Sunday, May 13, 2012

African Presence in Ancient America

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African Presence in Ancient America (Part I)

In the history of America, Christopher Columbus is generally known for the first contact of the New World (the America’s). Although having concrete evidence most historians deny the African presence in the Americas before Columbus in spite of the physical and cultural evidence presented by Ivan Van Sertima and other scholars. Despite academic resistance and racist ideology, Ivan Van Sertima provides, in his book, They Came Before Columbus African Presence in Ancient America, not only evidence of African people in the Americas prior to 14, but he also shows well substantiated evidence of their cultural influence on the indigenous people and culture.

The first piece of evidence suggesting African presence in the Americas before Columbus arrival in 14 surfaces from the documented sightings of Africans in the New World. During his second voyage to Espanola (Hattie) in 146, Columbus is presented linguistic evidence between the Indian’s trading with the Africans. The Indians of Espanola spoke of “[the arrival of] a black people who have the tops of their spears made of a metal which they call guanin.” (pg.11). The word used for spear in Americas, along with other alternative words such as gana, kani and coana, were all terms of guanin language. Upon Columbus inspection, he found to be made of eighteen parts gold, six parts silver and eight parts copper, which was found to be identical in all its proportions to that of the Mande people of West Africa. The evidence indicated by the Indians of Espanola carries a significant amount of weight in the innuendo of African presence in the Americas before 14.

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Another strong possibility of evidence arising of African presence was in 151, when Vasco Nunez de Balboa and his men moved further into South America where they encountered an Indian settlement. Balboa and his men were surprised to see a large amount of prisoners of war” who were plainly and unmistakably African” (1). The African men were of military standing, and had been engaging in war with the natives. Balboa was informed by the Indians that, “…men of this color were living nearby and they were constantly waging war with them. These were the first Negroes that had been seen in the Indies.”(pg.1) One of the first noted historians of America, Peter Martyr reports,

“The Spaniards found Negroes in this province… It is thought that Negro pirates from Ethiopia established themselves after the wreck of their ships in these mountains. The natives of Quarequa carry on incessant war with these Negroes… there was nothing far-fetched about African boats being washed up as wrecks on the other side of the oceans current” ().

Although Balboa’s encounter with the Panamanian Indigenous people takes place nearly twenty years after Columbus arrived in the Americas, the information exchanged during their meeting undoubtedly points to the fact that the Africans had been in the area for some time, and over this period of time their population grew large enough to set out attacks against the native Indians. This evidence gives you an idea of an African presence in the Americans based on the reports made by the Indians and Martyr.

In addition to sightings, Norwegian writer and explorer, Thor Heyerdahl, has studied several accounts of Africans navigating throughout the Atlantic before Columbus. Heyerdahl conducted an experiment using two ships (RA I and RA II) built identically to an earlier model African ship made from papyrus, to determine rather Africans did make it across the Atlantic to America. The RA I started at Safi in North Africa but fell short of making the journey across the Atlantic due to missing the rope that supported the “pliant afterdeck” (57). A Native American tribe, the Aymara, whose ship made it from Africa to America successfully, built the RA II. These experiment proved that if these simple vessels would navigate through the Atlantic using one of the two currents, then some of Africa’s more sophisticated ships could have made the trip to the Americas.

The second strand of evidence is found in American pre-Columbian sculptures. Striking representations of Negro men and women appear in the Mexican heartland and are carbon dated around 800-700 B.C. One representation is an ebony head which bears a stunning resemblance to the Egyptian queen, Tiy, the Negroid mother of Tutankhamen. According to Van Sertima, it was accurate in coiffure, facial expression and geography. There were also Giant Negroid heads, standing six to nine feet tall and weighing up to forty tons each, were found at sacred ceremonial sites. Each head wore headdresses that were foreign and distinctive � domed helmets, possessing facial features, such as broad fleshy noses, cheek and jaw lines and full lips. They stood in plazas in front of colorful temple-platforms with red, yellow, and purple sides and floors. They were twelve to twenty times larger than the average human face. One head, which was furnished with a speaking tube and flattened top, was used as a speaking oracle. This particular feature was of great importance when identifying the origin of these Africans. Eleven gargantuan heads were unearthed at three different sites in the Olmec heartland � four at La Venta, five at San Lorenzo and two at Tres Zapotes in southern Vera Cruz; these Olmecs heads were carbon dated between 800 B.C.-680 B.C. (144-145). All the heads were facing east toward the Atlantic probably in acknowledgment of where these strangers had came from.

