Book Review: AkomolafeChristopher Columbus and the Afrikan Holocaust, Slavery and the Rise of European Capitalism

Author: Dr. John Henrik Clarke, Publisher: A & B Publisher Group, Brooklyn, New York (1994), ISBN: 1-886433-18-6
Feature Article Book Review: AkomolafeChristopher Columbus and the Afrikan Holocaust, Slavery and the Rise of European Capitalism

According to Euro-centric mythorians (myth-creators masquerading as history scholars), some well-fed European adventurers sailed down the coast of West Africa in their pleasure boats and chanced upon some naked savage Black people hopping from tree to tree, and their Christian, civilized hearts sank, and they decided to help. Always the altruists, the Europeans set up camp and began the enterprise to bring the savages to God and also to civilization. Mission accomplished, the Europeans left the natives to manage their affairs, and within fifty years look at the mess the noble savages have made of things! The slave trade, oh, the savages were doing it all the time? And colonialism, oh, that was necessary to teach the Africans the art and science of self-government!

It is these types of make-me-happy fabrications that European scholarship continues to pass on as history, and sadly it is the same kind of sophomoric nonsense African governments continue to spend their money on – passing it on to African children as history! Mungo Park, The Landers, David Livingstone, Hawkins, and the rest we were taught were civilized discoverers and not pirates and thugs. That the stories of these thugs continue to fill our syllabuses is a serious indictment of African intellectuals, academics, and governments!

The very idea that Europeans were pioneers of civilization and that they brought civilization to Africa draws only a laugh of derision and not anger from a properly educated African. Europe was the last habitat of Man to wake up from the Dark Ages! And the notion that the European scally-wags that went to destroy the old civilizations of Africa, Maya, Aztecs, and others brought with them anything civilized could only be the product of those who cannot or will not think. The historical truth is that the thieves and thugs who sailed from Europe to trade in African slaves left an impoverished Europe that had lost one-third of its population to famine, starvation, and plagues. They left a society where bathing was considered evil and writing the work of Satan!

Dr. John Henrik Clarke should require no introduction to any educated African. For more than half a century until he joined the ancestors in 1998, the erudite African-American professor taught African-centered world history. He wrote numerous books and gave countless lectures. Dr. Clarke was among those who rescued Africa from the dustbin into which European scholars have dumped the birthplace of Man and the cradle of civilization.

In 'Christopher Columbus and the Afrikan Holocaust,' (an answer to the celebration of Christopher Columbus in 1994), Dr. Clarke sets out to explain to Africans (continental and diasporan) why the colossal trade in African slaves happened; how it happened and, more importantly, what we, as a people, can and should do to ensure that such monstrous calamity does not befall us again. He also gives us ideas to enable us to prepare for a meaningful future. It is a short book (106 pages), but it contains gems of information that should help the African trying to understand his/her position in today's world. It also should send each of us into thinking about what we can contribute individually to the task of Pan-African national redemption.

In the book, Dr. Clarke analyzes the role played by Cristobal Colon, aka, Christopher Columbus in this horrendous crime against the African people which led to consequences such as racism that African people still confront today in their daily lives. To Dr. Clarke, “The Columbus anniversary is a celebration of mass murder, slavery, and conquest. More: it exalts the continuing oppression of billions of people today. Columbus is something only oppressors (or fools) could celebrate.”

Another popular misconception fabricated by European scholars is that Europeans somehow miraculously sprang from nowhere and got things figured out – inventing philosophies, sciences, and technologies. This is pure fabrication. The basis of European civilization lies in the ideas Europe borrowed or stole from ancient Egypt among other places. The source of Europe's wealth lies squarely with the African Slave Trade. Walter Rodney in “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa,” and Eric Williams in “Capitalism and Slavery,” dealt extensively with the role slavery played in the development of Europe's economies. And Dr. Clarke reminds us that “Slavery and the slave trade was the first international investment in capital. It was the first large-scale investment that was intercontinental. Many Europeans invested in ships and in the goods and services taken from these African countries and became independently wealthy.”

Dr. Clarke easily debunks the myths Europeans created to justify their cruel dealings with non-Europeans among which are:

1. The myth of people waiting in darkness for another people to bring them light. “In most countries where the Europeans invaded or influenced, they put out the light of local civilizations and culture and destroyed civilizations, civilizations that were old before Europeans were born.”

2. The myth of a people without a legitimate God. “Europeans made no serious attempt to understand the religious culture of non-European people wherever they went in the world…”

3. The myth of the invader and conqueror as civilizer: “Generally speaking, no people ever spread any civilization anywhere or at any time in human history through invasion and conquest. The invader and the conqueror spread his way of life at the expense of the victim. They generally destroy civilization in the name of civilization.”

And: “Actually, most of the great civilizations of Africa declined after the coming of the Europeans… In fact, no nation ever invaded another nation for any reason other than to exploit that nation for its own reasons. .. The intent of every invader, no matter what his color, is to establish his own way of life and, in nearly every case, the local culture suffers.”

