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?

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 Kamara was right? Africa use to be great.

Alvin Kamara and Making Africa Great Again

Some readers may recall Saints Running Back Alvin Kamara (#41) wearing a headband saying “Make Africa Great Again”, during the 2018-2019 football season. Indeed by 1200 AD (by the Middle Ages), before the time of European incursions into the Continent via the Atlantic, many societies of Sub-Sahara Africa had achieved greatness. The reports of Islamic Arab travelers and the first Europeans explorers to West Africa attest to the greatness of West Africa. They found the area teaming with people, before the Islamic and European incursions. They had to have had large populations in order to supply the millions and millions of people who were brought to the New World and taken across the Sahara.

They were agriculturists, farmers, for the most part. They were able to sustain the large populations because they produced lots of food, enough food to sustain the dense populations and still have some left over. The Europeans went there to trade in goods, and they did that, but eventually the trade turned into trading in people more than in goods.

The West Africans were prolific traders with trade routes crisscrossing the region. This trade was with North Africa, Egypt, the Sudan, East Africa, within the Western Sudan, and other parts of the Continent. It was one of the keys to their to their being able to accumulate wealth of the magnitude of that achieved by the Kingdom of Mali in the 1300’s that allowed kankan Mansa Musa to make a lavish pilgrimage to Mecca, spreading so gold along the way that economies of the Middle East were disrupted with an inflation that lasted for years. This was about a decade after the former Emperor, his brother Abubakari the Second, had outfitted two massive fleets of ships to explore lands, which they believed existed, to the west across the Atlantic. Abubakari himself headed up the second expedition across the seas. They di not return to Mali but there is ample evidence that they made it to the Americas and greatly impacted Medieval American culture, especially in Mexico.

These Africans knew how to do things. They excelled in different types of artisanry. For example, they knew how to produce the iron (almost all African people knew iron smelting by the beginning of the Christian era) which was used to produce the implements, such as hoes and shovels, needed to cultivate the many crops they produced. Many of these crops, such as rice, they had domesticated themselves.

The area where Kamara’s family comes from, Liberia, was part of what was called, by early Europeans, the Rice Coast or the Grain Coast, from Senegal to Liberia. Before America established Monrovia in Liberia, the Liberians had been producing rice for perhaps several thousand, but certainly many hundreds of, years, using very sophisticated systems of irrigation and flood control. Along this Rice Coast, the people produced enough rice and grains to supply the slave ships with provisions for their return voyages, with their shameful cargoes! Historians Judith A. Carney (Black Rice) and Peter Wood (Black Majority) convincingly established the fact that Africans brought rice, which they had domesticated, with them and showed the white South Carolinians, and others, how to grow it, how to harvest it, and how to cook it. (Carney and Wood are not black nor afro-centric scholars, for those who might think that the authors are black folk tooting the horns of black folk). The slaves taught the masters.

Isn’t it ironic that there are projects established to teach Africans how to feed themselves? And yet 500 years ago, Africans not only fed themselves, but a great deal of the rest of the world too. I wonder if Alvin Kamara’s reflecting on his greatness led him to wonder why Africa could not be great again. There is no question about the greatness of Kamara as an athlete. And it is not just brawn that makes him great; he has to have brains also to do what he does. To me, he is poetry in motion on the football field! Africa can be great again. However, that has to be the subject of a much longer treatise than this blog post.

The featured image at the top of this post is attributable to Canal Street Chronicles and was accessed at https://www.google.com/search?q=alvin%20kamara&tbm=isch&rlz=1C1CHBF_enUS894US894&hl=en-US&sa=X&ved=0CAEQv7IFahcKEwjAxLyp1Lr6AhUAAAAAHQAAAAAQBw&biw=1888&bih=830&dpr=1#imgrc=C6jQ3IZLyNqU5M

... three extraordinary African plants: yam bean, icacina, and tamarind

In my last blog on West African domesticated plants, I promised to tell you something about the plants on the list that you probably know nothing about. Instead of describing them all in one post, I will spread them out over several weeks. Sometimes I will also talk about some of the plants you may have heard of but may not know much about them. As you will see, some of these plants have extraordinary and wonderful characteristics and properties.

Below I describe three plants of African origin, with pictures of the plants. The featured image above is a Tamarind Tree taken from Lost Crops of Africa, V. III.

