The lost tribe: this is the second and concluding part of Amani Olubanjo Buntu's wide ranging piece on the history of the African glory and downfall in Asia, the merit of which is to question the white European scholars' view of African civilisations. You may agree or disagree with the views expressed. But they give food for thought.
Kol as a term has been corrupted by the Aryan-Sanskritic speakers to the word "kalu", meaning both "black" and "ugly" in almost all of the 16 languages of the Indian sub continent.
The indigenous people were "long-headed, dark skinned, broad-nosed, and short in stature. Sometimes labelled as "Negritos" and "Negroids", their physical features are unchanged today among the lowest castes of Bengal."
As Muslims invaded North India and present-day Pakistan and Bangladesh around the 8th century, the religion gained much support from the "Untouchables". Islam allowed them, for the first time in their lives, to reach some form of upward mobility in society.
Similar to the lower-than-low status allocated to Dalits under Hinduism, Arabs have also subdued the indigenous black population to servant status. In Bangladesh, even those of mixed Arab and Bengali descent look down on the black people and call them "village kalus" (equivalent to "nigger") and remain highly bigoted with regard to skin colour.
West and Central Asia, Middle East The first civilisation in the region of Mesopotamia was established by the Sumerians. Situated between the Tigris and the Euphrates river valleys in the southern part of today's Iraq, the first settlements of Sumer date from, possibly, as early as 5,300 BC.
A major element in the Sumerian civilisation, says the African-American historian and researcher, Runoko Rashidi, were black migrants from the Nile Valley who called themselves "the Blackheads". Research suggests that the biological make up of the Sumerians was the same as that of the Ancient Egyptians, the Dogon of West Africa and the indigenous Australians, the Aborigines.
The city of Ur, from where Abraham and his family started their journey to Canaan in the Bible, was probably the most powerful Sumerian city of its era. Prospering during the third millennium BC, Sumer set the guidelines for kingdoms and empires that followed it.
The Sumerians built temples, were advanced in agriculture mad fishing, and developed the first writing system known to Asia. Ur was fundamentally destroyed around 2,000 BC by the Semites who became the new masters of the land. This had a devastating effect, ending the era of Sumerian rule. Around 3,000 BC arose the ancient federal state of Elam, situated in Persia, today's Iran. Iranian legends hold that the ancient Persians were black people with short woolly hair. As with the Sumerians, the cultural forms, the goddesses, art-motifs, weapons and scripts of the Elamites point back to a Nile Valley origin. In fact, many scholars see both Sumer and Elam as Kushite colonies. The ruling dynasties of these two cultures had many significant female leaders and queens.
As with Sumer, Elam also fell victim to destructive Semitic invasions. According to Rashidi, when the Assyrians took over the capital Susa in 639 BC, they attempted to destroy it completely by "the looting and razing of temples, the destruction of sacred groves, the desecration of royal tombs, the seizure of Elamite gods, the removal of royal memorials and the deportation of people, livestock and even rubble from the devastated city".
The anthropologist and historian, Wayne B. Chandler, explains how Africans were once dominant over the entire Arabian Peninsula and were the original Arabs. From what is today Yemen, several city-states and kingdoms spread throughout the region. Yemen and Saudi Arabia were part of the ancient Kushite Empire.
The Sabean Empire, established in 700 BC, was an extension of Ethiopia and was ruled by a line of queens, Kentakes/Kandakas, (called Candace by the Greeks). According to Drusilla D. Houston, this line of queens physically resembled the San peoples.
The most famous was Queen Makeda (Bilqis in the Koran, Queen of Sheba in the Bible), under whose rule the empire flourished and became widely famous. She visited King Solomon of Israel (also of African descent) and placed her son with the king on the throne of Ethiopia, starting a line that was to last until the late Halle Selassie I.
