THE month of February is synonymous with Mashramani here in Guyana. Howeve, as many of you might be aware, Black history month is also celebrated in February, as it is in many other countries throughout the world. Like many other countries, here in Guyana, the African contribution to creation and development of our modern nations is often overlooked.
All too often the focus of this very important month is usually about the recent, but brief period of; (in comparison to the vast tapestry of rich, regal history recorded), African chattel slavery and the fight for self-determination in post-colonial societies.
Whilst we must always remain vigilant against such systems of oppression such as slavery, apartheid and colonialism, we must also be more focused on recounting the vast, rich and lasting legacies of the great African empires which thrived for millennia. These bastions of civilisation gave the world many gifts. Africans created Astrology, Astronomy, Religion, Philosophy, Spirituality, Mythology, Mathematics, Architecture, Agriculture, Metallurgy, Physics, Engineering, Medicine, Navigation, Governance, the Creative Arts, Music, Human Rights, and Gender Equality. Africans created the pen, paper, ink, the alphabet and the 365-day calendar.
Collectively, Africans and African empires are the single most influential sub-group of peoples to have made an impact on the development of the modern world. Anthropological evidence of the existence of remarkable African empires abounds. Books have been written, conferences convened, expeditions expedited, theories created and many mysteries unsolved. African history is an enigma. We have archaeological evidence of African civilisations dating back to 8000 B.C. Ancient Egypt or Ancient Kemet’s history is said to even predate this period of time because it appeared as though the society just developed out of thin air and at such a highly advanced stage that it still baffles modern-day scientists who have been unable to find any existence of a primitive type of society.
Ancient Kemet is often stated as one of the greatest civilisations to have existed.
But there were many other civilisations that were greatly influenced by the Egyptians and many that were taking shape during much of Kemet’s development. The Kingdom of Kush in ancient Nubia was an advanced mercantile trading and military centre; the Kingdom was rich in ivory, gold and other precious metals. The Kushites were rivals with the Egyptians and even defeated them in battle once, leading to their ruling over Egypt during the 25th Dynasty.
In West Africa, the Mali Empire was founded around 1200 B.C. Its main cities were the famed Timbuktu and Djenné; however, the vast empire was spread over many modern-day nations. Mansa Musa was one of the empires’ most infamous rulers and it is often said that he is one of the wealthiest people to have ever lived, even according to today’s standards. During a stopover trip to Egypt on his way to Mecca in the 14th Century, Mansa Musa is said to have distributed so much gold that the value of the commodity plummeted in Egypt for several years. The Mali Empire was not only famed for its wealth, but also for its institutions of higher learning such as the Sankore University which housed approximately 700,000 manuscripts.
The North African empire of Carthage began its life around the eighth or ninth century BC and flourished for over 500 years, expanding over great swathes of North Africa. This was a seafaring empire and had over 220 ships which regularly travelled from Africa to Spain and other cities in the Mediterranean, as well as the Roman republic which was developing at the time. The empire dominated trade in textiles, gold, copper and silver.
Africans were and continue to be great navigators, traders and travellers. Many of the ancient Kingdoms enjoyed fruitful trading relationships with far-away lands and kingdoms throughout Africa and the world over. Today, much of this knowledge is lost among the descendants of Africans. Much of the dialogue around Africa is centred on poverty, lack of information and misinformation. Since the imperialist colonialisation of Africa was made formal at the Berlin conference in 1884-5, the modern African has been engaged in an existential battle to reclaim his identity, history and culture.
Young Africans must be taught their history so that they are empowered by it. The lessons of old must not be forgotten, because as we are all aware, history has a funny way of repeating itself. So this black history month let us now refocus our minds on African history; let us celebrate the African’s irrevocable contribution to the development of civilisation and our modern world.