African History is World History

Published on 3rd February 2009

To accurately address the scope and breadth of African history in one article is like trying to explain Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to fifth graders in 20 words or less: it’s impossible. The reason why this is such a monumental task is because what we call African history is in fact human history. The time needed to fully address the course of human history would take several lifetimes (as human history expands more than three million years). It is a known fact, after decades of debate, that the genus Homo Sapiens (from which modern humans are derived) originated and migrated to populate the rest of the world out of Africa. The earliest human remains (to date) were found in a little town called Herto in modern day Ethiopia. The remains are said to be 160,000 years of age and paleoanthropoligsts have given it the name of Homo Sapien Idaltu.

 

The reason why this is such an important issue to address is because certain members of the human family felt compelled to enslave other members of the human family and then rewrite history to better suit their political and economic needs. The reason why we have such a thing called Black History Month (derived from Negro History Week created by Dr. Carter G. Woodson) is because contemporary scholars and historians made the claim that Blacks (African people) did not have a history. As Henry Louis Gates, Jr. said in an interview for the PBS special Wonders of the African World:

 

You see European philosophers said that Africans had no indigenous writing systems. We had no writing, we had no memory. If you have no memory you have no history. If you have no history, you're not a human being.

 

So there are people within the human family who would like to dehumanize African people by saying that we are animals and because we are not human (in their eyes), we couldn’t have contributed to the “progress” of human civilizations. We will in this brief essay reintroduce some of the known verifiable historical facts that will refute such elementary analysis. We will come to realize that the very ones who claim African people owe a great debt to them for bringing “civilization” to Blacks, are the very ones indebted to those classic African civilizations: their cosmologies, political systems, arts and scientific inquiries.

 

Since the initial argument by some historians is that African people didn’t contribute to human civilization, we will primarily deal with the fundamental inventions the Africans have produced that makes any modern technology, philosophy or science impossible without this African foundation. We will primarily deal with concepts that predate any European formation of a political state (roughly around the 8th century BCE).

 

Mathematics The very foundation of mathematical knowledge was first attested to in Africa. The oldest verifiable archeological find for mathematics is that of the Ishango Bone with an archeological date between 18 – 20,000 BP (Before the Present). It is actually a fibula bone of a baboon and it was found in Ishango which is located between Uganda and the Kongo at the edge of the Nile River.

Ishango Bone (18000-20000 BC) front and back

The markings are tallies used to calculate simple multiplication. Alexander Sharshak (an independent Paleolithic Anthropologist) suggested it was a lunar calendar and Claudia Zaslavsky has suggested that the creator of the markings must have been a woman and probably recorded the female menstrual cycle. None of these theories have been verified. However, as Dr. Charles S. Finch has shown us in his book Star of Deep Beginnings, the method of calculation of the Ishango bone is very similar to that found in ancient Ta-Meri (Egypt). The very foundation of Egyptian mathematics can be traced to this bone.  

 

Speaking of ancient Ta-Meri, the very foundations of Geometry has its origins in the Nile Valley. One of the last of the Greek philosophers, Proclus Diadochos, said, “Thales, having first come to Egypt, transferred this study [Geometry] to Greece…” [For the Greek quote, see G.S. Kirk & J.E. Raven, The Presocratic Philosophers, Cambridge University Press, reprint, 1981: 76]. Below is problem 50 of the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus from ancient Egypt, which calculates the area of a circle of a diameter of nine. Egyptian mathematics also included algebra, trigonometry.

 

Figure 48: Problem 50 of the Rhind Papyrus; Area of a circle of a diameter 9.

Writing

 

As mentioned earlier, some scholars would have you to believe that Africa did not have a writing system. However, the earliest writing system is found in Africa. Although there are scripts earlier than those found in ancient Ta-Meri (Swaziland 37000 BCE), the earliest evidence of a systemized phonetic script is found in the Nile Valley. The writing of the ancient Kmtjw (another word for the Egyptians), was called Medu Netcher or “God’s sacred writing.” Our English symbols used in writing derive from early Medu Netcher script (which was adopted by the Khananu (Canaanite) people and later adopted by Greeks and Romans. Here is a comparison below of just the letter A:

 

For a full treaty, read Chambers' Encyclopaedia:A Dictionary of Universal Knowledge

 

We can’t speak of writing without also talking about the invention of paper. The very word paper derives from the papyrus plant used to make “paper” in ancient Ta-Meri. This paper (made from papyrus reeds) was created 2,000 years before the Chinese created their paper using vegetable pulp.

