Latest posts by David Mark Greaves (see all)
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We Came Before Columbus
By David Mark Greaves
The first explorers from Africa arrived on the north and south equatorial currents spanning the Atlantic Ocean between the African and American continents. Dr. Ivan Van Sertima points to these forces as a natural conveyor belt between West Africa and the Americas. The most striking physical evidence of Africans are the distinctively Negroid stone heads of the Olmec civilization. Dr. Van Sertima reports that the archaeological context in which they were found has been radiocarbon dated to 800 B.C. To judge the impact of that African presence, Van Sertima tells us this: “At the sacred center of the Olmec culture-La Venta-about eighteen miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico which flows into the Atlantic, there stood four colossal Negroid heads, six to nine feet high, weighing up to forty tons each. They stood in large squares or plazas in front of the most colorful temple-platforms, the sides and floors of which were of red, yellow and purple. They stood twelve to twenty times larger than the faces of living men. They were like gods among the Olmecs.
“In this center of La Venta there were great altars. One of these (known as the third altar) was made out of one of the Negroid heads, flattened on top for that purpose. A speaking tube was found to go in at the ear and out at the mouth so that the figure could function as a talking oracle … ”
What kind of respect for a human spirit does that suggest? Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov has said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. The Africans of 800 B.C. would indeed have seemed as magicians to a culture that was not familiar with knowledge coming from Nubian-Egyptian civilizations that were ancient, even at that time.
Other Africans came later.
Van Sertima tells us there is the African gravesite dated 1250 A.D., found in Reef Bay Valley on the island of St. John’s in the Virgin Islands. There is a Mandingo head of fourteenth century Mexico, which may be all that is left of the vision of Abubakari, the Second Emperor of Mali. His was a land where “Thousands of Arab and Egyptian caravans passed every year through Timbuktu and Niani. He stood on the western shore of his empire and sent forth two expeditions totaling 2,400 ships to discover the limits of the sea, circa 13 A.D. For Abubakari, his empire ended at the sea that had stopped Alexander the Great but it would not stop this emperor of the largest empire on earth. He was so passionate in his belief in a world beyond the sea that he led the second expedition him-self. Van Sertima, reporting from oral histories that have been passed down to this day, writes: ” … One day, dressed in a flowing white robe and a jeweled turban, he took leave of Mali and set out with his fleet down the Senegal, heading west across the Atlantic, never to return. He took his griot and half his history with him.” What a tale that griot could tell if we could hear him now.
Because Abubakari never returned to Africa, this gravesite might be evidence that he stretched his empire farther than was known at that time. Christopher Columbus heard the stories, now common along the African coast, of a New World across the sea. Arriving in the Americas in the 1490’s, he was in time to see African settlements, speak of African artifacts in letters and hear stories from native villagers of the Africans who had preceded him.
By the 1700’s, African civilizations had fallen and Europeans began using Africans as work animals to be captured in Africa packed and shipped for a months-long Middle Passage across the Atlantic and sold in the Americas to work the wealth from the land the Europeans were taking from native people. During this period, Africans came not as adventuring seamen, but brought as chattel.