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DEDICATED TO IVAN VAN SERTIMA (1935-2009)

 

afromexIn mid-July of 2014, I had the pleasure of leading a group of twenty-three people on an African heritage tour of Mexico. The group was largely composed of African-Americans but also included a Black man from Guyana, a Nigerian, a young African woman from Niger and a Latina.  The purpose was to explore Mexico's African legacy.  It was a short tour of only seven days but it was a wonderful, intense and fun trip during which we visited the Catedral Metropolitana (the national church of Mexico where we got to see a splendid statue of a miraculous Black Christ), the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadeloupe (the most visited shrine in the Western Hemisphere), the pyramids at Teotihuacan, the town of Yanga (named after the African liberator of early Mexico--Gaspar Yanga--where we had a libation ceremony), and the beautiful ancient Mayan city of Palenque.  

 

But the real focus of the tour was the civilization called the Olmec. The Olmec civilization is universally regarded as the parent civilization of the Americas and the most outstanding and visible feature about the Olmec civilization are seventeen massive stone heads with African features.  On this tour I got to see and photograph fifteen of these heads and gathered much information to supplement that which I already had.  And the conclusion that I came to is that not only has there been a pervasive and influential African presence in Mexico from the most ancient times, but that at the height of the Olmec civilization in ancient Mexico there reigned a dynasty of African kings. 

 

Yes, I realize the magnitude and implications of what I am saying.  I know that it goes beyond the parameters of what we are led to believe about African people in the Americas.  I know that it goes beyond the realm of slavery.  But the evidence is indisputable that African people were well established in the Americas, particularly Mexico, both before Columbus and long before the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.  

 

I don't say such things lightly.   ;I worked under and had a close relationship with Dr. Ivan Van Sertima--the world's leading authority on the African presence in early America--from 1981 until his death in May 2009.  I have studied African history for more than forty years. In the last fifteen years I have traveled to more than a hundred countries, colonies and overseas territories in search of the African presence, have taken thousands of photos and engaged in relentless research.   I was staggered by what I saw in Mexico and so my real question is why is this information not well known and why it had not penetrated the popular imagination.   Such knowledge can even be healing.  

 

With the great divide that exists between the Mexican-American and African-American communities in the United States such information about the African presence in Mexican history can even be healing.  For it tells us that we have a long history of interactions.  

 

To state that African people played a prominent role in American history from the very beginning is not an attempt to seize Native American and Mexican history and civilization.  But it is an undisguised attempt to set the record straight and that record states that African people have a history second to none, including a remarkable history in pre-Columbian America--and it is a history that deserves to be shouted to the world.

 

Olmec civilization began about 1500 BCE and lasted until near the beginning of the Christian era.  It profoundly influenced all of the Meso-American civilizations the followed, including the Maya, the Totonac, the Zapotec and the Aztec.  It is the parent civilization of the Americas.

 

The name Olmec was coined by archaeologists in the 1920s and means "people of the region of rubber."  The first great Olmec center was San Lorenzo Tenochtitlan, which flourished from around 1200 BCE to about 950 BCE.  Following San Lorenzo Tenochtitlan in Vera Cruz state the Olmec civilization blossomed again around La Venta in the Mexican state of Tabasco.  The final vestiges of Olmec civilization were at Tres Zapotes in Southeastern Vera Cruz.    

 

The Olmec seem to have been the first people in the Americas to move large objects in stone, to have calendars, to build pyramids, to engage in astronomy, even to play organized sports.   But mostly what stands out about the Olmec is a series of seventeen massive stone heads--all of which look Africoid and some of them extraordinarily so.

 

This is not new information.  The first was these heads was identified in 1862 by Mexican scholar Jose Melgar, who described it as "Ethiopian."  Harvard professor Leo Wiener wrote about them beginning in the 1920s in a three-volume work entitled Africa and Discovery of America.  But Wiener thought the heads represented slaves.  Apparently Wiener, though remarkably advanced in some ways, was still a product of his times in that he was prepared to recognize the African characteristics of the heads but would not allow himself to give this African element a prominent position in the Olmec world.  For Wiener, the colossal Africoid heads among the Olmecs only represented slaves.

