Online edition of Shunpiking

Africa at the time of the 'Discovery' of America

Some of the world's greatest civilizations flourished in Africa before the arrival of the Europeans in the 15th century, such as Ghana (700-1200 A.D.), Kanem-Bornus (800-1800 A.D.), Mali (1200-1500 A.D.) and Songhay (1350-1600 A.D

Olmec Head, Museo de Antropologia de Xalapa, Mexico, July 1990. Photo by M. Jimenez Roman. Africans traveled to the Western Hemisphere centuries before Columbus. Olmec heads such as this one date from about 800 B.C. and are believed to be representations of early African visitors

Contrary to all traditional European accounts of the "discovery" of America, which put the Vikings in first place followed by Columbus, overwhelming anthropological evidence places Africans in the Americas since the 9th century.

In 1975 the inscriptions on three stones found in Quebec, which had been lying in a museum for some 50 years, were finally deciphered by Professor Howard Fell.

These Boustrophedon inscriptions read: "Expedition that crossed in the service of Lord Hiram to conquer the territory;" "Record by Hata, who attained this limit on the river, moored his ship and engraved this rock;" "Hanno, son of Tamu, reached this mountain landmark."

According to Laval University Professor Thomas Lee, these people came from North Africa some 500 years B.C. He thinks this expedition reached the Sherbrooke area by sailing up the St. Francis River which empties into the St. Lawrence southwest of Trois Rivieres.

This is believed to be one of two expeditions by North Africans, the other one landing in Yucatan. Archealogical excavation in Mexico in the 1860s found evidence such as the "Cabeza Colosal." According to an inscription on a nearby stone associated with it, it was carved 1,783 years before the arrival of Columbus. Experts agree that it was the work of Africans or people under their direct influence.

The fact that traditional accounts ignore the African contribution to pre-Columbian America illustrates the eurocentric version of history taught in our schools and with which our culture is imbued. This outlook seeks to show that Europe was the pinnacle of civilization, discoveries and progress and, by virtue of the same, that European cultures and "races" were (and are) the most advanced. In fact, Africans knew the world was a sphere long before the Europeans. Towards the middle of the 12th century, a North African scientist, El Idrisi, wrote, "What results from the opinion of philosophers, learned men, and those skilled in observation of the heavenly bodies, is that the world is as round as a sphere, of which the waters are adherent and maintained upon its surface by natural equilibrium."

African historians such as Abulfeda who lived in the late 13th and early 14th centuries, had been teaching students that the world was round and that ships had circumnavigated it. The noted African scholar Al Omari, published a book in the 1340s, which recounted that people from the Mali Empire had crossed the Atlantic Ocean and reached America during the reign of the great Mansa Musa (c. 1312-1334) whose empire was the size of present-day Europe.

One of the centres of African civilization was Timbuktu, the intellectual and trading centre of the Songhay Empire (1350-1600 a.d.) Timbuktu was the centre of learning, culture and commerce. The famous University of Sankore was located there where discipline such as astronomy, mathematics, ethnography, medicine, philosophy, public speaking and music were studied. One of its most famous professors, Ahmed Baba, wrote more than 40 major books on subjects as diversified as astronomy, ethnography, biography and theology. His personal library contained some 1,600 volumes. One of the most important commercial activities carried out in Timbuktu was the sale of books. The university of Sankore's medical school was known for its advanced surgical operations, including the removal of cataracts.

*This article is reprinted from Youth Today, Vol. 2, No.2, February 1996. Sandra L. Smith, presently the National Leader of the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada, was Youth Today's project co-ordinator.

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