Why Didn't They Tell You?

Dr. FRANK MARTINS COMMENTARY ON HISTORICAL, SOCIAL & ECONOMIC ISSUES OF OUR TIME

… that you are blessed to be living in the USA today?

… that you are blessed to be living in the USA today?

I have put this old post at the top because I believe that this message is needful for a time like this.

There is an old hymn called “Count Your Blessings” which admonishes us to take stock of the good things God has provided us with. With all of the unsettling things going on, I believe it is right and proper for we Americans to look around and count our blessings.

Being the 14th child of my parents’ 17 children, I have been blessed to have attained the age of 78 and to be in reasonably good health, with a sound mind. Before the end of the last century, I recall reflecting on the fact that by the year 2000, I would be 57! Twenty years later, that doesn’t seem so ancient anymore. My five surviving siblings have each attained three score and ten years or more (70, 75, 81, 84, and 86) and still have sound minds.  One of my brothers died at the age of 12 from an accidental gunshot wound. Five of the rest attained three score and ten years or better (73, 74, 74, 78, 84, and 87), one died in his forties, and the other three in their sixties. Though none of us have achieved the longevity of our great grandmother Jane (107+) or our Cousin Dora Leonard Brown (108), God has blessed us with reasonably long life. I am blessed to have five siblings still in the land of the living.

Though we have experienced tragedy such as the recent untimely death of my great niece Tasha Sams Saucier, my siblings, nieces and nephews, and I can look back upon where we came from and truly say, “Thank you God”. Sixty to seventy years ago in the month of July with its stultifying heat, many of us were working in cotton fields in the Mississippi Delta from sunup to sundown with only an hour break in the middle of the day. We returned home to houses with no running water, no electricity, outdoor toilets, no radio, no television, and no air-conditioning. Sometimes the only transportation we had was mules hitched up to a wagon! This scenario describes the situation of millions of other families (black and white) in the rural South of the United States in the middle of the 20th century.

Today everybody, whether in the rural South or urban North, has running water, air-conditioning, electricity, microwave ovens, cellphones, and televisions in almost every room. Most families have at least one car. Besides these creature comforts, we are free to worship as we please, regardless of our religious affiliation. We are free to express our opinions. We are free to start businesses; many who start out with nothing become millionaires. Today we have Black Billionaires (Oprah Winfrey, Jayz, and Kanye West are three examples); Dr. Dre and Sean Combs are very close to being billionaires. With the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States for two terms, any doubt about the possibilities for people of color in the political arena should have been shattered. In short, we Americans are blessed because we are living in the land of great opportunity, and millions are taking advantage of it.

Poor people have access to food stamps and many receive money directly from the government. Various types of financial aid for college is available to poor students. Ivy League colleges and other elite colleges do not award merit scholarships, only need based scholarships, if the student has the proper academic preparation.

Though we are in the midst of this terrible Corona Virus Pandemic, hope is on the horizon. More treatments are becoming available, and promising vaccines are also being developed. I consider treatments to be more pressing than vaccines since so many of the people who are already infected need help right now in overcoming this vicious disease. There is no doubt that we are going to overcome this ugly, nasty virus, hopefully very soon.

 Fellow Christians, you have something at your disposal regardless of you circumstances, and that thing is prayer. You must believe James 5:16b: “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” (KJV). I like the way the Amplified version puts it: “The heartfelt and persistent prayer of a righteous man (believer) can accomplish much [when put into action and made effective by God—it is dynamic and can have tremendous power].” You don’t have to be a bigshot to touch the Heart of God. Your prayers matter and will have an effect when sincerely offered up. Pray for speedy treatments and vaccines for COVID-19. Pray for the homeless, especially seeking God on how to address the mental health issues of the homeless. Ask the Father for direction that you may pray according to his will.

Prayer is not a substitute for action. They go together. If you see someone in need and have the means to help them, then you are obligated to do so. Ask God to give you wisdom and guidance in all your endeavors and He will do it.

And lastly, look around and count your blessings. Focus on the half full jar, not the half empty one.

… that the Constitution of the United States did not define a Black person as three-fifths of a person?

… that the Constitution of the United States did not define a Black person as three-fifths of a person?

This is the first post of this blog that was launched a little more than a year ago. Since I have been in hiatus for a while and have heard repetition of the assertion that the U. S. Constitution counted Black People as two-thirds of a person, I thought it good to place my first blog at the top. For those who have followed me from the beginning, there is nothing new here but new posts are coming.

There is an assertion that one hears over and over again, namely, that the U. S. Constitution made Black people three-fifths of a person. It is, indeed, an assertion that has no factual basis. In fact, the paragraph in the Constitution where this idea comes from does not use the term Black, Negro, or African. The passage lists all those included in determining a state’s representation and taxation and ends with the phrase “three fifths of all other Persons” (read the wording of Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 below). We know that the phrase refers to slaves since everybody else had been listed, including exclusions, in determining representation, and we know that 99+ percent of all slaves were black (there may have been a few enslaved Native Americans). You might as well say 100%.

So the reasoning goes like this. One hundred percent of all slaves were Blacks; a slave was counted as three-fifths of a person in determining the state’s representation in Congress. Therefore, a black person was made to be three-fifths of a person. It should be clear that this is faulty reasoning. Why? Well, though 100% of slaves might have been black people, not a 100% of Blacks were slaves. Though a small minority (about 60,000 or 8% of the United States’ population when the Constitution was written), there were some free black people in the United States who had exercised their right to vote before and after the Revolutionary War.(I refer you to John Hope Franklin’s From Slavery to Freedom for confirmation.) They were counted in the “whole Number of free Persons” referred to in the passage and, therefore, counted as whole persons.

Was this failure to mention color or race an oversight on the part of the framers of the Constitution? I think not. The founders of our country were well educated, thoughtful people. Indeed, I submit that not mentioning color or race was quite intentional. Is this important? I say yes. It is very important in demonstrating that the U. S. Constitution was not just written for white people! They said exactly what they meant to say and meant what they said.

This three-fifths rule worked to the disadvantage of the slave owning ruling class of the South since it had the effect of diluting the political power of the slave states, such as South Carolina and Mississippi which had majority black populations well into the 20th century. Nonetheless this is little consolation given the enormity of the evil of chattel slavery.

Next time I will give you President John Quincy Adams’ take on this issue.

References and Notes

Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the U.S. Constitution reads:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

Click on the above paragraph to go to America’s founding documents (Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and other resources)

that Haitians fought alongside American Patriots in our War for Independence?

It gives me cause to pause in seeing the U. S.  Customs and Border Protection Services drop the heavy hammer on the Haitians, somewhere in the neighborhood of 14,000 under a bridge in Del Rios, Texas at the U. S.-Mexican border, trying to get into the United States.  Homeland Security has quickly and significantly increased the number of agents and resources to the area of Del Rios. The Haitians are being flown back to Haiti.1 I could not help but think back on the fact that at two critical points in the history of the United States, actions undertaken by Haitians had an influence, and a positive one, on the destiny of our country. In the years from 1776 to 1781, Haitians helped the American colonists gain independence from Great Britain by fighting with the colonists in the Revolutionary War, and two decades later, their defeating the French in their War for Independence from France was an important factor in influencing the French decision to sell the Louisiana Territory to the United States in 1803, an action that doubled the size of the United States.

Haitians came to assist the Americans in their fight for independence, even though they had not yet achieved their independence from France, in 1779. They were free people of color (called des gens de couleurs libres) organized into a regiment called Chasseurs-Volontaires de Saint-Domingue and eight hundred (800) volunteered to serve under the command of a French officer, First Lieutenant Count d’Estaing. They fought valiantly in the Battle of Savannah. Their bravery was memorialized by a statue erected by the city of Savannah in 2007.Photos of the monument and memorial inscriptions are shown at the end of the post2. In my unpublished book, I referenced the actions of these Haitians as one of the examples of people of African descent playing a role in the formation of the American Republic, contrary to the assertions of Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney in the Dred Scott case. In addition to those 800 Haitians of African descent, five thousand (5,000) Americans of African descent fought in the Revolutionary War on the side of the Patriots. If fighting in the Revolutionary War that resulted in independence and the subsequent birth of the nation with the adaption of the Constitution does not qualify one as having a hand in establishing the nation and the Constitution, then nothing does.

