October 12 this year marks the 525th anniversary of the arrival into the ‘Americas’ of the Europeans led by Christopher Columbus. As I wrote last year, “for the Europeans it was discovery, for the indigenous people of this land, it was the beginning of annihilation.”
It was undoubtedly the beginning of European colonialization in this part of the world. And, as pointed out in a campaign for October 12 to be considered a Universal Day of Hope for truth, justice, peace, healing and reconciliation: “The genocide experiences of indigenous peoples, the transatlantic trade of trafficking in Africans and the establishment of the chattel enslavement systems was therefore a consequence of the October 12 1492, not its beginning.
“However, this date subsequently became controversial. Europeans celebrated it as both Discovery Day and Columbus Day and every 100 years re-enact the voyage of 12thOctober. The Indigenous people referred to the date as Invasion Day.” I am sure many others were fed the narrative from our days at school in history class that Columbus discovered the new world and bought civilization to the peoples of these lands. But we know now that we were fed a diet of misinformation and misrepresentation of historical facts.
A growing body of research and historical accounts has uncovered a whole different perspective of this ‘new world’ that Columbus reportedly stumbled upon. Within such a discourse I have been fortunate to know the researcher, historian and author, Dr Abdullah Hakim Quick. Based in Toronto, Canada, he has done years of research looking at the presence of Africans and Muslims in this part of the world centuries before the arrival of Columbus.
Dr Quick actually has Barbadian roots among the Bourne and Bynoe families. He is in Barbados from October 9-13 in search of those roots. And in collaboration with the Department of History and Philosophy at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies, he will present some of his findings at a free public lecture this Thursday, October 12 at the Campus in LT3, Roy Marshall Teaching Complex at 7 p.m.
His book Deeper Roots will also be re-launched at the session. It is that book that spells out his research into the history of the African and Muslim presence in the Caribbean and Americas pre-Columbus.
“For most of the literate world today, the first contact that the Caribbean had with the outside world was on October 12, 1492 when Christopher Columbus landed on the island of San Salvador. Historians then paint a picture of Christian European domination and cultural supremacy. In actuality, the history of the Americas and its people stretches back over twenty-thousand years. It tells a story of a rich continent with thriving civilizations and talented, organized human beings. It reveals to the objective reader, tales of beautiful cities, abundant agriculture, linguistic and philosophical achievements, high technology, pyramid buildings, respect for the development of women, highly developed political structures and extensive migrations.
Today, very little mention is made of the presence of Muslims in the Caribbean until the 19th Century, with the coming of indentured labourers from India, and then in the 20th Century, with the arrival of traders from the Middle East. The history of Islam and Muslim people in this region extends back over one thousand years, predating Columbus’ contact by six centuries.”
The above excerpt is taken from the Introduction of the book Deeper Roots. Dr Quick goes on in the book to examine historical accounts and events that prove the presence of Africans and Muslims interacting with the indigenous people of these lands. These accounts he hopes to speak about on Thursday. These stories have to be told as well as the stories of the civilizations that existed in this part of the world long before Columbus. The Europeanized historical narrative is one we must counter for a better understanding of where we as a people have come from and what occurred in our past.
Researchers like Dr Quick and his predecessor Professor Ivan Van Sertima, among others, must be promoted and taught in our schools. In chapter one of Deeper Roots, Dr Quick laments the fact that works like American History: A Survey co-authored by three eminent American historians, Richard N. Current, T. Harry Williams, and Alan Brinkley, paint a distorted picture. He quotes from their work: “Centuries in which human races were evolving, forming communities, and building the beginnings of national civilizations in Africa, Asia and Europe – the continents we know as the Americas stood empty of mankind and its works…The story of this new world…is a story of the creation of a civilization where none existed.”
Dr Quick responds that this image for the ill-informed reader, erases the presence of almost 75 million Native people, mistakenly called Indians by Columbus, who demographers now estimate may have been living in the Americas in 1492. In chapter two, he writes: “Ancient America was not isolated from the old world as many historians and anthropologists would have us believe. People from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean travelled great distances, mingled with each other and exchanged knowledge and products. Long before Columbus became aware of the possibility of land in the west, Muslims, among other people, had made contact with the Americas and had already left an impression on the native culture.
“Knowledge, agricultural products, livestock, metals, and other commercial items were exchanged between the two worlds. Evidence leading to establishing the presence of Muslims in ancient America comes from a number of sculptures, oral traditions, eye-witness reports, artifacts, Arabic documents, coins and inscriptions. In Meso-American art, we see Africans and Semites in positions of power and prestige, especially in trading communities of Mexico.”
Our neighbours, the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, has this year for the first time chosen to have a one-off public holiday on October 13 in commemoration of Trinidad’s ‘First Peoples’. In a country that has several public holidays recognizing various religious, cultural and national events, it is significant that they have chosen another to honour the first peoples and recognize their contribution to the islands.
Recognizing such communities among us in the Caribbean creates a greater awareness of our shared history and experiences. All stories must be told and learnt so that we can all hope for a better and more cohesive society.
I invite all to the lecture on Thursday (Oct12.) at the Cave Hill Campus and take this opportunity to wish my second daughter a blessed entrance into her teens. 13 years old today.