From Songhai to cyberspace
August 2, 1999
SONGHAI was a great empire in West Africa from the seventh century A.D. Six hundred years later, it became a part of the empire of Mali, which means, Place of the Kings. Ancient Mali, under the regime of Mansa Kankan Musa, flourished as the gold trading centre of the world. At the height of Mali's power, in the 14th century, Mansa Musa made a Hadj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. More than 70,000 people made up his caravan, and stories of his great wealth and power were told throughout Europe and the Middle East.
The famed Benin Head, an example of the superior craftsmanship of the people of Southern Nigeria, is the prized possession of a British museum.
Dominated by the Yoruba, the Oyo kingdom centred at Ife, became a major power by 1000 A.D. It is documented that the Oyo gave rise to the Benin civilisation, which flourished for thee hundred years from the 15th century and became famous for its brass, bronze and ivory sculpture. The huge stone structures of Great Zimbabwe are the relics of a sizeable urban society that flourished from the ninth to the 13th centuries and dominated Iron Age trade in southeastern Africa.
All these empires waxed and waned in Africa hundreds of years ago. However, when one thinks of present-day Africa with its tribal conflicts, savage slaughters, genocide, famines and great pockets of backwardness, it is difficult to believe that these civilisations with their solid economies, skilled craftsmen and artists once existed on that mighty continent.
Centuries of slavery created the African diaspora, most of whom, even in these closing years of the 20th century, are still nursing the mental scars of a brutal and inhuman system. The African or Black person in this age is still a victim of discrimination based solely on the fact that his skin colour is different. The treatment automatically meted out to Black people has been the subject of controversy in many industrialised countries.
Within the last two years, some of the most horrific acts of barbarism have been perpetrated on Black and African people by White extremists and even by the law-enforcing agencies which are infamous for their racial-profiling.
Last week, a young radio broadcaster interviewing leaders of the African Cultural and Development Association (ACDA) enquired, quite innocently, why it was that African people have to be emphasising their point of view by demanding equality of treatment. That question goes to the heart of the Black condition and illustrates the great divide in perception between Africans and the rest of humanity.
Edgar White, writing in the journal `Africa' of April 1981, made the profound observation that the "Black man in reality is the only true existentialist, because he alone must create meaning in a world, which is constantly trying to make him accept his non-existence".
If the Africans in this country are to overcome disadvantages and discrimination they must begin by informing themselves, and in turn, their children, of the achievements of their ancestors, not only what occurred a thousand years ago, but also what was accomplished here in this land soon after manumission of slavery.
The fact that freed slaves in the mid-19th century were able to pool their resources, (literally pennies, which they fetched by wheelbarrows) and purchase plantations to establish villages, has to be the most inspiring passage in the history of Black people in the Caribbean.
In another two years, the new millennium with its technological marvels and information superhighway will be a fact of life. Whether the Black people of the diaspora will be able to face and conquer the challenges of that futuristic environment will depend to a great extent on the education and skills acquired by the present generation.
A © page from: Guyana: Land of Six Peoples