Traditionally history had been taught from a eurocentric point of view. The reason is the content of education, textbooks, religious teachings and the Bible itself had been controlled for 500 years by Europeans. Sometimes this point of view obscures reality. There were some recent finds which might indicate an error in our translation of history. Sometimes we are so reluctant to change our way of thinking that we need overwelming evidence, far beyond a reasonable doubt. This article will attempt to lay the foundation for African presence in the Americas before the arrival of Columbus, not as slaves, but as explorers and traders who helped to build the Olmec civilization.
This line of thinking is not new. In 1920, Leo Weiner wrote Africa and the Discovery of America. He is a Harvard graduate and thought to be the originator of the idea even though he did not have all of the recently discovered facts necessary to support his theory. Later in 1962, Harold G. Lawrence wrote African Explorers of the New World. He believed that Mandigos from the Mali and Songhay Empires carried on trade with the natives of the Americas. In 1969, an article was written by Basil Davidson, titled "Africans Before Columbus?" This article reflected on the information Columbus brought back from the New World. Alexander Von Wuthenau is a South American historian and he taught Pre-Columbian Art History at the University of the Americas. He also founded the Humanitas Americas Collection at San Angel. Von Wuthenau wrote Unexpected Faces in Ancient America in 1975. These are just a few of the historians who support this theory. There are many more. The leading researcher on this subject today is Ivan Van Sertima, who has written several books on the subject. Van Sertima is a professor at Rutgers University. He delivered a lecture to the Smithsonian Institute on November 1, 1991, as part of the symposium "Race", Discourse and the Origin of the Americas: A New World View of 1942. Many historians deny this Pre-Columbian African Presence, and believe ignoring it is the best way to deal with it, except for Micheal Coe and Ignacio Bernal. They chose to take a stance against the presence and wrote several books on the subject.
Christopher Columbus is believed to have discovered the New World, his route was not a straight westerly route as one might expect. His route consisted of four legs. The first leg took him southwest to the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa. After arriving at the Islands he changed sails from a lateen sail to a square sail. The lateen sail was designed to tack against the wind. The square sail could only sail with a following or side wind, but it was stronger and faster with less wind. This change would only have been performed if you knew you had a following or a side wind. This indicates that Columbus received feedback from someone who traveled this route before. The second leg of Columbus's route had a following or side wind twelve months out of the year. If he had gone west from Spain he would have encountered head winds the entire trip. The third and fourth leg returned him along a northern route home. So why did he travel to Africa? Other previous expeditions led by Europeans and or Vikings, traveled northwest. These facts are a strong indication that Columbus was aware of the winds and the currents off the coast of Africa. These facts are still disputed by some historians. One historian named Morrison believed that it was good fortune that the wind carried Columbus's fleet to the New World. Another historian Bjorn Landstrom thinks it was God's will that he was the only one to discover the N.E. Trade Winds and currents.
In the Atlantic Ocean there are currents and winds that move in the same direction all year round with little variation. These currents and winds are strong enough to pull a ship off course and move it from one side of the ocean to the other. Once in this current, it would be next to impossible for a ship without a motor to break free. There are two currents that originate off the coast of Africa and flow west to the Americas. The two currents are the Guinea Current and the Canary Current. The Guinea Current starts about mid-Africa just below the equator and flows to South America just around Brazil. The Canary current originates at the Canary Islands and flows along North Africa to Cape Verde where it runs into the North Equatorial Current. This current along with the N.E. Trade Winds would deliver a vessel at North America around the Bahamas Islands, which was right in the heart of the Olmec civilization.
There have been several important experiments with African boats and the Atlantic currents. Starting in 1952, Dr. Alain Bombard sailed from Casablanca to Barbados in an African raft. In 1955, Dr. Hannes Lindemann sailed for fifty-two days from the Cape Verde Islands to the South American coast. Both journeys were made alone and the men arrived in good health. In 1969, Thor Heyerdahl conducted two experiments, one with the Ra I and the other with the Ra II. The Ra I and the Ra II were ships built identical to an earlier model African ship. The ships were built out of papyrus and were constructed the way they would have been during the Pre-Columbian era. The Ra I was built by the Buduma people first. The Ra I started at Safi in North Africa and sailed to Barbados. The Ra I fell short of making the journey across the Atlantic. The Ra II was built by a native American tribe, the Aymara, this ship made it from Africa to America successfully. These experiments prove that if these simple vessels could negotiate the Atlantic Ocean using one of the two currents, then some of Africa's more sophisticated ships could have made the trip.
The civilization of Africa developed very sophisticated vessels. They built reed boats with a and without sails, log rafts lashed together, dugouts as wide-berthed, Viking ships, double-canoes, lateen-rigged dhows, jointed boats, and rope sewn plank vessels with straw cabins and cooking facilities. These vessels could be found navigating the Nile and Niger rivers. The vessels covered a distance of 2,600 miles carrying cargo from food and people, to elephants and building material. Africa at it's nearest point is 1,500 miles away from America. This point puts a possible voyage to the Americas in perspective.