To Dr. Clarke, the very idea of enslavers posing as civilizers is simply repugnant: “This indeed, was a contradiction because the acts committed against these people were uncivil.” And to those who said enslaving people was necessary to bring them closer to God, he says: “When a people assume their God approves of their criminal action against another people, they have made God ungodly.”

Not only did Europeans succeed in enslaving and colonizing other people, but the most disastrous aspect of such colonization is what Dr. Clarke calls the 'colonization of information about the history and the colonization of the image of God.' “They denied the conquered people the right to see God through their own imagination or to address God in a word that came from their own language. Every effort was made to wipe from their memory how they ruled a state and how they related to their spirituality before the coming of the Europeans. Most of the people of the world were forced to forget that over half of human history was over before anyone knew that a European was in the world.”

Too often it is assumed that African history began with the slave trade and the colonization of Africa by Europeans. It is often forgotten that there were millennia of state and society formations and that there were advanced cultures and civilizations in Africa long before the Europeans came to Africa and negatively impacted on the continent.

Dr. Clarke divides African history into three categories (he admitted that it was arbitrary, but a necessary, utility) which he calls the First, Second, and Third Golden Age. “The first two reached their climax and were in decline before Europe as a functioning entity in human society was born.” He quotes Dr. Leaky as saying: “The critics of Africa forget that men of science today, with few exceptions, are satisfied that Africa was the birthplace of Man himself, and that for many hundreds of centuries thereafter, Africa was in the forefront of all human progress.” African history stretched from the birth of Man (First Golden Age) to the civilizations of Egypt, Kush (Second) up to the empires of Ghana, Mali, Songhai, and the Kingdoms of Zimbabwe, Asante, Bornu, Benin, Oyo, and a host of others (Third). These were solid African achievements before any Europeans came.

It is usually forgotten that those empires and kingdoms were built by Africans and that they were in no way inferior to what existed in any other part of the world in terms of social, political, and military organizations. The Songhai Empire, for example, was, in fact, larger than all of Europe, with a university at Sankore. Dr. Clarke refers to Alexander Chamberlain who said that the greatest of the Songhaian emperors, Askia, was: “the equal of the average European monarch of the time and superior to many.” Incidentally, Askia came to power one year after Columbus landed in America – an event that was to have everlasting devastating consequences for Africa!

The death of Askia in 1528 brought about the decline of the last of Africa's great empires. Songhai was sacked and the whole place was devastated by the invading armies. West Africa thus entered a sad period of decline from which it never recovered. As happened whenever an empire fell, there were a lot of internal strives. This happened in West Africa and brother turned against brother. When the European pirates arrived and saw these ruins, they concluded that nothing of value ever existed. The fall of Songhai coincided with two important events in history and these have a direct bearing on the Trans-Atlantic slavery. The first was Columbus landing in America and the second was the re-awakening of Europe from the Dark Ages that befell the continent after the fall of Rome. Europe was rising when Africa was declining and had the big African empires not fallen, Europe certainly would not have had much to conquer and enslave Africa with.

Dr. Clarke also considers the deliberate misconception that the African slave trade was the only system of slavery known in history. He gives examples of slavery in ancient Egypt, Kush, Greek, Roman, and Jewish civilizations. Even in the USA, whites were first used as slaves before the slave traders decided on Africa! He then proceeds to give the qualitative differences between these earlier slave systems and the horrendous chattel system introduced by the Europeans in their enslavement of Africa.

According to Dr. Clark, the mistake our ancestors made, and which African leaders continue to make unto this day is that: “Non-European people, especially Africans and the Indigenous Americans in the Caribbean Islands referred to as “Indians” initially attributed to the Europeans a humanity and spirituality that they did not have, and still do not have in their relationship with most of the non-European people of the world. This brings us to a conclusion that might be difficult for a lot of people to accept. Maybe the world outside of Europe didn't need the Europeans in the first place. Maybe in this fakery about spreading civilization, he destroyed more civilizations than he ever built and did the world more harm than good.”

There have been interactions among the world cultures since the dawn of history with each culture respecting the other. Africans have sailed to the Americas in pre-Colombian times and there is also evidence of the Chinese calling at African ports in ancient times. It is also a historical fact that Portuguese and other Europeans traded with Africans – buying gold and ivory before Columbus sailed to the Americas, launched his genocide against the “Indians” and launched the process that was to result in the cruelest barbarity against a people, and the dehumanization of Africans that continue unto today. Why did he do it?

“The historical facts: in December 1492, Columbus was totally lost, wandering around the Caribbean islands thinking he was in Asia when he was discovered by the Arawak Americans who lived in these islands.” Instead of thanking his rescuer, Columbus wrote to his king asking that his helpers should be subjugated. “… these people are very simple as regards the use of arms..for with fifty men they can all be subjugated and made to do what is required of them!” “In his quest for gold, Columbus had the hands cut off of any Arawak who did not bring in his or her quota of gold. In a short 40 years, the entire race of people in Haiti, half a million Native Americans, were wiped off the face of the earth by Columbus and the Spaniards that followed him.” And we are told to worship Columbus as a bringer of civilization!