The family line of Prophet Muhammad, the Koreysh, were also from South Arabia. The Koreysh traced their lineage from Ishmael, son of Abraham and his Egyptian (Hamitic) wife, Hagar. Ishmael has been called the "Father of Arabs". Being from a lineage of African blood, research suggests that Prophet Muhammad was probably born to a black Arabic father and a Semitic (racially mixed) mother.
Prophet Muhammad's descendants, the Arabs of the south, established the advanced Abbasids Empire that conquered all of Arabia in 750 AD. This empire, says Charles B. Copher, ushered in a period of wealth, knowledge and advancement at a time when Europe was entering its Dark Ages. Attacked by Mongols, this powerful empire came to its end in 1258 AD. This closed the chapter of black people as a natural force in West Asia.
The Semitic Arabs, according to Drusilla D. Houston, were nomadic and did not excel in agriculture and political organisation. They occupied the harshest (northern) parts of Arabia and were involved in constant quarrels over wells and grazing lands.
Apparently of mixed African, Caucasian and Asiatic descent, they claimed descent from Heber, of the race of Shem, from whom also descends the line of Abraham. They remained relatively obscure until 700 AD. Around the 6th century, they established a hierarchy built on what they had learned from the Yemenites, but altered it to their own advantage.
The African-American historian, Yusuf ben-Jochannan, has documented how both Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (in that order) are religions which were crafted out of African religion. Both in content (rituals, mythology, dogmas), though distorted from the original, and by the many Africans who were essential in the creation of these religions.
Prophet Muhammad also surrounded himself with other Africans who had a profound impact oil Islam. The most well-known is perhaps Bilal, the first Imam (high priest), Muezzin (prayer caller) and treasurer of the Mohammedan Empire. Born in Ethiopia, he was captured by Arab slavers and taken to Mecca before the birth of Islam in 622 AD. The first convert of Islam, Bilal was responsible for the creation of much of the Muslim doctrines.
Another distinguished African Arab was Ibrabim Al-Mahdi who became Islam's greatest singer, poet and Caliph of Baghdad. Also famous was the African-Iraqi Al-Jahiz who was born towards the end of the 7th century He was an outstanding scholar and chronicled great achievements of the African people.
Even before the advent of Islam, southern Arabia already possessed the sacred Ka'aba, with its black stone, and Mecca was considered a holy place, a destination pilgrims. According to Ben-Jochannan, the Ka'aba stone was imported into Arabia by the Ethiopians as a symbol devoted to several female deities.
But in the 7th century, Islamic Arabs introduced a form of chattel slavery previously unheard of in the history of Africa, This instituted a framework for slavery which the Europeans would later capitalise on. Africans from East, South and Central Africa were captured, kidnapped and shipped off Saudi-Arabia, Persia, India and East Asia to become slaves for Muslim overlords.
In Iraq, African slaves came to be known as the Zanj, a word related to Azania, which means "Land of the black people". In 868 AD, the African slaves in Arabia staged the Zanj Revolt--a 15-year-long rebellion against their oppressors, which reduced the slave trade.
The Arab slave trade through the routes across the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, is estimated to have shipped 14 million Africans to Arabia, Persia and India between 650 and 1900.
Many people in Iraq, Kuwait, Iran and Saudi-Arabia today still carry the physical characteristics of Africans, although few identify with their African origins. Blackness, here as in so many other parts of the world where Africans have been forcibly migrated, carries a social stigma.
Pilgrims travelling to Mecca (Hail) have over the years resulted in large numbers of Africans settling throughout the Middle East. Many never returned to their native lands and established themselves in present-day Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Palestine/Israel, Into, Lebanon, Yemen, the Persian Gulf countries and Turkey.
There are also present day descendants of ancient Africans who founded civilisations in Turkey, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. The historian, John G. Jackson, talks of the Colchis in southern Russia where there is still today a "Black belt" of African people, descendants of Ancient Egyptians who established a colony there under the Pharaoh Sesostris.