The Haitians3 threw a monkey wrench in the designs of the French for empire in the Americas by defeating them in long drawn out wars from 1791 to end of 1803. The situation in Haiti over these twelve years was complicated, bloody, and just horrific, involving more than just France and revolting slaves and free people of color but British and Polish as well. In the beginning, the revolts of the Haitians were aimed at ending slavery within the French Empire leading to Civil War against white slave owners but ended up with the Haitians fighting for independence from France. That independence was achieved with the defeat of the French Army at the Battle of Vertieres on November 18, 1803. Between yellow fever and military casualties, total French deaths have been estimated at 40,000. With these losses coupled with the costs of wars in Europe, Napoleon was willing to get rid of the Louisiana Territory for $15,000,000 million. He undoubtedly needed the cash! The desire to acquire the Port of New Orleans was one of the main reasons why Jefferson was willing to, in a sense, go against his own advice to acquire this territory which at the time doubled the size of the United States of America.

The hell that the Haitians dished out to the French was surely one of the factors making this possible. A British Army officer, visiting Saint-Domingue, after observing the training of Haitian soldiers wrote, “At a whistle, a whole brigade ran three or four hundred yards, and then, separating, threw themselves flat on the ground, changing to their backs and sides, and all the time keeping up a strong fire until recalled…This movement is executed with such facility and precision as totally to prevent cavalry from charging them in bushy and hilly country”.4  This is just an indication of what the French were up against.

Some of the Haitian heroes at the center of these revolts and wars were Toussaint L’Ouverture, Jean-Jacque Dessalines, and Henri Christophe. Probably the most famous of the three is L’Ouverture who, in 1802, put his army under control of the French Army after they had made promises which they did not keep. The French apprehended him, sent him off to France where he died in jail. Needless to say, that did not stop the revolution as the French were decisively defeated in November of 1803. 

Notes and References

  1. “Biden Administration Sends More Agents to Texas Bridge”, Wall Street Journal (September 18, 2021). Biden Administration Sends More Agents to Texas Bridge (msn.com)
  2. The photos which are in the public domain are taken from “Haitian Soldiers at the Battle of Savannah (1779)”. http://www.blackpast.org/aah/haitian-soldiers-battle-savannah-1779
  3. Though I refer to the country as Haiti, it was called Saint-Domingue until the name was changed to Haiti on January 1, 1803 when independence was declared.
  4. “Haitian Revolution”, Wikipedia. Haitian Revolution – Wikipedia

that our system is in tack?

This short essay was first posted the morning of the assault on the capital but before the assault occurred. I think we need to keep in mind the things I pointed out in that post.

Trust in Our System of Government

By the end of today (January 6, 2021) or by tomorrow, I expect that the U. S. Congress will have accepted the Electoral College votes for President, and Joe Biden will be the duly elected President of the United States after his Inauguration. Like it or not, on January 20, Joe Biden will be my President, regardless to how I feel about his policies and political/philosophical outlook.

Our process for electing President was followed. The concerns about how the voting processes were implemented at the state and local levels are real and serious but did not change the process for selecting our President. Furthermore, in line with our constitutional system of governance, how voting is conducted is left to the various states, very purposefully. The founders were careful to set up a system of separation of powers to avoid tyranny being imposed from above or by certain powerful interests aimed at thwarting the “Will of the People”.

Some of the practices and actions taken by some states and localities in the 2020 election were at least questionable. However, that is an issue of human imperfection, not an indictment of our system of governance but an indictment of human nature. We thread a thin line in attempting to deal with the partisan actions of those seeking advantage for their side.

Our system is designed to give voice to the unimportant as well as the important, to the minority as well as the majority. Rhode Island has a thumbnail full of people in comparison to California; yet in the Senate the few people of Rhode have the same representation as the many people of California. In selecting the president, and in the makeup of the House of Representatives, large states are given more power than small states since the number of Electoral College votes is based on their population. Yet in this system, Rhode Island’s electoral votes count.

We must acknowledge the fact that we have a good, though not perfect, system run by imperfect people. We were reminded by a Founding Father that for our system of governance to work properly we need a moral people.

The challenges to the election results leading up to the debates taking place in Congress today are right and in order. It’s a bit over the top to say or imply that these debates and challenges are somehow an attack on our democratic institutions. Our whole system came into existence through such debates and challenges. We must thoroughly examine what happened and, to the extent possible, take corrective actions to effectively address the problems so that we may become a more perfect union.

… that black-eyed peas originated in Africa?

It is a tradition of millions of Americans all over the country to cook black-eyed peas and cabbage for New Years. The featured image above shows dry, uncooked black-eyed peas on the left and the cooked peas, a la New Orleans, on the right. This pea is one of the many African-domesticated plants and cultigens that have migrated from Africa to Asia, Europe, and the Americas, usually by means of human transport instead of ocean drift. Indeed, for years it was erroneously assumed that cultivated plants and vegetables common to Africa and Asia, and India especially, before the historical period had been domesticated in Asia. Recently some of these errors have been corrected.

Though many plants have been domesticated all over the African continent, the main center of African plant domestication seems to have occurred in West Africa in an area centered around the bend of the Niger River in the modern country of Mali (a part of ancient Mali and ancient Ghana before that). The Niger River has its source in the Highlands of Guinea from which it flows to the northeast through Mali where it changes directions and begins to flow southeast traversing through the counties of Niger, Nigeria, and Benin where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The bend, or the crescent that it forms, is in Mali. The people who live in this area are the well-built, highly regarded Mandingo people, who are part of a larger group of people called the Mende who made up most of the captured Amistad Africans from Sierra Leone.

Like several other African domesticated plants which passed from Africa to India, China, and other parts of Asia, plants such as pearl millet, sorghum, Bambara bean, celosia, amarantha (a type of hotherb or green), and lablab (whose pods, seeds, and leaves are used for environmental protection and forage), the black-eyed pea  (called a cow pea), long thought to have originated in Asia because it was found in both places, is now universally acknowledged as of African origin,  probably Central Africa. The Chinese long bean, a special form of the cowpea or black-eyed pea, was long thought to be of Chinese origin but “A surprising thing about this “Oriental” vegetable is that it is not from the East at all. In the beginning—thousands of years ago—it was unknown to any Asian, or for that matter any European or New World inhabitant. But it was well known to Africans. This historical fact is a fairly new realization. A century ago even botanists were fooled into labeling the plant Vigna sinensis (bean of China). (Lost Crops of Africa, Vol. 2, p. 223).

Plant domestication is important because it is associated with the advance of civilization and the formation of dense populations due to the more reliable and abundant food supply made possible by humans deliberately growing and improving wild plants rather than just depending on hunting, fishing, and foraging. During the Middle Ages, Arab and European travelers to Sub-Sahara Africa, especially West Africa, encountered centers of dense populations associated with well managed and well laid out cities. It did not take Europeans long to realize that they had found the labor power they sought for New World development, large numbers of people who were agriculturists for the most part. With willing cooperation from African leaders and rulers, the dense populations were greatly diminished over several centuries.

Like other legumes, the cowpea (black-eyed pea) provides an impressive array of benefits to the human consumer. Its seeds “famously deliver the amino acids needed to grow or repair protein-based tissues such as brain, nerve, and muscle, as well as to construct the enzymes and proteinaceous hormones necessary for normal life functions. As tools for balancing nutrition they can have a powerful overall effect among the impoverished masses. By providing protein (not to mention vitamins, minerals, and energy), they make main foods—notably, the bulky staples, such as rice, maize, cassava—work better in the body. In this sense, they help increase the bioavailability of other nutrients. Grain legumes, in other words, act like nutritional cogwheels, making everything else go round and round in proper order.” (Lost Crops of Africa, Vol. II). Since it thrives in many types of soil, the cowpea is the most widely planted native legume in Sub-Sahara Africa. The fact that grain legumes such as red beans and black-eyed peas make staples such as rice work better in the body may be the reason why people in the New Orleans area, and the Gulf South generally, always eat rice with their beans, an alien practice to me since I hail from the northern Mississippi Delta where beans are eaten with corn bread only.

