african history

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February 11th 1990: Mandela released

On this day in 1990, the South African activist and politician Nelson Mandela was released from prison. Mandela had spent twenty-seven years in prison for his role as an anti-apartheid activist at the head of Umkhonto we Sizwe, which translates as Spear of the Nation. The controversial organisation served as the militant armed wing of the African National Congress political party, born out of a frustration among anti-apartheid activists that their non-violence was met with brutality by white authorities against black citizens. Mandela was arrested in 1962 and sentenced to life in prison, during which time he was largely condemned as a terrorist by Western nations. He served most of his twenty-seven years on Robben Island, then Victor Verster Prison near Cape Town, and during his imprisonment his reputation grew as a significant black leader both in South Africa and internationally. Mandela was finally freed after the ban on the ANC was lifted by the apartheid government. Upon his release, Mandela led the ANC in the successful negotiations with President F.W. de Klerk to end apartheid, and was overwhelmingly elected President of South Africa in the first multi-racial elections in 1994, serving until 1999. In 2013, Nelson Mandela died aged 95 and has been mourned around the world as a hero who fought for freedom in South Africa, and as a symbol of resistance for oppressed peoples everywhere.

“Our march to freedom is irreversible. We must not allow fear to stand in our way.”

For decades, there have been few photographic images of Harriet Tubman depicting how the abolitionist and Civil War spy looked in her lifetime.

Now there’s one more.

New York City auction house Swann Galleries has announced that it will auction a newly discovered photo of Tubman March 30.

Kate Clifford Larson, author of the biography “Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero,” estimated that Tubman was between 43 and 46 years old when the photo was taken, placing it shortly after the end of the Civil War. At the time, Tubman was living in Auburn, where she had purchased land in 1859 from then-Sen. William H. Seward — land that will soon become the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park.

Larson said that in her 20 years of researching Tubman, she’s been sent dozens of photos of black women by people claiming to have discovered a new image of the soon-to-be face of the $20. But not one has actually depicted Tubman.

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starbucks (@starbucks) logo traces roots back to Africa.

Info via citizins (@citizins) 

When you see that Starbucks logo, you probably think the same thing as me: “There’s that ‘smiling mermaid’ logo, there must be some good, but overpriced, coffee nearby”. Well what isn’t known to the world is that this is a picture of Yemaya, also know through out West Africa and the Caribbean as Yemoja,Yemowo, Mami Wata, Janaína, LaSiren (in Vodou) is an Orisha – said to be a Goddess of the traditional Yoruba religion that was brought by the enslaved Africans of what is now Nigeria to the west. She is the patron of women, in particular, pregnant women. When slaves were transported across the ocean, it was said to be Yemaya who protected them on their journey and kept them safe. She is kind and giving. She takes a long time to anger but when she does, watch out, you have a hurricane on your hands. She is said to be the “mother whose children number as the fish in the sea” and that is why she is presented as a two-tailed mermaid.Yemaya is said to bring forth and protect life through all the highs and lows, even during the worst atrocities that can be suffered. She reminds women to take time out for themselves, to nurture their own needs and to respect their deserved position in life.

Happy Black History month everyone!

theguardian.com
Story of cities #5: Benin City, the mighty medieval capital now lost without trace
With its mathematical layout and earthworks longer than the Great Wall of China, Benin City was one of the best planned cities in the world when London was a place of ‘thievery and murder’. So why is nothing left?

There is so little talk about the ancient cities of Africa. To often Africa and African culture is portrayed both in history and fantasy as savage and undeveloped, when nothing could be further from the truth. 

