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When Africa civilised Europe.

The immense contributions that Africa made to civilisation in Europe have not been acknowledged by today's Europe, which was steeped in the Dark Ages when the Africans were building marvellous cities and sumptuous palaces in Spain and Portugal, and bringing education and enlightenment to the whole of Europe. As we celebrate Black History Month, we take readers down memory lane, to the time when Africans commanded all they surveyed in Europe and brought civilisation to a continent groping in darkness. This lead piece is by Baffour Ankomah.

'Looking at some unflattering pictures of half-naked Africans in glossy magazine advertisements, for example, Chief Obijol and his 'series of clicking sounds', racists would like to think that the African was inferior and slow to evolve. They would be terribly mistaken because the African, in his present sorry plight, is not a case of delayed evolution; he is a classic example of accelerated degeneration. There were black pharaohs in ancient Egypt, and before Europe was Europe, and while the Caesars were teaching the British Isles to read and write, the Ethiopian chancellor of the exchequer of Queen Candace was reading the Prophet Isaiah fluently."


This is how Prof F.I.D. Konotey-Ahulu, the Ghanaian medical doctor, writer, and pan-Africanist, tries to dispel the notion that the African has had no part in civilising the world. In fact if you believe the majority of Western historians and scholars, the African was in a frozen state until "discovered" by the European in the mid-i5,h century. What happened to the African before that, or what the African was doing or had done before the European "discovery", they have nothing to say about!

Which leads John G. Jackson, the African-American historian and author, to say that "the curious idea that a great white race has been responsible for all the great civilisations of the past is nothing more than a crude superstition propagated mainly by European-oriented racist historians." Because for 781 years, between 711 AD and 1492, Africans from ancient northwest and West Africa, together with their Islamic fellows from Arabia, had put southern Europe to the sword, conquered it, governed it, and brought civilisation, education, and general enlightenment to Europe as a whole.

"This civilisation brought by the African Moors," says Edward Scobie, the Dominican scholar, writer, and historian, "needs further and deeper examination, especially as Spain and Portugal were the first countries in Europe to benefit from the enlightenment which the African warrior-scholars carried with them from across the African mainland through the Mediterranean Sea to Iberia, and to other European countries further inland."

Today, as Dr Ivan Van Sertima, another great African-American historian, lecturer and author, once said, "it would seem like racial chauvinism to suggest that Africans played a major role in the occupation and enlightenment of a critical part of Europe."

There is something very deep-seated in many a European historian or scholar that makes him refuse to accord the African--and it is only the African --any credit for anything at all. European historians are happy to credit the Chinese, the Indian, the Mongolian and anybody else for what they have done. Not the African. Even when the feat is, or was, clearly achieved by an African and is on African soil, they attribute it to some Caucasoid element who descended from somewhere onto African soil and achieved the feat, or they give the credit to anybody else but the African.

This "anybody else but the African" rationalisation has been at the heart of the contortions that has afflicted many Western historians, scholars, writers, and journalists in their explanations of the presence of the Moors in Europe and the civilisation and enlightenment they brought a continent then groping in darkness, in a period correctly described by the Europeans themselves as their "Dark Ages".

The Africans and their Arab colleagues who conquered Spain and Portugal in 711 AD, and Sicily and southern France thereafter, were generally called the Moors. Before the invasion, the Moors in North Africa had been converted to Islam after the Arab conquest of the northern parts of the continent in 708 AD, and spoke Arabic. But Islam, being only a religion, and Arabic being the language of Islam and later science, did not change the identity and nationality of the Africans. They had become Muslims yes, but they were still Africans.

But most Western historians claim that the Moors were Arabs simply because they were Muslims and spoke Arabic. But the European ancestors who lived with the Moors and wrote about them, and the evidence of Moor heads on the coat-of-arms or heraldry of many a European noble family, all over Europe, show the Moors to have been black. The refusal to accept this plain fact and to place the Moors in their rightful home in Africa is part of the centuries-old denial of remarkable African achievements by European historians and scholars.

But the dishonesty will not stick, because many black historians and scholars have painstakingly studied and examined the nationality and achievements of the Moors, and have concluded beyond every reasonable doubt that though the Moors were helped by some of the earlier Arab conquerors of North Africa in the invasion of Spain and Portugal, the subsequent 781-year rule and the civilisation it brought Europe cannot be credited to Arabs or Arabs only.

