My Letter to Black History Professor about Folklore of a Prehistoric African Invasion

Yesterday Simon Webb of History Debunked, who is well known if not notorious to many readers of this blog, put up a review of a recent book by Dr Hakim Adi, a professor of African history/ studies at Chichester University. Webb said that among the false historical claims made in Adi’s book was the remarkable statement that there was folklore about Africans invading Britain in prehistory before the Roman conquest. I’m an archaeologist with an interest in contemporary folklore. I used to be a member a long time ago of the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research. While my membership is now lapsed, I still have something of an interest. And I have never heard such a claim.

I therefore sent this email to Dr Adi inquiring about it.

‘David Sivier,

Bristol,

Dear Dr Hakim,

Yesterday I cam across a brief review of your book on YouTube, and was perplexed by some of the claims that it was said you make in your recent book the history of African and Afro-Caribbean communities in Britain. The reviewer stated that your book begins with the statement that there is folklore about an African invasion of Britain in prehistory before the Roman Conquest. I am extremely puzzled by this, as I have a Ph.D. in archaeology and a BA and MA in history. I was also for many years a member of the Society for Contemporary Legend Research. But I have heard no such folklore about any such invasion.

I am therefore writing to ask you if you could provide me with any further information about this claim, where you heard it, if it is recorded in any academic papers, such as those dealing with oral history or contemporary folklore.

I am aware that some Afrocentrist historians have drawn on White 19th century scholarship, now generally discredited academically, to claim that the original inhabitants of the British Isles were Black. But this is not the same as claiming that there was an African invasion.

Similarly, in the 1980s the long-running Celtic warrior strip, ‘Slaine’, in the SF comic 2000AD, included a race of Black British aboriginals, the Rmoahals. The strip’s writer, Pat Mills, based them on Scots folklore about the standing stones at Callanish in the Hebrides having been set up by a race of Black giants, who wore feathers. But again, there is no mention of them coming from Africa or being connected to any invasion.

In the 1990s it was also claimed that the ancient Egyptians also sailed to prehistoric Britain, where they settled in the region of what is now Birmingham. I believe this has also been discredited. But again, while this counts as settlement, it doesn’t amount to an invasion.

Archaeologists have also discovered through the genetic analysis of modern populations that one of the routes by which the Neolithic reached England from the Fertile Crescent was across North Africa and up across the Straits of Gibraltar from Morocco. But this would have been far back in antiquity beyond the reach of living memory.

Is it possible, assuming that you do make this claim in your book, that you have heard garbled versions of the above academic, non-academic and fictional reconstructions of a Black British and African presence in the remote past?

I understand that you are very cautious about these claims in your book, but I also wonder how sceptical you are about them. As oral historians have found, oral history reconstructs the past in terms of the present. In the 1960s folklorists collecting the oral history of various tribal kingdoms in Nigeria collected traditional stories that there had been originally seven kingdoms belonging to one of the country’s many tribal groups. But later oral historians had found that the number had declined to five or so in accordance with contemporary changes in tribal political structure. And Italian oral historians researching people’s memories of the Fascist era found that these memorates reflected what they’d like to have done, rather than what did. Again, I wonder if such folklore reflects a psychological need by some Black Britons for a glorious African past in which Blacks were the imperialists.

I hope you can help me with this query, and look forward to your reply.

Yours faithfully,

David Sivier’

I’ll let you know if I get one.

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2 Responses to “My Letter to Black History Professor about Folklore of a Prehistoric African Invasion”

  1. Mark Pattie Says:

    I think Dr Adi’s idea of an “African invasion” in pre-Roman Britain is misguided, but I am reliably informed that the Carthaginians travelled to Cornwall to trade in tin in about the 5th century BC. I suppose some of those may well have settled in that area. Certainly I think his assertion is more credible than the idea that Jesus himself set foot in Britain, based on the hymn “Jerusalem”. Which is itself probably believed by many Anglicans (full disclosure, I’m Anglican myself, but am very sceptical of that theory. Possibly St Paul might’ve evangelised in Britain, but not Jesus. I’m fairly sure Christ never left Israel).

    • beastrabban Says:

      I don’t think He did either, Mark. In one book on folklore I read a few years back it said that the belief that Christ visited Britain isn’t that old. It was taken from the Maronite Christians of the Lebanon in the 19th century.

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