ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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The most common thread [found among black people around the world] is in many ways,

the worst. And that is, that wherever black people are, wherever Africans are, they are always

at the bottom of the social ladderówhether itís in South-East Asia, South-west Asia

(the so-called Muslim world), throughout the Americas and Iím sad to say, in Africa too.



Writings of Runoko Rashidi


Introduction to African Civilizations / African Presence in Early Asia / Introduction to the Study of African Classical Civilizations


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Runoko Rashidi Speaks in Nigeria

Interviewed by Lola Balola


Discovering the Global Presence of African CivilizationóUnity of black people will end white world supremacy. Educating African-Americans about AfricaóAfrica must embrace Black people everywhere.

At the age of 18, African-American Runoko Rashidi discovered the African within him and became an advocate of Pan-Afrikanism, travelling the world documenting the ancient African Diaspora in a quest now known as The Global African Presence. Rashidi is an authority on the African presence in Asia, especially in Southeast Asia and in India. He also teaches African-Americans to take pride in their African heritage. Visiting Nigeria recently, FeelNubia sat down with the eminent historian to learn why he has devoted his life to a voyage in search of Africa.

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Part 1

Unique Name

Runoko Rashidi: Someone gave me that name when I was a studentó18 or 19 years oldóI wanted to connect with Africa in a more comprehensive manner and so I decided to take on an African name. In America, we call the names on our passports, and our driverís licenses our 'Slave name' and many of us have tried to address that. Some people take on Muslim names. They become Muslims, so they have a name like Rasheedónot RashidióMohammed or Abdul. Other people for example in the Nation of Islam take on the name X. So you have people like Malcolm X but some of the rest of us have taken African names. And my name is diverse: 'Runoko' is from Zimbabwe, 'Rashidi' is from Tanzania and I have a third name 'Okello', which is from Uganda. So that is another way of trying to connect with Africa. I mentioned yesterday, something I call part to my ĎStump speechí, that I see myself as an African living in America.

Impressions of Nigeria

Runoko Rashidi: This is my second visit to Nigeria. I have very positive impressions. This is the third conference Iíve attended [in Nigeria] in about three weeks. Iím very impressed. Iím impressed by the quality of scholarship, by the organization. Obviously people have spent a lot of money to put these together. People have been very kind to me. Iíve been treated like a VIP most of the time. I think that Nigeria has an undeserved bad reputation in the United States. People associate Nigeria with the epitome of corruption, but Iíve found it to be wonderful place. Nobody has tried to get me to engage in an internet scam, nobodyís kidnapped me, and nobodyís asked me for anything. Iíve enjoyed the food. I have been very impressed by the infrastructure. I think Iíve been to 27 or 28 countries in Africa now and I would place Nigeria at the top. So Iím very pleased. Iím glad to be here and I look forward to coming back again and again. Iíd like to see more of the country. Well, itís difficult too, to get to know a country if you just sit in a conference all the time. So, Iíd like to see a lot more of the real Nigeria but Iím glad Iím here.

ďReality very different from Perception"

Runoko Rashidi: I guess . . . the thing that most struck me is the reality as opposed to the perception. Nigeria does not have a good reputation; I notice too that in the United States Nigeria doesnít promote tourism like Ghana, or Gambia or Senegal. So it surpassed all expectations. It has a rich history obviously. It is a very, very diverse country. Of course, itís important for me to like Nigeria because itís the biggest country in Africaópopulation-wise as you know, and itís the powerhouse of Africa or potentially the powerhouse of Africaó one of the powerhouses of the world. So coming here and having very good experiences has been very, very important. I think of myself as an ambassador of Africa, a researcher and an investigator and I want to be able to go back and tell the rest of the world, the United States, on Facebook, just what a wonderful country this has been for me and what a wonderful experience Iíve had. And I can see myself just
promoting Nigeria and the Nigerian culture right now.

Searching the World for Africa

Runoko Rashidi: The most common thread [found among black people around the world] is in many ways, the worst. And that is, that wherever black people are, wherever Africans are, they are always at the bottom of the social ladderówhether itís in South-East Asia, South-west Asia (the so-called Muslim world), throughout the Americas and Iím sad to say, in Africa too. When you go to North Africa: Egypt, Nubia, Morocco or Tunisia, black people are at the bottom of the social ladder. And I also find it to be the case in so-called sub-Saharan Africa. For example, if I were to go to Zimbabwe, Uganda or Namibia, I find the same thing: that although colonialism is formally over, white peopleónon Africansócontrol the economy and in many cases, treat Africans as though they were still colonial subjects, like they are slaves. And thatís very disheartening to me. So the common denominatorómore than anything else, beyond phenotypeóis the social categorization that finds black people wherever they are in the world, at the bottom of the social ladder.

