I wholeheartedly agree with Kevin Farmer, Deputy Director of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society. His recent call to return History as one of the core subjects in secondary schools is a timely and welcome suggestion.
Having spent the last week with visiting historian, researcher and author, Dr Abdullah Hakim Quick, understanding the historical events that shaped our world is important in appreciating who we are, where we have come from and where we can go. Dr Quick made an important point during his lecture at the Cave Hill Campus last Thursday. He said we should understand “our-story” rather than “his-story”.
Dr Quick’s visit to Barbados, as I wrote in last week’s column, was to re-launch his book Deeper Roots. This book presents a strong case about the existence and presence of Africans and Muslims in our region before the arrival of Christopher Columbus. The visit was scheduled to coincide with the 525th anniversary of Columbus’ first landing in the “Americas”. It is important, as he said, that we seek to deconstruct the years of what was taught and reconstruct the historical facts so we can present “our story” rather than someone else’s narrative.
The lecture, hosted by the Department of History and Philosophy in the Faculty of Humanities at the Cave Hill Campus, attracted a wide cross-section of Barbadians, students and visitors. This was refreshing as Dr Quick said he was not seeking to wipe away one nation’s contribution or part in the historical narrative. Rather, he felt that he needed through his research to paint the full picture and include all those nations and persons who played an integral part in the history and development of this region.
Unfortunately, what has been taught over the years was a Europeanized version of events that shaped this region. Left out were the centuries of civilization that existed pre-Columbus in the “Americas” and in Africa. This is a tragedy if our generations now and those in the future are not aware of the greatness of these civilizations and the positive impact they had at their time.
Part of Dr Quick’s tour of Barbados was a visit to Codrington College, the oldest theological seminary in this part of the world. It was a welcome opportunity to interact with the principal, staff and students of that institution. Dr Quick reminded them of his journey to this point in life having grown up in the inner cities of the United States and his quest for understanding what was happening around him with regard to people of his race and ethnicity.
His questioning ultimately led him to the faith of Islam and ignited in him a passion for history so that he can research and present the whole story. That passion and research carried him to several parts of the world, including spending many years on the African sub-continent. He has written and produced documentaries on several topics related to African history, including Ethiopia.
Speaking to the students at the College, he reminded them to always go deeper in their research and studies. He pointed out that Africa has a lot that we can learn from and their glorious civilizations before the arrival of the Europeans. He highlighted the famous African ruler Mansa Musa, the richest man to have lived on the earth, much richer than the billionaires we have around today. His predecessor, Abu Bakr, left the kingdom he ruled in present day Mali with 2 000 ships and sailed west towards this part of the world long before Columbus.
Historians have found evidence of the presence of Africans throughout South America, Central America, the Caribbean and North America predating Columbus’ arrival. But this aspect of our history is interestingly left out, swept aside or put in a footnote. Several noted historians have attempted to reconstruct this evidence. Dr Quick is urging history students to continue the process of reconstruction as it is a story that must be told with all the corroborating facts.
He noted that other acclaimed historians, with their own biases, do not accept easily the claims of the presence of Africans in the region pre-Columbus. Because of this, he posited that ensuring historical evidence is produced is even more critical. He highlighted the case of explorer Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian adventurer and ethnographer who became notable for his Kon-Tiki expedition in 1947, in which he sailed 8,000 km across the Pacific Ocean in a hand-built raft from South America to the Tuamotu Islands.
The expedition was designed to demonstrate that ancient people could have made long sea voyages, creating contacts between separate cultures. Heyerdahl subsequently made other voyages designed to demonstrate the possibility of contact between widely separated ancient people, notably the Ra II expedition of 1970, when he sailed from the west coast of Africa to Barbados in a papyrus reed boat. This voyage proved that it was possible to sail from the coast of Africa into the Caribbean by using the currents and not having the need for huge, elaborate ships.
Having a proud history gives us identity. Stripping human beings of that proud ancestry strips them of their identity. This is a tool the slave masters successfully employed. They stripped the dignity and the identity of the enslaved. Today we suffer the consequences of not knowing, appreciating or understanding where we came from, who our true ancestors are and what they achieved.
Dr Quick has linked the understanding of one’s historical legacy with the present day quest to be a positive influence on society. He said we need to understand who our true heroes are and where their claim to hero status came from. Appreciating that we come from a tradition of greatness will help in building a better future for our people and society.
Dr Quick’s Barbadian heritage also drove him to visit the island and actively research his family tree. This, it seems, will take a lot more visits. And he recognizes that the Barbadian influence helped significantly in his life journey. So, for the call that has gone out to bring back ‘history’ into our classrooms, let us make sure that we bring back every facet of that historical narrative.
Let us not be consumed with only a certain sanitized version that seeks to promote only one interest. Let us look at all the scholarship available in the field that seeks to bring ‘our story’ to the fore rather than just one story.