I will be posting more about ancient African plant domestication in future posts. Some of you will be surprised to hear about some other common food plants that were first cultivated in Sub-Sahara Africa. Though the internet is replete with information on this important topic, I found Murdock’s Africa: Its peoples and its culture and the NRC’s Lost crops of Africa, Vols. I, II, and III to be must reading for one interested in this topic.

… that Hollywood has no regard for historical accuracy in putting blacks in historical roles?

One of the practices of Hollywood that gets me hot under the collar is having black people play historical characters that were almost certainly white and white people play historical characters that were almost certainly black. I came across this while binge watching the BBC series Atlantis over the Thanksgiving Holidays. It seems to reflect some sort of attempt to be inclusive in some sense without any concern for historical truth.

Understanding that even the word Atlantis hearkens of things of myth and legend (we do not even know the location of Atlantis, if it existed), still there are many references to historical places that we do know something about. In this BBC series, all of the legendary Greek characters appear. I was ok with the token black gladiator or soldier here and there until this black female, amazon-like Scythian gladiator named Areto appears. Indeed her name is associated with ancient Amazons who were not black women. The problem with this casting is that the Scythians are almost the prototype of White People. Some believe that they originated in Siberia or somewhere in Russia. This casting is totally off base.

Jason, Medea, Colchis, and the Golden Fleece
The main character of this series is Jason, evidently the same Jason who stole the Golden Fleece from none other than the King of Colchis. If there is a Jason, there has to be a Medea who helps him steal the Golden Fleece, and indeed, she has come onto the scene (the stealing of the fleece has not happened yet but I expect it to happen in a later episode; I have quite a few episodes to go).

Medea is the daughter of the King of Colchis. She and all the Colchian soldiers should have been played by black people because during the early Greek period, Colchis was a black nation located in the Caucasus in the neighborhood of Armenia, the country of Georgia, and the Black Sea. We know something about the race of the Colchians because around 450 B. C. (almost 2,500 years ago), Herodotus (the Father of History) let the cat out of the bag when he said, “There can be no doubt that the Colchians are an Egyptian race. … My own conjectures are founded, first, on the fact that they are black-skinned and have woolly hair …” (Histories, 2.104). Herodotus visited Egypt around 450 B. C. Thus his knowledge of the appearance of Egyptians is not based on conjecture and presumably he also had seen Colchians.
This fleece stolen by Jason was the fleece of a sacred ram, the ram being a sacred symbol in Ancient Egypt and throughout Black Africa. There are still remnants of these Ancient Colchians in southern Georgia (the country, not the state of Georgia) today.

Achilles, Memnon, and the Trojan War
In the 2018 American-British mini-series, Troy: Fall of a City, Achilles is played by the black British actor David Gyasi. Achilles was a white Greek. According to Homer’s description, Achilles had yellow hair. In the literary work, Ulysses the Sacker of Cities, after Achilles dies from Paris’s spear landing in his heel, Andrew Lang describe the Greek soldiers as “weeping and cutting off their long locks of yellow hair …” while the soldiers of Memnon1 are described as “a great army of men who had nothing white about them but the teeth, so fiercely the sun had burned on them in their own country.” In the depiction of Persian soldiers shown below, notice that even the palms of their hand are chocolate colored. In this same work, Memnon is described as “the most beautiful of men, except Paris and Priam, and his home was in a country that borders on the land of sunrising.” In other words, Memnon came from the East, not Africa. Depiction of Memnon below is by French Neoclassical engraver Bernard Picart.

Memnon, king of the Ethiopians and conqueror of the East. 3110: Memnon’s statue. Bernard Picart (1673-1733), Fabeln der Alten (Musen-Tempel), 1754

Thus, if the makers of this series wanted to put some black people in it, why didn’t they incorporate Memnon, warrior-king of the Ethiopians (burnt faces), and his numberless host of soldiers who traveled to Troy from Susa (present day Iran) to fight with the Trojans against the Greeks? Indeed, once he got to Troy, this black warrior-king would fight with Achilles in what became an epic battle of the ages, a great contest of evenly matched heroes. This epic battle had become a part of Greek legend even before the time of Homer (about 800 B. C.), being depicted by numerous Greek artists and in different mediums. Invariably, Memnon is depicted as black.

According to the account of the 3rd century epic poet Quintus of Smyrna, the fight between Achilles and Memnon was a draw until the goddess of discord and strife, Eris, intervened and “inclined the fatal scales of the battle, which no more were equal-poised” and Achilles thrust his sword beneath Memnon’s breast bone and killed him. At this, Memnon’s mother, the goddess of Dawn, Eos, took him away along his great host of swarthy soldiers.

Persian Archers

Besides the Iliad and the Odyssey, Homer write a third epic poem, Aethiopis, which has been lost but Quintus of Smyrna evidently drew heavily upon it in writing Book II (Ethiopian Memnon) of his Posthomerica (Book II, 666).

What Difference Does It Make?
The significance of this casting is that Hollywood is still presenting an erroneous picture of world history and the foundations of Western Civilization. Black People figured prominently in the early history of the Greeks. Their foundation legends invariably intersect with the black world of the Egyptians and the Ethiopians (Cushites or Kushites). There is no need to make Greeks black and blacks white like Greeks. Just tell it like it was. Some Ancient Greek writers took other Greeks to task for claiming things that should have been rightly attributed to Egyptians (the black-skinned, woolly-haired people described by Herodotus).

Diodorus Siculus, ancient Greek historian who lived during the first century B. C., made the following observation:
“But now that we have examined these matters, we must enumerate what Greeks, who have won fame for their wisdom and learning, visited Egypt in ancient times, in order to become acquainted with its customs and learning. 2 For the priests of Egypt recount from the records of their sacred books that they were visited in early times by Orpheus, Musaeus, Melampus, and Daedalus, also by the poet Homer and Lycurgus of Sparta, later by Solon of Athens and the philosopher Plato, and that there also came Pythagoras of Samos and the mathematician Eudoxus, as well as Democritus of Abdera and Oenopides of Chios. 3 As evidence for the visits of all these men they point in some cases to their statues and in others to places or buildings which bear their names, and they offer proofs from the branch of learning which each one of these men pursued, arguing that all the things for which they were admired among the Greeks were transferred from Egypt.” (Library of History, Book 1, 96.1-3).

It’s time that academia and Hollywood come clean as Diodorus did 2,000 years ago. Just tell the truth.

  1. The Featured Image is a 6th century B. C. depiction of Achilles and Memnon fighting. The legend of the battle between Achilles and Memnon goes back several centuries before this depiction. Title: Achilles and Memnon. Owner: Staatliche Antikensammlungen. Country of Origin: Greece. Date of Creation: 520 BC.(http://www.maicar.com/GML/Memnon.html)

… that Africans came to the Americas before Columbus? – Part IV – the Cultural Impact

The Africans who came to America before Columbus, over a period of 2,500 years or more, had a profound influence on American culture. The following are some of the probable areas of influence:

  1. Pyramid building
  2. Hieroglyphic writing
  3. Religious practices
  4. Language
  5. Agriculture
  6. Smoking

Before talking about the contributions, I invite you to view at the end of this essay the samples of “Negroid” individuals depicted by Ancient Americans. Some of these representations from Latin America precede Columbus by more than 2,000 years.

Pyramid Building

Interestingly the appearance of the pyramids and hieroglyphic writing in Mexico among the Olmecs is associated with the appearance of the massive Negroid heads. Van Sertima very effectively established the connection between Mexican pyramid building and Egypto/Nubian pyramid building. I discussed this in my previous blog post. Generally when scholars discuss the Central American pyramids, they will also mention Egyptian pyramids without making a connection because of the obvious similarities between the two.  

