The Black Cowboys: the African Origins of the Western Cowboy

FROM AFRICA TO THE AMERICAN WEST MAY 2005: BY ALLAN L. LEE

THE BLACK COWBOY AND AFRICAN CULTURE

In the opening scenes of “Gone With The Wind,” Black slaves are depicted herding cattle on the Tara Plantation, this depiction represents what some believe is the origins of the Black cowboy. There is an earlier origin for the Black cowboy in Africa, and the book, “Nomads of Niger” by American photographer Carol Beckwith and Belgian Anthropologist Marion Van Offelen captures this view quite well. This book presents the history of the Fulani people of Africa by taking the reader back to approximately 5000 years old rock cave paintings in the Algerian Sahara. Van Offelen believes the paintings depict people herding cattle in a way similar to the way the Fulani nomads herd their cattle today, a link that would span from African antiquity through the Euro-African slave trade era to modern times. “Nomads of Niger” also presents the contemporary beauty of the Fulani people in an excellent photo essay and I find the cover photo of a Fulani cowboy herding cattle on a camel most interesting.

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