I can find no exceptions. Politically and economically, we really suffer and that is where we find ourselves. And itís remarkable to me that itís not just the case in the west, but itís the case in Asia too. Itís the case in the Pacific islands, where black people really . . . itís not like we are powerless, but we donít have the power we should have.

Solutions to Africaís Problems

Runoko Rashidi: We are a long way from coming to grips with [the problems]. And the question would be: How do we change our position in the world without taking on the attributes of those who oppress us? In other words I donít want to be a black white man, I donít want to take on the same characteristics as the people who have dominated us and at the same time I donít want the domination, so how can we get out of that whole reign without changing who we are? That to me will be replacing one tragedy with another. Again, in the United States, among so-called conscious Africans, we talk about white supremacy, we talk about black people and white people but I find the same thing when it comes to interacting with the Asians. Most of my focus has been the presence in Asia. How do we explain what happened to Black people in ancient China?

Why is it that in Philippines, black people are at the bottom of the social ladder? And there are no white people over there, these are Asians. How do we account for that? What is it about our culture, our personality that allows us to be dominated on such a global scale after such a long period of time? Same thing in the Arab world, I donít think weíve really come to grips with it - we are trying to. We are not having these types of conferences among Black people in Asia, we have them in Africaóconferences by CBAAC (Centre for Black Arts and Civilization), the work of Panafstrag (Pan-African Strategy) and I guess even FeelNubia on different levels, but when it comes to African people in many other parts of the world that I have been to, what I find so intriguing is that we donít have black organizations per say, we donít have Pan-Africanist movements to address these issues and its interesting because I have not given it much thought until right now.

Source: FeelNubia

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Part 2

Global dialogue on the State of Black people

Runoko Rashidi: I donít know of any discussions or conferences per say [that investigate the reasons why we are dominated all over the world]. I think the level of consciousness that African-Americans have and Africans on the continent is far in advance of other Black populations. For example in places like Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, in India, in South America . . . Black people are fighting for recognition as citizens in those countries. I mentioned Philippines; Black people are the first people in that part of the world and they are at the very, very bottom. [Yet] I donít know of any Black or Filipino organizations that are trying to address this. Among Aboriginal Australians (a place we have not really talked about yet), itís the same thing.

In fact if I were to raise these issues on Facebook (where I spend a lot of time as you know), some people invariably (and I kick a lot of such people off my page) would say: ďWhy are you even talking about Black people after all we are all human beings, we all live in the world together, what is this Black Stuff?Ē I think there has been attempt to run away from our Black heritage and Black identity. Black people themselves seem to be collaborators in that process. I am what might be called a Race Man; I believe in African identity, in our culture but that does not mean I hate anybody. I donít think our culture and identity should be submerged and yet I donít see an effort on the part of very many people to be aggressive in that regard. Does that make sense?

Consciousness of African heritage among Black people in Asia

Runoko Rashidi: I havenít been to the Philippines; I hoped to go this year. This recession has really been ferocious, so maybe next year I will be able to begin to go back to Asia again. In China, things are very different. I think the Chinese government; maybe Chinese people generally would deny Black people existed in China. One author I really learnt a lot from is a man known as Chancellor Williams in his book called The Destruction of Black Civilization where he talks about Nubia extensively, by the way.  He says that at one time, there were so many Black people in China that they could form their own kingdom but what became of them? I have been to China but I canít find the evidence of Black people in the history of China Ė not in China, but you could read about it in books. India is somewhat different. In India there are different groups, it is very complex. You have the people for example called the Tamils who are Dravidians; who see themselves as separate and apart. They are clearly Black people but they donít necessarily see themselves as Africans.

They would say that Africans and Tamils come from the same place so thereís a common bond. Then you have socio-economically, the people called the Dalits or the Untouchables, most of whom are Black by the standards of race and ethnicity that we are used to dealing with. So I guess you could say that they are grappling with those issues . . . You have a lot of Black people in the so-called ďMiddle EastĒ . . . There is going to be a conference (still being planned) in Bamako Mali, where there would be Black people from various parts of the middle east, from Palestine, probably the UAE, Africans from Iraq, Iran. If that happens that would probably be unique in history. So to answer your question, there are certain nascent efforts (in their infant stages) for Black people in these various parts of the world to come together and address those kinds of issues but up till this point, no, I havenít found any evidence of that.

