Wait, what? We all come from a BLACK woman?!
“Knowledge of self would change everything. If we knew we came from Kings and Queens, our attitude would be fundamentally different. Developing a sense of knowledge of self should be seen as a sacred mission. We cannot put enough emphasis on it.” – Dr. Runoko Rashidi
Knowledge of self. Three words with so much power. It has not been that many years since I have begun this journey of discovering my ancestry, and my #BlackGirlMagic. I guess it is my way of denouncing White Supremacy’s power and hold on my mind, body and spirit. I have found great liberation in developing new practices to connect with the Divine, and with my ancestors. One of those practices is learning the beauty in where I come from.
As a Bi-racial woman, I have honestly struggled. That tension between coming from ancestors who enslaved and oppressed Indigenous peoples, Africans and African Americans while at the same time, coming from ancestors who were oppressed by (White people) Europeans, is a real tension I hold constantly. And I do not believe I will ever “arrive”. It will be a tension I hold with me for my entire life. Loving my Blackness was not a familiar thing to me throughout my childhood and even into adulthood. As I’ve done more studying on racial identity development, I can name it and further my understanding of why that is (another blog post for another time!)
One thing I have come to realize throughout my racial identity development, is that my history didn’t begin with slavery. Dr. Runoko Rashidi says, “The worst crime you can commit is to teach a child that their history began with slavery.” I am 35 years old, and I am just now learning about the power and beauty of my ancestors on the African Continent. I am committed to learning and sharing the beauty and power of my African ancestry, because the truth is, we all need to hear it. We all need to internalize it. And for those of us from the African diaspora, we need to OWN it.
When I sat down to write this blog, I felt overwhelmed. How do I write about Africa’s great civilizations in a quick blog post? I just finished the six-hour PBS series by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., “Africa’s Great Civilizations” and I have only touched the surface. I decided to dedicate the entire month of January to highlight the beauty and power of Africa and will likely sprinkle more African magic throughout the rest of the year. So, to begin our journey into the beauty of Africa, I want to share three truths with you today:
Africa is the birthplace of art, music, Agriculture, a System of Laws, and much more.
We literally all come from Africa. Human history was born on the continent of Africa. Anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) started in Africa over 200,000 years ago. At this same time, Neanderthals were in Europe (not Homo sapiens). We all have common ancestry through Mitochondrial Eve…a BLACK female.
Some of us may remember learning about the first evidence of art being in France about 35,000 years ago. But, about 90,000-100,000 years ago, the first record of artistic expression was actually found in Blombos Cave in Southern Africa. That means, that over 90,000 years ago, our African ancestors were showing signs of cognitive behavior. They were communicating complex ideas and developing social identity. Long before anywhere else in the world!
Over 10,000 years ago, Agriculture began in Africa. Small civilizations were breeding livestock, and domesticating cattle. As farming developed, their population grew. Tiny kingdoms begin to develop throughout Africa. There is evidence of the world’s first writings in 3250 BC. At that time, writing was used to organize society and maintain power within a society. That means either simultaneously and independently, or maybe even earlier than Ancient Mesopotamia, writing was birthed in Africa. Within a few centuries from then, pyramids begin to be constructed. For over 4,000 years, they were the tallest buildings on Earth!
Africa’s rich natural resources (from Frankincense to Gold to Diamonds to Palm Oil to Rubber, and much more), made it the target of European desperation for power and control.
Engraved Ochre from Blombos Cave, South Africa © Chris Henshilwood
Africa has a rich history of Black QUEENS!
Africa birthed many Black queens, that held as much if not more power than men in many instances. One such warrior, was a one-eyed Black Nubian Queen named Amanirenas. She was one of many Kandakes, or Queen rulers of Meroe. She ruled in 40-10 BC. When Emperor Caesar Augustus of the Roman Empire defeated the Egyptians and made Egypt one of the provinces of the Roman Empire, he decided to expand further south into the Kingdom of Nubia.
Amanirenas led a surprise attack on the Roman army, which led to three years of battle. Amanirenas negotiated a peace treaty with Caesar Augustus, where he agreed to take his army out of Egypt, give the Nubians back their land, and cancel all taxes. The Nubian Kingdom survived for another 400 years, thanks to Amanirenas’ legacy!
PHOTO: Brandon Pilcher
Christianity took root on the African continent.
Contrary to the White Supremacist narrative, Christianity did not enter Africa in the 19th century from European colonialism. Original Christian doctrines were formulated in NE Africa, and main theologians came from Africa. Africa has a deep history in Christianity and Islam. Both religions were shaped by Africans both spiritually and politically.
In around the year 1513, Ethiopia was worried about the lack of protection of their Christian faith, having been surrounded by Islamic countries. The Ethiopian King at the time thought that the Portuguese were providing Christian kinship when they came to help protect Ethiopia from outside Islam powers. But Portugal had other intentions. They were “helping” Ethiopia with the expectation that Ethiopians give the Pope allegiance. They were Roman Catholic and wanted to convert Ethiopian Christians, believing that they were “doing Christianity wrong”. This part of history blows my mind. I don't remember learning of any other time where Christians (Portuguese) conquered other Christians (Ethiopians) because they were not “Christian enough”. This of course was all about money and power, and ignited a 5-year Civil War. Fasilidas, the Ethiopian King’s son eventually expelled the Jesuits from Ethiopia, and they were never colonized again. A powerful story of Africans fighting and keeping their independence!
So, before I close, I want to get real with you. As I have continued to learn about the richness, beauty, and power of Africa, I am not immune to the White Supremacist narrative: “If they were so rich and powerful, how were Africans so ruthlessly conquered and subjugated by Europeans?” I offer you a [paraphrased] response from Dr. Runoko Rashidi from The Rock Newman Show.
“Thousands of years of civilization in Africa got old. You cease to grow and evolve; you begin to die (a physical death). We [Africans] were confronted by a different civilization. A very different culture. Many Africans traveled to Europe and were transformed physically and psychologically. The Roman was harder than the African. Far more ruthless and desperate. That is what led to the subjugation of Africa.
Today, we are outraged by the many killings of African American men and women at the hands of police, or White supremacy. We ask ourselves: how can people be so cruel? In Senegal, they have a dungeon for children. It is called an ‘Infant’s Dungeon’. Who would be cruel enough to enslave a child? There is something about the African man and woman that has a level of humanism about them that we do not often find in other cultures. The Romans did not have that level of humanism. Their ruthless personality drove to their ability to subjugate Africa.”
I do not write because I have all the answers. My hope in sharing my journey, is that it inspires a curiosity within you to learn and unlearn your (OUR) history. To begin to see Africans for the intelligent, creative, innovative, powerful force that they were and ARE. That this fuels a new narrative that rejects the White Supremacist version of the African story.
And, for my Black sisters and brothers, I leave you with this:
“You are not an African because you were born in Africa, you are an African because Africa is born within you.”
– Dr. Kwame Nkruma