It was Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr., that great purveyor of black nationalism, who once made the following remarks: “The Black skin is not a badge of shame, but rather a glorious symbol of national greatness.” “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” “When the great white race of today had no civilization of its own, when white men lived in caves and were counted as savages, this race of ours boasted of a wonderful civilization on the Banks of the Nile.” Today, while Garvey’s primary goal of getting all black people back to Africa may no longer be tenable, his focal idea of black nationalism – knowing who we are, our origins, and our history – remains important, more so because of the mental etiolation that black people have had to deal with the last few centuries, our ostensible inferiority and subservience being two major concerns that readily come to mind.
In his groundbreaking work on the African presence in America long before the arrival of the great European voyager and seafarer Christopher Columbus, the man who today is credited with the discovery of America, the scholar Ivan Van Sertima shows us how historiographical and archaeological records all point to the fact that Guineans, from West Africa, were doing business with native Americans long before Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World. According to Van Sertima, a Professor Alexander von Wuthenau, at one time lecturer at the University of the Americas in Mexico City, had, after years of great personal labor, excavations and painstaking research, “unearthed a large number of Negroid heads in clay, gold, copper and copal sculpted by pre-Columbian American artists. Their Negro-ness could not be explained away nor, in most cases, their African cultural origin. Their coloration, fullness of lip … beards, kinky hair, generously fleshed noses … coiffures, headkerchiefs, helmets, compound earrings – all these had been … portrayed by American potters, jewelers and sculptors.”
Sadly, because of the viciousness of the white settlers in destroying vintage native American books and resources – the goal was to, obviously, obliterate the rich traditions of native Americans and also destroy any evidence of a pre-Columbian existence of black people in America – it took many years of painstaking research by some scholars, who themselves became ostracized for their avant-garde work in archaeology, philology, craniology, anthropology, cultural history and other relevant disciplines, to expose hidden truths about the discovery of America by black West Africans, particularly Guineans.
While most history books venerate Columbus and place him among the world’s greatest discoverers, the man also had a dark and surreptitious side, something that his fanatical followers would want to keep hidden from the ordinary man and woman. The first Spanish settlers and seafarers who landed in the Caribbean (Columbus called the place “San Salvador,” which today is the Commonwealth of The Bahamas) in 1492 were viciously attacked and many killed by the natives, so when a second voyage was launched by Columbus in 1493, the mission had to be redefined: to not only exploit the New World, but to settle in it and to convert the locals, who seemed to have no religion, to Christianity.
“While in Espanola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic) during the second voyage, the native Indians showed proof to Columbus and his crew that they had been engaged in trade with blacks from Africa: ‘”The Indians of this Espanola said there had come to Espanola a black people who have the top of their spears made of a metal which they called “gua-nin,” of which he [Columbus] had sent samples to the Sovereigns [in Europe] to have them assayed, when it was found that of 32 parts, 18 were of gold, 6 of silver and 8 of copper.'” According to Van Sertima, the word “guanin” could be traced to several “Mande languages of West Africa, [including] Mandingo, Kabunga, Toronka, Kankanka, Bambara, Mande and Vei.”
Ivan Van Sertima tells his readers that Columbus’s third voyage, which began in 1498, brought the latter to a “Caribbean island with three great rocks, which made [Columbus] think of the Holy Trinity. [Columbus] named this island Trinidad.” While Columbus did “come in sight of the South American mainland” during this voyage, he inexplicably did not land on it. And while on the South American coast, the “natives brought ‘handkerchiefs of cotton very symmetrically woven and worked in colors like those brought from Guinea, from the rivers of Sierra Leone and of no difference.'” Van Sertima emphasizes: “These handkerchiefs,” according to Columbus himself, “resembled almayzars – Guinea headdresses and loincloths.” Undeniably, although Columbus knew that black people had been in contact with the native people of the Americas already, he chose to take the credit as the first foreigner to have landed in the New World.
Even though we have always had documented accounts of “the African presence” in the New World before the arrival of Columbus, most American and European writers simply refer to these as footnotes, as though these “footnotes” simply complemented the bigger story – Columbus’s four round-trips to the New World and back –and not the stories themselves. Interestingly, official accounts of Columbus’s second voyage to America indicates that the crew may have had some black people on board, almost a decade before the first slaves were brought to the New World, so why this sketchy account only? That sounds like a bizarre twist to the story of blacks being in America long before Columbus ever got there. And it reminds me of the ever-present manipulations of historical facts, meant to always keep black people at the bottom of every sphere of human achievement: economic, cultural, political, technological or social.
In his pioneering work on the origin of civilization, Cheikh Anta Diop, the celebrated Senegalese scholar, physicist and anthropologist, used melanin-dosage testing to prove that ancient Egyptian civilization was the work of black Africans, people with Negroid features, not “white” Africans, as had been alleged for decades by many writers and researchers. Up to now, many scholars, especially those of European ancestry, have rejected Diop’s findings, in spite of the wealth of evidence that Diop had produced to corroborate his findings. Quite interesting, is it not?
If black people are going to win back the self-confidence that they gave up a long time ago, because of the ravages and vestiges of slavery and colonialism, they must begin to educate themselves on the achievements of their forebears, those on whose foundations modern civilization has been built. And while we will face resistance every step of the way, we must never forget that the truth, no matter how badly it gets distorted by others, will always stand the test of time. And unless we learn, write about, and become repositories of own history, others will do it for us. As Marcus Garvey so eloquently and unequivocally stated, and without my coming across as monotonous, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
Please note: This short piece was intended to whet the appetite of the reader – no more, no less. For a greater understanding of the facts, please refer to Ivan Van Sertima’s seminal book, “They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America.” Also, all directly quoted material are from the aforementioned book.
The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, is pursuing a doctoral degree in Criminology, Law and Society at George Mason University. He holds a master’s degree in Public Administration from the same university. He is a member of the national honor society for public affairs and administration in the U.S.A. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.