Black Indian Writer V. T. Rajshekar

Runoko Rashidi: Yes he does see himself as Black. Heís had a very difficult life. First of all he is a journalist; he is the editor of a publication called ďDalit VoiceĒ, sub-titled ĎThe voice for the persecuted nationality thatís been denied human rightsí. Rajshekar is 79 years old now, so heís getting old. Heís been a pioneering journalist and has been at the forefront of the Dalit Movement (the untouchables). Now one of the problems is that heís not a Dalit Ė not that they donít respect him, but a lot of the Dalits donít trust his motives. They donít see him as one of them, so this has been one of his problems. Heís from what you might call a very, very low caste, next to the untouchables but not quite the untouchables. He is a very brave man.

In December, Iím supposed to be the presiding on a panel on the ĎThe Ancient Diasporaí in a conference in Senegal and I invited him to speak about Black people in India and Iíve invited a sisteróan Aboriginal Australian, and a brother from Papua New Guinea. So Rajshekar is getting old and I donít know who else would be able to take his place. The Black Power movement (for lack of a better word) in India is growing and of course you have movements of the aboriginal Australians. We had a branch of the Garvey movement there; we had the Black Panther party movement there.

Some Aboriginal Australians emulated some of the civil rights efforts we had in America. They had what they called Freedom Rides in Australia. In 1975, 1977 or both, there were Aboriginal Australians at the FESTAC (Festival of African Arts and Culture). Rajshekar has been a pioneer. Heís had a very difficult life. His life has been threatened, heís been beaten, heís been jailed, his passport was impounded for several years so he couldnít engage in international travel because heís really spoken outómaybe more than anybody in modern times - in terms of Black interest in India. There are certainly people who are very active [working in this area] but heís the one Iíve worked with and have known. Heís the one I personally know. There are young leaders in India but I just donít have the contacts with them.

Threatened in Asia

Runoko Rashidi:Iíve been threatened in India because I spoke against un-touchability. I have been told that if I were to come back, that I would be assassinated, that I would likely be incarcerated. So, my contact with India over the years has been diminished. The last contact I had with India was in 1999. I talked about the need for solidarity between Black people all over the world. That is something that our enemies do not want. They are afraid [of global African unity] and that is why you have this gap between the Africans in America and Africans all over the continent.

Re-building the bridge between Black people

Runoko Rashidi: I think that they [White supremacists] have realized that the unity of Black people around the world will definitely overwhelm White supremacy and it would mean the end effectively of European domination in Africa - particularly the economic domination, which would mean the end of White world supremacy. They understand that. So they have gone to great lengthsóand they have been largely successfulóat creating a wedge between Africans in the diaspora and Africans on the continent. And I would like to think that me being here at this conference is part of the process of rebuilding that bridge. It is essential that the bridge be re-constructed because that will usher in a whole new era in world history.  In spite of all the problems that we confront, itís exciting being a part of that process - that rebuilding process. When my ancestors were taken away from Africa hundreds of years ago, who would have thought that we would eventually come back? When we were taken out of that Door of No Return, who would have thought that there would come a time when we would begin to go back to Africa and embrace Africa? I think that represents in a sense, the triumph of the will of African people and I am very proud of that.

Source: FeelNubia 

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Part 3

Educating African Americans about Africa

Runoko Rashidi: Itís slow but itís rewarding. You can see we are making progress. Iím just a very small part of that but the very fact that now we call ourselves African-Americans, not Negros, not colored, not just Black, not Afro-Americans but African-Americans, represents the acknowledgement of whom we are and where we come from. You can see other things, things that some other people would consider very small. For example; many African-Americans use African names: Kobe, Jamal, something to that effect. People arenít as ashamed anymore about wearing natural hairstyles; people arenít ashamed anymoreóat least, not to the extent that they once wereóabout wearing traditional African clothes. So these things are important manifestations of us getting closer to Africa. You have more and more sisters and brothers travelling to Africa now. They go to Egypt; they go to Ghana, South Africa, and Kenya. Hopefully more and more, theyíll be going to Nigeria. So little by little, you can see that weíre making progress.   Sometimes itís difficult to see that you are making progress when you are right in the middle of it, but if you are able to stand back, then you can see some things  that give one cause for a lot of encouragement.