Hieroglyphic Writing

A few examples of actual Egyptian hieroglyphs writing have been found in Mexico. Obviously Egyptian and Nubian flora, fauna, and other symbols were replaced by American flora, fauna, and symbols. Cheikh Anta Diop tells us that most of the animals and plants used in Egyptians hieroglyphs are from Nubia.  

Religious Practices

Van Sertima makes the following observation:

“Some ritual practices that are almost identical in America and Egypt, which we may safely date from the Olmecs onward and which point to an outside influence, are the wearing of false beards by high priests, the ritual use of purple as an exclusively royal and priestly color, incest between royal siblings and a complex of royal paraphernalia, such as the ceremonial umbrella and litter and the bird-serpent motif in coats of arms and royal diadems.” (They Came Before Columbus, p. 164)

Thus the plumed serpent, or bird-serpent, motif (a part of religious symbolism of Mexican religious practices going back to the Olmec civilization), appears to be an African import from Egypt. Van Sertima posits that the bird-serpent motif comes from inner Africa where we find the secretary bird who is the mortal enemy of snakes. Eagles, and probably other birds of prey, kill snakes but none can approach the ferocity and deadliness of the African secretary bird in dealing with snakes. In Egyptian symbolism, the Horus Falcon or Hawk (one of the titles of the pharaoh was Hawk of Nubia) replaces the secretary bird. The fight between Horus and Seth may be viewed as the battle between the hawk (or falcon) and the serpent, the representation of evil. In the end Horus wins, good overcomes evil. This motif is incorporated into Egyptian royal symbolism in the winged sun disc.1

As we come up to the time of the Aztecs, the Middle Ages, we see the bird-serpent motif associated with the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl. Indeed, quetzal means bird or plume and coatl means serpent. An eagle killing a snake at the spot where Tenochtitlan (center of Mexico City) was founded is part of the founding legend for the modern state of Mexico. Hence the coat-of-arms of Mexico incorporates an eagle standing on a cactus fighting a rattle snake (See Featured Image at the top of this post).

Because Emperor Ababukari and his Mandingos landed on the shores of Mexico exactly six cycles after the last appearance of Quetzalcoatl, the Aztecs took him to be the reappearance of that god. The fact that as the Emperor’s ship came in “they could see quite clearly the outlines of a great golden bird” (p. 74) served as further confirmation that this black man from a land burning in the white heat of the sun must be the reincarnation of Quetzalcoatl. This explain why Quetzalcoatl was sometimes represented as black.

While doing research for a work for a comparative grammar on American languages, Leo Wiener noticed that some American words had a foreign origin, some European and some African. In the area of magic and religion, he claimed to show “… by documentary evidence to what extraordinary extent the Indian medicine-man owes his evolution to the African medicine-man …”2

Language

Wiener demonstrates that the American words for banana, yam, sweet potato, manioc (cassava), and tobacco in American languages are of foreign origin. He shows that the word for tobacco was introduced to the Americans by Africans and is of Arabic origin and conclude that “Indeed, when we turn to the appellations of the sweet potato yam in America, we find nothing but African forms.” (Wiener, p. 262).  Van Sertima reinforces Wiener’s conclusions. The linguistics analysis of these transfers is quite complicated. I refer you to Van Sertima and Wierner for some very illuminating discussions.

Agriculture

The following are some of the crops introduced to America from Africa.

  1. An African species of cotton (Gossypium herbaceum) was introduced to America during the 4th millennium (between 3,000 and 4,000) B.C. and crossed with a wild New World cotton “to form the New World tetraploid cotton…” This was accomplished by an “… African man, bearing cotton seed, made the drift journey to the Americas in the fourth millennium B.C.” (Van Sertima, p. 193). Scientific experiments proved that the cotton seed could not have gotten here by floating in the ocean. That is why Van Sertima concluded that an African man had to have brought the G. herbaceum cotton seed to America. Additionally this is indirect evidence of a very early African contact with the Americas.
  2. We know for certain that the cultivation of the yam originated in Africa, probably West Africa, and, therefore, was a transplant to the Americas.
  3. Wiener concluded that “Indians learned the cultivation of manioc (cassava) from the Congo Negroes … “(p. 248).
  4. In her seminal work, Black Rice: African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas, Judith Carney argued for, and conclusively demonstrated, the primacy of African rice and skills in rice’s development in the Americas. She noted that “A knowledge long practiced in West Africa was brought with slaves across the Atlantic” (p. 2). It stands to reason that this same knowledge was transferred by Africans who came to America before Columbus, especially since the Mandingos are prominently mentioned as one of the African people who came to places such as Veracruz in Central Mexico. The Mandingos, being descendants of the people of the West African medieval empire of Mali, would have had intimate knowledge of rice cultivation. The village that Carney accidently discovered south of Veracruz is called Mandinga and the villagers were Afro-Mexicans living in an areas where rice had been grown.

Smoking

Wiener first notes that “there arose in Africa the habit of smoking.” (p. 112) In other words, Africans invented the habit of smoking but did not domesticate tobacco; domestication is attributed to Arabs. Wiener goes on to say that “… there can be little doubt that the pipe was equally introduced by them [Africans] into America, and that the Arawaks and Negroes carried it north, to Florida, together with tobacco.” (p. 177). Van Sertima comes to the same conclusion, namely, that Africans introduced the Native Americans to pipes and the smoking of tobacco. The Africans made pipes with an artistic flair, usually decorated with animals. The fact that some of the early pipes in American were decorated with elephants was further proof that these pipes were made or inspired by Africans. No elephants are native to America.    

This brief list of African contributions to the culture of the Americas is by no means exhaustive. It does not address transfers such as iron-working that undoubtedly occurred during the slave era.

Notes and References

  1. Below is an example of an Egyptian winged sun disc
  • 2 . African Medieval Pipes
  • Von Wuthenau, Alexander (1975). Unexpected faces in Ancient America: The historical testimony of Pre-Columbian artist (1500 B. C. – 1500 A. D.).
  • Van Sertima, Ivan (1976). They came before Columbus: the African presence in Ancient America. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, pp.145-155.
  • Wiener, Leo (1920). Africa and the discovery of America. Philadelphia: Innes & Sons, Forward.Carney, Judith A. (2001). Black rice: African origins of rice cultivation in the Americas. Cambridge, Massachusetts:  Harvard University Press.

1. Three Terracotta heads


92.  a. Terracotta head from Morelos, Mexico, Pre-Classic. This piece shows an African hair style and nose ring. b. Terracotta head from La Venta, Tabasco, showing kinky hair, Museum Villahermosa, Tabasco. Height 7 cm.  c. Pre-Classic head from Kaminaljuyu, Guatemala.
Source: Von Wuthenau

2. Tattoo with Scarification Tattooing

106. Veracruz Classical terracotta head with scarification tattooing. The eye technique resembles earliest Nock-style terracotta from Nigeria, Africa. Height 11 cm.
Source: Von Wuthenau

3. Mountain Rock Face at Morelos

Source: von Wuthenau
Von Wuthenau makes the following observations about this rock carving, “Recently an incredible rock carving was discovered on a mountaintop in the state of Morelos, Mexico … For us the most unexpected surprise was a big stone face carved out of the living rock, situated above all the other reliefs in the same place. For almost 3,000 years this face has been gazing over the vast valleys of Morelos in the direction of the snow-covered peak of Pococatepetl, Mexico’s famous volanco. The features of the face are indisputably Negroid.” (p. 136)

4. Magician from Honduras

Source: von Wuthenau

5. Terracotta Heads from Tlatilco

Source: von Wuthenau

6. Monumental Head from Tres Zapotes

Source: von Wuthenau

7. Early Negroid Representation at Morelos

Source: von Wuthenau

8. Classic Olmec Head

Source: von Wuthenau

9. Head from Veracruz

Source: von Wuthenau

 10. Classic Terracotta

Source: von Wuthenau

11. Veracruz Terracotta

Source; von Wuthenau

that Africans came to the Americas before Columbus? – Part III – The Mayas

that Africans came to the Americas before Columbus? – Part III – The Mayas

In an extraordinary documentary called Unearthed: Lost City of the Maya, the narrator shows scenes from a mural from Central Mexico of soldiers marching from Teotihuacan (about 30 miles northwest of Mexico City) to the Mayan City of Tikal, Guatemala (a 600 mile trek from the west) who overthrow the Mayan King Jaguar Paw and replace him with the Mexican King Spear Thrower Owl. All of the Maya king’s attendants are killed and Jaguar Paw’s head is cut off. This happened in the year 378 A.D. The dates and events are known because they are recorded in the Mayan calendar and hieroglyphic writing. As the narrator points out, this date is associated with the meteoric rise of Tikal and is the most celebrated date in Mayan history. The city’s population would grow to 100,000 at its peak. Along with the growth in population would be tremendous economic growth, including building of massive monuments and temples.

