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(Creative historians:) An imaginary past

PostPosted: Fri Jul 24, 2009 1:11 pm
by bimjim ... =161508309

An imaginary past
Kevin Baldeosingh
Friday, July 24th 2009

A friend of mine, who recently started teaching at a prestige school, was appalled when she asked a Form Two class who were the first people to come to the Caribbean, and was told "Africans." This was what the children had been taught, and this was what their history text said. And the same kind of nonsense is promulgated at the University of the West Indies.

An April 2008 newspaper supplement, sponsored by the Foreign Affairs Ministry and produced by UWI historians, showed the danger of letting politics taint academia. The articles by these lecturers offer as historical fact arguments which are at best speculative and at worse false.

One essay by late African History lecturer Fitzroy Baptiste noted, correctly, that there was an Iron Age in Africa in terms of the use of smelted iron. But Baptiste places this development between 8,000 and 1,000 BC, and writes as though this technology was common in sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, smelting was just 2,000 years in advance of the 19th-century Bessemer furnaces of Europe, not three to five thousand years as Baptiste claimed, and was largely confined to Africa's Sahel zone until the Bantu conquest, as ethologist Jared Diamond puts it, "turned Africa black" from 1000 BCE. Most absurdly, Baptiste wrote that the "Proto-Mande five thousand years ago knew of the existence of Sirius B." This is a dwarf star that cannot be seen with the naked eye because of the light cast by its larger companion, Sirius. Yet Baptiste claimed that the proto-Mande knew about this star from "clear-night star-gazing" and shared this attainment with Egypt, Kush and Ethiopia. However, Sirius B is not recorded on any of the astronomical charts of the ancient Egyptians, and the other two societies left no such records.

Michael Toussaint, a lecturer in African Diaspora History at UWI, put forward the long-disproved claim by Ivan Van Sertima, outlined in his book They Came before Columbus, that "a significant body of evidence has been unearthed to suggest that native Africans were in our space long before Columbus."

In fact, there is no such evidence, but Toussaint asserted that van Sertima's thesis has been rejected "because of two ontological realities: he was black and had challenged the pedagogical status quo". But, as historians Bernard Ortiz de Montellano, Gabriel Haslip-Viera, and Warren Barbour have shown, the reasons for rejection are simply that van Sertima's thesis has no basis in history, anthropology, or archaeology. "The most problematical aspect of Van Sertima's arguments is his total disregard for time and cultural sequences," write the authors. "For example, Van Sertima proposes the diffusion of cultural traits from the ancient Nile Valley civilisations to Mesoamerica (ca. 1200 or 680 B.C.) and uses as evidence the existence of Mesoamerican traits that are chronologically hundreds if not thousands of years later without demonstrating how these traits were present in Mesoamerica in the intervening time periods."

As for the giant heads with supposedly Negroid features which are the cornerstone of van Sertima's claims, the authors observe that "broad noses, and full or everted lips with 'Mongoloid' eyes are quite commonplace among the Burmese, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Thais, Malays, Filipinos, Polynesians, and the other populations of eastern Asia and the Pacific region."

Then Caribbean History lecturer John Campbell described slavery in Africa as "often benign and voluntary"-a picture which bears little relationship to the frequent pre-European tribal wars in which women were the main booty. Campbell also wrote that the "continent of Africa is accepted as the cradle of human civilisation and that all human beings are today recognised as emanating from a common hominid species that also originated from Africa." The latter is true, the former is not. The earliest civilisations, as defined by large settlements, a hierarchical social order, specialised workers and writing systems, were the Harrapans of the Indus Valley; the Sumerians of present-day Iraq; and the Egyptians in northern Africa.

Lastly, and inevitably, Caribbean History lecturer Heather Cateau put forward the argument that Britain "profited so substantially (from slavery) that it led to the Industrial Revolution". Apart from the questionable idea that profits alone make for scientific advances, several economic historians have analysed the profits from the Atlantic slave trade and concluded that the trade, per se, could not have financed the various inventions that created this crucial advance in human development. Even Eric Williams in Capitalism and Slavery put a caveat to this claim, writing, "But it must not be inferred that the triangular trade was solely and entirely responsible for the economic development."

The mythologising of history to serve ethnic agendas is neither innocuous nor benign. It points to a corrupting of intellectual standards for political ends and, as 20th-century history has well demonstrated, this is a recipe for backwardness and even disaster.

Re: (Creative historians:) An imaginary past

PostPosted: Fri Jul 24, 2009 6:55 pm
by bimjim
To this list might be added the illustrious and infamous Hillary Beckles, Professor of History at the UWI Cave Hill Campus in Barbados. I have been told by numerous people who would know that he has skillfully weaved fiction with fact to produce his own version of history in several (if not all) of his publications. And in the elevated airs of academia it is absoloutely normal that if a single production of a person is seen to be tainted then all productions of that person are automatically assumed to bear the same shameful blemish.

Until now I was not aware that our youth - students in the Caribbean at all levels, including University - were actually being taught fabricated LIES as a matter of syllabus... and one would have thought if anyone in a child's life - apart from a parent - should be teaching our children truth and honesty it should be teachers.

So shame on our educational system - and on the teachers and authors alike - who either create these off-truth convenient versions of history or allow this travesty to continue.

In my humble opinion, this is a matter for Human Rights Commissions and universal, ubiquitous public condemnation of all those involved. And it should be put to a stop.... NOW.