Jan Carew, the Guyana-born historian, author and scholar, says it even better: "There is an instinctive and deep-seated reluctance on the part of Eurocentric historians to acknowledge the Moors as the bringers of cultural and scientific enlightenment to Europe. And when they are compelled to make grudging acknowledgments of this fact, they proceed to whiten the Moors, to tear them away from any suggestion of having black African roots. But the stubborn fact remains that at the height of its power, the Moorish Empire in Africa stretched from the western half of Algeria through Morocco and as far south as Ghana; while in Europe this empire extended itself from the Atlantic coast of Portugal, through Spain and across the Pyrenees to the Rhone Valley in France."


Who were the Moors?

The Moors were the original inhabitants of North Africa and part of West Africa before the fall of Ancient Egypt in 708 AD. Wayne B. Chandler, another African-American historian and writer, says: "Although the term Moor has been put to diverse use, the roots are still traceable. Circa 46 BC, the Roman army entered West Africa where they encountered black Africans whom they called Maures from the Greek adjective mauros, meaning dark or black.

"The country of the maures, Mauretania (not to be confused with the Islamic Republic of Mauritania in present-day West Africa, although obviously the root is the same), existed in what is now northern Morocco and western Algeria."

Other historians have proved that at certain times, foreigners like the Greeks and Romans coming to North Africa, had called the original inhabitants by the generic name of "Berbers", from the Latin word "barbari", meaning barbarian. To the Romans, anybody who was not a Roman was a barbarian.

But these original "Berbers" were people from different ethnic backgrounds and nationalities who occupied the whole northern parts of the continent before the Arab conquest. They had their own original individual ethnic names before the Greeks and Romans called them "Berbers".

The historian and writer, Mamadou Chinyelu, says "when the Africans in the northern part of the continent first assumed the name 'Berber' is not certain, but by the time of the Islamic conquest, this name was in common usage." But the people called "Berbers" were mainly black and affiliated with the then contemporary peoples of the East African area.

This fact is buttressed by the anthropologist, Dana Reynolds, who in an exhaustive and meticulously detailed essay published in 1992, attested that: "The original Black Berbers, who were called Moors, were the North African ancestors of the present day dark-brown and brown-black peoples of the Sahara and the Sahel, mainly those called Fulani, Tuareg, Zenagha of Southern Morocco, Kunta and Tebbu of the Sahel countries as well as other black Arabs now living in Mauretania and throughout the Sahel. They include the Trarza of Mauretania and Senegal, the Mogharba as well as dozens of other Sudanese tribes, the Chaamba of Chad and Algeria."

Even the Oxford English Dictionary says: "The Moors are people who are commonly supposed to be black or very dark and it is synonymous with the word for 'Negro' in many contexts."

During the European Renaissance, explorers, writers, and scholars began to apply the term Moor to blacks in general. The earlier Greeks called them Mauros, and the Romans Maurus. In the Romance languages (Spanish, French and Italian), Moor was translated as Moro (Spanish), Moir (French), and Mor (Italian). The English called them Moors, the Germans Mauren and the Dutch Moorrees. But all meant "black or dark people".

However, the Arabs who conquered the blacks in North Africa and ruled over them rarely used the word Moor. Instead the Arabs applied the term "Berber" to cover practically all the inhabitants of the Maghreb (ie, Islamic North Africa west of Egypt).

Yet in spite of the prejudices of Western historians and scholars, the Christians who were defeated by the Moors in Iberia and other parts of Europe left vivid images of the Muslim blacks. Christian paintings and sculptures are an indisputable witness to the black presence in Europe and how important blacks were to the Europeans at that time.

"Such illustrations," says Prof. Runoko Rashidi, an African-centric historian, writer and lecturer, "are to be found in the Cantigas of Santa Maria, allegedly written by [King] Alphonso X [of Christian Spain]. They are filled with images of the Moor and are mostly black types. This is the period of the Almoravid invasion which brought hordes of new Africans into the Iberian Peninsula. Medieval illustrations in the Cantigas portray blacks in a variety of roles--from members of the aristocracy to the military."

The Moors in Europe

Before the Moors invaded the Iberian Peninsula in 711 AD, there had been two earlier African invasions of Spain and Portugal in history. According to Dr Sertima: "The fact that Africans from the North had been intruding into Southern Europe from very early times should not come as a great surprise, for the straits that separate the two continents can be crossed by the simplest boats in a matter of hours. The proximity of the borders of Europe and Africa and the evidence of the African phenotype among many southern Europeans led Napoleon to remark that 'Africa begins at the Pyrenees.