The narrator goes into some detail in describing the overthrow of Jaguar Paw and his replacement with Spear Thrower Owl, but he never comments on the thing about the mural that grabs the eye immediately. The deposed Maya king and his guards are pale white with blond hair but the king that replaces him is black. (See the camera snapshots of the murals below). The Mexican soldiers are brown, not red, but their King Spear Thrower Owl is darker than they are; he is black. It would seem that this stark contrast in the appearance of the conquered and the conqueror would have elicited some comment but there is none. It is not just the blackness of Spear Thrower Owl that should have elicited comment or explanation but also the paleness of the Maya king. Clearly the typical Guatemalan of today is not as pale as Jaguar Paw and his guards and the typical Mexican from Central Mexico is not as dark as Spear Thrower Owl. The commentator chose to just let the sleeping dog lie; he did not want to open that can of worms. Von Wuthenau informed us that Caucasoid types found their way to the Americas on numerous occasions many centuries before Columbus arrived. But let us examine the dark Mexicans from Teotihuacan.

These dark warriors with their black king come from Central Mexico, Teotihuacan, center of the Olmec civilization, the mother of Mesoamerican civilization, going back some 3,000 years, and of the medieval Aztec civilization. When the soldiers of Spear Thrower Owl march on Tikal, Classic Olmec civilization has been over for about 700 years. Recall that the colossal African heads appear at the beginning of Classic Olmec period, some 3,000 years ago. But that was not the end of African appearance in Mexico and the Americas. Indeed, Van Sertima reminds us that, “Africans move through all their major periods, from the time of the Olmec culture around 800 B.C., when they rise in massive stone sculptures, through the medieval Mexico of the Mayas.”1 The fact that these appearances are in Central Mexico, not far from the Mexican state of Vera Cruz, which sits on the Gulf of Mexico to the east, is not accidental, though their landing there may have been an accident. It’s the ocean winds and currents.

There are winds and currents between Africa and America that can take hold of an ocean vessel leaving   Africa, be it West Africa or northeast Africa, and cause it to drift into American lands. Alphonse de Quatrefages has noted, “We only see these black men in America in those places washed by the Kouro-Sivo [a Pacific current known as the black stream] and the Equatorial of the Atlantic or its divisions.”2 (See map below). One of the Atlantic currents can take a ship or a boat right to Central Mexico to the part that borders on the Gulf of Mexico. Van Sertima makes the case that Africans have been making seaworthy vessels for several millennia. Using paintings and reliefs in Egyptian burial chambers as models, Thor Heyerdahl hired boat builders living near Lake Chad in central Africa to build his reed boat the Ra which was used to demonstrate that such a boat could make the Atlantic crossing to America from North Africa. A few days before reaching the New World, the crew of the Ra ran into trouble because they had left off a rope running down the middle of the boat in Egyptian painting. They found out that the rope was essential to the boat staying together, made the correction, and successfully made the journey in Ra II.3

Most Americanists (those who specialize in Ancient American studies) still will not acknowledge that any Africans came to America before Columbus, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It is important to keep in mind why the traditional Americanist scholar will not accept the evidence. It is because they have been inculcated with a point of view that denies that African are capable of the things that are attributed to them, even if the crossing was accidental. Also some may stick to the dogma that all Native Americans are descended from the Mongols who crossed the Bering Strait into America 40,000 years ago. They disregard the testimonies of Columbus and early Portuguese and Spanish who found Africans here when they arrived.

There is evidence in Spanish and Portuguese records that the Portuguese received reports from African mariners on the Guinea Coast that if one went due west from the Guinea Coast, one would arrive at a new land. Columbus had visited the Guinea Coast before he set sail for America. Furthermore, there is also evidence that there was trade going on between West Africa and the Americas.4   

Van Sertima relates the following account of a meeting between King Don Juan of Portugal and Christopher Columbus (after his first voyage to America):

“It became clear that Don Juan’s real concern was not with the chain of islands Columbus claimed to have discovered in the Gulf of the Ganges. Beyond them, beyond the mainland of Asia [Columbus thought he had found a new route to Asia], to the south and southeast, lay another world. The king was certain of this. Africans, he said, had traveled to that world. It could be found just below the equinoctial line, roughly on the same parallel as the latitudes of his domain in Guinea. In fact, “boats had been found which started out from Guinea and navigated to the west with merchandise.” He was a fool not to have sent an expeditionary fleet into these waters in spite of persistent rumors and reports.”5

Whether you buy the arguments I have presented or are skeptical, I suggest that you examine the evidence for yourself by going beyond these vignettes I have provided. Someone can tell you there is evidence and even describe it for you but you may not be completely convinced until you investigate and see the evidence for yourself, such as Alexander von Wuthenau’s volumes of pre-Columbian art depicting black Africans, Negroid types. I urge you to do that.

Notes and References

  1. Van Sertima, Ivan (1976). They came before Columbus: the African presence in Ancient America. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, p. 27.
  2. de Quatrefages Alphonse (1905). The human species. Appleton: New York, p. 200. Quoted in Van Sertima, They came before Columbus, p. 25.
  3. Van Sertima, p. 59.
  4. Van Sertima, pp. 12-15
  5. Van Sertima, pp. 7-8

Images

Map is taken from The Came Before Columbus, p. 132

The five scenes are phone snapshots from Unearthed: Lost City of the Maya

Scene 1: Spear Thrower Owl’s Soldiers marching to Tikal
Scene 2: Jaguar Paw sitting on throne before arrival of soldiers from Teotihuacan

Scene 3: Killing of Jaguar Paw’s guards
Scene 4: Decapitation of Jaguar Paw
Scene 5: Spear Thrower Owl sitting on Jaguar Paw’s throne

that Africans came to the Americas before Columbus? – Part II

that Africans came to the Americas before Columbus? – Part II

My last post was meant to whet your appetite by dropping a few ironic gems such as my storing in memory the photo of a black Aztec dancer from high school Spanish book and my being president of a high school Spanish honor society called Quetzalcoatl, an important Aztec-Mexican god. In the next couple of posts, I will give more detail and explanations of the African contacts with Ancient Americans over a period of some 3,000 years.

I realize that these assertions about the presence of Black Africans in pre-Columbian America may seem, to many, if not most, to be “fantastic” romanticizing or speculation on the part of the advocates of these assertions. Therefore, I find it necessary to lay out very clearly the logic of and evidence for these “fantastic” assertions. I need to remind the reader of the obstacles to fairly judging or assessing this issue. The obstacle is a type of “genteel” racism that is a legacy of slavery; this racism is found in the most unlikely of places, our academic institutions. It is the paternalistic type of racism espoused by those who, on the surface, appear to be friends of Black People but who, in actuality, view Black People as not having the ability to measure up to other races. It is not red-neck racism but a type of racism that views Black People as hapless, weak victims who have never been able to compete with the superior white and yellow races. Do they come right out and say this? No. But read between the lines.

