In the time of the Old Testament African rooted nations were undoubtedly among the most influential and revered in the entire world, and although biblical Africans are responsible for many of the earliest and greatest civilizations, their influence by no means end there. The story of the empires of Africa south of the Sahara extends almost 3,000 years, beginning with the establishment of the empire of Kush. Other empires later developed in Ethiopia and West Africa.
Africa, Africans and Ancient Eminence:
The idea that Africans have contributed little to world civilization is one which many in the West have for a long time assumed and taken for granted. Thanks in part to depictions of Africa which rarely extend past civil wars, famine and the primitive; information about Africa’s past advances and accomplishments have continued to remain obscure and little known. Since first contact between Europe and Africa the history of Africa has been fundamentally dominated by the way Europeans have portrayed themselves in relationship to that continent. So that most of what we read and see about Africa tends to say -- either directly or indirectly -- more about the history of European colonialism and its biases toward Africa than it does about the real Africa and its people (see Ahmad, 1987).
The majority of people today of all backgrounds, including those of African ancestry, tend to know little about Africa and its history outside of the transatlantic slave trade and perhaps colonialism. While even in these instances knowledge about these events can be at times, limited. The African continent is too often conceived of as one with no legitimate history before contact with Europeans. Formal anthropological research is now showing that this notion could not be further from the truth.
In the bible Ham's sons are believed to have fathered the peoples of Africa. Of Ham's four sons, Canaan, fathered the Canaanites, while Mizraim fathered the Egyptians, Cush the Cushites and Phut the "Libyans". Nimrod, the Grandson of Ham and son Cush, is written to have been the father the Mesopotamian/Babylonian Empire: “And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. He was a mighty hunter before Jehovah. And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. Out of that land he went forth into Assyria, and builded Nineveh, and Rehoboth-ir and Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah (Gen 10:7-12).” Nimrod is also mentioned in the Table of Nations (Genesis 10), in the First Book of Chronicles, and in the Book of Micah.
In the time of the Old Testament African rooted nations were undoubtedly considered to be among the most influential and revered in the entire world, and although biblical Africans are credited with having established many of the earliest and greatest civilizations, their influence by no means end there. The story of the empires of Africa south of the Sahara extends millennia, beginning with the establishment of the empire of Kush. Other empires later developed in Ethiopia and West Africa, and each of the major regions of the continent is known to have had several examples of advanced kingdoms (Stock, 1998 p 104). Ancient Ghana and Mali in West Africa; Nubia and Axum in East and Great Zimbabwe in Southern Africa are just a few such examples.
Biological Anthropological and Molecular Genetic research have also discovered many things about Africa and African people that were once unknown or that may have been arbitrarily and/or whimsically dismissed by anti-Africanist Europeans.
The Wealth of Old African Nations:
When Leo Africanus visited Timbuktu (a city in Mali), he described it as one of the richest cities he had seen in his travels. Timbuktu was a major economic center for about three centuries, from the 13th up to the middle of the 16th century. The wealth, the power and the richness of Timbuktu were also mentioned by Cadamosto and Ibn Battuta (world renowned Arab traveler) in their travels. It was remarked that there was more money to be made selling books in Timbuktu, than any other commodity (Adams and McShane, 1997). For example, Leo Africanus wrote of Timbuktu: “Here are great stores of doctors, judges, priests, and other learned men, that are bountyfully maintained at the kings cost and charges. And hither are brought divers manuscripts or written bookes out of Barbarie, which are sold for more money than any other merchandize” (see Pelizzo, 2001).The wealth generated in Timbuktu created the conditions for the existence and development of a bourgeois culture and a cosmopolitan population (Pelizzo, 2001). Mansa Musa (Mali/Timbuktu ruler) developed Timbuktu to an extent that it became an important cultural center which attracted a very large number of scholars and men of religion from all over the world.
Mansa Musa revealed the world to Mali's greatness in 1324 on his pilgrimage to Mecca when he distributed so much gold that it deflated its price in Cairo for the next 12 years (Gale, 2005-2006). The reputation which Musa established in Egypt soon spread to Europe, where as early as 1339 Mali appeared on a world map along with Musa's name. Several Arab scholars were so impressed by this ruler that they followed him back to Mali to investigate his civilization, further. The kingdom of Mali is said to have stunned both the Muslim and the Christian worlds with its wealth, power, and influence (Palumbo, 1991).
