The lost tribe.
Research on the African presence in Asia is still in an early stage, and there are many blanks to fill in. But thanks to the groundbreaking work of such distinguished continental and diasporan African scholars and researchers as Cheikh Anta Diop, Runoko Rashidi, Drusilla D. Houston, John G. Jackson and Yosefben-Jochannan, a firm foundation of knowledge has been built. This article explores some of the findings by these, and other, historians, anthropologists and linguists.
John Henrik Clarke, the African-American educator and critic, has said that when Africa was colonised, the information about the continent was also subject to colonisation. Hence, much of the history of Africa and its people is still hidden, neglected and distorted. Twisting of facts and a confusing terminology still impact on our understanding (or mis-understanding) of African history.
Thus, before we can embark upon our African re-discovery of Asia, we need to know what we mean by the terms "African" and "Black".
Runoko Rashidi, the African-American historian and researcher, uses the words "Black" and "African' interchangeably, defining all members of the black race to be of "Australoid" and "African" (once labelled "Negroid" by European scholars) descent. This includes the black people of Australia, South Pacific, South/East/West Asia, the indigenous people of Africa and its far-reaching Diaspora throughout the world.
But, even if we now think we have established a "criterion' (black skin, black hair) for "observing" Africanness/Blackness, those who "look African" (Rashidi uses the term "Africoid") haw not necessarily been described so by European scholars.
Western historians, ethnologists, anthropologists and archaeologists, when coming across "Akricoids', have labelled them Negroid, Proto-Negroid, Proto-Australoid, Negritic, Negrito (South/ Southeast and Far East Asia) or Hamites, Eurafrikans, Mediterraneans and the Brown Race (Southwest Asia). These labels, says Rashidi, we must denounce as obsolete, invalid, unscientific and racially motivated.
During the 1990s, there was a growing awareness within the field of anthropology that there is no such thing as "race". Dr Charles Finch, the African-American scholar and anthropologist, points out that the consequence of this thinking is the idea that black people in India, Asia and the Pacific Islands, who have identical physical characteristics as Africans (black skin, woolly hair, full lips, broad noses, etc) are said to be totally unrelated to Africans.
But the highly respected Senegalese historian and anthropologist, Cheikh Anta Diop, explains that in anthropology the aim of "racial classification" is to study a group of individuals who share a certain number of anthropological traits, which is necessary so that they not be confused with others.
He points out that physical appearance--phenotype--has been a reality throughout history. Thence it would be logical for Africans, in studying their culture and history, to use phenotype as one essential criterion.
Diop claims that there are two black "race groups"--one with black skin and woolly hair; and one with, similarly, black skin and wavy to straight hair, many with physical features otherwise indistinguishable from Africans.
Apart from physical appearance, documentary evidence shows that Africans were the first people to inhabit Asia. Their presence is well documented by Homer (8th century BC) and Europe's "Father of History", Herodotus (5th century B.C.) who described the populations of Sudan, Egypt, Palestine, Arabia, Mesopotamia (Iraq and Syria) and India as Ethiopians.
The Greeks introduced the word "Ethiops", meaning "burnt-faces". There is abundant evidence to show that black people founded and contributed to some of ancient Asia's most important classical civilisations. Herodotus was of the opinion that many of the African populations he came across were descendants of colonies from an ancient civilisation--the Kushite Empire.
The British anthropologist, Sir Arthur Keith, wrote in the 1930s about a "Black Belt" of mankind, presupposing the existence of a proto-African belt across the ancient world--including Africa, Arabia, India and the Pacific. This belt gave rise to the Hamitic peoples of Africa and the Dravidians of India.
Canon George Rawlinson, a British historian, proved linguistically, in 1870, that the Kushites/Ethiopians peopled Arabia, India and Palestine until they were overthrown by Aryans (Caucasians speaking Indo-European languages) and Semites.
The region of North/East-Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, separated by the Red Sea, is the essential foundation to African civilisation, as the scholars inform us. The ancient mythical land of Eden is also believed to have been in this region many thousand years ago.
Charles Finch writes that the Kushites were the original inhabitants of Western and Southern Asia. Skeletal remains date back to 95,000 years. Natufian culture was established in the region by 10,000 BC and was a parent of civilisations to follow.
According to the historical researcher, Drusilla D. Houston, Ethiopian Kushites founded civilisations and spread out to all the world. They were the "Old Race"--preceding the Egyptians. Houston also claims that many of the civilisations giving rise to Rome, Greece and Europe were African or were under African rule. The Phoenicians called themselves Ethiopians, and were also called so by Hebrew writers. She argues that the great civilisations of South America, Aztec and Maya, acknowledged their culture as passed on to them from the earlier Kushite inhabitants.