This is a legacy of slavery that caused African Black People* to be viewed as somehow inferior to whites and, therefore, enslaving them was a net benefit in exposing them to white civilization, thereby assuaging the guilty conscience of the slave owners and a country which allowed slavery. Before the advent of modern slavery, this was probably not the view held by most Europeans. What I am saying is that racism did not bring about slavery but that slavery brought about racism§. When such thinking has become unconsciously embedded in the mind, it dictates what the mind will and will not allow. Anything that contradicts this unstated axiom will be thrown out.

In light of the above considerations, three tasks are before us:

  1. Establish that Black Africans were in America going back some 3,000 years.
  2. Demonstrate how these Africans impacted the culture of Ancient America in significant ways, not as subservient individuals but as rulers and/or individuals of high position.
  3. Establish how the Africans got here.

None of what is said in this post is meant to denigrate the wonderful achievements of the Ancient Mexicans and other Ancient Americans who built marvelous civilizations. It is to say that at certain points, they were helped along or impacted by Africans over a long period of time. This does not diminish the achievements of Ancient Americans no more than acknowledging that the Greek alphabet is derived from the Phoenician alphabet which as derived from Egyptian hieroglyphs diminishes the great and wonderful achievements of Europeans. Indeed, practically all modern writing systems, with possible exception of the Chinese writing systems, ultimately go back to the Egyptian hieroglyphs. Yet this great modern civilization of the Western world is an achievement the Europeans can rightly be proud of. You cannot separate the civilization from the genius of the Europeans, notwithstanding the outside contributions.

Proof of African Presence in Pre-Columbian America

The most compelling proof of the African presence in Ancient America is found in the representations of Ancient American artists. This essay and the other essays that follow draw heavily upon the work of the late historian Ivan Van Sertima and the German Art Historian turned archaeologist, Alexander von Wuthenau. When viewing the Ancient American representations of Africans, keep in mind the admonition of von Wuthenau speaking about how the Ancient American artists saw things, “…they possessed and still possess two remarkable abilities. To begin with they can see without looking; and what they see they do see, and nobody can tell them that they did not see what they did see.”1 Von Wuthenau found it necessary to issue this admonition because he saw how expert Americanists (those who study the culture and history of the Americas) more often than not refuse to acknowledge what their eyes see. To illustrate this point, von Wuthenau recalls a young graduate student saying, after he had looked at photographs for his book, “They look like Negroes but they aren’t.” Wuthenau comments that his thinking was the “result of university training.”2 Von Wuthenau did not argue with the young man.  

Though there is ample proof of the pre-Columbian African presence throughout the Americas, this essay concentrates on the heartland of early Mexican civilization which encompasses the Southeastern Mexican states of Vera Cruz, Tabasco, Puebla, Mexico, and Oaxaca. The states of Guerrero, Chiapas, and Campeche also come into play.

Let us now view one of the types of evidence the Ancient Mexican artists left us, the huge stone heads found at San Lorenzo, Tres Zapotes, and La Venta which are located in the Mexican states of Veracruz and Tabasco. One of the large heads from San Lorenzo is shown as the Featured Image of this post. View below photographs of several other huge Olmec heads.  Altogether, seventeen of these huge heads have been found, 10 at San Lorenzo, 4 at La Venta, 2 at Tres Zapotes, and 1 at Lacobata.They range in height from 5 to 11 feet and weigh between 6 and 50 tons. All but 4 were found in the state of Veracruz.3 They go back approximately 2,500 years ago, having been estimated as being made between 800 B.C. and 600 B.C.4 These heads are not simply stylized productions; each one is different facially and each may be considered to be a portrait of a living individual. Also their helmets are different. An unbiased observer would conclude that these faces are Negroid, without hesitation.

Many, if not most, historians and archaeologists either do not talk about the racial/ethnic identity of the heads or deny that they are African. Those who touch on the racial aspect of the heads will say the physical features are common to people who live in the areas where the heads were found. If these features are common to the people still living in the areas, perhaps it is because they carry the genes of those ancient Africans. Consistent with the aforementioned suggestion is the fact that the Afro-Mexican population of 1.8 million tends to be concentrated in the states of Veracruz, Oaxaca, and Guerrero where most of the heads were found.5 Some have labelled these heads as accidental creations of the artists. I guess you could call this the “Oops Theory”!6

Though some question what they see, there seems to be pretty much agreement that the individuals sculptured were rulers. However, starting with José Melgar y Serrano, who first brought these colossal heads to the world’s attention, many authoritative scholars have acknowledged the “Africanness” of the heads. Melgar described them as Ethiopian (meaning African, not Abyssinian) in appearance in the 1870’s. Wuthenau described Melgar’s reaction this way: “Melgar’s mind, not yet tainted by certain currents of modern (and perhaps not so modern) anthropology, reacted quite normally to this newly found evidence of black man’s presence in Ancient America.”7

Von Wuthenau gives a summary of the evidence in the following words: “…the startling fact is that in all parts of Mexico, from Campeche in the east to the south coast of Guerrero, and from Chiapas, next to the Guatemalan border, to the Panuco River in the Huastecas region (north of Veracruz), archaeological pieces representing Negro or Negroid people have been found, especially in archaic or pre-Classic sites. This also holds true for large sections of Mesoamerica and far into South America – Panama, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.”8 The pre-Classic period is before Olmec culture was fully developed, before it had fully come into its own. In short, the Africans were there at the beginning of Olmec civilization.  

Based on illustrations in his book, von Wuthenau concluded that “the finest sculptural efforts of San Lorenzo came first, with not the slightest indication of an artistic evolution leading up to the masterpieces. The implications of the second fact are prodigious. Several distinguished Negro personages and at least one, or several, first-rate artists, complete with well-developed stone sculpture techniques, appeared, so to speak, out of the blue on the American continent 3,000 years ago! Up to now absolutely no reasonable explanation has been given by any scientific professional for this startling event”9. To my knowledge, that is pretty much where the state-of-knowledge stands now.

Further developing von Wuthenau’s statement, how can we determine what the Africans found upon arrival and what did they bring with them? To answer that question, we now turn to Van Sertima who developed the following guidelines for determining what is a loan and what is native.

  1. Be time-specific and culture-specific.
  2. Cite evidence, where possible, of a long evolution of the habit, artifact, system or technique, in the area of the donor.
  3. Demonstrate a lack of known antecedents in the area of the recipient.
  4. Consider levels of identity in complexity as against superficial stylistic similarity,
  5.  Think not in terms of single traits but of complexes or clusters of interlocking parallels.10

Van Sertima applies his guidelines to come to a position on whether the Egypto-Nubians (the Black Africans represented by the colossal heads) brought the knowledge of pyramid building to Mexico.

  1. There was a very long history of pyramid building in Egypt, Nubia (Cush), and Western Asia (Babylon) but there were no pyramids in America before the “contact period” (800-680 B.C.).
  2. “The first American pyramids appear at La Venta along with the colossal Negroid heads. Suddenly in the “contact period” the Ziggurat or stepped temple (a particular kind of Babylonian/Egyptian pyramid) begins to appear in America, and not only is the design identical but, like its presumed prototype, it is sun-star oriented and encircled by a precinct [fenced enclosure]. Not only are the shape and religious functions the same but also the astronomical and spatial relationships.”11
  3. During the period under consideration, the Nubians (Cushites) were still building stepped pyramids.

Based on numerous considerations, Van Sertima concluded that the Egypto-Nubians who landed on the Gulf were sailing on Phoenician vessels in search of metals when they got caught up in currents that caused them to drift into the Gulf of Mexico, eventually ending up in Mexico. The Phoenicians were the merchant Marines of the Egyptians who for centuries maintained close ties with Phoenicians who at times were essentially a colony or vassal state of Egypt. This is plausible because the Ancient American artists created a statue of a Semite alongside the colossal Negroid heads and who appears to be Phoenician based on his dress, something there seems to be pretty much agreement on. The “contact period” postulated by Van Sertima falls within the 100-year period of the 25th Dynasty, the last Cushite dynasty to rule Egypt, and fits with the carbon-dating of the heads and the pyramids. Additionally it is almost certain that Semites from Western Asia and Japanese drifters made contact at numerous times with the Americas and Mexico in particular, centuries before Columbus.

