They Came Before Columbus
Dr. Van Sertima
A celebrated classic, They Came Before Columbus, deals with a number of contacts — both planned and accidental, between Africans and Americans in different historical periods. Evidence for a physical/cultural presence of Africans in Early America is methodically examined.
Dr. Van Sertima reveals to us a compelling, dramatic and superbly detailed documentation of the presence and legacy of black Africans in ancient America.
With his considerable scholarship, Van Sertima examines the facts of navigation and shipbuilding, the sources of latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates, the scores of cultural analogies found nowhere else except in America and Africa, African languages and the transportation of plants, cloth and animals from Africa to the Americas. And from the diaries, letters and journals of the explorers themselves; from Carbon-14 dated sculptures found in the Americas; from the Arabic documents, charts, maps from the recorded tales of the griots to the Kings of Mali; from dated skeletons found as recently as 1975, the author builds his pyramid of evidence.
In addition to a scholar’s fastidiousness, Van Sertima has the skill of a novelist, and with it recreates some of the most powerful scenes history has to offer: the launching of the great ships of Mali in 1310 (200 master boats and 200 supply boats); the sea expedition of the Mandingo king himself in 1311, and many others, equally as vivid.
It is the marriage of these twin crafts–the artist’s and the scholar’s–in the book that makes it possible for us to see clearly the unmistakable face and handprint of black Africans in Pre-Columbian America, and their overwhelming impact on the civilization they found here. (79 illus.)
— Random House, Inc., New York
Commentary – The New York Times and Dr. Clarence Weiant
Many claims have been made over the years by notable black and white scholars –Woodson, Rogers, Lawrence, Jackson, Bailey, Gordon, Irwin, Jeffreys, Cauvet, Wiener. They have all been dismissed. Some of these claims failed to convince anyone but the converted because they needed to be backed up by corroboration from many disciplines. To claim, for example, that Columbus saw “blacks” in Haiti is one thing. To prove that those “blacks” were Africans was another, since there are dark-skinned American Indians in tropical zones of America. Botany (cotton), linguistics (the origin of the word, guanin), metallurgy (the metal alloys in the spears the blacks gave the Americans in trade), navigation (African boats tested on the Atlantic), oceanography (the currents that provided an easy circular route for the pre-Columbian West African trade), archaeology (new skeletal finds in the Caribbean of Africans dated 1250 A.D.) – all these disciplines provided the corroboration that was needed to establish that single claim on a scientific basis. This, Van Sertima felt, would be his original contribution to the subject at the end of a century of speculation – the definitive proof.
The disciplines Van Sertima explored in order to provide this proof are highlighted in a letter published in The New York Times. In this letter, one of the oldest and most important archaeologists in America, Dr. Clarence Weiant, who was on the site in Mexico in 1938 when the first African stone head was discovered, defended Van Sertima against attempts by the British archaeological establishment to discredit They Came Before Columbus.
“Van Sertima’s work,” Dr. Weiant wrote in The New York Times (May 1, 1977) “is a summary of six or seven years of meticulous research based upon archaeology, Egyptology, African history, oceanography, geology, astronomy, botany, rare Arabic and Chinese manuscripts, the letters and journals of early American explorers and the observations of physical anthropologists…As one who has been immersed in Mexican archaeology for some 40 years and who participated in the excavation of the first of the giant heads, I must confess, I am thoroughly convinced of the soundness of Van Sertima’s conclusions.” (84 illus.)
Professor Ivan van Sertima, They Came before Columbus
A review by Femi Akomolafe, 19 January 1995
History, as taught in the Western and Western-dominated world, gives the impression that the first Africans to reach the Americas were brought as slaves, in shackles on slaves-ships. So total is the Euro-Americans onslaught on black people that all military, missionary, scholarship, academic forces are mobilized to paint the picture of the African as an eternal slave of the white man.
In order to justify their crimes of slavery and colonialism, Europeans have constructed a web of lies and prevarications and passed them as historical truth. How else do we explain the Western historians deliberate distortion of the truth to paint the picture of a Caucasian master and an African slave—even in the Americas, where evidence abounded that black people were respected, even venerated, by the old Americans (Occidental Indians)?
So complete was the Europeans falsification of history that several people, both black and white, will be shocked to know that there were historical, archaeological, even botanical evidence of Africans contact with the New World in Pre-Colombian times. As usual, Western scholarship popularized the myth that the history of the Indians started with their ‘discovery,’ by the pirate, ego-tripster and genius of mass-murder, Christopher Columbus.
Happily, one by one, these edifices of distortions, constructed by white-supremacists posing as scholars, historians, anthroplogists, even scientists, are being knocked down.
In his They Came Before Columbus, Professor Ivan Van Sertima of Rutgers University assembled an impressive array of evidence to challenge one of the most persistent of these historical distortions. His argument are so compelling that very many high-calibre scholars, who have maintained the prejudiced line of history, are bound to fall flat from their pedestal. The style of the book is very engaging, almost novel-like—this makes a very good reading.
The first evidence of a black presence in the America was given to Columbus by the Indians themselves: they gave concrete proof to the Spanish that they were trading with black people. “The Indians of this Espanola said there had come to Espanola a black people who have the tops of their spears made of a metal which they called gua-nin, of which he [Columbus] had sent samples to the Sovereigns to have them assayed, when it was found that of 32 parts, 18 were of gold, 6 of silver and 8 of copper. The origin of the word guanin may be tracked down in the Mande languages of West Africa, through Mandigo, Kabunga, Toronka, Kankanka, Banbara, Mande and Vei. In Vei, we have the form of the word ka-ni which, transliterated into native phonetics, would give us gua-nin.” p.11. This was just one of the numerous instances, cited by Professor [van] Sertima, where the names, cultures and rituals of the Mandigos confluenced with those of the ancient Americans.