It has been documented that two different African civilizations made the voyage to the Americas. The first one was the 25th Dynasty of Egypt (751-656 B.C.E.). Any voyages made during this time would have resulted accidentally. The Nubians quest for iron ore deposits took them up and down the African coast. They might have journeyed into the Atlantic after iron ore deposits or a storm could have driven them into the Atlantic. Once in the currents it would have delivered them to the Americas. This would put them in the Olmec heartlands at the time of the founding of the Olmec civilization. The second voyage was made by the Mandiga people of the Mali Empire in 1310 and 1311. In 1324 Mansa Kankan Musa stopped in Cairo and reported that his predecessor, Prince Abubakari II, launched two expeditions to explore the limits of the Atlantic Ocean. The first expedition he sent out 200 ships of men, and 200 ships of trade material, food, water. One ship returned and told of the current that seemed like a river in the middle of the ocean. The captain watched the ships get sucked away, and then returned with the news. Prince Abubakari II, after listening to the captain, decided he would lead the next voyage himself. He took 1,000 ships of men and 1,000 ships loaded with supplies.
Some of these Africans must have made it to the Americas, because there were sightings that indicated their presence in the New World. Columbus himself reported that the American Indians of Hispaniola had told him that "there had come to Hispaniola people who have the tops of their spears made of a metal which they call quanin, of which he had sent samples to the Sovereigns to have them assayed, when it was found that of 32 parts, 18 were gold, six of silver and eight of copper." These samples were sent back to Spain on a mail boat, and the proportion was found to be identical to what was being forged in African Guinea. On his third voyage he journeyed to the Cape Verde Islands. There he found that "canoes had been found which start from the coast of Guinea and navigate to the west with merchandise." A personal friend of Columbus, named Las Casa, who traveled with him later left the following message:
"Certain principal inhabitants of the island of Santiago came to see them and they say that to the southwest of the Island of Huego [Fogo, or Fuego] which is one of the Cape Verdes distance 12 leagues from this, may be seen an island, and that the King Don Juan [Dom Joao II of Portugal] was greatly inclined to send to make discoveries to the southwest, and that canoes had been found which start from the coast of Guinea and navigate to the west with merchandise."
This travel must have been deliberate if these vessels were loaded "with merchandise." Although much later, this would coincide with the stories of voyages out of Africa. Later on Columbus's third voyage he noted the presence of Africans in Panama. Even Ferdinand Columbus said that his father told him he had seen Africans north of Honduras.
There were other sightings in the Americas that were reported. One sighting was by Peter Martyr who reported that Vasco Nunez de Balboa in September 1513 saw two black men in Panama. Native Americans reported to him that they were at war with a large settlement of these black men. It was believed these black men were ship wrecked. Another sighting was by Lopez de Gomara who described the people as identical to Africans seen in Guinea. The next sighting by Labbe' Brasseur de Bourbourg reported two indigenous peoples in Panama, the Mandinga (black skin) and the Tule (red skin). Also Fray Gregoria Garcia reports on blacks sighted in Cartagena, Columbia. Michael Coe even reported that Alonzo Ponce spoke of a boatload of "Moors" who landed off Campeche and terrorized the natives.
"Alphonse de Quatrefages, author of The Human Species, speaks of distinct Black tribes among the native Americans- Black communities like the Jamassi of Florida, the Charruas of Brazil, and a people in St. Vincent."
There had been many sightings of Africans in the Americas. Over the years these have been written out of history as insignificant or incorrect. However the proof cannot be altered.
"Cleared of the surrounding earth it presented an awe inspiring spectacle. Despite its great size, the workmanship is delicate and sure, its proportions perfect. Unique in character among aboriginal American sculptures, it is remarkable for its realistic treatment. The features are bold and amazingly Negroid in character."
By Dr. Matthew Stirling
The village of Tres Zapotes, Mexico is the location the first colossal stone head was discovered. It was first discovered in 1858 by some Mexican peasants, and was later excavated in 1938 by Dr. Matthew Stirling. Dr. Stirling led a joint team from the Smithsonian Institution and the National Geographic Society to unearth the startling archaeological find. The head was carved from a single block of basalt and rested on slabs of stone that when carbon date tested revealed a creation date of November 4, 291 B.C. The stone head was found ten miles away from the mountain from which it came, Mount Tuxtla. The single block of stone which the native Americans had chiseled was six feet high and eighteen feet in circumference, weighing over ten tons. This stone was moved ten miles over a thirty-foot-deep gorge, undamaged and without the aid of the wheel or domestic animals. The next one was founded in 1925 in La Venta, but was not excavated until 1939. La Venta was the holy center of the Olmec worked, and it possessed a colossal head larger that the one at Tres Zapotes. La Venta was built on an island where basalt stone does not occur naturally. The nearest source is over eighty miles away. The task of transporting it must have been difficult because some of the blocks are estimated to have weighed forty to fifty tons. The ability to move large stones is reminiscent of another civilization located in Africa. It was questioned how they could move the stone heads were found in La Venta and all of them had features that indicated an African presence such as a fullness of the lips, the bread fleshy nose, the lines of the cheek and jaw, and the Ethiopian type braids. The three main centers of Olmec civilization were at San Lorenzo, La Venta, and Tres Zapotes, each which contains remains of many large structures. Note the resemblances between the Nubian chief from Kenya, Africa (photo by National Geographic magazine) and the Colossal Olmec head from La Venta I, Pre-Classic 1100 B.C.
