Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Mother Continent of All Civilization

by OmiSaide Ali
Omo Yemoja, Apetebi Ifa

In April, 1993, the dedication of the Holocaust Museum took place in Washington, DC. This memorial is a testimony to the horrors perpetrated against Jews and other ethnic and religious minorities at the hands of the regime of Nazi Germany under Hitler in the 1940's. It is estimated that twenty million were taken into captivity and that six million lives were lost; the victims died in the "cleansing" showers of the death camp gas chambers. Countless others were casualties of unspeakable experiments performed in the name of medicine and science. Man's inhumanity to man was at work in its most heinous form when these atrocities took place in Europe. Was the idea of ethnic purification for a "master race", as Hitler termed his European followers, a new one? Looking back in history, there is strong evidence that it is not.

In the mid-1400's, the first Africans were taken out of Sierra Leone on Africa's West Coast as a present for a Portuguese king. The capture and removal from the African Continent of these ten men marked the beginning of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and the wholesale exploitation and death of at least two hundred million (conservatively estimated) African lives. Truly, this is the African Holocaust; a horrific model for Hitler's later regime. The Africans who were forcibly removed from their homelands came primarily from what is known as West Africa; from Senegal down to Nigeria and all the countries in between. Columbus' "discovery" of the Caribbean islands, and later, the shores of the Americas, created a need among colonists for the strong, dark-skinned strangers who seemed tireless yet frightening in their peculiarity. Human lives became one of the largest sources of trade for the Dutch, Spanish, English, Portuguese and French. Later, ships sailed from North America in search of slave labour. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade lasted from the mid-1400's until the late 1800's. The West Coast of Africa became known as the Gold, Ivory and Slave Coasts, named for the "items" of trade that were being ripped from the bosom of the Continent. Many did not survive the treks from inland villages to the coastal forts created by the slavers. Women heavy with child, very young children, and elders were routinely taken, along with young men and women of able body. Those the slavers believed too frail to make it through the grueling fifty-six day journey through the middle passage were thrown into the bays on which the forts were built. Consequently, shark infestation problems exist in many of the areas on these coasts even today. Branded with the initials of the shipping company or the captain himself, the enslaved Africans were often herded into prison-like forts where they were chained to each other and to walls or floors to await the arrival of one of the many slave ships.

Many of the enslaved Africans actually willed themselves to die or committed suicide by purposely choking on objects rather than endure the horror for which they had no frame of reference. Many more lives were lost on board the slave ships, some to suicide and others to the dysentery and other illnesses rampant on board the ill-equipped ships.

If one actually survived the passage, the degradation of the auction block, the overseer's whip and a life of misery, then grueling work, strange food and little sleep became the lot of the deposed Africans. Families were torn apart and a mother could not count on keeping or raising her own child in this system, nor could a husband depend on a life with his spouse.

People of Jewish descent have a moral obligation to themselves, their children, and the world, to inform and educate regarding the Holocaust. The visual force of the Holocaust Museum is said to be shocking and to have significant impact on those who come to visit it. It is the right and the obligation of the Jews and those families who suffered through the atrocities of the European Holocaust to create a living testimony so that the world will never forget what happened in Germany and so such pain and death will not reoccur.

People of African descent the world over, but especially those who reside in the United States, are likewise morally obligated to remember the African Holocaust and to memorialize the four hundred plus years of human carnage that swept the West Coast of the African continent from Senegal to Nigeria. Parents of African descent need to educate their children to the fact that African American history begins in the countries of West Africa, not on the plantations of the United States and the Caribbean. African parents need to let their sons and daughters know that we, as people of African descent, are the creators of civilization, not the destroyers of it as society would have them believe; that the Greeks came to Africa (Egypt) to learn about civilization, and not the other way around; that Africa is the second largest continent in the world and yet it is depicted as smaller than the US in many atlases; that while we are not all from royalty, ours were societies that possessed great riches and that, when the slavers came to Africa, we were not running through the jungle naked but were wearing finely embroidered silks and linens.

Education is the key to the ills plaguing our race at this time. The Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, widely known as the Father of Black Consciousness, and founder of the UNIA (United Negro Improvement Association) in the 1930's, stated that, "If we as a people realised the greatness from which we came [Africa] we would be less likely to disrespect ourselves". Our lives did not begin in slave shanties on plantations in the United States and the Caribbean. We, as deposed Africans, have a responsibility to our youth to reinforce this fact.

Truly, the memorialization of the African Holocaust should have the same import as that of the European Holocaust. Given the fact, however, that the United States played such a large role in the wholesale exploitation of African lives and, given the fact that this exploitation still exists in many forms today, it is doubtful that any such memorial will ever be created. We have been out of slavery for fewer years than our ancestors were enslaved; Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Act are part of our all too recent past. What would Africa be like today if those innumerable brilliant minds had not been ripped from the bosom of West Africa?

Let us move together, realising that the fragmentation of the African Community is part of a divisive, systematic plan to keep us weak and powerless. Let the sons and daughters of Africa arise and advocate for the memorialization of our own Holocaust, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, and what it cost not only Africa but the entire world.

Del Ali, MA, CADC, CCS is Associate Director of the Legion Avenue Treatment Services of APT Foundation in New Haven, CT. She is a Jamaican-born African, a long-time advocate for civil and human rights, a State and Internationally Certified Drug and Alcohol Abuse Counselor, a writer, and a lecturer on Africa and the African Caribbean population. She is also a partner in AFRI-PASSAGE ASSOCIATES, a collaboration dedicated to the preservation and promotion of African heritage and culture through education, and the host of a radio show featuring music and information of interest to the Caribbean and African community.

© 2004, Delair Ali
P.O. Box 1454, Olney, MD, 20830-1454

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