Inspired by Marcus Garvey

Runoko Rashidi: Garvey was from Jamaica. And Garvey at least up until the time of Kwame Nkrumah, was undoubtedly one of the greatest pan-Africanists. When I say Pan-Africanist, I mean someone who talked about the unity of African people all over the world.  He would have said (although he didnít say) the statement I used in my presentation yesterday and that is, that: "Youíre not an African because you were born in Africa. Youíre an African because Africa was born in you". Garvey popularized the expression "Africa for the Africans - those at home and those abroad". Hereís a man who never went Africa, never set foot on African soil, didnít even have an African name, who never wore an African shirt that Iím aware of, but he loved Africa with every fiber of his being, every core of his body and he dreamed of a united continental African union.

That is something that inspires me today. Garvey organized in Europe and around the world, 6 to12 million peopleówithout radio, without TV, without the internet and at a time when things were much more difficult, much more overtly difficult than we have now. And his belief was that no matter where we are around the world, Africa must be our banner and everything we do has to be about the ultimate liberation of Africa. Garvey was born in Jamaica, in the West Indies. Someone asked him once: "Are you an African or are you a Jamaican?" And his answer was: "I will not give up a continent for an Island." And thatís what I want people to see. I love Marcus Garvey and I love the spirit of Marcus Garvey.

Africa and the Diaspora

Runoko Rashidi: Now, when people define Diaspora, they look at it in different ways. Most people think of Africans who left Africa relatively recently for economic or political reasons. At least that is the definition of the African Union. Most of us, when we think of the Diaspora, we  think of Black people who were taken away as a result of enslavement and so we are trying to expand that. Africans in America need to feel love from Africa. And most of us donít feel that. It is important to find ways to connect Africa with its diverse Diaspora.

Vision for Africa

Runoko Rashidi: My vision is a communal African Union with a leadership thatís accountable to the masses of our people; I donít think that African leadership, in the United States, in Africa or anywhere else is in general accountable to the people. They seem to be in it for their own self interest. We need a leadership, a union where the vast mineral resources are used first and foremost (not necessarily exclusively) with the interest of Africa in mind. Thereís a Reggae song that goes ďAfrica is the richest place with the poorest race, oh my, oh my, what a disgraceĒ. We have this fabulously wealthy continent and yet Iím staying in an expensive hotel and the electricity goes off every hour.  How can that be? We have gold and diamond and copper and rubber, cobalt and titaniumóyou name it. Yet African people are so poor that they flee Africa, to Europe, they go to the United States, Canada, anywhere just to get out of Africa in search of a better life economically.  Thatís a sin. Thatís a crime. It shouldnít be that way. It doesnít have to be that way.

Africa does not have to be that way. So my dream, my vision is for a continental African Union where the vast resources of Africa are used first and foremost for Africans, for the leadership to be accountable to the masses of the African people and to be a place where Africans around the world have citizenship in that union. I do not believe that we should have to apply for a Tourist visa to come to Africa. I think Africa should be our birth-right. To show up at the airport, to be able to live in Africa, to have a home in Africa. Why shouldnít I have a home in Los Angeles and a home in Nigeria at the same time? And to me, that is part of what the Reparations process should be about. Not necessarily getting a lot of money, but the return of our birth-right. So that is my dream. That is my vision. That is my ultimate goal and ambition in life.

Source: FeelNubia

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Part 4


I would like to see Africaís foreign debt relieved. I would like to see Africans and African-Americans have free university tuition. I would like to see greater emphasis placed on the elimination of AIDS and Malaria. I believe in Reparations but the problem I have with Reparations is how to enforce it. If itís an issue of morality, it would have been paid a long time ago.  Itís not an issue of right or wrong. Itís not even an issue of legality. Thatís been demonstrated. The issue is: what kind of stick, what kind or mechanism do we use to make Europe and America pay? Because theyíre not going to do it because itís the right thing to do, theyíre going to do it because theyíre forced to do it and I donít see African people right now with a stick to beat these people over the headóthese foreign Corporations - and make them pay. Unfortunately, we are not organized. A lot of people, even African-Americans believe: "Why should they pay Reparations?" We have a lot of work to do, as you know. We have a lot of educating to do.

So thatís what Iím about. Iím about slowly, painstakingly trying to give us a new-found sense of pride in our African heritage. I am a living example of that. There was a time when I was ashamed of Africa too; I didnít want to have anything to do with Africa. And now, Iím just the opposite of that. Malcolm X is an example of that. He's said in his auto-biography that he was a pimp, a burglar and a thief and then he began to find out about who he was and it changed everything. I think the motto is: ĎWhat you do for yourself depends on what you think of yourself. What you think of yourself depends on what you know of yourself. And what you know of yourself depends on what you have been toldí. So if youíre told you come from the jungle, if youíre told you come from a bunch of savages, barbarians, people who have no civilization, no history, youíll act that out.