The ancient coastal provinces of today's modern Lebanon, northern Israel and Syria were named Phoenicia by the Greeks. The Phoenicians were a coastal branch of the Canaanites, who, according to Biblical traditions, were members of the Hamitic (Black) ethnic group.
The Phoenicians were the great seafarers of their time and dominated the Mediterranean Sea. Phoenician inscriptions have been found as far north as central Turkey and as far west as Tunisia where the famous ancient city of Carthage was founded.
Contrary to popularised images of Biblical characters, many, both in the Old and the New Testaments, were of African lineage. The physical characteristic of Jesus Christ has been a controversial debate for a long time.
According to James C. Anyike, the historian-philosopher, it is difficult to establish Biblical and historical consensus about the life of Jesus. Since the early years of Christendom, however, depictions of the Black Virgin and Child, both with distinct African features, have been central. Many of these sculptures are still found in cathedrals of South and Eastern Europe.
The British researcher, J. A. Rogers, has also substantiated claims that there were several messiah before the Biblical Jesus Christ. The stories of Osiris (Horus) of Egypt, Krishna of India and Buddha of East Asia have similarities--virgin birth, disciple followers, dying and rising from death. All have been depicted as Africans since ancient times.
The process of portraying Jesus, and most Biblical characters, as white was not invented before the 15th century. As confirmed by the Biblical researcher, Walter Arthur McGray his genealogy makes Jesus a descendant of African people, as the Hamites were African and most Semites were of some African blood.
So who were the Hamitic and Semitic peoples? These terms are often used without any further explanation. James C. Anyike and Charles B. Copher attempt to clarify this question. According to the Bible's Table of Nations, Noah had three sons, who have been seen to be the forefathers of human "races": Ham (Hamites/Africans), Shem (Semites/Asians) and Japhet (Caucasians).
Early European historians identified all Hamites as "Negroes" and associated this with Noah's curse of Canaan, interpreted to be a curse of Ham and his descendants. But, according to Biblical accounts, Ham was never cursed, nor is colour mentioned.
However, when 19th century. European scholars increasingly came across African civilisations and great kingdoms which were unmistakably black, they invented a curious twist in their "construction" of races, so that they did not have to ascribe advanced achievements to the "sub-human Negroes".
This view removed colour from the criteria for determining racial identity and reinvented the Hamites as "dark-skinned whites", "copper coloured", "Eurafrican", "Mediterranean" or "Caucasoid blacks". The word "Negro" was removed from Biblical history, and the Hamites were made "white".
According to Copher, research proves that wherever the Bible refers to Hamites, these are people who today would be called Black/African. Both Semites and Hamites probably belonged to the same (or similar) people. The ancient Hebrew-Israelites were also of African blood. The Japhets we don't hear much about in the Bible. It was, apparently this feeling of being left out that led Europeans to re-invent the Biblical history with white images.
The Hebrews, as portrayed by Charles B. Copher, claim their history starts with Noah. It is unclear what "race" they were originally, but they certainly became Africanised as they advanced. Several scholars accept that the Hebrews borrowed the "flood myth" from Sumer (when they reached Ur). It was 'also as they drifted southward that they dwelled in Palestine (Canaan, a black nation) and adopted a Semitic language. They probably spoke an Indo-European language originally.
As James Anyike explains, Abraham was the son of Terah, who descended front Heber. He and his Family started the journey from Ur, a city-stare in Sumer (a region of black people), around 2100 BC.
Abraham's children and grandchildren were largely of Egyptian/African blood. Abraham's grandson, Jacob, had several children by Egyptian and Syrian women--and hence gave birth to the 12 tribes of Israel. Around 1700 BC, Jacob and his family moved to Egypt. The people who would later be called Jews actually became a nation during their stay in Egypt. They acquired from African people all elements of their future religion, tradition and culture.
The African-American historian, John Henrik Clarke says: "Whatever the Jews were before they entered Africa, they left, 400 years later, ethnically, culturally, and religiously an African people".
