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Teach the Children the Truth

by Ras Tyehimba
November 23, 2006

Last week I had the pleasure of addressing the students of Princess Town Senior Comprehensive on the relevance of African History to mark the school's celebration of African History Month this November. It is my perspective that the secondary school curriculum needs to be re-examined carefully in order to incorporate broader perspectives that are necessary for us to understand the different cultures that comprise this country. Addressing the distortions and exclusions especially related to, but not limited to, African History is important if the country is to get to the root of the many pervasive social ills.

The school-hall was filled with many attentive African, Indian and mixed students. One of the first things I did was to explain how African history is relevant not only to Africans but also to other groups as well, such as East Indians and mixed persons. With human beings evolving the features and capabilities that are characteristic of modern human, they dispersed out of Africa in groups, and it is in inter-group mixing and adapting to climatic conditions and food choices, that different physical characteristics and different cultural orientations evolved over thousands of years.

Thus the history of all groups - Chinese, Indians, Europeans - start from the early dark-skin kinky-hair Africans from which all peoples came. Li Jin, a geneticist at the University of Texas in Houston stated that their research, based on analysis of the gene patterns from 43 different ethnic groups in China and Asia, showed that from their origins in Africa, "...modern humans first came to southeast Asia and then moved later to northern China". I would suggest an internet article titled 'The First Chinese were Black' that further explains this issue.

Furthermore, African history not only explains the physical and genetic origins of different people, but also to some extent, it help us to make sense of various religions and cultural practices that may not be usually associated with the African continent. All the world's major religions have their roots in knowledge that first came from the understanding of ancient Africans. This is true of Judeo-Christianity, Islam and Hinduism and understanding how these major religions developed would not only allow the practitioners of such belief systems to understand better their own religion but to understand other mainstream religions. Most importantly, it would also allow for an understanding and appreciation of other value systems that may not be readily available in the mainstream. I will develop this point further in a future column.

One of the greatest shortcomings of present perceptions of history is that history is seen as the past. Many times, people are told to let go of the past, or to stop living in the past, which most times is a subtle attempt to distract from them dealing thoroughly with particular aspects of history. This linear conceptualization of history fails to allow persons to fully capture the benefits of history, as history is not only the past, but it is also the present and the future. All that has happened in the past explains what is taking place in the present, and the choices that are made in the present will contribute towards the future. This is the power of history, both as a mechanism of understanding the present and also predicting the future.

African History Month was created to overcome the misinformation, stigma, and ignorance surrounding African history. There is much benefit to be gained from seeking to expand awareness, however, African history, from which the history of all people come from, must be addressed all year around, as the neglect and distortions surrounding it has been going on every day, every week and every month for several centuries now. The subtle and not so subtle anti-history attitudes have been too deeply ingrained to be dealt with in one month.

There have been some moves by some historians to re-visit certain aspects of history in light of the distortions contained in mainstream versions. The inclusion on the A-level Cape syllabus of the fact that Africans traveled from Africa to the 'New World' hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus is a step in the right direction. This bit of history also suggests that the groups did not seek to enslave or kill each other, but rather traded various goods.

Looking at African history involves not only looking at the significance of historical personalities, grand monuments and artifacts, such as the 25,000 year old mathematical Ishango bone, the 30,000 year old ore mine in Swaziland, the few surviving thousands of years old papyruses that outline complex mathematical and surgical procedures, the many human and pre-human fossils found in central Africa, the breath taking statues, temples and pyramids in the Nile Valley, and the Great Zimbabwe Ruins. It also involves looking at the indigenous value systems, relationships and orientations of indigenous African people. In this era where the psyche of our youth and adults alike is bombarded with all the flashy but false attractions of Global capitalism, there is much to be gained from examining alternative ways of thinking and being.

Correcting the historical distortions and exclusions is essential in all people being able to make better choices. Current trends among both teenagers and adults seem to reveal patterns of violent behavior, depression and other mental disorders, maladaptive behavior and a host of insecurities and poor ideas around self-worth, weight, appearance, race and color. These are largely a result of people's history being left out in the mainstream institutions which are a major part of our day to day lives. The disconnection from BOTH collective and personal history means that healthy attitudes and the ability to make informed choices are severely stifled. In our day to day lives, the slightest whims of Hollywood celebrities are more available than our authentic history and this has serious consequences in how individuals construct their view of themselves and their world.

For the many students that are scarred by their exposure to the mainstream education system and other institutions, and for the teachers that recognize that better needs to be done, the answer lies by partly re-examining history and making better sources of information more available not only to students, but to all persons. These better sources of information may be in the form of books, articles, internet sites or role models. This may entail going outside of the mainstream, or even challenging the norm. For example, recently a teacher in a strongly Catholic secondary school told me that there are certain things that he cannot teach in his class, else he will get fired. One of these things, he said is the major role the Catholic Church played in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

Given that forces of imperialism and conquest that have shaped the Caribbean has limited our historical consciousness, people will do good to expand their awareness by RE-EXAMINING history, from different perspectives. There is no substitute for an understanding of history. In a nation where the intake of history is totally inadequate, I would STRONGLY recommend the following authors: Yosef Ben Jochannan, Charles Finch, John Henrik Clarke, Albert Churchward, Ivan Van Sertima, Cheikh Anta Diop, Gerald Massey, Ayei Kwei Armah, John Jackson and Basil Davidson. Among some of the specific titles that I would recommend are Dalit: The Black Untouchables of India by V. T. Rajeshekar, The Goddess Black Woman: Mother of Civilization by Akil, Egyptian Yoga: Philosophy of Enlightenment and When God Was a Woman by Merlin Stone. Most of these authors as well as simpler books for children are available from African Cultural World Bookstore, corner of Chacon Street and Independence Square, Port of Spain.

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