 

In the 1930s and 1940s European-American archaeologist Mathew Stirling did the most advanced research among the Olmec civilization and unearthed most of the Olmec heads.  Indeed, it was Stirling who unearthed the Olmec head with the African braids at Tres Zapotes.  

 

At the end of the 1960s African-American researcher Legrand H. Clegg II began writing about the African presence in ancient America, including the Olmec.  Even the great anthrophotojournalist from Jamaica J.A. Rogers wrote about the Olmec heads.

 

But the great breakthrough for the Global African Community regarding a prominent African presence in the Olmec world occurred with the publication in 1976 of Ivan Van Sertima's hallmark work They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America. From this point the genie was out of the bottle for good.  

 

We must also look at the work of three African-American women scholars who have done great work in the field.  They are Paris Williams of Seattle, Alice Windom of St. Louis and Dr. Toni Humber of Los Angeles.  We should examine the writings of Alexander von Wuthenau, Clyde Winters, Paul Barton and David Imhotep.  

 

But it was Ivan Van Sertima who did the most and best work on the subject and who immortalized himself with his writings, his lectures and the inexhaustible endeavors to bring awareness to the African presence among the Olmec.  

 

The most prominent aspect of Olmec Civilization are the massive stone heads, the largest of which weighs forty tons.  These heads are in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, the Museum of Anthropology in Xalapa, Parque-Museo La Venta, the Regional Anthropology Museum in Villahermosa, and two isolated heads--one at San Lorenzo Tenochtitlan and another at Tres Zapotes.  Tres Zapotes seems to have been the last great Olmec center and may have existed until the beginning the Christian era. It was also at Tres Zapotes where the first of the known Olmec heads was found in 1862.

 

What became of the Olmec civilization and its elite African element?  There are no certain answers.  Perhaps, after a thousand years, the environment could no longer support them.  Perhaps the land of the Olmecs was invaded and the Olmec succumbed. There is an Olmec figurine in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts of an Olmec man being tortured and perhaps even castrated.  The bottom line is that we simply don't know what happened to the Olmec.  We only know of the enormous contributions of the Olmec to ancient American civilization.

 

We also cannot say with certainty who and what the Olmec heads represent.  Leo Wiener believed that they were slaves. But who would carve a forty-ton head for a slave?  Others, because of the helmet gear that adorns each of the Olmec heads, have expressed that they were great athletes.  But one has to ask the same question.  Who would carve a forty ton head for an athlete, even the greatest of athletes?  And remember that the stone used to carve these heads came from many miles away from the ceremonial sites where the heads were eventually placed.  

 

Could they have been priests?  Perhaps they were deities.  But, for me, the answer is clear.  For hundreds of years ancient Mexico was ruled by a series of African kings.  And the massive Olmec heads of which we speak are the depictions of these kings--this African dynasty in ancient Mexico.

 

It is important to know that African people did not begin their history in the Americas as enslaved people.  They arrived as masters of their own fate and the arbiters of their own destinies.  

 

Runoko Rashidi is a historian and anthropologist based in Los Angeles, California and Paris, France.  He regularly coordinates African heritage to the famous and not so famous corners of the world.  For more information and updates on his tours please write to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , call Runoko at (210) 232- 7272 or visit his web site at www.travelwithrunoko.com. 

Located at the edge of the mining belt in South Africa, Soweto is an urban area in Johannesburg. The area is well known for its historical significance during the pre and post World War Era. However, the region came to limelight with the outbreak of the Soweto Uprising in 1976. The movement was a turning point how the black African Racial community would be viewed in the world and led to key events like the death of colonization in Africa and the rise of the ‘Black Power’ in Africa. Soweto today is a popular tourist destination in Africa and is known to be the birth place of World icons and Nobel Prize winners Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. In many ways the uprising in the country is similar to India’s struggle for Independence and makes Soweto a place which is a must visit for Indians who visit Africa. Here are some reasons why Indians should visit Soweto.