As stated by Sir E. A. Wallis Budge in 1928, classical historians and geographers called the whole region from India to Egypt, by the name of Ethiopia. Today's Ethiopia is what was called Abyssinia. The country of Kush was later known as Nubia. But Kush seems to be the oldest known name for the region (present day Sudan-Ethiopia-Eritrea-Djibouti).
Runoko Rashidi writes about the "Small Blacks", a family of Black people phenotypically characterised by "short statures, skin-complexions that range from yellowish to dark brown, tightly curled hair". They represent an extremely important people in understanding ancient African history as they contributed fundamentally to high-cultures characterised by urbanisation, mining and metallurgy, agricultural science and advanced scripts. This fact is sadly not understood and appreciated today.
In the 1980s, several Oxford based scholars, led by Jim Wainscoat, pronounced the "Small Blacks" (or San) who had lived in South Africa more than 100,000 years ago, the founder population who later left Africa and spread throughout Europe, Asia and the Americas. Currently they only exist in small number and in barren, isolated areas. Brutally forced off their ancestral land by European settlers and colonisers, other African groups have, sadly, gradually developed an attitude of superiority over these peoples, making, them victims of ridicule, superstition and exploitation.
Rashidi calls the "Small Blacks" the "Africoid phenotype". These forbears of civilisation have been labelled a number of derogatory terms; "Pygmies", "Negritos" and "Negrillos" (Central Africa), "Bushmen" and "Hottentots" (Southern Africa). But they have appropriate names, such as the Binga, the Gelli, the Aka, the Twa and the Mbuti (Central Africa), the Khoisan (a term grouping the three distinctive language groups of Southern Africa; Zhu, Khoi and Qui).
More surprisingly, they also exist in many parts of Asia; India, Burma, Cambodia, China, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.
So what evidence do researchers have to verify the blackness of peoples in Egypt and the Kushite Empire? The theology researcher, Charles B. Copher, lists archaeological data consisting of written records, paintings, sculptures, and skeletal remains; modern historical works; critical Biblical scholarly works; personal names and adjectives; opinions of modern travellers, archaeologists and anthropologists; ancient Greek-Roman legends and historical writings, including the Bible; Jewish works, including the Talmud, Midrashim and legends.
A cross study of these sources prove that the ancient Egyptians were black, that the Kushites (on both sides of the Red Sea) were black and that the "Hamites" described in the Bible were black. It also gives testimony to the black populations that inhabited parts of Asia from the Indus River Valley westwards into Elam-Persia, Mesopotamia, parts of Arabia, Phoenicia, Canaan, Crate and Greece.
Lastly says Copher, it gives evidence to the black element within the ancient Hebrew-Israelite population.
As Runoko Rashidi reminds us, the "African presence in Asia is one of the most significant, challenging and least written about aspects of the global African experience". Examining this history is a documentation of both great glory, advancement, brutal slavery and genocide. It exposes a deep-rooted history of racism and discrimination. It challenges some of the doctrines well accepted within religious beliefs.
But most of all, it poses a challenge to the modern day African to study, learn and impart this history, which covers a time span of more than 90,000 years. Rashidi estimates that the African presence in Asia may well exceed 200 million people. How do Africans today act on this information?
John Henrik Clarke gives a clue: "My point is that if we reclaim all of Africa, all of those islands in the Caribbean, the islands, of the Pacific populated by people of African descent, united with the millions in India, we will go into the 21st century with a billion people, a billion African people."
South Asia--the Indus Valley
The African occupation of the Indus Valley goes back 9,000 years, according to the research of the historian, Wayne B. Chandler. The original inhabitants were Ethiopians (called "Negritos" by Europeans) and "Proto-Australoids". Tire Guyanese linguist and anthropologist, Ivan Van Sertima, states that upon this aboriginal layer of black people, an outside, more advanced, force, composed of African or African-Asiatic elements, built the Harappan phase as they arrived in the Indus Valley. Another historian, John G. Jackson, portrays the majestic achievements of the Indus Valley:
"They built large cities; the principal ones being Mohenjo Daro, Chanhu Daro and Harappa, Their cities were well built." Mohenjo Daro was two square miles in area, with ,regularly laid out main and side streets, lined with attractive two-story brick houses. Bathrooms were common, and they were fitted out with runaway drains leading to brick sewer which were laid under the streets. This culture reached its peak about 3,000 B.C. These people had domesticated cattle, sheep, and elephants; they cultivated wheat and cotton, possessed boats and wheeled carts, and were skilful workers in bronze and iron. They even discovered a process for making iron rustproof."
