World civilization started in Africa: Setting the record straight

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Africa (image:courtesy of WikiImage)

Manicheist views apportion blame and strive to identify the responsibilities of a specific institution or individual.  ‘World civilization, Africa and Europe’ is a theme that has generated much writing. Afrocentric/Africentric scholars have demonstrated the contribution Africa has made to world civilization. Cheikh Anta Diop in the African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality (1974) and the writings of his close friend from Congo Theophile Obenga posit, calmly and unemotionally, the pivotal contribution of Africa to world civilization. Diop uses carbone-14 dating (a scientific method that can accurately determine the age of organic materials as old as approximately 60,000 years) and linguistic studies that scientifically conclude that subjects like geometry, mathematics, rhetoric, and so on were present in Africa when Europe had no knowledge of these subjects. These radical and ground breaking conclusions could not be accepted by Europeans and when Cheikh Anta Diop was searching for a university to conduct studies along those lines he was denied admission.  Only one of the French universities accepted him, on condition that he removed certain portions from his research. Those portions were the most instrumental in negating the Eurocentric domination in world civilization. Diop agreed to compromise to some extent, but the core of his thesis remained intact.

Antimanicheism is recommended here because I believe that the gigantic contribution of Africa to world civilization has to be pointed out and should not generate any conflict or misunderstanding. All that needs to be done is to show that world civilization started in Africa. It means ‘stating once and for all the fact that Greece learned what she boasts of from Africa’. Greek scholars travelled to Africa to learn from African scholars and reversed the course of history by claiming that Greece brought civilization to the world.  Adopting such an attitude would simply mean setting the record straight by attributing to Africa what she deserves. It does not help in any way to engage in bitter fights on that issue. Dr Philemon Moubeke from Cameroon is a contemporary scholar who contributes to the education of African children or the Black youth on the fundamental values, activities, scholarship and discoveries that drive today’s world through video sessions whose length and content are simply appropriate. He teaches using a simple and appropriate pedagogy. Some of the most important contributions that Africa brought to world civilization and that are likely to remain hidden are revisited by Dr Moubeke.

I will touch upon some of those African institutions and studies that sustain today’s society. Through the Afrique Avenir (Afrofuturism) Foundation most of those contributions of Africa are unveiled.

So, these are points which if included in the curriculum of Black students or any world civilization course would open the learners’ eyes to some events that moulded global civilization, from an open-minded and unbiased stance. In western universities, especially in the US, the tendency is to host Arts and Sciences under the same umbrella, in the same college, as a result American universities have Colleges of Arts and Sciences. This certainly denotes the connection between these two areas of study which might seem to be different. Joining them is a laudable scholarly gesture and stressing the nexus between Arts and Sciences was present in African learning institutions 77,000 years before Christ (BC). In the Blombos Cave, an archaeological site located in Blombos Private Nature Reserve, about 300 km east of Cape Town on the southern Cape coastline in South Africa, geometric rules and applications were inscribed on rocks. The most informative archaeological material from Blombos Cave includes engraved ochre, engraved bone, ochre processing kits, terrestrial and marine faunal remains. Those findings revealed scientific activities by humans which require more investigation and research. This cave produced a paradigm shift in the understanding of the timing and location of the development of modern human behaviour. No records of geometry existed in the world before the excavation of the Blombos Cave. Reputed historians have admitted that geometry started in Africa, based on the discoveries in that cave. Still in the area of mathematics, another important element is the Ishango Bone, which is the proof that Africans were familiar with calculus 22,000 years BC and let us remain mindful of the fact that Africans have been living on the continent for 300,000 years. The Ishango Bone which was discovered at the “Fisherman Settlement” of Ishango in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is a possible mathematical device.

Regarding the empires, we are bound to pay special attention to Imhotep, a Black man  from Egypt  also known as the “Father of Medicine”. In 2,700 BC, he wrote a treaty of medicine, and the Greek Hippocrates studied that treaty in 500 BC, in Alexandria in Egypt. So, Imhotep preceded Hippocrates in the field of medicine by 2,200 years. Hippocrates is, therefore, not the inventor of medicine but it is Imhotep the African. The latter was ultimately turned into a god by Hippocrates. So, the Hippocratic Oath (the ethics guiding the practice of medicine) which  is taken by medical students who are about to start practicing is in reality not an oath taken to Hippocrates, but rather to Imhotep, the teacher of Hippocrates, the Greek. Hippocrates learned so much from the African Imhotep that he deified him: Asclepius, the Greek god that physicians take the oath to. So, the Hippocratic oath is, in reality, an oath taken to the African Imhotep or the god he incarnates, Asclepius. Imhotep went further and developed the rules of modern architecture and trained several architects like Senemout, also an African, who built the first house with two floors, Queen Hatshepsout’s palace, 1,500 BC. It is generally referred to as “the finest example of the brilliant architecture that once existed during the days of ancient Egypt”. It might help to know that what is taught in schools today as the theorems of Pythagoras and Thales are Egyptian theorems, conceived during the construction of the pyramids, 1,500 BC in Egypt before Pythagoras and Thales were born. Pythagoras theorem is, therefore, not the theorem invented by Pythagoras, but rather a sample of African knowledge. The original copy of that theorem is currently on a papyrus in the British Museum in England.

Modern writing was also born in Egypt and was called ‘the word of God’ which later was called hieroglyphics or sacred graphics by the Greeks. The writing was done on papyrus, which is the first version of paper as we know it today. The papyrus were compiled into the ‘Biblos’ by the Greeks and the location of the books was therefore called ‘bibliothèque’ or library, and ‘biblos’ is also the origin of the word ‘Bible’, the word of God. The first library in the world was, therefore, erected in Africa, that of Alexandria in Egypt, around the third century BC. Paper and writing started there so they had to be preserved. Greek writing and Latin writing as well as Greek numbers also have an African origin. The Egyptians produced three different alphabets out of the hieroglyphics and two of them are the hieratic and demotic. It is possible to write all the languages in the world because of those three alphabets.

Moussa Traoré is Associate Professor at the Department of English of the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.

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  1. Thank you very much for this awakening mindset.
    I have never seen these clarifying before in any western’ books. I am proud to be African but I invite the African youth to work so that our history will be brought back to us.

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