Volume 90, Issue 82

Thursday, February 20, 1997



Historical black influence

By Tarik Smith
Gazette Writer

Millions of West Africans "stolen from Africa and brought to America" to work as slaves on the cotton and tobacco plantations of the southern U.S., 500 years of oppression, revolts, racial segregation, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Afro-American inventors, scientists and activists and "I have a dream!" Although the importance of this tiny but pivotal segment of modern black history must be acknowledged, it's disturbing to think that so many people see this as black history in its entirety. One example of a large but often neglected section of black history is its intricate connection with the diverse cultures of Latin America.

What we now know as Merengue, Salsa, Mambo and other Latin rhythms. These forms have very often not directly associated with the black community, has many direct connections with the culture of the first West African slaves brought to the New World. Unlike their counterparts in the States, these people were given more liberty to practice and share those central elements of their African culture, not only in music but also religion, medicine and agriculture. With these aspects, combined with the Spanish and indigenous cultures, we have what we know as Latin America today. So how does black history tie in with European-Spanish culture?

Another wave of black African history began in 711 AD when the Moors, led by Tariq ibn-Ziyad, invaded, conquered and ruled Spain and Portugal over a period of eight centuries. During this period, not only did the Moors play a very important role in the spread of Islam into Europe but they also influenced the architecture, created more efficient infrastructures, developed the Spanish and Portuguese language and culture by using new codes of courtesy and respect. They also instilled the importance of good hygiene, conduct, health, diet and other elements of godliness. In addition to this, the Flamenco and the guitar, two of the great symbols of Spanish culture are also of direct Moorish influence.

Furthermore, there is geographical knowledge of the patterns of strong Pacific and Atlantic currents and archeological evidence of ancient African ships. There are artifacts of eye-witness accounts of Spanish explorers in the New World during the early 16th century such as Balboa and Fray Gregoria Garcia. There have been Negro stone heads found among the Olmecs and other parts of Central America and Mexico dating back to 700 to 800 BC. There are also works of distinguished scientists and researchers such as a Alphonse de Quatrefages [former professor of anthropology in the Museum of Natural History in Paris] and Ivan Van Sertima, as well as international archeological conferences agree that the isolated tribes of direct black African descent such as: the small groups off Colombia; the Charruas of Brazil; the Black Caribees of Saint Vincent in the Gulf of Mexico and the Jamassi of Florida arrived in the New World long before the arrival of the European explorers and in some cases, even the Vikings. Evidence shows that these seemingly insignificant black African populations had quite an effect on the culture and beliefs of many of the indigenous peoples.

Hopefully, it can be seen that blackness is not simply a language for example, ebonics, lifestyle, religion, nor a certain set of physical traits. I urge those students who describe themselves as black, that when we do so, we not only place our identity on these vague characteristics or even with great familiar names such as Martin Luther King Jr. More importantly, in calling ourselves black we are announcing our deep, direct and personal relationship with a nation of people, whose presence in the world has not only influenced many of the diverse cultures of the world today, but has had a profound effect on the technology, beliefs and cultures of society as a whole, ever since the rise of mankind.

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Copyright The Gazette 1997