When We Ruled


Once again, Black History Month is here, when black people in Britain celebrate the great and good in the long history of their mother continent and people in humanising the world. This year, New African has borrowed not only the title but extensive extracts from Robin Walker's wonderful new book, When We Ruled, in a bid to concentrate the minds of people of African descent everywhere--on the mother continent and in the Diaspora--on the golden age of Africa. This is to disprove the firmly entrenched notion that "Africa has no history" or that African history started when the Europeans arrived on our shores in the 15th century. What were our ancestors doing before then? Sleeping perhaps?

Yes, we may have fallen as a people, continent and empire. But once upon a time, we sure ruled the world! Africa and its peoples shall rise again--but only if we study our history properly, take absolute pride in it, and learn from the mistakes and move on. We come from aristocratic stock, and should behave as PROUD aristocrats, not given to despondency. Remember President Julius Nyerere. He said in 1997: "Of all the sins that Africa can commit, the sin of despair would be the most unforgivable." Happy Black History Month. The following pages should give us sustenance for the year ahead. Robin Walker sets the ball rolling in this main, opening piece.

More than 50 years ago, Thomas Hodgkin, a fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, wrote an article for a periodical called The Highway. Part of this article reads as follows: "It is no doubt flattering to our vanity to imagine that the peoples of Africa were 'primitive' and 'barbarous' before the penetration of the Europeans, and that it is we [Europeans] who civilised them. But it is a theory that lacks historical foundation. The Empire of Ghana flourished in what is now French West Africa during the dark ages of Western Europe."

Hodgkin continued: "By the 15th century, there was a university at Timbuktu. The Ashantis of the Gold Coast [now Ghana] and the Yorubas [of Nigeria] possessed highly organised and complex civilisations long before their territories were brought under British political and military control. The thesis that Africa is what Western European missionaries, traders, technicians and administrators have made it is comforting (to Western Europeans) but invalid."

Hodgkin's article was published in 1952. He explained the context why relevant information about Africans and their history is not widely known.

"Most of the available material on African affairs," he wrote, "is presented from a European standpoint--either by imperial historians (who are interested in the record of European penetration into Africa), or by colonial administrators (who are interested in the pattern of institutions imposed by European governments upon African societies), or by anthropologists (who are often, though not always, mainly interested in the forms of social organisation surviving in the simplest African communities, considered in isolation from the political developments in the world around them)."

On 23 May 1999, The Sunday Times (of London) carried an astonishing article entitled Jungle reveals traces of Sheba's fabled kingdom. Over the next few days, many other papers followed suit. The Daily Mail asked on 24 May: Was the Queen of Sheba really a black woman from Nigeria?

As the evidence emerged, however, the Queen of Sheba link proved to be hype. The real Sheba was an Ethiopian or possibly half-Yemeni queen who lived 3,000 years ago on the opposite side of the continent. What was undeniable, however, was that the southern Nigerian rainforests concealed an even more amazing secret.

During the Middle Ages, Africans built by far the largest city the world had ever seen. In size, it dwarfed Baghdad, Cairo, Cordova and Rome. The achievement was on a scale even bigger than that of the Great Pyramid of Giza, Africa's most celebrated monument.

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