The Israelites' exodus, led by Moses, began around 1491 BC. Essentially, the Israelites left Egypt as Egyptian people (called "Ethiopians" by the Romans). It was the Egyptians who introduced them to the custom of circumcision and the practice of monotheism (belief in one, supreme God).
The Khazar Jews
Hebrews claim descent from Abraham and Sarah's son, Isaac, including family lineage of David, which culminated in Jesus. The majority of Jewish people today are seen to be white, which might appear contradictory to research claiming that the ancient Hebrews were Africans. James Anyike explains that the Jews today are predominantly descendants of the Jews who lived in Eastern Europe.
As the Roman Empire adopted Christianity, Jews were persecuted, sparking off a Jewish dispersion. The Turkish Empire of Khazar, adopted Judaism in 740 AD to retain their alliances in a highly political climate. As they were defeated by the Russians in 965 AD, many fled and settled in Germany and Poland. These are the Khazar Jews, who are Jews by faith but not Hebrews or Israelites by descent.
In virtually all regions of Africa and the African Diaspora, there are people who claim Israel or Palestine as their place of origin. White Jews in Europe, America and Israel did not for a long time recognise the Black Jews as "genuine". The most well-known Black Jews are probably the "Falashas" of Ethiopia.
The word "falashas" (meaning "gone" or "gone into exile" in the ancient Ge'ez language) is a term imposed on the Jewish people of Ethiopia, seen as derogatory and the community prefers Beta Israel, a Hebrew term for House of Israel. Their history goes back 2,500 years and they claim their lineage from Menelik, the son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. They also see themselves as the descendants of one of the 10 lost tribes of Israel, the Dan.
Victims of persecution, discrimination and displacement in Ethiopia, thousands of Ethiopian Jews were finally granted permission to return to Israel in 1984 and 1991. The Israeli government had previously only recognised the returning of White Jews. However, discrimination continues to dominate the lives of the 60,000 Ethiopian Jews in Israel, where they face racism and segregation. Most live in poor, segregated towns where unemployment is high (see NA, Nov 2002, p55-59).
There is also a growing number of African Hebrew Israelites, born in the US and in the Caribbean, who are returning to live in Israel.
Far East Asia
Runoko Rashidi has done extensive research on the African presence in Ancient Asia, particularly South Asia and the Far East. His research is thorough in that it builds on general history, notes by European and Asian travellers, archaeological, biological and linguistic research and also his own travel experiences. The following is largely a summary of his findings.
Africans called "black dwarfs" appear in early history of China. According to the research of Rashidi, the first Chinese emperor, Fu-His (2953-2838 BC) was a woolly-haired black man. Also, the Shang Dynasty (1766-1100 BC) was largely a black dynasty. The Shang were given the name of Nakhi (meaning black man) by the Moso, because of their very dark complexions. The Chou who conquered the Shang described them as having black skin,
There are also numerous other descriptions of African people throughout Eastern and Southern China. In Taiwan, there are recollections of a group of people now said to be extinct called "Little Black Men". Rashidi writes: "They were described as short, dark-skinned people with short curly hair ... These people, presumably Negritos, disappeared about 100 years ago. Their existence was mentioned in many Chinese documents of the Ching Dynasty concerning Taiwan."
AS confirmed by many scholars, it seems indisputable that black people in Japan played an important role from the earliest phases of antiquity into at least the ninth century.
In 1923, the anthropologist Roland B. Dixon wrote that "this earliest population of Japan were in the main a blend of Proto-Australoid and Proto-Negroid types, and thus similar in the ancient underlying stratum of the population, southward along the whole coast and throughout Indo-China, and beyond to India itself."
Hypothesis presented by the great Senegalese scholar Cheikh Anta Drop argues that "the yellow race must be the result of an interbreeding of black and white in a cold climate". This view was supported by several Japanese scholars and researchers. The former Senegalese president, Leopold Sedar Senghor, maintained in 1987 that "the first population of Japan was black ... and gave to Japan their first language".