Yam bean

  •  “There are two yam beans: one with its origin in the Americas and the other in West Africa… the African yambean is closely related to the American version and also is grown for its fleshy swollen roots” 1
  • The African yam bean plant produces edible seeds and leaves in addition to elongated edible tubers which look more like sweet potatoes than yams.
  •  “In nutritional terms, they are a class above the mainline root crops, containing more than twice the protein of sweet potatoes, yams, or potatoes and more than ten times that of cassava. Moreover, the protein is of exceptional nutritional quality… Eating African yambean together with those major foods helps provide the body a “complete protein.” The combination, in other words, closely matches the chemical requirement for constructing the thousands of separate proteins human bodies need to make constantly.”2 .
  • Uses: “… the yambeans’ swollen underground stems are succulent, white, sweet, mildly flavored, and crisp as a fresh-picked apple. They can be eaten out of hand. They can be used to add crunch to green salads and fruit salads. They can be steamed or boiled, and have the unusual property of retaining their crispness even under conditions that convert potato to mash. In cooked form they taste like potato, but whereas it averages 5 percent protein, African yambean tubers have from 11 to 19 percent protein (on a dry-weight basis).” (p. 326) (2)
  • “The invisible bacterial microbes inhabiting its roots relieve the farmer of the necessity to supply additional nitrogenous fertilizer. This is, in other words, a food source that supports itself while helping both the soils under it and the species that succeed it.

Icacina

  • Like the yam bean, the icacina plant, a small drought-resistant shrub, yields 3 different types of food: fruits, seeds, tuberous roots what are consumed as snack, staple, and famine food. Though cultivated, the icacina plant is not fully domesticated; the bushes also grow in the bush.
  • Uses: fruit is eaten, seeds pounded into flour, and tubers used as flour which can make porridge. The giant tuber is such a great source of emergency moisture and food energy to the plant that it can survive at least four years without rain. (Lost Crops, V. III, p. 282). It can be used to treat constipation, food poisoning, hypertension, asthma, malaria, rheumatism, and toothache. It can also be used as an aphrodisiac and to induce emesis (vomiting) and abortion.3  
  • Found in Senegal, Guinea, Northern Ghana, Benin, Gambia, Central African Republic, Nigeria, Chad, Congo, & parts of Sudan.

Tamarind

Tamarind Tree Pods
  • Tamarind is a massive, slow-growing, long-lived shade tree that produces a sweet-sour fruit which has multiple uses (See featured image above). The tree can grow up to 25 meters [82 feet] high. It has been called the tree of life because its sugar-rich fruits can be stored without refrigeration and safely served weeks or months later.
  • Uses: an ingredient of Worcestershire sauce, eaten as a fruit, and used to sweeten and season foods such as 1. Cereals, 2. Soups, sauces, curry, chutneys, and fish, 3. Confections, preserves, ice cream, and syrups, and 4. Drinks of many different kinds including carbonated drinks which rival coke in popularity. Parts of the tree is used as (1) fodder for animals, (2) fuel, and wood. It is also used as an ornamental tree because of its graceful foliage.  (Lost Crops of Africa, V. III, pp. 149-153)
  • Long thought to have originated in India, but is actually of West African origin. Spread from western Sudan to Egypt and India and other parts of Asia.

References

1. Yambean.” National Research Council. 2006. Lost Crops of Africa: Volume II: Vegetables. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11763.

2.  ICACINA.” National Research Council. 2008. Lost Crops of Africa: Volume III: Fruits. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11879.

3. Che CT, Zhao M, Guo B, Onakpa MM. Icacina trichantha, A Tropical Medicinal Plant. Nat Prod Commun. 2016 Jul; 11(7):1039-1042. PMID: 30452189; PMCID: PMC6552679.

4.Pttps://www.google.com/search?q=icacina&rlz=1C1CHBF_enUS894US894&hl=en&sxsrf=ALiCzsb7a4QhwH2FKYEjeJkmU9wimQExjw:1661226924771&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjlx_fFiNz5AhW0kmoFHVwLAawQ_AUoAXoECAIQAw&biw=1920&bih=912&dpr=1#imgrc=FygbMrJQ2MNniM

that depends on who you ask

Since real GDP (Gross Domestic Product) fell for the first two quarters of 2022, many in the media, the financial press, and politicians have concluded that the U. S. is in recession, stirring up a lot of debate and even controversy. This conclusion is based on the Rule of Thumb that two consecutive quarterly drops in real GDP constitutes a recession. This is called the 2 Quarter (2Q) rule. Please note that a rule of thumb is not a scientific law. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines rule of thumb as “a general principle regarded as roughly correct but not intended to be scientifically accurate.”