But if you know you come from the continent that gave birth to humanity and civilization and that slavery did exist but that we fought it and we resisted it, I think that changes everything. Youíll have a new found sense of pride and youíll want to identify with Africa. When somebody attacks Africa, youíll fight because youíll know they are attacking your mother, they are attacking your heritage and you wonít have that. But if you donít see that connection, then weíre just doomed to wander in the wilderness and that canít be our fate.

Making change happen

Runoko Rashidi: Itís true that some people will not join the effort until we demonstrate something but we need to have a critical mass. It canít just be a handful of people. It canít be just Jesus and the eleven disciples. You need a critical mass of people in order to make a change; we have to continue to work for that. Educate ourselves, as many people as we can but you canít divorce yourself from the masses of people, you have to have organization, itís unavoidable.

Africa embracing Black people

Runoko Rashidi: We canít have the perception (and this may sound arrogant, but Iím going to be honest with you) that Africans on the continent see Africans in the Diaspora as mere credit cards and wallets. We have to see a genuine kind of love coming from the African people, but I donít see that right now. Iím glad Iím in Africa and I do feel a certain degree of love but I donít really see that coming from African governments. Continental Africans donít relate with African-Americans but itís a two-way street because African-Americans in general show contempt for Africans. So Africans on the continent say: "Why should I interact with a group of people who donít want to be identified as Africans anyway? Let them go". So itís a two-way street, so education has to take place on both sides. Right now, I think we have to accelerate the pace of that education. Itís slow. Africans on the continent need more education about African-Americans too. That we donít all do drugs, that we are not all violent or disrespectful of our women.

President Obamaís role in African Americans embracing Africa

Runoko Rashidi: I had hoped, many of us hoped (but I think some of that hope is beginning to fade now) that with the Barack Obama Presidency, Africa would become cool again. That people would say: "Oh yeah, Africaís not such a bad place after all. Look at our President, heís from AfricaĒ but that hasnít happened. I think that President Barack Obama (who I love very much by the way) needs to reach out more to Africa. I think these White people that theyíre trying to make happy are never going to accept him for the most part, no matter what he does, no matter what he says, in many cases, heís always going to be a [Black man] to themóI donít know of the White world, but the majority of the White people in the United States.

No matter what he does, most White people will never truly accept him as one of them and if thatís the case, he might as well just go for it. He might as well just be honest and be a man of conviction. I would love for him to come and spend more time in Africa. Of course he came to Ghana the one time and he came to Egypt for a brief period, but imagine if he went back to Kenya? Imagine if he came and did some sight-seeing in Nigeria? People would go crazy. I think among AfricanĖAmericans, that would re-kindle the fire and the enthusiasm that many of us had a year and a half ago that weíve lost. Itís like what he got to lose?


Runoko Rashidi: I would like to be written on my epitaph: ĎThe greatest historian everí. Iíve thought about it a lot over the years, I want to be regarded as the greatest historian that ever lived. I want people to mention my name in the same breath as people like John Henry Clark and Chancellor Williams and others. I want people to say that he was a great African, that he was a lover of Africa and that would be quite enough.

26 September 2010

For more information, visit: Facebook Global-African-Presence

Source: FeelNubia

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Nigeria 50-Year AnniversaryóBBC My Country DocumentaryóLagos Stories

Lagos Story 1 of 3 / Lagos Story 2 of 3 / Lagos Story 3 of 3

The Eyes of Willie McGee

 A Tragedy of Race, Sex, and Secrets in the Jim Crow South

By Alex Heard

The Slave Ship

By Marcus Rediker

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family thatís about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrinaís inexorable winds is the voice of Wardís narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her familyís raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brotherís ďblood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.Ē Her fatherís hands ďare like gravel,Ē while her own hand ďslides through his grip like a wet fish,Ē and a handsome boyís ďmuscles jabbered like chickens.Ē Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isnít usually just metaphor for metaphorís sake. She conveys something fundamental about Eschís fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, whatís salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.óWashingtonPost

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The White Masters of the World

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By W. E. B. Du Bois

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

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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Related files:   African Libraries Project  Runoko Rashidi       The Black Presence in the Bible: A Selected Bibliography  Delany and Blyden  Tribute to Ivan Van Sertima  Runoko in Budapest   Niger and the National Museum   

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