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The Nonsense We've Been Taught

In Africa slave trade was initiated and given impetus by colonialism and Christian missionaries.


The early missionaries saw African culture and religion as a deadly adversary and as an evil to be eliminated. In 1876, a 27-year-old missionary named Mary Slessor emigrated from Scotland to spend the rest of her life in Nigeria. For her efforts in trying to convert the people of Nigeria, Mary Slessor’s photograph appears on Scotland’s ten pound note, and her name can be found on schools, hospitals and roads in Nigeria.


The introduction to Mary Slessor’s biography, titled: “White Queen of the Cannibals” is revealing: “On the west coast of Africa is the country of Nigeria. The chief city is Calabar. “It is a dark country because the light of the Gospel is not shining brightly there. Black people live there. Many of these are cannibals who eat other people.”  “They’re bad people, aren’t they, Mother?” asked little Susan. “Yes, they are bad, because no one has told them about Jesus, the Saviour from sin, or showed them what is right and what is wrong.”


These opening words clearly show that Mary Slessor came to Africa on a mission to indoctrinate us with Christian theology. She told us we worshipped an inferior god and that we belonged to an inferior race.  She worked to expel what she described as “savagism” from our culture and heritage and to encourage European “civilization” to take root in Africa. We accepted the mission schools which were established to enlighten us, without questioning the unforeseen costs of our so-called education.


The mission schools plundered our children’s self-esteem by teaching them, as Africans they were inherently “bad people.” Our children grew up not wanting to be citizens of Africa. Instead, their education fostered the colonial ideal they would be better off becoming citizens of the colonizing nations.  I speak of the price Africans have paid for their education and “enlightenment” from personal experience. I was born “Chukwurah,” but my missionary schoolteachers insisted I drop my “heathen” name. The prefix “Chukwu” in my name is the Igbo word for “God.”


Yet, somehow, the missionaries insisted that “Chukwurah” was a name befitting a godless pagan. The Catholic Church renamed me “Philip,” and Saint Philip became my patron and protector, replacing God, after whom I was named.  I have to argue that something more than a name has been lost. Something central to my heritage has been stripped away.


This denial of our past is the very antithesis of a good education. Our names represent not only our heritage, but connect us to our parents and past. As parents, the names we choose for our children reflect our dreams for their future and our perceptions of the treasures they represent to us.  My indoctrination went far deeper than just a name.


The missionary school tried to teach me that saints make better role models than scientists. I was taught to write in a new language. As a result, I became literate in English but remain illiterate in Igbo – my native tongue. I learned Latin – a dead language I would never use in the modern world – because it was the official language of the Catholic Church, which owned the schools I attended.


Today, there are more French speakers in Africa than there are in France. There are more English speakers in Nigeria than there are in the United Kingdom. There are more Portuguese speakers in Mozambique than there are in Portugal.


The Organization of African Unity never approved an African language as one of its official languages. We won the battle of decolonizing our continent, but we lost the war on decolonizing our minds.  Africa was a colony, but it is also a key contributor to many other cultures, and the cornerstone of today’s society. The world’s views tend to overshadow and dismiss the value and aspirations of colonized people. Again, I must impart my own experiences to illustrate this point.


Take, for example, the origin of AIDS, an international disease. According to scientific records, the first person to die from AIDS was a 25-year-old sailor named David Carr, of Manchester, England. Carr died on August 31, 1959, and because the disease that killed him was then unknown, his tissue samples were saved for future analysis.


The “unknown disease” that killed David Carr was reported in The Lancet on October 29, 1960. On July 7, 1990, The Lancet retested those old tissue samples taken from David Carr and reconfirmed that he had died of AIDS. Based upon scientific reason, researchers should have deduced that AIDS originated in England, and that David Carr sailed to Africa where he spread the AIDS virus. Instead, the white scientific community condemned the British authors of those revealing articles for daring to propose that an Englishman was the first known AIDS patient.


If these scientists were neutral to race, their data should have led them to the conclusion that Patient Zero lived in England. If these scientists were neutral to race, they should have concluded that AIDS had spread from England to Africa, to Asia, and to America. Instead, they proposed the theory that AIDS originated in Africa.


Even history has degraded our African roots. We come to the United States and learn a history filtered through the eyes of white historians. And we learn history filtered through the eyes of Hollywood movie producers.


Some of us complained that Hollywood is sending its distorted message around this globalized world. Some of us complained that Hollywood is a cultural propaganda machine used to advance white supremacy.  George Bush understood Hollywood was a propaganda machine that could be used in his war against terrorism. Shortly after the 9/11 bombing of New York City, Bush invited Hollywood moguls to the White House and solicited their support in his war against terrorism.


Some will even argue that schools play a significant role as federal indoctrination centers used to convince children during their formative years that whites are superior to other races. Fela Kuti, who detested indoctrination, titled one of his musical albums: “Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense.”


It scares me that an entire generation of African children is growing up brainwashed by Hollywood’s interpretation and promotion of American heroes. Our children are growing up idolizing American heroes with whom they cannot personally identify.  We need to tell our children our own stories from our own perspective. We need to decolonize our thinking and examine the underlying truths in more than just movies. We need to apply the same principles to history and science, as depicted in textbooks.


Look at African science stories that were retold by European historians; they were re-centered around Europe. The earliest pioneers of science lived in Africa, but European historians relocated them to Greece. Science and technology are gifts ancient Africa gave to our modern world. Yet, our history and science textbooks, for example, have ignored the contributions of Imhotep, the father of medicine and designer of one of the ancient pyramids.


The oldest patch on the quilt of mathematics belongs to another African named Ahmes. Isaac Asimov also credited Ahmes as being the world’s first author of mathematics textbook. Therefore, a study of history of science is an effort to stitch together a quilt that has life, texture and color. African historians must insert the patches of information omitted from books written by European historians.


There are many examples of the mark Africans have made on world history. Americans are surprised when I tell them Africans built both Washington’s White House and Capitol. According to the US Treasury Department, 450 of the 650 workers who built the White House and the Capitol were African slaves.


According to CNN, African Australians were not recognized as human beings prior to 1967. They “were governed under flora and fauna laws.” African Australians were, in essence, governed by plant and animal laws. For many years, African Australians were described as the “invisible people.” In fact, the first whites to settle in Australia named it the “land empty of people.”




Globalization Not New: Look at the Slave Trade by:  Philip Emeagwali