I love the way in which we are ignorant. Everyone is ignorant, including historians. As humans we have this tendency of ignoring things, either because we do not want to hear about it, because it implicates effort or just because we never showed interest. Sometimes we are ignorant by accident, but most of the time we are ignorant because we chose to. You will think why am I discussing this when we are in the middle of what is called Black History month, and that we only “celebrate” in october in the UK (apparently the rest of the world that is concerned about it does it in february, but never mind). Well, the answer is rather simple, we ARE total ignorant in the subject of Black History.
Me, myself, I was thinking on my topic for this week and found myself wondering…what IS black history? The only thought I could get in my mind were words like slavery and Martin Luther King, maybe some bits and pieces of the Boer War… And that was about it…Me…A “potential” historian…And I thought that was just wrong. It is wrong in the first place having such a thing like black history month, or women history month…It seems rather discriminating. Just like J. Wayne explains in his article, it seems like an excuse to ignore this type of histories for the rest of the year. Nonetheless, and before I put far too much criticism on the subject, one could say that at least for one month these people are remembered.
Going back to the subject of what is black history, I am still trying to make sense of it. I have ben told, and read in several places that it primarily applies to the movement of african people around the world and its implications…Which, to an extent I guess it is reduced to Slavery (the fact that we are using movement rather than migration gives me the clue…). I think this is a sad fact. We chose to remember that African people were trade as any other sort of goods…Why do not we try to remember what existed before that? What made them a people and there for electable to have their own history month? What about their culture? Their unknown kingdoms? Their religion? What about all those Africans that were not slaves or that not ended in wars with the Europeans? Why do not we pay a bit of attention to them?
This is the reason why my topic for today is going to be a very brief comment on a couple of cultural aspects of African societies NOT RELATED to the usual thing. These are things I have just learnt for myself and that I would like to share with you so we all get an image of these ‘black’ people and their history.
In case that anyone forgot, Africa could be argued to be the cradle of civilization. The extraordinary archaeological work in this continent remind us that most likely our human origins belong there. Half of the bananas we eat, we owe them to the inhabitants of East Africa. As it happens they decided to trade and spread their new-found crop to the rest of the continent (back in the 3rd century CE) and so, new varieties of bananas were produced. These bananas helped to the agricultural development of these people; it provided them with food supplies and trade (reference: C.Ehret, The Civilizations of Africa: A History to 1800). Half of the music you listen is based on African music. They took it with them to America in the age of Slavery and they expressed their lament in a very poetical way: music. Thanks to this we have soul, blues and even jazz, rock and roll and heavy metal, and most likely, other sorts of pop music. It seems that music was a very important part of African life, as other sort of artistic representations (and it is still within many tribes in the continent, p. 337-344). In the words of B. Davidson:
” Carvers were famous because they were excellent. Dancers were celebrated not because they knew the steps…but because they dances them supremely well. Drummers were admired for the rhythms they could hear and play, rhythms so complex that an unskilled listener like myself cannot even recognise them.” ( The Africans: and entry to cultural history, p.161)
…And so I could carry on.
I am not trying to say that it is bad that we have such a thing like Black History month. I am not trying to say that we are bad people because we do not know their history. What I am trying to say is that maybe the reasons why we do not know such things, or why we need something like black history month are not the best ever. So maybe, we should do a bit of historical reflection and reconsider what sort of things we pay attention to and why.
“Nothing determines who we will become so much as those things we choose to ignore. ~ Sandor McNab”
…And I hope this might encourage you to learn something new today, or this month. Perhaps…Something related to Africa and Black history.