Basically the era where being thicker than a midget was a crime just because Africans happen to be thick. Sarah (Saartije) Baartman was a Khoisan (South African) woman who performed under the name “Hottentot Venus” in 19th century England and France. She is the original video vixen: discovered at home in South Africa during her late teens, she was offered money and fame in Europe as a singer and dancer. Little did she know that she would be exploited and put on display for everyone to gaze at her large butt, long clitoris/labia, small waist, big breast and kinky hair– all traits that are very common amongst Khoisan women. As her shows attracted more fans, she was forced against her will to have sex with men AND WOMEN who gave enough money to her exploiters. Sarah got none of the money, as she was once promised. After her act got old, she was forced into prostitution, where she died of std’s and alcoholism. The obsession with Saartije lasted after her death as well. For more than 100 years, visitors and “scientist” were able to examine her dissected body parts in Paris museums. The 19th century shapewear, the “bustle” was inspired by her in order to give european women her unique physique. Yes, an old school booty pop. On behalf of Nelson Mandela’s request, Paris returned Saartije’s remains to South Africa in 2002. Black men, it’s time that you start respecting the black woman’s body, because this act of objectifying it was taught to you. #sarahbaartman

The bourgeoisie in the United States appears to be giving a concession. They are saying, “Okay, fine, you go ahead and study African history and African culture,” and they will give you so much African history and culture [that] you just have time for nothing else. The object is to divorce the process of thought and reflection on our past from the process of changing the present so that you feel that you’ve gained something but you end up in some remarkable contradiction. What you will find is this (in fact it’s happening already): Rockefeller–who is making most of his money out of South African gold, out of the Rand, out of exploiting and participating in apartheid, the most vicious racial system in the world–that guy is going to finance a chair in African history. That’s the type of contradiction. So that if a black progressive thinks he’s doing something by going into African history, using up a Rockefeller grant, all he is doing is forgetting both the domestic and external implications of American capitalism and, in fact, supporting that system because the guys don’t mind if you go in a library or museum and lock yourself up all day. That’s wonderful; keep you off the street, keep you out of struggle. So we have to avoid that type of myth that cultural revival, per se, is going to carry us a long way. I don’t want to seem to be critical of the development of interest in African history and culture. Quite obviously not, that’s what I myself am involved in. What I am trying to suggest is that sometimes, while involved in a process, we ourselves have to be very careful to delimit how far that process should go. Let’s all wear afros, let’s put on African clothes. Fine. But that doesn’t mean we are not going to struggle. The system still has to be broken before we can express ourselves in any fundamental way.
—  “African History in the Service of the Black Liberation”, Walter Rodney
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Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art that combines elements of danceacrobatics and music, and is sometimes referred to as a game. It was developed in Brazil mainly by African descendants with native Brazilian influences.

Capoeira’s history begins with the beginning of African slavery in Brazil. Since the 16th century, Portuguese colonists began exporting slaves to their colonies, coming mainly from West Africa. Brazil, with its vast territory, received most of the slaves, almost 40% of all slaves sent through the Atlantic Ocean.

The word capoeira probably comes from the Tupi language, referring to the areas of low vegetation in the Brazilian interior where the game was played. It was invented by slaves and disguised as a dance in order to prevent its capoeiristas from punishment or execution for learning how to fight and defend themselves, which was forbidden to those who were legally defined as property. It is nearly always practiced to traditional Brazilian berimbau music.

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The European explorer, Christopher Columbus, even made mention of the African presence in the Americas in his logs.  Columbus stated that the purpose of his third voyage was to test the claims of King John the second of Portugal, that “canoes had been found which set out from the coast of West Africa and sailed to the Americas”.  Columbus also stated he heard claims of the native inhabitants of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, that black people had come from the southeast who were trading with spears that were made of a gold metal alloy developed in west Africa.  Columbus’s son, Ferdinand, said his father told him that he had seen black people north of what is now Honduras. The scholarly art historian, Count Alexander Von Wuthenau, also discusses fourteenth century carvings and sculptures that were found in the Americas which show women and men wearing turbans, clearly African with tribal marks cut on their cheeks, indicating that the people came from Mali.


Adapted From “They Came Before Columbus” Chapter 3, The Mariner Prince of Mali, page 39-50, by Ivan Van Sertima.