In 2011, I and a colleague (Dr. Marjorie Fox) published a paper in the International Journal of Business and Economics Perspectives entitled, “Is it a recession yet? The answer depends on who you ask”.

One of the main conclusions we came to was that “… the 2Q rule provides neither necessary nor sufficient conditions for pinpointing the start of a recession.”1 In other words, sometimes falling real GDP for two consecutive quarters does not indicate the beginning of a recession while sometimes a recession may begin without the GDP falling two quarters in a row. In the second and third quarters of 1947 real GDP fell by .6% and .3% respectively. Yet according to hindsight conclusions, no recession occurred.  On the other hand, after GDP peaked in March of 2001, real GDP did not fall the next two quarters but the economy was deemed to have fallen into recession by the second quarter. Who determines when a recession begins and ends? Surprisingly it is not the government.

The Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), a private research organization, is the entity that determines when a recession officially begins and ends. The Department of Commerce and other government entities accept their announcements as official. How does the NBER define a recession?

The NBER’s Business Cycle Dating Committee defines a recession as “a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP, real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales. A recession begins just after the economy reaches a peak of activity and ends as the economy reaches its trough. Between trough and peak, the economy is in an expansion. Expansion is the normal state of the economy; most recessions are brief and they have been rare in recent decades.”2 [Writer’s italics]. In short, the Business Cycle Dating Committee takes into account not just changes in real GDP but also changes in real income, employment, industrial production and wholesale-retail sales. If all of the aforementioned macroeconomic variables are falling over the two quarter decline in real GDP, the Committee would most likely deem the 2-quarter decline in real GDP to indicate a recession, as long as the overall decline is significant.

The preliminary estimates show that real GDP declined 1.6% and .9% in the first and second quarters of this year. These are not big numbers. Are they large enough to label the declines significant? We don’t know yet. When the estimates are revised, the final changes could go up or down. In terms of the featured graphic at the top of this post, are we in the pink recessionary phase of the Business Cycle or are we still hovering around the peak? Meanwhile employment is expanding. Is it a recession yet? My judgment is we don’t know but probably not.

Watch the Fed (the Federal Reserve). They are a good barometer. If the Fed thinks the economy is headed for recession or is in recession, they will be less aggressive in pushing up interest rates.

  1. Fox, Marjorie and Frank Martin (2011). International Journal of Business and Economics Perspectives Volume 6, Number 1, Winter 2011      
  2. Retrieved from Business Cycle Dating Committee Announcement January 7, 2008 | NBER on July 30, 2020

that Africa is an early center of plant domestication?

When I posted a piece on the black-eyed pea more than a year ago, around New Years, I promised my readers that I would do additional posts on Sub-Saharan Africa plant domestication. With a long delay, I am now fulfilling that promise. I felt a real urgency to get this post out, even though this is not the final product I envisioned. But I decided to not let the pursuit of perfection triumph over the good that could come from getting this post out.

The featured image at the top of this post is a scene from Africa showing the transporting of the African yam, one of Africa’s early domesticated crops that is consumed throughout Sub-Sahara Africa. The yam is an important staple in the diets of Africans and Latin-Americans, a crop which is said to have been independently domesticated in both Sub-Sahara Africa and the Americas.

All the fruits and vegetables that we know and eat today came from wild varieties of these plants that were nurtured by humans to make them more productive and more amendable to human use and consumption. Plant domestication and human civilization are thought to go hand-in-hand. Agriculture gives rise to more stable and abundant sources of food than hunting and foraging, which in turn makes for larger and denser populations. When Europeans made contact with Africa via the Atlantic Ocean in the 1400’s (more than 600 years ago, before the Atlantic slave trade had started), they invariably took note of the dense populations they encountered. This could not have happened without an abundant food supply. Indeed, that coast of West Africa from Senegambia down to about Liberia was known as the Grain (or Rice) Coast because of the abundance of rice, millet, sorghum and cereal crops grown along that coastal area and inland.