 

We also cannot speak of writing without talking about the invention of pen and ink. In ancient Ta-Meri a plant reed (Juncus Maritimus) was used for the pen. The ink was made of a fine soot, and red or black ochre that was dipped in water with the pen before writing took place.

 

Calendar

 

The earliest calendar in the world was found in the Nile Valley and dates to approximately 4,241 BCE. We still use this calendar today and it is the reason we observe 365 days in a year. It was so ahead of its time that it prompted Otto Naugebauer to say, “. . . that it is truly the only intelligent calendar that has ever existed in human history.” The Ta-Merian calendar was divided into 13 months: 12 months of 30 days and one month of five days. The last five days corresponded to the Ta-Merian Neteru (deities) for Ausar, Auset, Heru, Set and Nebthet. The calendar is divided into three seasons of four months each (akhet – inundation, peret – growth, and shemu – harvest). To rectify the need for a leap year, they resolved this by (with the Sidereal calendar) letting the time lag accumulate at the end of 1,460 years, which also is the time that separates two heliacal risings of the star Sba (Sirius).

 

Medicine

 

We can’t do justice to the topic of African contributions to medicine in this brief article. But we can inform you that African medicine was so revered that the Greeks included Imhotep, one of the greatest African physicians, in their so-called Hippocratic Oath (which doctors still take today).However, in the Smith Papyrus, it speaks of 48 cases of bone surgery and of external pathology. The Ta-Merians were the first to practice suturing and used wooden splints for fractures. In the Carlsberg Papyrus 4, it gives a diagnosis to determine if a woman was sterile (pregnancy test): “Insert a clove of garlic in the vagina for one night, if the odor comes out of her mouth, she will bear children.” This was copied word for word by Hippocrates, the so-called founder of medicine.

 

Chemistry

 

The very root of the word chemistry derives from the Ta-Merian word Km (Khem), which means “black” or “to burn.” This alludes to the long cooking process and the distillations that were customary in Egyptian hearths in order to extract material from minerals to make this or that product (smithing). The Kemetic symbol used to convey this blackness or process was a charred piece of wood (charcoal). The term Khem is in various African languages, as all of these societies engaged in metallurgy:

 

KaMa = Black in Coptic,

iKaMa = Blackened in Mbochi,

KaMi = Burnt in Bambara,

KeMi = Burnt in Mandjakou,

KeM = Burnt in Wolof,

Kim = Burnt in Mossi, etc...

KeMpori = Black in Vai

KeMatou = completely burnt in Mandjakou

KeMbou = Charcoal in Pulaar

 

Conclusion

 

As mentioned before, it is totally impossible to fully address African contributions to world history and civilization in an article. But I hope I have inspired you to look deeper into African history for the very foundations of world history. As can be seen above, these were not some minor contributions. The very reason you are reading this paper right now is due to the inventiveness of African people. The very nature of writing, the recording of time and seasons, calculations and surgery is all due to African people. If I had the opportunity, I would have gone into the African origins of seafaring, architecture, philosophy, religion, metallurgy, quantum physics, politics, and art. Simply put, inventions are built on the knowledge of previous generations. We are today because they were yesterday and no children are better than their mothers and fathers. Since we didn’t have time to address the many contributions of our African/World history, I recommend the following books below to get you up to speed.

 

Recommended Reading

 

Civilization or Barbarism – Chiekh Anta Diop

African Origins of Civilization – Chiekh Anta Diop

Introduction of Black Studies – Maulana Karenga

Stolen Legacy – George GM James

African Cosmology of the Bantu Kongo – Dr. K. Bunseki Fu-Kiau A Star of Deep Beginnings – Charles S. Finch

Echoes of the Old Darkland – Charles S. Finch

Black Man of the Nile – Yosef Ben Jochannan

They Came Before Columbus – Ivan Van Sertima

Black Women in Antiquity - Ivan Van Sertima

Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern - Ivan Van Sertima

Golden Age of the Moor - Ivan Van Sertima

African Presence in Early America, Europe and Asia (different books respectively) - Ivan Van Sertima

 

Asar Imhotep is a historian, philosopher, activist, poet and author of the book Esodus: Internal Reflections and Conversations with the Sun. He is also the founder of MOCHA Urban Hang Suite, http://www.mochasuite.com/  and The Houston Ministry of Culture, http://www.houstonministryofculture.com/  He can be reached at [email protected]

 

 


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