Most historians will display pictures of the stone heads without an explanation. As one historian put it "No one knows who they were or where they came from , but they produced the first well-developed art style, and became the great 'mother of culture' of Middle America." There are a hand full of historians who will take an opposing view. Aguirre Beltran believed they were human-jaguar combination. Ignacio Bernal felt they could not be Africans because Africans do not have epicanthic folds. Michael Coe felt the artist carving the sculptures did not have small enough tools to make smaller noses and lips.
There were other items found such as temples, shrines and pyramids. Small art pieces including figurines made of granite, serpentine, or jade were found also. Some were sculptures with African type features as well as African type hair. These sculptures can be found on display in the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, the Diego Rivera Museum, the Josue Saenz Collection, and the Alexander von Wuthenau Collection.
Another great find in February 1975 by a Smithsonian Institution team was two Negroid male skeletons. These skeletons were found in the U.S. Virgin Islands in a grave that was used and abandoned long before Columbus arrived. The soil was dated to be 1250 AD. The teeth showed, "dental mutilation characteristic of early African cultures." Prior to this, Dr. Andrzej Wiecinski addressed the XLI International Congress of Americanist in Mexico (September 1974). This is what Wiecinski said:
It appeared that some of the skulls from Tlatilco, Cerro de las Mesas and Monte Alban (all pre-Classic sites in Mexico) show, to a different degree, a clear prevalence of the total Negroid pattern that has been evidenced by the use of two methods: a) multivariate distance analysis of average characteristics of individual fractions distinguished cranioscopically: b) analysis of frequency distributions of Mean Index of the position between combinations of racial varieties.
This discovery in 1975 would indicate Africans were here before Columbus. They died here before Columbus, and they were buried here before the arrival of Columbus.
Other indications of their presence were remnants they left behind from the items they brought to the Americas with them from Africa. From civilizations like Mali, Song hay, and Egypt, came the principal American food plants, the Mayan Calendar, linguistic evidence, and the art of pyramid building. The first indications were the plants that were transplanted from Africa to the Americas. The cotton seeds, banana plants, bottle gourd, jack bean and the West African yam all have African origin, and they suddenly appeared in the Americas without and explanation. They do not appear to have followed any natural course of migration. It is believed that these plants were transferred, which would require effective contact between the two civilizations. The next indication was the calendar the Mayan people used based on the lunar and solar calendar. This calendar was quite accurate and very similar to the egyptian calendar. Professor Wiener believe Mayan mathematics corresponded with the number system of the Bambaras of Guinea. Another indication was a writing system used in the Americas called Micmac Hieroglyphs. When comparing this style of writing to the simpler cursive form of Egyptian hieroglyphic, called heiratic, over half were found to be similar. Closer examination revealed the meanings assigned to these signs matched. It is evident that the West African languages and South American languages are similar. These similarities can be traced to common root words. These differences are too close and occur too frequently to be a coincidence.
A very important indication is the knowledge of pyramid building. Pyramid building is a specialized form of construction. In Egypt they progressed from the stepped pyramid of Djosser, to the finished product at Giza. At La Venta, which was the location of the first pyramid in the Americas, was a fully finished pyramid. There was no sign of progressive learning. The base of these pyramids are the same measurement as in Egypt and they are placed on a north-south axis. These pyramids also served the same dual purpose, tomb and temple. The four indications of outside influence, American food plants, Mayan calendar, linguistic evidence, and pyramid building are just a few. There are more, such as religion, tobacco, astronomy, and African animals that appeared in the Americas.
These outside influences controlled the development of civilizations in the New World. The Olmec civilization was the first of these civilizations flourishing between 1200 and 400 BC. The first great Olmec Civil-Ceremonial Center was developed at San Lorenzo by 1200 BC. About 900 BC, Olmec and the Mayan civilization set the foundation for other civilizations, to include the Aztecs and the Incas. These civilizations received sufficient transmission to enable them to rise to greatness. The African people have been great travelers, culture carriers, and culture collectors among the people of the world. During all this traveling the African explores never launched a destructive war on the people they met. The two people joined and created a separate culture with its own distinctness, the Olmec civilization. Some of these supporting facts were recent discoveries. All of them are accurate, although some are hard to prove, because of the destruction of documents by European explores. I have presented you with the facts. Now it is up to you to decide. Was there African presence in the Americas before the arrival of Columbus? If you answered yes then it is obvious to you that Africans played an intricate part in the development of the Olmec Empire, the first civilization in the Americas.