Axum, another eminent African civilization, is located in the northern Ethiopian highlands, and emerged in the 1st century A.D. through its control of the ivory trade from Africa to Arabia (Stock, 1998). Axum lay between the growing commercial trade routes between Africa, Arabia, and India. As a result, it became extremely wealthy. Axum was also named by the Persian religious figure, Mani, as one of the four great powers of his time along with Persia, Rome, and China (Adler and Pouwels, 2005; Munro-Hay, 1991). By the late 3rd century it had begun minting its own currency, and at its height, Axum (also spelled Aksum) controlled northern Ethiopia, Eritrea, northern Sudan, southern Egypt, Djibouti, Yemen, and southern Saudi Arabia (Burstein, 1998; Munro-Hay, 1991).
The Kushitic civilization flourished following the rise to ascendancy of Meroe as the capital city, starting in the 6th century B.C. The sophistication of the Kush was reflected in its impressive stone architecture, irrigation systems, a large iron industry, and its own writing system (Stock, 1998; Adler and Pouwels, 2005).
Math and Science: Indigenous Black Africa in Advance of Europe:
Africans pioneered basic arithmetic 25,000 years ago. The “Ishango bone” is a tool handle with notches carved into it found in the Ishango region of Zaïre (now called Congo) near Lake Edward. On the tool are 3 rows of notches representing different series of numerical patters (Bogoshi et al, 1987). This Ishango pattern may have influenced the later development of mathematics in Egypt (which in turn would influence mathematics internationally) as like some entries on the Ishango bone, Egyptian arithmetic also made use of multiplication by 2 (Marshack, 1972).
Much more sophisticated math has also been discovered in Sub-Saharan Africa. Fractals are characterized by the repetition of similar patterns at ever-diminishing scales. Fractal geometry is said to be one of the most exciting frontiers in the fusion between mathematics and information technology, and has become an important new tool for modeling in biology, geology, and other natural sciences (Eglash, 1999). Africans have devised explicit rules for generating fractal patterns which employ abstract theory and the use of “pure mathematics” (Eglash, 1999). Many of these methods are said to predate fractal mathematics in Europe.
Anthropologists have observed that patterns produced in different cultures can be characterized by specific design themes. In Europe, for example, cities are often laid out in a grid pattern of straight streets and right-angle corners. While a grid system, “the Cartesian coordinate system” has long been a foundation for the mathematics used in these (European based) societies. In Africa, however, examples of fractal architecture and town/village layouts can be found in every corner of the African continent (Vignes-Adler, 1991; Eglash, 1999) and West Africa in particular. Incidentally, the “World Wide Web” is also known to possess a fractal structure (Barabasi, 2002); further highlighting the sophistication of these structures.
Though, fractal geometry is not the only mathematics used in Africa, its repeated presence among such a wide variety of shapes is said to be quite striking. There is also evidence showing that “geomancy” in Europe originated from a sub-Saharan African source. Geomancy would eventually be used to create the digital computer (Eglash, 1999).
Thousands of books and manuscripts uncovered in what is now Mali, particularly around Timbuktu, are also currently being studied. These manuscripts are a living testimony of the highly advanced civilization which existed in Sub-Saharan Africa. Black African scholars in Timbuktu independently developed sophisticated math, astronomy, and other sciences even as Europe was still crawling out of the middle Ages. While only a fraction of the writings at Timbuktu have survived the rigors of time, remaining hidden for generations in trunks or buried within the thick mud walls of mosques (Abraham, 2007) -- some dating back as far as 600 years -- those that have been uncovered include beautifully drawn diagrams representing the orbits of planets and stars. These diagrams also demonstrate the use of complex mathematical calculations. Moreover, these ancient manuscripts are said to be found not only in Timbuktu but also in many other cities in Mali, neighboring countries of West Africa, all the way to the east in Sudan and as far south as Tanzania (Abraham, 2007).
An ancient astrological observatory made of large stones has also been discovered in Namoratunga, a site in northwestern Kenya. This site has an alignment of 19 basalt pillars that are non-randomly positioned in the direction of particular stars and constellations. With these findings it can be demonstrated that Africans were using a prehistoric calendar based on detailed astronomical knowledge (Lynch and Robbins, 1978). So that Africans were using their own calendar system even before much of Europe.