Of the black people of early Japan, the most picturesque single figure was Sakanouye no Tamuramaro (758-811), a warrior symbolised in Japanese history as a "paragon of military virtues".
According to the historian, James Murdoch, Tamuramaro was "the originator of what was subsequently to develop into the renowned samurai class". He was not only the first to bear the title of Sei-i-tai-Shogun, the highest rank to which a warrior could aspire, but he was also the first of the warrior statesmen of Japan. An ancient Japanese proverb also states that "for a Samurai to be brave, he must have a bit of black blood".
Runoko Rashidi writes that early Chinese records make reference to a kingdom in what is now central Vietnam known as Lin-yi, which meant the "land of black men." Its inhabitants possessed "black skin, eyes deep in the orbit, nose turned up, hair frizzy".
The kingdom of Lin-yi was known in Sanskrit documents as Champa and remained in close contact with India and China. Some hold that the Chum came in from the Melanasian region, some say that they were colonists from India. Either way, says Rashidi, it is clear that the Churn dominated the region for centuries.
The Chain were great mariners and built ships, known to the Chinese as kun-lun-bo (the "vessels of black men") which navigated the currents of the Indian Ocean ranging from Southeast Asia to Madagascar.
Visiting Vietnam in 2001, Rashidi wrote: "The Cham Museum in Danang has many of the finest objects of Chain art in the world and is just magnificent. Many of the pieces are as Africoid (dark skin, full lips, broad noses) as any art that you will ever see, and is a must see for any African who goes to Vietnam."
The original inhabitants of Philippines are the Agta. They are African people who, although presently in small numbers, still exist in the country and are pejoratively referred to as Pygmies and Negritos, and a variety of other names based upon their specific locale.
In regards to phenotype, broadly speaking, the Agta can be described as physically small and unusually short in stature, dark-skinned, spiral-haired and broad-nosed. Rashidi describes them as "an extremely ancient people". Small groups of similar black people reside on the many islands of the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean, the South China Sea and the East Asian mainland. Related to the San, the Twa and the Khoi of Southern Africa, it is clearly a human tragedy that the advanced contributions of these African people remain essentially obscure.
Research of the Khmers of the Cambodian kingdom of Angkor reveals some interesting findings. John G. Jackson writes about the kingdom of Angkor and points out that "these Asiatic black men were in fact the Khmers, who were the dominant people in southeastern Asia for 600 years. The centre of this culture was in Cambodia, and flourished from about 800 AD to 1432; although the history of these Khmers may be traced back to an earlier period".
Also Western scholars have proved this point. In 1923, the Harvard University anthropologist, Roland Burrage, noted that the ancient Khmers were physically "marked by distinctly short stature, dark skin, curly or even frizzly hair, broad nose and thick negroid lips. In remote antiquity, the Khmers established themselves throughout a vast area that encompassed portions of the modern countries of Myanmar (or Burma), Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Laos. According to Rashidi, the Khmers "were phenomenal builders. Among the major Angkor temple complexes were Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm and Banteay Srei".
Rashidi also writes about "the extremely ancient but little known black population" of Thailand. The forest dwelling people called Sekai are black people living in southern Thailand.
In addition to the Sekai, however, the black presence in Thailand is apparent in the numerous images of the Buddha. The many sculptures of the Buddha exposing clearly African features are well documented. In Rashidi's own words: "I came to the conclusion a long time ago that only a very ignorant person or a bigot could look at these beautiful sculptures and not see black people".
Many of these exceptional depictions of the African Buddha are exhibited at The National Museum of Thailand. Some go back to the cultural phase known as the Mon or Dvaravati, an independent kingdom that flourished in southern Thailand from the 6th to the 11th centuries. Rashidi writes: "The Mon people, apparently highly Africoid, practised Theravada Buddhism, and it seems that the present Thais adopted Buddhism from them. Indeed, more than 95% of the Thais today are Theravada Buddhists".