Von Wuthenau and Van Sertima are generally in agreement except for the contact period. Von Wuthenau accepts R. A. Jairazbhoy’s thesis that the “the Olmecs were transatlantic emigrants from Egypt who had been sent on an Expedition by Rameses III”.12 Jairazbhoy puts the date of the expedition at around 1187 B.C. Van Sertima rejects that date because it is too early relative to when the colossal heads and the first pyramids were built. Furthermore, he points out that the Egyptians had stopped building stepped pyramids, or pyramids period, centuries before but the Nubians were still building them.

It is right and proper that I should end this post with the words of a Mexican scholar and investigator, Alfonso Medellin Zanil, who as Director of the Archaeological Museum of the State of Veracruz in Jalapa, said,

“Kinky hair, broad chubby noses, thick lips and other less definable corporal features, belong to the ethnic group of Negroes, alien to Amerindian man. It is possible that at the end of the pre-Classic a small group of Negroes arrived on the Atlantic shores of America, though they could not perpetuate their biological inheritance, on account of their small numbers. Memory, legend and myth would surely deify them or endow them with the character of cultural heroes depicted in terracotta figurines and who were immortalized in monumental stone sculptures”.13

In other words, the physical characteristics of the individuals shown below (broad chubby noses and thick lips. We cannot see their kinky hair because it’s covered up) are alien to the Ancient Native American (the Amerindian). The numbers may have been more significant than he thinks.

Can we drop the mike?

Notes

*I specify “African Black People” because Black People from Asia and the Pacific (Papuans (New Guineans)), Native Australians, Fijians, and other Melanesian people) are viewed somewhat differently. For instance, the Mormon Church doctrine that Black People could not be part of the Mormon Priesthood (which they changed recently) applied only to African Blacks, not to Fijians and other black Melanesians.

§Interestingly during the first half of the 1600’s, before the institution of slavery became entrenched in the English colonies in America, black indentured servants interacted with white indentured servants on the basis of equality as evidenced by black-white unions and marriages not being proscribed. This would change during the latter half of the 1600’s as chattel slavery became entrenched and legalized.

References & Citations

  1. Von Wutheran, Alexander (1975). Unexpected faces in Ancient America: The historical testimony of Pre-Columbian artist (1500 B. C. – 1500 A. D.), p. xiv
  2. Von Wuthenau, p. 70.
  3. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olmec_colossal_heads
  4. Van Sertima, Ivan (1976). They came before Columbus: the African presence in Ancient America. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, pp.145-155.
  5. Love, David (December 14, 2015). Mexico officially recognizes 1.38 million Afro-Mexicans in the National Census, as Black People fight against racism and invisibility throughout Latin America. Atlanta Black Star. Accessed at https://atlantablackstar.com/2015/12/14/mexico-officially-recognizes-1-38-million-afro-mexicans-in-the-national-census-as-black-people-fight-against-racism-and-invisibility-throughout-latin-america/.
  6. Von Wuthenau, p. 136.
  7. Von Wuthenau, p. 58.
  8. Von Wuthenau, p. 77.
  9. Von Wuthenau, p. 146.
  10. Van Sertima, pp. 156-157.
  11. Van Sertima, p. 157.
  12. Von Wuthenau,  p. 195.

                                        There are 7 different faces here. The helmets they are wearing are Egyptian.                                        

Found at San Lorenzo, Veracruz
Found at La Venta,Tabasco
Found at San Lorenzo, Veracruz
Side View of Previous Photo
Found at San Lorenzo, Veracruz
Found at Tres Zapotes, Veracruz
Found at San Lorenzo, Veracruz
Found at San Lorenzo, Vera Cruz

that Africans came to the Americas before Columbus?

that Africans came to the Americas before Columbus?

As a 15 year old boy, I remember gazing at and pondering on a full-page picture of an Aztec Indian in my second year Spanish book, El Camino Real. He was a black man or as I would have said in 1958, he was a Negro. For many years I never talked to anyone about this black Aztec but I stored the image in my memory bank. It remained a puzzle for many years. The only thing that I was certain of was that he was a Negro, the conclusion I came to at the first glance. How did this Negro Aztec Indian get to be in Mexico? Sixty-two years later, I decided I needed to find the book to make sure that I remembered correctly. Therefore, I did an internet search for this textbook and found it on eBay.

Once I flipped through the first few pages on the book, I was gratified to see that my memory was correct except for one important detail. He was, according the caption, an Aztec dancer, not an Aztec chieftain as I had been thinking all these years. I have attached a camera shot of that photograph as the Featured Image at the beginning of this post.

Since I took Spanish for four years, ninth to the twelfth grade, my association with things Spanish and Mexican continued throughout high school. I was a member of the Spanish Club (Los Cardenales) and every year participated in the Language Field Day Contest at San Bernardino Valley College. All of this was under the auspices of our Spanish teacher, La Senora Maria Florencia Rivera, a great lady. Before I left high school, Mrs. Rivera established a Spanish Honor Society which we named Quetzalcoatl. Quetzalcoatl was an Aztec (Mexican) god, one of Mexico’s major gods and a very complex figure. In my senior year, I was President of Quetzalcoatl. (See graphic below). The word Quetzalcoatl comes from two Aztec words, quetzal meaning bird and coatl which means serpent. Thus throughout the years, Quetzalcoatl has been associated with the plumed-serpent motif.     

Over the 62 years since I first saw the picture of the black Aztec dancer, I have acquired some information that may throw light on how he might have gotten there. And thus I return to write about the enigmatic figure I first encountered as a 15-year old boy. There are essentially two ways Africans could have ended up in Mexico: the African slave trade and migration.  

From the beginning of the 1500’s to the end of the 1700’s, Spain imported about 200,000 Africans into Mexico; most were brought in during the 1500’s and the 1600’s, and a few at the beginning of the 1800’s. By the end of the eighteenth century (1700’s), the majority of them had become mixed with the white and Indian populations.1 In short, the Africans who came into Mexico came much earlier than the ones who were brought into North America. Our Aztec dancer could have been a descendant of those enslaved Africans. However, that is not the only possibility.

First I would note that many authors and scholars have documented the fact that black Africans made contact with the Americas over a period spanning 2,000 years before Columbus came in 1492. The earliest contacts have been documented to have occurred between 800 B.C. and 600 B.C. (more than 2,500 years ago), at the latest, and the latest contacts during the late Middle Ages, around 1311 A.D., only 200 years before the first enslaved Africans were brought into Mexico. The contacts spanned the length of Latin America, an area extending from the southern United States to deep into South America. Focusing on Mexico, we know Africans made contact with the Olmecs over 2,500 years ago and the Aztecs during the middle ages in Central Mexico.

The late historian Ivan Van Sertima presents convincing evidence that Mandingos from the West African Kingdom of Mali made contact with the Aztecs around 1311 A.D.2 Van Sertima maintains that the Emperor of Mali, Abubakari himself, made the voyage, though he never returned to Mali. Some of you will be familiar with the name of someone connected to Emperor Abubakari, namely, Emperor Kankan Musa, the brother of Abubakari, who made a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324 and spread so much gold throughout the Middle East that it took years for the area to recover from the inflation it caused. Abubakari told his brother to assume his position if he did not return. These events are recorded in the courts of Mali and in Cairo and by Arab historians. Evidently he did not return to West Africa but it seems that he did make it to America. Another voice presenting convincing evidence of these contacts is Art Historian turned Archeologist Alexander von Wuthenau.3 He too presents incontrovertible evidence of contacts between Africans and Americans, and Mexicans in particular, over a period of hundreds of years. In my next blog, I will present some of the details of the evidence of Van Sertima and von Wuthenau.