Ancient Egyptians and Greeks: Biological Science and Black African Connections
Molecular genetic researchers have demonstrated that the ancient Greeks may have possessed high levels of mixture with “Sub-Saharan” black Africans (Ethiopian, West African) people (Arnaiz-Villena et al, 2001, 2002; Arnaiz-Villena et al 2002a; Hajjej et al., 2006) - So that the fathers of European civilization may have actually had their roots in sub-Saharan Africa (ibid). HLA allele distribution was studied in Mediterranean and sub-Saharan populations and their relatedness tested by genetic distance, neighbor-joining dendrograms and correspondence analyses (Arnaiz-Villena et al, 2001a; Hajjej et al., 2006). Populations were grouped into three branches with high bootstrap values. The first branch grouped both eastern (Macedonians, Cretans, Jews, Lebanese) and western Mediterraneans (Europeans, North Africans and Sardinians), while the second branch was formed by black African “Negroid” populations. The third branch, however, was comprised of Greek and sub-Saharan African populations; this suggesting close genetic relatedness (Arnaiz-Villena et al, 2001)!
In order to study the possible origin of the Greeks, who are said to be outliers among Mediterraneans (Gomez-Casado et al, 2000; Arnaiz-Villena et al, 2001), specific (DRB1) alleles present in Greeks and not present in the other Mediterranean populations were used. This data came from the 11th and 12th International “Histocompatibility Workshops” reference panels and other previously described data. It was then shown using these data and various molecular techniques that Ancient Greek alleles clustered predominantly with sub-Saharan African populations from Ethiopia (Amhara, Oromo), Sudan (Nuba) and West Africa (Rimaibe, Fulani, Mossi). These findings were further supported by Chr 7 Markers (Arnaiz-Villena et al, 2002). Independent study by another team of geneticists later replicated these finding, further establishing the relatedness of Greeks to Sub-Saharan Africans (Hajjej et al., 2006). This team of geneticists argued that the gene flow from Black Africa to Greece may have occurred in Pharaonic times or when Saharan people emigrated after the present hyper arid conditions were established. That is, after the drying of the Sahara (about 3000-5000 years B.C.).
Anthropologists now also believe that it was not until after the hyper arid conditions were established that the original Egyptians (The Bardarians) migrated to the Nile valley to establish what would later become the Egyptian civilization. Archaeological evidence suggests, for example, that the ancient Egyptian Nile Valley was peopled in large part by immigrants from the Sahara and sub-Sahara (Hassan, 1988). Strouhal (1971) analyzed hair in a study of 117 Badarian crania, in which he concluded that more than 80% were Negroid; most of these were interpreted as being hybrids. Keita (1990) also argues using cranial facial analysis that the Badarian were a predominantly black African people. Robin’s (1983) study also described the Ancient Egyptians as possessing “a predominantly ‘Negroid’ body plan.”
Physical anthropological analysis of Egyptian limb proportions by Zakrzewski (2003) further suggests that the ancient Egyptians were likely a black African people. Comparing the intermembral, brachial, and crural indices and other measurements from her samples with value samples obtained from the literature, Zakrzwski (2003) argued that the ancient Egyptians displayed what she termed a “super-Negroid” body plan.
Neolithic Europeans show Cranial-Facial Characteristics Unique to Black Africans:
Cranial-Facial analysis shows the Neolithic peoples of Europe and their Bronze Age successors may not be closely related to modern Europeans. The Epipalaeolithic Natufian of Israel from whom the Neolithic realm of Europeans is assumed to have arisen has recently been shown to have clear links to Sub-Saharan African populations (Brace et al, 2006). Epipalaeolithic Natufians are credited with having introduced Europe to “Agriculture.”
In a study which included a battery of 24 craniofacial measurements, the similarities and differences of living human populations were compared with their prehistoric predecessors. In doing this it was discovered that the Natufian sample (although very small) tended to fall between the Niger-Congo group (who clustered almost exclusively among themselves) and the other samples used. This placement suggested a Sub-Saharan African element in the make-up of the Natufians! The study’s team of distinguished physical anthropologists concluded: “If the Late Pleistocene Natufian sample from Israel is the source from which that Neolithic spread was derived, then there was clearly a Sub-Saharan African element present of almost equal importance as the Late Prehistoric Eurasian element (see Brace et al 2006).” In other words, black Africans likely played a major role in transforming European societies from hunter-gather ones to agricultural ones.