Another important artifact that emerges in the Americas, but its origin’s is from Africa, is the pyramid. The type of pyramid that arises in America during the “contact” period (800-680 B.C.) is the stepped temple (ziggurat), which goes back to 000 B.C. “Suddenly in the ‘contact’ period the ziggurat or stepped temple (a particular kind of Babylonian/ Egyptian pyramid) begins to appear in American, and not only is the design identical but, like it presumed prototype, it is sun-star oriented and encircled by a precinct” (155). In addition, they served the same religious purpose, astronomical, and spatial relationships. It is argued that Egyptians discontinued the construction of pyramids, particularly this style, in 1600 B.C. The kings of Nubia during the initial contact period, Piankhy and Taharka, built the last of these pyramids over their tombs and the last ziggurats for sun worship. In late 5 B.C. Taharka’s successor, Aspelta, built a stepped temple at Meroe where fragments of the ruins are still detected. The first American pyramid is found at the La Venta site. Others that have been found are the Pyramid of Cholula and the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan near Mexico City. There is clear evidence of a long evolution of a particular architectural configuration in the area that the foreigners came from. However, no evidence of predecessors exists to date in the area where they landed.

When a mummified figure was found in Palenque, Mexico it was evident that there had been a strong Egyptian presence there at one time. There are three main factors which points to this conclusion; “The jade mask on the face of the dead, the fact of mummification itself, and the flared base of sarcophagus” (157). Egyptians made sarcophagi, to enable the dead to stand up because all burials were vertical. The sarcophagi had a flared base that was made of wood, which made it easier to balance the dead in an upright position. Although the Mexicans buried their dead horizontally, the Palenque sarcophagus showed the use of the flared base. The Mexican sarcophagi were made of stone and chiseling a flared base into stone proving there had to be a great Egyptian influence in Mexico at this time. Not only was mummification seen in Mexico, but in Peru as well. Numerous Indian tribes of North America were also practicing mummification.

The chemical process that goes into mummifying a body is that of exactness and complexity. It took the Egyptians hundreds of years of experimentation to actually succeed at preserving the human body in an almost perfect state. Turning to Peru and studying their chemical process of mummification, you will find exactly the same embalming mixtures that were used in Egypt. Although the constituents are not notable, the formula is complex. This process and the detail that went into mummification were not common knowledge to the people of Egypt or the Americas. There were only a handful of people in these societies who understood and practiced mummification. So for something so complex to first arrive on the scene in Africa and then later in the Americas is not a coincidence, but rather clear evidence of influence.

Lastly, the Egyptians buried the internal organs of the mummified corpse in four Canopic jars. Each jar was dedicated to the Horuses of the four cardinal points, which were north, south, east, and west. Colors were assigned to the cardinal points. The same color scheme that the Egyptians used also showed up in ancient Mexico. There was a red north, a dark west, a white south, and a golden east. No other civilizations bore the same resemblance in color scheme. This likeness was too close to have occurred by chance.

In this book, They Came Before Columbus African Presence in Ancient America, Ivan Van Sertima provides proof of the long contested claims that Africans arrived in the Americas long before Columbus set out on his journeys. The Spanish sightings of Africans in the New World and anthropological discoveries of black colonies along the American shore outside of main post-Columbian slave networks provide just elements of proof that Africans and indigenous people in America had contact preceding 14.

Sertima’s proof indulges primary and secondary accounts from the sightings of Africans in the Americas by Columbus and other Europeans, examples of direct cultural influence on Indian cultures by black people, and also the unearthed sites containing carbon-dated sculptures and temples of worship for both African and indigenous people in the area. These confirmations of African presence in the New World before Columbus’ arrival kill the prevailing notion that Columbus “discovered” America.


Pre-Columbian African presence will never be taught in American history courses because Europeans who have euro-centric point of views write history books. If these writers give Africans they credited of being first to discover the New World then their sense of ownership over the sea will be threaten. American history is patriotic assuming that America has done no wrong. If history books were to tell the truth and explain that since Indians were here during the arrival of Columbus that makes them the founding ancestors of this country. If history books were to explain that Africans out smarted Europeans and arrived in the Americas during the age of 800 to 600 B.C., then history would question our superiority, education, and influences in the Americas. But instead we are not taught pre-Columbian African presence in American history courses because the ideal of getting a proper education would result in us understanding our history, freedom, and ultimate rights as citizens of this country. Truthfully, a simple answer to not teaching pre-Columbian African presence in American history is that once the honest truth is given there is no holding down a culture because they would be

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