 One more piece of evidence connecting the Africans who came to Central Mexico with the Mandingos of West Africa is supplied by Judith Carney in her book Black Rice, an amazing piece of work that conclusively demonstrates that Africans from the rice producing areas of West Africa brought rice and the culture of rice cultivation to South Carolina and other areas of the Americas. In other words the Africans taught the white planters how to grow rice. As regards the Mandingoes in Mexico, I give you the words of Judith A. Carney, “On a research trip along the [Mexican] Gulf Coast in 1988, I came across a road sign south of Veracruz that caused me nearly to veer off the road. The name of the approaching hamlet was Mandinga (Italics added), the same as that of the rice-growing ethnic group with whom I had worked in Gambia. A stop in the village revealed a Mexican population of mixed African descent and the presence of some abandoned rice fields.”4

Many have heard of the Mandingos due to a series of novels by writer Lance Horner. The first of this series was made into the movie Mandingo, starring Ken Norton. Every description I have read of the Mandingos describes them as well-built, big in size, and above average in height. They evidently are impressive physical specimen. Explorer Mungo Park who visited Senegambia in 1794-95 said, “The Mandingoes, generally speaking, are of a mild, sociable, and obliging disposition. The men are commonly above the middle size, well shaped, strong, and capable of enduring great labour; the women are good-natured, sprightly and agreeable. The dress of both sexes is composed of cotton cloth, of their own manufacture.”5 The Mandingos live over a large area in West Africa which includes Gambia. During the time of Mungo Park’s visit, the Mandingo language was spoken throughout large areas of Senegambia and other parts of West Africa.

Returning to the Aztec dancer, he looks to be a tall, big man. My wife, who is an artist, says that he is about 8 head spans tall, which means that he is probably quite tall. He very well may be a descendant of one of the Mandingoes who landed along the coast of Veracruz in the early 1300’s.

References and Sources

  1. Franklin, John Hope (1967). From slavery to freedom: A history of Negro Americans, 3rd edition. New York: Alfred A Knopf, pp. 113-114.
  2. Van Sertima, Ivan (1976). They came before Columbus: the African presence in Ancient America. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks.
  3. Von Wuthenau, Alexander (1975).  Unexpected faces in ancient America. New York: Crown Publishers.
  4. Carney, Judith A. (2001). Black rice. Cambridge, Massachusetts:  Harvard University Press:, p, xi.
  5. Park, Mungo (2000, first published in 1799). Travels in the interior districts of Africa. Edited with an Introduction by Kate Ferguson Marsters. Durham and London: Duke University Press, p. 80.

1961 school picture of the Spanish club (Los Cardenales) and the Spanish Honor Society (Quetzalcoatl), San Bernardino High School, San Bernardino, CA

about Africa’s gifts to the world: Part I – Writing

about Africa’s gifts to the world: Part I – Writing.

The parent writing system of the very letters you are reading right now comes from Africa, from the Hieroglyphic writing of Ancient Egypt. Scholars of ancient history invariably assert that writing developed in Mesopotamia (Sumeria) and Egypt at about the same time, between 3,000 and 3,300 BC, but a bit earlier in Mesopotamia than in Egypt. I believe that it was first developed in Egypt because by 3,300 BC, the hieroglyphic writing system was fully developed. Whether writing developed earlier in Mesopotamia than in Egypt is not important for the purpose at hand. The fact is that our writing is not traceable to cuneiform writing of Mesopotamia but to Egyptian hieroglyphs. This Hieroglyphic writing was either developed in Ancient Egypt itself or in Cush (Ethiopia) to the South, both of which were African civilizations.

The featured image at the top of this post shows some connections (partial list) between Egyptian hieroglyphs and various writing systems of Asia and the Greek alphabet; the last column labeled Other shows the equivalent Greek letters.1 The Roman or Latin alphabet is derived from the Greek alphabet; the Romans letters A, B, and G are equivalent to the Greek letters alpha, beta, gamma (Α, B, Γ; lower case: α, β, γ).

The Greek alphabet is traceable back to the Phoenician (Canaanite) alphabet, and the Phoenician alphabet is traceable back to Egyptian hieroglyphs.2 Phoenician, or Canaanite, writing was the first alphabetic writing; generally vowels were not written in Egyptian hieroglyphic writing nor in the Phoenician alphabetic writing, with a few exceptions. The Greek alphabet was the first writing system with vowels, an important innovation attributable to the Greeks. There were twenty-four (24) characters which constituted an Egyptian hieroglyphic alphabet; however, Egyptian writing was only partially alphabetic. By the time of the New Kingdom, Egypt maintained very close ties with Phoenicia which was integrated into the Egyptian Empire. The Phoenicians were the merchant marines of Egypt since Egypt remained an insular (inland) country until the late period.

There is evidence that the earliest form of Canaanite alphabetic writing was developed in Egypt, in Sinai, the land bridge connecting Africa and Asia (See map below); Sinai then, and still is today, was a part of Egypt. A 2018 article in THE TIMES OF ISRAEL reported that “…the first inscriptions of the written Semitic alphabet, often called Proto-Canaanite, are found at this Sinai quarry site [Serabit el-Khadim].”3 These inscriptions are thought to date back to around 1,450 BC., more than 1,500 years after Egyptian hieroglyphic writing was fully developed. If all this is so, then the first alphabetic writing, as well as the first writing system, was also developed in Egypt.

It appears that most of the writing systems of Europe and Western Asia (Hebrew, Aramaic, South Arabian Script, and Moabite are some examples) were derived from either Greek or Canaanite writing, with Egyptian hieroglyphs being the mother of all. Practically all of the European writing systems use Roman letters which a traceable to Greek letters which come from Canaanite characters which finally are derived from Egyptian hieroglyphs. Latin (Roman), Cyrillic, and Runic writing systems were derived primarily from Greek writing.

Interestingly the authors of a book on Egyptian hieroglyphs commented that, “One of the phenomena of Egyptian history is that the writing does not seem to have developed slowly, as is the case of other cultures. One moment it did not exist; then suddenly, indeed almost overnight the writing appeared fully developed.”4 This enigma is attributable to the fact that historians want to synchronize Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilization or want to put Mesopotamia before Egypt. Therefore, Egyptian civilization had to start around 3,200 BC, which gives no time to explain the development of writing. The other problem is that most Egyptologists have refused to look South to Ethiopia (Cush) as the origin of Egyptian writing, the place where Ancient Greeks and Egyptians say their civilization started. Interestingly Cheikh Anta Diop tells us that the plant and animal hieroglyphs are found in Cush more than Egypt.

Africa’s gift of writing to the Western World5 is enough to earn the gratitude of the world. The brilliance of the Greeks could not have been passed on to us without the writing system that they inherited from the Phoenicians. Undoubtedly the invention and/or adaption of writing systems facilitated the development of science and every other aspect of civilization.

In other posts, I will talk about Africa’s other gifts to the world through Egypt. I will also talk about the enormous contributions of West Africa and other parts of Sub-Sahara Africa.

1. Proto-Sinaitic script, Wikipedia. Accessed at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proto-Sinaitic_script

2. “The Latin alphabet evolved from the visually similar Etruscan alphabet, which evolved from the Cumaean Greek version of the Greek alphabet, which was itself descended from the Phoenician alphabet, which in turn derived from Egyptian hieroglyphics.” (Latin alphabet, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_alphabet)

3. AMANDA BORSCHEL-DAN (May 22, 2018). First written record of Semitic alphabet, from 15th century BCE, found in Egypt. THE TIMES OF ISRAEL. Accessed at https://www.time First written record of Semitic alphabet, from 15th century BCE, found in Egypt sofisrael.com/first-written-record-of-semitic-alphabet-from-15th-century-bce-found-in-egypt/#:~:text=Newly%20deciphered%20Egyptian%20symbols%20on,University%20of%20British%20Columbia%20Egyptologist.

4. Scott, Joseph and Lenore Scott (1968). Egyptian Hieroglyphs for Everyone. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.

5. I have not attempted to make a connection between Egyptian writing and Chinese writing. However, we know that Egyptian hieroglyphic writing was developed hundreds of years, perhaps as much as a thousand, before the writing system of the Chinese was developed, whether in China or adjoining countries.

Source: https://www.britannica.com/place/Sinai-Peninsula