European Technology and the Moor:
A number of innovations that many today recognize or take for granted as being uniquely European, such as firearms and old European trade ships which were once used for commerce, can trace their history back to technologies and influences acquired through Islamic contacts in the Iberian Peninsula. In the year 711 AD, Islamic invaders conquered that part of Europe known today as Spain and ruled over the region for close to 800 years (711 to 1492). Europe as a result would see a number of improvements in various areas of life and interests, ranging from the medical sciences and military; to paved roads, compasses, street lamps and even the (phonetic) alphabet (Adler and Pouwels, 2005). Indeed, soap was also introduced to Europe at this time, although it would take several centuries before the surfactant would actually catch on (Mihm, 1999; Stuller, 1991). Before this time Europeans did not use soap, or did not wash at all! The Moors -- who believed that Europeans were inherently inferior, and that they were closer to animals -- also introduced Europe to Universities (or higher learning) and even the concept of “zero” (Adler and Pouwels, 2005).
Scholars describe the Moor as originating in the Senegal River valley in Southern Mauritania as Almoravides, and gathering followers from many ethic groups before overwhelming the Iberian Peninsula. The Almoravides were a group of devout Muslims also responsible for the destabilization and eventual demise of the Kingdom of ancient Ghana. Most Moorish people today reside between northern Mauritania and southern Morocco and tend to be of mixed heritage. Many look ethnically similar to American president Barack Obama.
The question about the racial origins of the Moor is one easily avoided by adopting an American definition of race - Particularly as it relates to black people. By this definition anybody with any black family heritage could be thought of as “black”, and thus, so could the Moor. That said there is also much literature that indicates that the Moor of old were, in fact, very much black in appearance (Wolf, 1990; Smith 1988; Constable, 1997). In Shakespeare’s play “Othello”, Moors are described as being “pitch black” with thick lips and wooly hair. While a passage from the thirteenth century “Primera cronica general” describes the events of 711, what is understood to be the fall of Spain in that year: “…their faces were black as pitch, the handsomest among them was black as a cooking pot, and their eyes blazed like fire; their horses swift as leopards, their horsemen more cruel and hurtful than the wolf that comes at night to the flock of sheep - The vile African people (Smith 1988 p. 19). The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word, Moor: "…commonly supposed to be mostly black or very swarthy, and hence the word is often used for Negro."
Until Recently Europeans Bathed only Once a Year:
Through great periods of European and much of U.S. history cleanliness was considered inconvenient, religiously restricted, or even out of fashion. Research shows that Europeans and European Americans lived in wretched filth for much of their history, and many died young from associated diseases. Living unwashed was a normal part of the daily lives of European saints, the masses, and even monarchs. Ashenburg (2007) gives a detailed look at the hygienic practices of Medieval and Renaissance Europeans. She describes European nobles of the 16th century who considered face washing so unusual that they documented it in letters.
Soap, which was a common household item in the Islamic world, took centuries to catch on in Europe, as frequent bathing was considered unhealthy (Mihm, 1999; Stuller, 1991). As late as the 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I was considered unusual for her ''frequent'' -- that is, monthly -- baths. While King James I is said to have only washed his fingers! One head of a convent in the fourth century is reported to have warned her nuns that “a clean body and a clean dress meant an unclean soul” (Ashenburg, 2007). There are also records that "St. Agnes was never washed throughout her lifetime....and a fourth century pilgrim boasted that she had not washed her face for eighteen years so as not to disturb the holy water used at her baptism" (McLaughlin, 1971 p. 11).
Indeed, during the Spanish Inquisition, Spanish confessors would often not absolve those who washed regularly. They believed they were on the right track if an accused person was known to bathe (Ashenburg, 2007). It was not until the late 1900s that frequent bathing became widely practiced by Europeans. Europeans in the middle Ages up until that time believed that bathing was an indulgence, an invitation to illness, or even a sin (Ashenburg, 2007; McLaughlin, 1971; Mihm, 1999; Karlen, 1995; Stuller, 1991)!
Modern Perceptions and Old World Views:
It is in failing to inform the naïve about the rich history and cultural achievements of world peoples, not just in Africa but also the Americas, that we have come to conceive of indigenous and world people as perhaps lacking in cultural sophistication. Native Americans used to warn that one could get sick from rubbing shoulders with Europeans, and refused to accommodate them because it was said that they were dirty and ridden with disease. Yet we in the west are often taught about history in a way that might persuade us to think the opposite was true.
At the time of Columbus’s arrival in the America’s the Aztec were using math, astronomy and agriculture that were superior to that used by Europeans (Adler and Pouwels, 2005). Similar truths can be said of Africa. It is then unfortunate that so many examples of “Eurocentric” thinking can still be seen in today’s academic curriculums and popular media.
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