‘In the past, the veneration given to Africa was enormous, whether for its natural genius, its appreciation for learning, or its religious organisation.
This continent nurtured the growth of a number of men of great value, whose genius and assiduousness have made an inestimable contribution to the knowledge of human affairs.’—the Rector of the University of Wittenberg, Johannes Gottfried Kraus, 1734.
‘How is it, a people, now forgotten, discovered, while others were yet barbarians, the elements of the arts and the sciences. A race of men now rejected from society for their dark skin and frizzled hair, founded on the study of the laws of nature, those civil and religious systems which still govern the universe.’ Count Volney 1791
How did we get from there, where Africa and Africans were celebrated for their contributions to the world? Why did Europe’s intellectual elite, people who ought to know better, write some of the most untruthful, hurtful and harmful stories of our ancestors?
To appreciate the basis for the almost demonic assault by Europe on all things African, we have to remember that by the 17th century, Europe had embarked on its project of conquest, slavery and colonialism; it needed a justification for its barbarism.
Here’s a sample of the intellectual dishonesty that undergirds the system of white supremacy. These ideas and the centuries-long genocidal system of slavery and colonialism help to explain the level of self-hatred that eats away at the soul of Africans on the continent and across the diaspora. They also help to preserve the exploitative system of capitalism, which drives racism and prevents the unity and solidarity of the working of the world.
‘Africa is said to be unhistorical; undeveloped spirit – still involved in the conditions of mere nature; devoid of morality, religions and political constitution.’ The Philosophy of History, George Hegel 1813. Hence he holds that there is a justification for Europe’s enslavement and colonisation of Africa. For him, slavery causes the ‘increase of human feeling among the Negroes.’
In his Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects (1753-4), David Hume wrote: ‘I am apt to suspect the negroes, and in general all the other species of men (for there are four or five different kinds) to be naturally inferior to the whites…There never was a civilised nation of any other complexion than white, nor any individual eminent either in action or speculation.’
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) built on Hume (1711-76), and stressed that the fundamental difference between blacks and whites ‘appears to be as great in regard to mental capacities as in colour’, before concluding in Physical Geography: ‘Humanity is at its greatest perfection in the race of the whites.’
In France, Voltaire (1694-1778), Essay on Universal History (1756), wrote that if Africans’ ‘intelligence is not of another species than ours, then it is greatly inferior’.
What did all of these ‘enlightenment thinkers have in common? They either invested heavily in the slave trade or were apologists for slavery. The dishonesty and conceit of these men are laughable except for their dangerous legacy which has done so much to sicken the white mind and harm the African psyche.
So much that Europe claims is not theirs. White men are credited with developing the age of reason. However, ‘discoveries’ long buried are rising like a phoenix.
Anton Amo, a Ghanian (1703 to 1755) in On the Impassivity of the Human Mind (1734), supported and disagreed with Rene Descartes. Descartes believes that the soul (mind) can act and suffer together with the body. Hence, Amo writes: ‘In reply to these words, we caution and dissent: we concede that the mind acts together with the body by the mediation of a mutual union. But we deny that it suffers together with the body.’ Is this the thought process of an inferior mind or an intellectual contemporary?
An entire century earlier, the Ethiopian Zera Yacob (1599-1692) wrote in Hatata (meaning inquires) in 1632: ‘All men are equal in the presence of God; and all are intelligent since they are his creatures; he did not assign one people for life, another for death, one for mercy, another for judgment. Our reason teaches us that this sort of discrimination cannot exist.’
Yet John Locke is credited with proclaiming the notion that all men were created equal. He, however, went on to draft the slave constitution of Carolina in 1669.
Immanuel Kant, in Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime 1764, wrote: ‘A woman is embarrassed little that she does not possess certain high insights.’ And in his lectures on ethics, he proclaimed: ‘The desire of a man for a woman is not directed to her as a human being, on the contrary, the woman’s humanity is of no concern to haim; and the only object of his desire is her sex.’
Contrast these ‘enlightenment’ views with Yacob, the African: ‘The Creator in His wisdom has made blood flow monthly from the womb of women, for them to bear children…therefore the law of Moses, which states that menstruating women are impure, is against nature and the Creator, since it impedes marriage and the entire life of a woman, and it spoils the law of mutual help, prevents the bringing up of children and destroys love.’
Yacob married a woman who formerly worked as a servant and maintained she should ‘no longer be a servant, but rather his peer because husband and wife are equal in marriage.’
Who then are the enlightened ones? Yacob and Amo are two examples of African reason and humanity. If Europeans had not stifled and retarded African thought, imagine a world in which we would be living.
As the scholarship of our ancestors is revealed and becomes known, African people will realise that greatness flows in our veins. They will discard their shame and continue a journey that will free them from mental slavery. This is why the struggle for reparations must include the effort to return the art, artefacts and literary works to African and its people.
Our legacy is either stolen, lost or hidden. Once we know the great contributions we made to civilisation, African will fly yet again.
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