1. Nelson Mandela

nelson-mandela

 

 

 

Considered as the ‘Father of the Nation’ by South Africa, Nelson Mandela is often seen as what Mahatma Gandhi was to India. Nelson Mandela was a former resident in Soweto till he was imprisoned in 1962. His house is still present in Orlando west and is one of the popular tourist attractions in Soweto. The house contains several articles used by the Mandela family andd a guided tour will help you get a better knowledge about the life and times of the great leader.   

 

 

 

 

2. Tuk Tuk

tuk-tukThe Tuk Tuk is a variant of the auto rickshaw which is a popular mode of transport there. Unlike the auto rickshaws found in India, the Tuk Tuks in Africa have doors and are surprisingly manufactured bythe Indian Bajaj Auto Company. Various tours around the town in hired Tuk Tuks which cover few of the most important historical sites in Johannesburg. The auto rickshaw is considered as a luxury mode of transport in Soweto and other parts of Africa and the special tours attract a huge number oftourists to the region.

 

 

 

 

3. Fair Trade Travel

This nonprofit organization is dedicated to providing responsible tourism in South Africa and also has a branch in Soweto. The organization’s prime goal is to promote the tourism and to make sure that the people who provide the various tourist facilities in South Africa reap the most benefits. The Fair Trade Travel tours will make you experience the most breathtaking landscapes and the most important historical monuments and provide detailed information about all the places you visit. Soweto is a small urbanized area of the Johannesburg region but has a rich historical significance. The place is considered to be the place where the Dark Continent and the Black People saw their rise to being a world power and the various monuments and attractions in the town are a must visit.

fair-trade-travelAbout the Writer

Rohit Agarwal is a keen travel blogger and likes to discover new places and experience the different cultures in the world. He also owns and maintains Trans India Travel. http://www.transindiatravels.com

Top Photo Credit of Gandhi-Mandela: Belén Morales 

 

ronOn January 16, 2015 Rabbi David Baron, Founder of the Beverly Hills Temple of the Arts at the Saban Theatre led a Shabbat Service attended by 500 guests in observance of the holiday celebrating the life and work of the late Civil Rights Activist and Leader, Martin Luther King Jr.  Service Participants included:  Axel Cruau, Consul général de France à Los Angeles; Reverend Ronald V. Myers, Sr., M.D., Founder and Chairman of the Modern Movement promoting the Juneteenth holiday and Jazz Pianist and Trumpeter; Dr. J. Benjamin Hardwick, President of the Western Baptist State Convention of California; actor Gabriel Macht, star of the television showSUITS and Television Editor Ari Macht, both of whom served as Keynote Speakers; and actor Stephen Macht, who served as Event Producer.

Others who also participated in the service included:  Marianne Williamson, acclaimed spiritual author; 14­year­old opera singer Golda Berkman; Jazz musiciansJacques Lesure on Guitar, Teodress Avery on Saxophone, James Leary on Bass andCecil Brooks, III on Drums; and the Temple of the Arts’ Cantor, Ilysia J. Pierce and Music Director Sharon Farber.  Miss Israel 2013, Yityish “Titi” Aynaw delivered a video message honoring Reverend Dr. Ronald V. Myers.During the course of the service event participants lit 17 candles in memory of those killed in terrorist attacks in Paris recently as cellist Michael Fitzpatrick played a moving piece of music entitled “In Memoriam” written by composer CJ Vanston, while images of the 17 victims were projected onto a video screen above him.  Jazz Pianist Reverend Dr. Ronald V. Myers, along with the support of guitarist Jacques Lesure, saxophonist Theodress Avery, bass player James Leary and drummer Cecil Brooks, III, played a musicalized version of “Psalm 23,” supported by Narrator Loren Lester.  Singer Golda Berkman sang the song “Climb EveryMountain.”  Cantor Ilysia J. Pierce, supported by pianist Sharon Farber led the congregation in a rousing rendition of the anthem “We Shall Overcome” while all event participants locked arms and sang the song from the bimah of the synagogue.  Dr. J. Benjamin Hardwick, who once marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, delivered the Benediction.