Over the past several years as I searched the Internet looking for centers of plant domestication, I barely found any references that identified any areas in Africa as centers of early plant domestication; sometimes Ethiopia came up; I presume that the writers did not consider Ethiopia to be part of Black Africa. There were a few college course syllabi which acknowledged some centers of plant domestication in Sub-Sahara Africa. If you search diligently and long enough, you will find scholarly articles which acknowledge and provide scientifically based confirmation of Sub-Saharan African plant domestication.

One of the first things I found right away when I began my search was an article(The origins of agriculture and crop domestication) which showed the world centers of agricultural domestication. As you can see below in the table taken from the article, the first column lists the basic areas of origin and the second column subareas. Note that for Africa, the second column is blank. In other words, according to these authors, Africa domesticated no plants. This is not true and at the time of the publication of this article (1997), most, if not all, of the information I will share was known. Elsewhere in the article, the authors list Abyssinian (Ethiopian) as one of the eight primary centers of domestication recognized by Vavilov, Russian botanist who did pioneering work in this area. Clearly the authors of this articles did not consider Abyssinia (Ethiopia) as part of Africa.

In this post, I will introduce you to more than fifty (50) plants that originated in Africa. More than forty (40) of them were domesticated by Africans. When most writers use the term Africa, they are actually referring to Sub-Sahara Africa, that part of Africa that is south of the Sahara, essentially Black Africa.

The West /Central African: domesticated plants are (a) African rice, cotton (Gossypium herbaceum), sorghum, pearl millet, Guinea millet, fonio, eggplant (Guinea squash), cow pea (black-eyed pea), long bean, sesame seed, icacina, bambara bean (earth pea or Bambara groundnut), geocarpa bean (groundnut), yam bean, Guinea yam, rizga, celosia, fluted pumpkin, bottle gourd (calabash), watermelon, cantaloupe, muskmelon, egusi, tamarind, yams, butterfruit, akee apple, red sorrel, tree grape (linnea oleosa), coleus (Kaffir potato), and amaranth. Undomesticated: (b) shea butter tree, balantes (desert date), oil palm tree, kola nut, locust bean, Tree grape (linnea acida), dika and chocolate berries..

Abyssinian (Ethiopian)/East African domesticated plants: (a) Okra, enset, tef, finger millet, Ethiopian oats, and moringa tree.

Southern Africa domesticated plants: (a) horned melon and marula. Undomesticated: (b) marama, kei apple, Carissa, and tree grape (linnea discolor).

Africa-wide crops: (a) lablab (b) baobab tree

As you peruse the above lists, you will notice that the major area of crop domestication in Africa is West/Central Africa (with the vast majority in West Africa) to which is attributed the vast majority of the crops listed. The center of early crop domestication in West Africa was in present day Mali where the Niger makes a bend after emanating from the highlands of Guinea. The annual inundation of the river formed an inland delta (an alluvia plane) which created ideal conditions for growing certain crops, similar to what happened in Ancient Egypt as the Nile meandered from the Ethiopians highlands and emptied into the Mediterranean.                   

Most of the non-domesticated plants (the (b) plants) in the group of fifty-one mostly grow wild, that is they are not planted by humans, generally, but some are cultivated or protected because of their wonderful qualities that make them good for human consumption and for medicine, animal forage, and other things that people need or find useful, plants such as the shea butter tree and the baobab tree. A few of the plants included in this list as African domesticates, sesame seed and eggplant, for example, will be disputed by some experts; however, I do point you to some of the sources I consulted. It is a tentative list that could grow or diminish with the accumulation of more knowledge or a more exhaustive search/investigation. However, I believe it is more likely to grow rather than diminish in size.

When the blank cell for Africa is filled in, Table 1 becomes Table 2 as shown below:

I am sure that some of the African crops listed above, are unknown to many of you, crops such as, yambean, icacina, rizga, celosia, fluted pumpkin, egusi, akee apple, amaranth, balantes, dika, enset, tef, horned melon, marula, marama, and carissa.  The names are exotic sounding but most of them have wonderful nutritional and/or medicinal properties. I will tell you something about these crops in my next blog post. But before I end this post, there are several observations I must make about African crops.