Thus we have the Bambara werewolf cult whose head is known as amantigi (heads of faith) appeared in Mexican rituals as amanteca. The ceremonies accompanying these rituals are too identical to have been independently evolved among peoples who have had no previous encounter. Talking devil is called Hore in Mandigo, and Haure in Carib. In the American language of Nahuatl a waistcloth is called maxtli, in Malinke it’s masiti. The female loincloth is nagua in Mexico, it is nagba in Mande.
Why would the Indians claimed to have traded with black people if they haven’t? Why would their faith and language have so much infusion of West African influence if these people haven’t had any contact? These might not be sufficient, in themselves, to justify the claims that Africans have been visiting the Americas in pre-Colombian times. But there are witnesses. In 1513 Vasco Nunez de Balboa, another Spanish usurper came upon a group of African war captives in an Indian settlement. He was told that the blacks lived nearby and were constantly waging wars. A priest, Fray Gregoria Garcia wrote an account of another encounter in a book that was silenced by the inquisition: “Here we found slaves of the lord – Negroes- who were the first our people saw in the Indies.” p.22. (It should be noted that in pre-European slavery, slaves are what we called ‘Prisoners of wars’ today. Thus, the Yorubas have the same name, ERU, for both slaves and POWs.)
Aside from these confirmed sightings, there are also an abundance archeological evidence of an Africa presence in pre-Colombian times. These were in the form of realistic portraitures of Negro-Africans in clay, gold, and stone unearthed in pre-Colombian strata in Central and South America.- pp.23-24. Moved by these overwhelming evidence, the Society of American Archeology at a conference in 1968, Professor [van] Sertima reported, concluded: “Surely there cannot now be any question but that there were visitors to the New World from the Old in historic or even prehistoric time before 1492.”
Then there is the oral history of the two peoples. The Griots—traditional historians and masters of orature—‘Oral Literature’ in Mali, have stories about their King, Abubakari the second, grandson of Sundiata, the founder of the Mali Empire (larger than the Holy Roman Empire), who set out on a great expedition of large boats in 1311. None of the boats returned to Mali, but curiously around this time evidence of contact between West Africans and Mexicans appear in strata in America in an overwhelming combination of artifacts and cultural parallels. A black-haired, black-bearded figure in white robes, one of the representations of Quetzalcoatl, modeled on a dark-skinned outsider, appears in paintings in the valley of Mexico… while the Aztecs begin to worship a Negroid figure mistaken for their god Tezcatlipoca because he had the right ceremonial color. Negroid skeletons are found in this time stratum in the Caribbean… ‘A notable tale is recorded in the Peruvian traditions … of how black men coming from the east had been able to penetrate the Andes Mountains.’ p.26
The voyage of Abubakari, Professor [van] Sertima pointed out, may not be as daunting as it seems for anyone who understand the Ocean currents. These currents, which traverse the World’s oceans, serves as natural marine conveyor belts. “Once you enter them you are transported (even against your will, even with no navigational skill) from one bank of the ocean to the other.” pp.22-23. Several successful attempts have been made to demonstrate that it was possible to cross the Atlantic from the Equator to South America, even in small boat.
To the scholars, blinded by racial prejudice, who maintained that the blacks were brought into the Americas as slaves by Phoenicians, Professor [van] Sertima posed the question: “Why would a people as sophisticated as the Indians built temples, shrines and statues to honor slaves, and none to the supposed masters? Indeed why would a people considered so lowly be venerated at all?” The people who were host to these Negro-African figures are known as the Olmecs … In all, eleven colossal Negroid heads appear in the Olmec heartland. pp.30-31. The artifacts have been carbon-dated and it is beyond question that they predates the Columbus era.
Banana, yam, beans and gourd are Old World plants that predates Columbus in the Americas. How did they get there? While the last [gourd] could have been transported by the ocean currents, the first three cannot survive such prolonged exposure. “The African word for banana runs right through these American languages.” p199.
Pipe smoking was another African pastime that found its way into the Americas. “The Malinke words meaning to smoke are dyamba and dyemba. These can account for South American smoke words such as the Guipinavi, dema; Traiana, iema; Maypures, jema; Guahiba, sema; Caberi, scema; Baniva, djeema; and so on. The Mandigo word duli (to smoke) which also occurs in the same form in Toma and Bambara, and in its variant forms nduli and luli in Mende, can be found among the American languages Carb, Arawak, Chavantes, Baniva, Acroamirin, and Goajira.” p. 217. On page 252 through 253, there were several citations of ethnic American names duplicated only among the Berbers, and nowhere else in the world.
Professor [van] Sertima cited several authorities to buttress his forceful arguments that there were African presence in the Americas before Columbus came. He showed evidence to support his views that these blacks were not slaves but traders and priests who were honored and venerated by the Indians—who built statues in their honors. In the closing of the book, he declaimed the notion of ‘discovery.’ In his own words: “It would be an irony, indeed, to find that Americans ‘discovered’ Europe many centuries before Europeans ‘discovered‘ America. But the whole notion of any race (European, African or American) discovering a full-blown civilization is absurd. They presume some innate superiority in the ‘discoverer’ and something inferior and barbaric in the people ‘discovered.’… What I have sought to prove is not that Africans ‘discovered’ America, but that they made contact on at least half a dozen occasions, two of which were culturally significant for Americans.”
THEY CAME BEFORE COLUMBUS is a must read for anyone seeking knowledge about Africa of old, before slavery and colonialism reduced the black man to the object of ridicule and humiliation. It is also imperative for those Europeans who will like to know the true relation of Europe to World civilization, untainted by the lies and vain-glories of their popular history books, to read it.