The third major invasion of Spain by Africans was the one by the Moors in 711 AD. History shows that shortly after the Islamic conquest of North Africa, General Tarik, an African and a 'Berber', was placed in charge of Morocco by the Muslim governor, Musa ibn Nusair. Tarik's domain included all but the island of Ceuta, an outpost of the Greek Empire, resting on the northern tip of Morocco, near present day Tangiers, which was ruled by Count Julian, a Greek governor.

Julian allied himself with Spain, which had been under the rule of the Visigoths for 200 years after they toppled the Roman Empire in Iberia. King Roderick, the then monarch of the Visigoths, had the daughter of Count Julian training at his court. But Roderick raped the girl, and in revenge Count Julian persuaded General Tarik, the Berber, to invade Spain because he said it was unprotected.

As a good general, Tarik consulted his boss, Musa, and then sent a reconnaissance mission into Spain in 710 AD, led by Tarif, a black officer in Tarik's army. Tarif and his men landed at a place near mainland Europe's southernmost point to Africa, and the place was later named Tarifa in his honour. He set up a customhouse there, and because of his activities his name became the root for today's customs word "tariff". In July 710, Tarif's mission returned a success.

Now having the needed information for an attack at hand, General Tarik moved on Spain in 711 AD. His army landed on an isthmus between an encarpment then called Mons Calpe and the continent of Europe. He seized it and the land around it. Considering it strategic, he asked that a fortress be built at the site. His men named the fortress after him; Gabel Tarik (the hill of Tarik) was later corrupted to "Gibraltar".

History shows that on 18 July 711, Tarik, with about 7,000 Berber troops and 300 Arabs, engaged King Roderick leading some 60,000 troops at the Janda Lagoon by the mouth of the Barbate River in southwest Spain.

Massively outnumbered, Tarik turned to his soldiers and addressed them: "My men, wither can you flee? Behind you lies the sea and before you the foe. You possess only your courage and constancy, for you are present in this country poorer than orphans before a greedy guardian's table. It will be easy to turn his table on him if you will but risk death for one instance."

Tarik's men risked death, stood their ground, and scored a major victory that day over King Roderick. Tarik then set out to enlarge his territory. Along the way through the countryside, he found many Spanish natives, fed up with the oppression of the Vigisoths, eager to join him. Thus instead of his army dwindling through attrition, it actually swelled in size. In due course, the entirety of Spain (Portugal was part of Spain then) was conquered by the Moors, and they proceeded to lay the foundations of a new civilisation there. They changed the name of the country to Al-Andalus, and set up their capital at Cordova, which they turned into a magnificent city even in those days. W.E.B. DuBois, the African-American writer and historian, made the important point that "Spain was conquered not by Arabs, but by armies of Berbers and Negroids [at times] led by Arabs."

Seven years after the capture of Gilbraltar, the Moors invaded France and conquered and overran most of its southern portion. At the time, Switzerland was part of France. The Moors remained in southern France until 1140 when they were defeated at Pontiers by the Franks under Charles Martel--the grandfather of Charlemagne.

But assisted by fellow Muslims from the East, the Moors captured Sicily in 837 and, according to J.A. Rogers in his 1946 book, The World's Great Men of Color, took a million pieces of gold. In 846, they invaded Italy, seized Rome, An African male dancer celebrating at the Moors and Christians Fiesta in Pego, Spain plundered the Vatican and St Peter's Cathedral and carried off immense wealth in gold, jewellery, tapestry and paintings. Later, as J.A. Rogers reported in his book, the Moors sold back much of the loot to the Pope, with Jews acting as intermediaries.


The first Moorish family to rule over Spain was the Umayyad dynasty. Although Tarik himself never ruled Spain, other Moors did. And their rule was especially benevolent as the native Spaniards were allowed to keep their customs, religion, and language. They enjoyed complete civil independence, having their own churches, judges, courts, counts and bishops, though the Islamic authority retained the right to approve the bishops. As time went by, many Spaniards, including Christian noblemen, converted to Islam.

The Almoravids

As the power of the Umayyad dynasty waned, and they came under constant attack by the Christian kings, Alphonso VI and Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar, who wanted to reclaim Spain for the Cross, the Umayyad ruler, Mu'tamid, appealed to a certain Yusuf ibn Tashifin, a black man then leading an Islamic sect from his base on an island in the Senegal River in West Africa, to come to his rescue.