Chapter 7, “Sorrow in a New Land” is the most difficult chapter of the book, not in terms of its erudition and clarity but because Dr. Clarke raises a lot of troubling questions: “If, according to his own journals, Columbus had some sailing experiences along the coast of West Africa. How then did he end up in the West when he set out for the East? Why was he adamant that he was in India when he clearly wasn't, and why did he threaten his crew with death and mutilation if they ever divulged his duplicity? Who financed Columbus expedition and why did his voyage coincide with the expulsion of the Jews from Spain? Analyzing all these questions posed in this chapter is not something that could be tackled within the scope of a book review. It makes interesting reading, though.”

In the last chapters of the book, Dr. Clarke made some suggestions as to what we as African people should have done to recover from the disaster of slavery. Like most of the great Pan-African scholars, he believes in the essentiality and the imperativeness of UNITY. He laments that while the Caribbean had produced the greatest of Pan-African thinkers, they did not federate all of the Islands, a move which should have made the Panamanian, Grenadian, and Haitian invasions impossible. Dr. Clarke admonishes those among us who believe that our salvation lies in waiting for outside helpers: “When you have to call your former master back to do basic things for you, you are not free; you have re-enslaved or re-colonized yourself. We spend too much time celebrating. We have made white hotels rich by having our conferences there. All of the conferences that Black people have each year would allow us to build ten major hotels at once. We could raise our own food; it would be much better if we could stop eating out of the can all the time… The concept of national responsibility. This is what has been taken away from us during these five hundred years. This is the supreme tragedy on our mind in the world Christopher Columbus did not discover, programming our mind to convince us that we could not even make a safety pin… There are Africans educated in Africa with African money who are scattered all over the world; they want to be anything but Africans. I maintain that there is no solution for African people, except for some form of Pan African Nationalism, no matter how you cut it. How do we become a whole people again? I think we should begin by finding a mirror and liking what we see. We have to realize it is not the effort of any one of us that will lead to freedom, but the collective work of all of us who are sincere.”

“In the 21st century, there will be a billion African people on the face of the earth. Where is our economy going to come from? If we built a shoe factory and made shoes for that many people our shoe factories would be running all night and all day!”

“Our enslavement and the rape of the services of our countries helped to lay the basis of present-day capitalism. Again the Europeans have squandered their wealth on stupid wars and conflicts that could have been avoided. They have already proven that they have one mission in mind, irrespective of religion, politics, or cultural affiliation and that mission is to dominate the world and all of its resources by any means necessary. Our mission should not be to conquer Europe but to contain Europe within its borders and let it be known that anything Europe wants from other parts of the world can be had through honorable trade.

“If we understand our mission, I think we will become aware of the fact that we are in a position to give the world a new humanity that will bring into being a new world of safety and respect for all people. The Nile River civilizations of Africa gave the world its first humanity, its first belief systems, its first social thought, and its first philosophy. With the restoration of self-confidence we need to say to ourselves, “If we did it once, we can do it again.”

In chapter eleven, Dr. Clarke poses a question that he says was also the purpose of the book: “Why haven't we as a People, without asking foundations to do it, why haven't we set up a suitable memorial for the Africans who died in the Middle Passage? Why haven't we done it ourselves? Why haven't we done it in the past, why can't we do it now, although belatedly? Why can't we also have a slave museum either adjacent to it or separate from it to preserve, so that our children will remember, the chains and the neck irons and the foot irons and the leg irons? This is what we came through and we are obligated never to let this happen again. First, we are obligated never to let it happen again to us. That is our first obligation and the world's obligation, after we take care of the first, is to join others of goodwill, if you can find them, to make sure that it never happens to anybody else in the world.”

This is a most profound question and I scratched my head in vain to find a suitable answer! The Kingdom of the Netherlands was occupied by the Nazis from 1940-1945 during which about 20,000 Dutch people were killed; May the 5th is set aside to commemorate the Liberation of the Netherlands from Nazi occupation. Again, the Premier of the state of Israel recently toured Europe where, among other offices, he performed the commissioning of a new Museum dedicated to victims of the Nazi Holocaust. Six million Jews perished in the Nazi atrocities. The Jews built Museums and other memorials to remind themselves of what they went through and also to draw strength and inspiration so that such calamity never befalls them again. What do we have in Africa except for the absurdity of naming streets, rivers, and monuments after our enslavers and colonizers? Ours must certainly be the only race that glorifies its oppression.

Dr. Clarke asks: “Why haven't we memorialized our dead? It was almost like the crime of not burying them!”

“The one thing, in conclusion, that I'm asking you not to do is to forgive and forget. Your mission is to remember and to teach your children so that they can remember it. Because it happened to us, we have a special responsibility to ourselves to build a kind of humanity and partnership with all African people of the world that could serve as a role model for all of the people of the world.”

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Started: 02-07-2024 | Ends: 31-10-2024