Australia and South Pacific
Researching the African origins of black or Aboriginal (the first inhabitants) Australians, Runoko Rashidi says they are distinguished by straight to wavy hair textures and dark to near black complexions.
Although the present day Aboriginal Australians arrived in the land at different times, their history goes back 50-100,000 years. They represent many different groups and languages. Aboriginal people regard themselves as "the custodians of the land", but apparently have no commonly known indigenous name for Australia in pre-European times.
The dumping of British convicts into Australia from 1788 proved catastrophic for the black population, which once numbered at least 300,000.
Rashidi describes how "the blacks were butchered and murdered like animals ... They were the victims of deliberate poisonings and systematic slaughters, decimated by tuberculosis and syphilis, and swept away by infectious epidemics. With their community structures and moral fibres shredded, the black people, by the 1930s, bad been reduced to a pathetic remnant of about 30,000 people and perhaps twice that number of mixed descent. Until the 1960s, the black people were not officially considered human beings."
The many atrocities committed against the Australian Aboriginals also include the thousands of children abducted from their families by Australian government officials.
Rashidi continues: "Today, the black people of Australia constitute 1.6% of the total population but black men make up 70% of the prison population. The life expectancy for a black man in Australia is less than 40 years. The infant mortality rate is among the highest in the world."
There is no consensus among the many groups of indigenous peoples as to where the Aboriginal Australians come from. The majority seems to believe that they have always been in Australia. But a growing number believe that their toots are in Africa. Most Aboriginal Australians, says Rashidi, have never met Africans from any other country, and know very little of their struggles.
Little has been written about the African origins of the many peoples scattered on the numerous islands of the South Pacific. It is believed that they arrived by canoes from the west.
European colonialism divided the islands into three regions--Melanesia (north and east of Australia), Polynesia (central Pacific) and Micronesia (east of the Philippines). Largely ignored by Africans in other parts of the world, there seems to be a growing process of self-discovery between the islanders themselves.
Runoko Rashidi, after a visit to Fiji wrote: "The brothers and sisters in Fill, dark-skinned black people who wore big natural type hair-styles, don't merely identify themselves as black but said that they came from Africa and say it with great pride!"
European scholars have long claimed that the island populations originally came from south Asia. This view is now increasingly being challenged. The Indian born research specialist, Rafique Ali Jairazbhoy, has studied variations in mythology, religious customs, oral history and iconography throughout the Pacific region and concluded that they can be traced an Ancient Egyptian origin. He has also proved that the Polynesians at one time operated a direct sailing route to Madagascar.
As some of the Fijans whom Rashidi met said: "We, the black people in Fiji, came here a long time ago to our present homes in Fiji from Tanganyika, in East Africa. We don't know exactly when we came to Fiji but we know that we came from Africa."
Studying the African presence around the world is as enlightening as it is challenging. To see Africans as inventors, masters, builders, rulers and founders of civilisations throughout the world, certainly does not correspond with file popular perception of African development today.
Dismissed by critics as authors of "feel-good" literature constructed for Africans with a hurt self-image, African-centred scholars encourage all Africans to study the facts for themselves. In the 21st century, it is said that we live in the Information Age. But what kind of information forms the essence of our time? This statement inherently has an ironic twist--the more we experience the available information, the more we know it is biased, deceiving and politicised.
Those who believe in a practical Pan-Africanism--not only held up as a philosophical ideal--need to embrace the challenge of studying, learning and imparting knowledge, as we seek a fuller and more truthful understanding of the African people.
(Amani Olubanjo Buntu is a lecturer/consultant at the Institute of Afrikology in South Africa)
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|Title Annotation:||Black History Month|
|Author:||Buntu, Amani Olubanjo|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2003|
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