Yusuf, whose sect became known as the Almoravid (which meant "the religious men"), was a master of West and Northwest Africa. The harsh terrain they lived in had turned them into fiercely skilled soldiers. Yusuf agreed to return home to Africa after defeating the Christians in Al-Andalus.

According to J.A. Rogers, the man W.E.B. DuBois testified about saying "no man living has revealed so many important facts about the Negro race as has Rogers", of the 15,000 men that Yusuf took on his expedition to Spain, 6,000 were Senegalese, "jet black and of unmixed descent". The Almoravids routed King Alphonso Vi's army at Zalacca in October 1086 and by 1091, Yusuf had reunited all of Muslim Spain except Zaragoza.

But the euphoria of victory and the weakness exhibited by the Moorish brothers in Spain under the Umayyads, forced Yusuf to decide to stay and rule. Later, he turned to the home continent, Africa, and conquered Morocco and Algeria. He is said to have founded the Moroccan city of Marrakesh.

Yusuf became one of the most celebrated Moorish rulers, one of the very best. Under his rule, the Almoravids' empire ran from the Senegal River in West Africa to the Ebro River in Spain, earning the name of the "Empire of the Two Shores".

The Almohads

As every good thing has an end, the power of the Almoravids declined and in 1189 they were overthrown by another black African Islamic group calling themselves the Almohads, whose leader was also a reformer and military genius, Yakub Al-Mansur.

The Almohads assumed control of Al-Andalus after a little more than a century of Almoravid domination. Like the Almoravids, the Almohads also hailed from the western part of Africa. The Almohads first conquered Morocco from the last Almoravid king in 1147, and then attacked Spain, defeated the Almoravid ruling class there, and placed an Almohad monarch on the throne of Al-Andulus. Thus, for the second time a purely African breed ruled over the most civilised portion of the Iberian Peninsula.

"In his time, Al-Mansur was considered the most powerful ruler in the world," says the historian John G. Jackson. A man of culture, Mansur was also a builder of great cities and great monuments, such as the Giralda in Seville which stands up to this day. As Jackson puts it: "Under a great line of Almohad kings, the splendour of Moorish Spain was not only maintained but enhanced; for they erected the Castile of Gibraltar in 1160 and began the building of the great Mosque of Seville in 1183. The Geralda of Seville was originally an astronomical observatory constructed in 1196 under the supervision of the mathematician Geber." Sadly Mansur died in 1199.

Moorish achievements in Spain

In 1992, Dr Ivan Sertima made the vital point while editing the Golden Age of the Moor, one of the greatest books on the Moors, that: "By the time [the Arabs] attacked Ancient Egypt, Europeans had long been in charge of the defeated country. The Arabs seemed to forget that their conquest of Egypt had been made easy by the resentment of the Egyptians against their Byzantine overlords. We know far more today about the enormous debt Greek science owes to Egypt.

"But what was little expected was that Greece was not the only conduit of Egyptian scientific genius to the Arab world. There were Egyptians fleeing their country in large numbers during the Persian, Greek and Roman invasions, fleeing not only to the desert and mountain regions, but also to adjacent lands in Africa, Arabia and Asia Minor, where they lived and secretly developed the teachings which belonged to their Mystery System. In the 8th century AD, the Moors of North Africa invaded Spain and took with them the Egyptian culture which they had preserved."

So the Moors were beneficiaries of Egyptian systems and culture, and on their invasion of Spain, they took with them what they had absorbed from Ancient Egyptian culture. In Spain, they built marvellous cities, castles, palaces and mosques. The Alhambra Palace built by the Moors in the Spanish southern province of Granada, a wonder in its day, still stands testament to the glory of the Africans.

As John Jackson puts it: "Spain was immeasurably enriched by the labours of the Moors. They, for instance, introduced the silk industry into Spain. In the field of agriculture, they were highly skilled, and introduced rice, sugar cane, dates, ginger, cotton, lemons, and strawberries into the country."

(Next month, we shall deal with the huge contributions and fine civilisation that the Moors brought to Spain and Portugal and Europe as a whole.)
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Title Annotation:Black History Month: History
Author:Ankomah, Baffour
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Oct 1, 2015
Previous Article:Africa's gift to Europe.
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