But around 1,500 BC, Indo-European tribes from Eurasia and today's Iran brutally crushed the Indus Valley civilisation after many violent attacks. These white tribes, who were known for their aggressive military techniques, gradually established a rigid, social order which, in effect, reduced the conquered black people, now called Shudras, to slaves. This was later to be known as the Hindu caste system.
According to the Bangladeshi research specialist, Horen Tudu, the Aryan priests copied the astonishing inventions, rituals and advancements of the Indus Valley and "appropriated them in what must have been the greatest case of scientific theft on record". For the next 1,000 years, a period of mass destruction and darkness set in. From 1,500 BC to 500 BC, no civilisation survived, no writing, nor any trace of the human existence was preserved.
The ruling class of India, even today, rejects any accusation of the caste system being racist. In 2001, in preparation for the UN World Conference Against Racism, the Indian government sought to negotiate with African states, saying they would support the African claim for slavery reparations if they (the Indians) were granted support to take caste-ism off the agenda.
Although it can be said that the caste system does not exclusively look at colour, distinctions between "whiteness" and "blackness" still forms its basic foundation. According in Runoko Rashidi, the Aryan term "varna", denotes one's societal status and is used interchangeably with caste, literally meaning colour or complexion and reflects a prevalent racial hierarchy.
Rashidi adds: "Caste law in India, based originally on race, regulated all aspects of life, including marriage, diet, education, place of residence and occupation. Servitude to whites became the basis of the lives of the black people of India for generation after generation. With the passage of time, this brutally harsh, colour-oriented, racially-based caste system became the foundation of the religion that is now practised throughout India. This is the religion known as Hinduism."
Hinduism divides people into four castes. The system places the more than 200 million "Untouchables" or Dalits of India and Pakistan at the very bottom. According to the Indian-born human rights activist, V. T. Rajshekar, the Aryan Brahmins formed a four-caste hierarchy system--the Brahmins (the rulers), the Kshatriyas (the warriors), the Vaishyas (the merchants) and the Sudras (the workers). The "Untouchables" represent the diverse groups of people who refused to surrender to Aryan domination. Because they did not compromise, they were seen as outcast--outside the caste system of Hinduism--and belonging at the bottom of society.
Throughout history, the "Untouchables" have suffered severe discrimination, restrictions and humiliating injustices. Their status has changed little since ancient times. In recent times, the Dalits have been demonstrating a rapidly expanding awareness of their African ancestry and their relationship to the struggle of black people throughout the world.
Buddhism in India
Buddhism appeared in India during the 6th century BC and was in many ways a protest against Hinduism. Buddhism objected to hierarchy and arrogance, and preached tolerance. This philosophy spread rapidly around the regions of India, attracting, especially, large numbers of black people who had been oppressed for a long time. Observing Buddhism is also a testimony to the African presence in Asia.
Dr Vulindlela Wobogo writes: "Manifestations of the Buddha in Asia are black with woolly hair. They all appear to be Egypto-Nubian priests who fled Egypt. The priests carried their spiritual knowledge but lost much of the scientific knowledge for obvious reasons. The well-known aspects of Buddhism and its companion, yoga, are all simply Egypto-Nubian priesthood practices."
As explained by Runoko Rashidi, the Dravidians (the Sudras caste) of India are descendants of the Harappan people of the ancient Indus Valley who were pushed into South India as the result of the Aryan invasions. The Dravidians, also descendants from Africa, are one of the peoples described by Cheikh Anta Diop as the second black "race group", with black skin and wavy to straight hair, many with otherwise indistinguishable African features. As Rashidi points out, Dravidian is also a family of languages spoken by more than a hundred million people, primarily in South India. The term Dravidian seems to be an Aryan corruption of Tamil. From the third century AD, several great Dravidian kingdoms arose in South India. These kingdoms excelled in architecture and established standards for literary production. Many were ruled by powerful queens.
Many African slaves were taken by Arabs to India, where they served as soldiers. Adopting Islam, they called themselves Sayyad (descendants of Muhammad) and were consequently called Siddis. They were known as great sailors and soldiers. Suffering under inhumane conditions, some became free and established kingdoms, others excelled as military and social leaders. Many Siddis descendants are still found in India today, some in separate communities, others are completely assimilated.
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|Title Annotation:||Black History Month|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2003|
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