Rabbi David Baron said “The legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, and the example of Reverend Dr. Ronald V. Myers, whom we honored tonight at our service, are men committed to unifying us not diving us.”  Rabbi Baron presented Reverend Dr. Ronald V. Myers with a special menorah in recognition of his service to mankind.  To learn more about the Beverly Hills Temple of the Arts at the Saban Theatre, please visit www.templeofthearts.org.

a 9milelogo3dshine copy191x196The Annual 9Mile Music Festival, which many consider to be South Florida’s favorite musical event, has just announced the first performers in its line-up. The Marley Boys, Stephen, Damian and Julian, will also be joined by Stephen’s son Joe Mersa Marley along with Soja and Jessie Royal, with more acts to be named soon.

The Festival celebrating One Love will be held on a special Love holiday, Saturday, February 14, 2015 – Valentine’s Day – at the Miami-Dade County Fairgrounds, 10901 Coral Way in Miami. Tickets are $52.83 for General Admission and $178.74 for VIP and are on sale now at www.9milemusicfestival.com. Additionally four cans of food/person must be brought to the Festival on the day of show to gain admission.

The Annual 9 Mile Music Festival, now in its 22nd year, is an all day event honoring the life and philosophy of the legendary reggae star, Bob Marley and featuring top musical acts from around the world as well as popular local performers. People travel from around the United States, Canada and the Caribbean to attend this yearly event. Reaching across all divides and embracing an international community, the 9 Mile Music Festival draws the young at heart and encourages everyone to come together. The 9 Mile Music Festival began as a labor of love, pioneered by Cedella Marley Booker. It takes place every year in the warmth and sunshine of Miami, Florida.

Over the years the festival has had other names including “The Caribbean Music Festival.” It finally evolved into what is the “9 Mile Music Festival” today, named for the village of Nine Mile, the birthplace and final resting place of the legendary Bob Marley. It exemplifies the foundation and heart of our family. For this reggae music festival is more than just your average “concert”; it has a commitment to doing good and spreading love. The 9 Mile Music Festival is responsible for collecting over two (2) million canned goods over its 22-year span. In an effort to continuously give back to its community, four canned goods are required for entry along with a purchased admission. The canned goods that are collected are then distributed to shelters in Miami.

Tickets are $52.83 for General Admission and $178.74 for VIP and are on sale now at www.9milemusicfestival.com. Additionally four cans of food/person must be brought to the Festival on the day of show to gain admission. For more information call 877-440-8499 or go to: www.9milemusicfestival.com

aain religiousIn the light of recent news of reigious conflict, Seychelles prides itself on having religious dominations as part of its culture, where people of different religions are able to live together in complete harmony.

The country’s Minister for Tourism and Culture, Alain St.Ange, said this when speaking to the eminent scholar and lecturer on Islam, Dr. Bilal Philips, and Mutah Beale, who was a former rapper, during a courtesy call at the Ministry of Tourism and Culture Offices at ESPACE building yesterday.

Welcoming the lecturers to Seychelles, Minister St.Ange said they have come as ambassadors of the Islam faith at an opportune time when the world is preoccupied by the Paris attacks.

The Islam scholar and lecturer are in Seychelles to give lectures on themes such as “Islam branded” and “Thug life.” These lectures are open to members of the public regardless of their religious denominations.

Minister St.Ange said visits like this to Seychelles can ensure that people become more aware about what the Islamic faith is all about.

“We need people like you to visit our country and to promote unity through your teachings,” Minister St.Ange said.

There are Muslims who act in the name of Islam but in reality violate the principles and teachings of this religion, which Dr. Philips said one must not blame the religious denomination for it, but the individuals who are involved in such acts.

Dr. Bilal also thanked the Minister and invited him to join them at the inaugural lecture entitled “Islam under a cloud” at the International Conference Centre of Seychelles on Friday evening.

Also present for the meeting in the Minister’s office were the Principal Secretary for Culture Benjamine Rose; Ibrahim Afif, the President of the Seychelles Islamic Society; and other representatives of the Islamic society.

 

Source: ETN