African Crops Exported to Asia and the Americas before Columbus

Several of Africa’s domesticated crops made their way to Asia during ancient times, namely, Kaffir potato (exported to India early on), pearl millet (exported to India in late third millennium B. C.), sorghum (exported to Ethiopia, India, China, and North Africa), cowpeablack-eyed pea (exported to India at a very early date), long bean (special form of the cowpea or black-eyed pea), watermelon (spread from Sudan to Egypt during the second millennium B. C. and also at a very early date to India), tamarind (spread from western Sudan to Egypt and India at an early date), Celosia Argentea (exported to India and Indonesia), lablab (exported to Asia). calabash – bottle gourd (spread from western Sudan to Egypt and India before the second millennium B.C.), amarantha (Africa to Asia), and the sesame seed (also known as benne or benne seed) (exported to Mesopotamia and India). For years the cowpea, long bean, calabash; amarantha, and lablab were thought to be Asian exports to Africa when in fact it was the other way around; these plants were domesticated in Africa and transplanted from Africa to Asia. Two important sources for the aforementioned assertions are Murdock, Africa: Its peoples and its culture and Lost Crops of Africa, Vols. I and II.

Interesting observations about the black-eyed pea (also called a cowpea or long bean)

 “In Asia there is a special vegetable, renown by growers for its productivity, by chefs for its appearance, and by diners for its flavor and tender-crisp texture. Reportedly, it is one of Southeast Asia’s top ten vegetables, grown especially in southern China and Taiwan. That report, however, does it less than justice. In addition, it is the most widely grown legume of the Philippines, where it is known as “poor-man’s meat.” It also is very well known in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Bangladesh, India, and more. … In Europe … it is being grown extensively. And the United States has also begun producing it on a large scale for Chinese, Thai, Filipino, Vietnamese, and Indian restaurants.”(Lost Crops of Africa, Vol. II).

“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). But now we know that it is nothing more than a very special form of cowpea, Vigna unguiculata—a plant that unquestionably arose out of tropical Africa thousands of years ago” (Lost Crops, Vol. II p. 223).

“On the basis of modern evidence, there is no doubt that the cultivated cowpea originated in central Africa from where it spread in early times through Egypt or Arabia to Asia and the Mediterranean. Fifty years ago the British botanist, Burkill, stated that the cowpea reached Sumeria about 2300 B.C. Perhaps that was the first leg of its journey away from Africa. In its new home across the seas, this wandering scion of cowpea took on the new guise of a long, long bean and began masquerading as an Asian food.” (Lost Crops, Vol. II, p. 232)

The way it has too often been presented, Africa is a debtor to the world when it comes to crop development and domestication. Though Africa has borrowed many crops from the rest of the world, she has in turn given much to the rest of the world when it comes to plant development and domestication.

References

  1. Anson Mills, What you need to know about benne. Accessed at https://www.ansonmills.com/grain_notes/19
  2. Carney, Judith A. (2001). Black rice: the African origins of rice cultivation in the Americas. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  3. Donnelly, Kristin, Benne: An heirloom hesame heed and hride of the American Low country. Accessed at  https://www.tastecooking.com/ingredient-spotlight-benne-seeds/
  4. Encyclopedia Britannica. Roselle. Accessed at https://www.britannica.com/plant/roselle-plant
  5. Encyclopedia Britannica. Sorghum. Accessed at https://www.britannica.com/plant/sorghum-grain
  6. Kay, Andrea U., et al (2019). Diversification, intensification and specialization: changing land use in Western Africa from 1800 BC to AD 1500, Journal of World Prehistory. Accessed at https://academic.oup.com/af/article/3/3/28/4638630
  7. Manning, Katie (2010).  A developmental history of West African agriculture. Accessed at     https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235410801_A_developmental_history_of_West_African_agriculture
  8. Morton, Julia (987). Akee. In Fruits of warm climates. p. 269–271.  Accessed at https://hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/akee.html#Origin%20and%20Distribution
  9. Murdock, Peter G. (1959). Africa: its people and their culture history. New York: McGraw Hill.
  10. National Resource Council (2006). Lost Crops of Africa, Vols. I and II. Washington, D. C.: The National Academies Press.
  11. Pinnisi, Elizabeth (2019). Plant studies show where Africa’s early farmers tamed some of the continent’s key crops. Accessed at https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/05/plant-studies-show-where-africas-early-farmers-tamed-some-continents-key-crops.
  12. Purdue University.  Lecture 5 – Purdue University Horticultural list of centers of crop domestication. Accessed at https://hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/Hort_306/text/lec05.pdf
  13. Wood, Peter H. (1974). Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

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 Rio, 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 Rio. Some of he 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. 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 persons 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-Ancient Persia) 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 explains 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 concluded 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 America 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 from Mexico


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