisited, a book that has enriched the study of a wide range of subjects, from archaeology to anthropology, and has resulted in profound changes in the reordering of historical priorities and pedagogy.

Professor of African Studies at Rutgers University, Dr. Van Sertima was also Visiting Professor at Princeton University. He is the Editor of the Journal of African Civilizations, which he founded in 1979 and has published several major anthologies which have influenced the development of multicultural curriculum in the United States. These anthologies include Blacks in Science: ancient and modern, Black Women in Antiquity, Egypt Revisited, Egypt: Child of Africa, Nile Valley Civilizations (out of print), African Presence in the Art of the Americas (due 2007), African Presence in Early Asia (co-edited with Runoko Rashidi), African Presence in Early Europe, African Presence in Early America, Great African Thinkers, Great Black Leaders: ancient and modern, and Golden Age of the Moor.

As an acclaimed poet, his work graces the pages of River and the Wall, 1953 and has been published in English and German. As an essayist, his major pieces were published in Talk That Talk, 1989, Future Directions for African and African American Content in the School Curriculum, 1986, Enigma of Values, 1979, and in Black Life and Culture in the United States, 1971.

Dr. Van Sertima has lectured at more than 100 universities in the United States and has also lectured in Canada, the Caribbean, South America and Europe. In 1991 Dr. Van Sertima defended his highly controversial thesis on the African presence in pre-Columbian America before the Smithsonian. In 1994 they published his address in Race, Discourse and the Origin of the Americas: A New World View of 1492.

He also appeared before a Congressional Committee on July 7, 1987 to challenge the Columbus myth. This landmark presentation before Congress was illuminating and brilliantly presented in the name of all peoples of color across the world.

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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