A New Pan-African Column
by Dr. Molefi Kete Asante
(First Published in City Press, April, 2004)
Afrocentricity means taking yourself seriously as a factor in history. You really are somebody. Every moment of your life is a moment in history. Often we cannot see the making of our own history because we are in the story. We are too close to it. Sometimes it takes years for people to look back and say, “Thami or Siziwe made a difference in the community.”
Yet what is necessary is for every African person to assume responsibility. Prior to the coming of the whites to Africa, no black people waited for whites to do anything. Every man and woman assumed his or her role and went about doing the things that were necessary to establish and maintain community. We may have been temporarily pushed off of our family and cultural positions, but de-centeredness is not a permanent condition. The fact that people can shove you off a tree stump does not mean that you have to remain off. You can certainly regain your place.
We have never been less capable than any other people although that has been the propaganda that has stunted too much of our growth.
What would be the reason for the incessant propaganda against Africa? Could it be that there was fear on the part of Europe to expose readers to the truth about world history? After all, human beings originated on this continent and civilization spread from here to other continents. Indeed, human civilization, emerging when the first humans decided what was proper to eat and what was not, how to live in society without killing each other, and how to shelter humans from the environment. It is an African legacy. This is not a gloat; it is merely a historical fact.
It was unlikely that people who had enslaved Africans from the 15th to the 19th century, who had sought to capture an entire continent in the name of their god, and who had constantly looked down upon African achievements, would become preachers of goodwill for African culture and history. It would be something that we would have to do ourselves.
So now in the 21st century when Africans are no longer colonized on the continent or enslaved in the Americas or Caribbean and when we are free to explore and interrogate all of our history, the good and the bad, the beautiful and the unseemly, we find that the legacies of old are far deeper than we were led to believe by those who poisoned our minds against the elders.
Our inheritance is rich, powerful, and magnificent, in material and spiritual terms. The first books of mathematics were produced right here on the African continent, not in America, Asia, or Europe.
The Rhind papyrus, an African mathematical scroll of 6 meters length and 1/3 meter wide, is unfortunately named after Alexander Henry Rhind who purchased it in Egypt in 1858. It is more properly the Ahmes papyrus, in honour of the Egyptian scribe who copied it from another papyrus that was written around 2000 years before Christ.
It should never have been called the Rhind papyrus, but neither should Musi wa Tunya have been called Victoria Falls. Now kept in the British Museum, the Ahmes papyrus is the oldest mathematical document ever found. The papyrus contains a series of numerical tables and 84 mathematical problems and their solutions.
The papyrus and other old mathematical documents are important to us as they allow present day mathematicians to build on what Africans were doing centuries ago. African mathematicians should always honour the early mathematicians who figured out how to build pyramids centuries before the existence of a Greek civilization.
Because Europe colonized information about African history many people in South Africa cannot see that they are on the same continent occupied by ancient Egyptians. The ancient Egyptians were Africans. They were not Asians. They were not Europeans. They were not Americans. They lived like other Africans along the banks of the river Nile and did African things everyday, including calculating the rate at which the river would rise. They had to do this in order to prevent catastrophic damage from flooding.
No people on any continent have been any nobler than Africans. The extent of the contributions and achievements of Africans at home and abroad has been mind-boggling.
One aim of the old, failed education policy was to keep us ignorant of our own history. We know so well now that slaves are not born, they are made.
The way to make a slave is to first steal a person’s memory so that he does not have any thought of ancestors, philosophies, remedies, methods, and attitudes of the past. It is like going into someone backyard and taking their best vegetables or most delicious fruits and then asking them to explain why they do not have any fruits or vegetables to cook.
Africa was robbed. This was not just a robbery of land, though there was lots of that going on all over the continent. The fact of the matter is that Europe robbed Africans of their minds. Professor Ama Mazama, the Sorbonne-trained Afrocentrist from Guadeloupe, who teaches at Temple University in Philadelphia, often says, “They stole our lands and then turned around and stole information about our lands.” Do you ever wonder why a European is often cited as the authority on this or that African ethnic group? Wait a minute, how did he come to learn what he knows about Africans without Africans telling him? Who are these Africans? Where are their names in the history books?
I hope to introduce you to South African and African figures in history as a way to encourage discourse around our own accountability to our history. A famous German professor named Hegel once said to his European counterparts, “Let us forget Africa, never to return to it.” However, we will neither forget Africa nor our ancestors on the pages of “Afro-central.” This column will put you and Africa right in the middle of everything, just as it happened.
Think of it, if you are an agent, that is, an actor rather than a spectator in your own history, you will want to learn as much as you can about yourself and African history. Take your time and read these pages, discuss them with your friends and family, and write letters to the editor about issues you would like for me to write about in future columns, but for now, go out and live Afrocentrically.
Molefi Kete Asante is one of the most published contemporary scholars, having written more than fifty books and three hundred articles.