Posts Tagged ‘Dahomey’

Radio 4 Programme Next Thursday on the Repatriation of Looted Museum Exhibits Following Black Lives Matter

August 18, 2020

The Radio Times also states that next Thursday on Radio 4 at 11.30 am there’s a documentary on the debate about the repatriation of looted African artefacts now on display in British museums. The blurb for it on page 125 of the Radio Times runs

In the wake of protesters in Bristol pulling down a statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston, Gary Younge talks to museum curators as they review what is on display.

There’s an additional piece by Simon O’Hagan on the previous page, 124, which adds

Museums might be closed, but curators are keeping busy reassessing what they have on display – minds focused by the toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol in June. In the words of one curator, “in Britain you’re never more than 150 miles rom a looted African object.”

Presented by Gary Younge, who discovers that when the public is re-admitted to museums after lockdown, there is a distinct possibility that some display cases may have notable absences.

The debate over the return of looted and seized objects to indigenous communities around the world has been going on for several decades. Much of it is about the display of human remains. A few years ago a series about the British Museum showed that august institution repatriating a set of indigenous Australian burials to Tasmanian people from which they were seized. It’s not just African and indigenous peoples demanding that their ancestors and their property should be returned. The Greeks have famously been demanding the return of the Elgin Marbles for decades, if not since they very moment Lord Elgin collected them in the 19th century. In very many cases, I don’t doubt that the moral argument is with those demanding their return, and that it’s the right thing to do.

The mention of the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol adds a dimension that complicates the issue. The repatriation of these objects is supposed to be about modern, western museums correcting the moral injustices of an imperial past. But many of the looted objects themselves are the products of slaving societies, and were seized by British forces during wars fought to extirpate the slave trade.

The Benin Bronzes are case in point. These are superbly sculpted bronze heads, which were made as part of shrines to the chief’s oba. Literally meaning ‘right arm’, the word also denotes his spiritual power, rather like the numa of the pagan Roman emperors. However, Benin, then Dahomey, was a major centre of the African slave trade. It had a plantation economy centred on cotton production like the American Deep South, and was a major exporter. So much so that the British launched a war against them from 1850 to 1852 after their king, Guezo, refused to give it up and continued trading. The bronzes were seized by the victorious British forces.

Nobody was talking about their repatriation until the 1980s, when ‘African radical’ and the highly controversial leader of Brent council, Bernie Grant, demanded their return. I’ve no doubt that Grant was motivated by genuine indignation about the humiliation of an African nation by the British empire. But there is an irony here in that such a very outspoken opponent of anti-Black racism should have been seeking to return objects that had been taken as part of military action against an African slave state. And one that had absolutely no qualms, and grew rich, from enslaving the ancestors of Black Brits, West Indians and Americans like Grant.

Ditto with some of the objects that may have been returned to Ethiopia. A year or so ago the I reported that a particularly holy cross belonging to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which had been seized by the British army in the 19th century, had also been repatriated to its country of origin. I wondered if the relic had also been looted in a similar campaign launched in that century to stop Abyssinian slave-raiding across the border into Sudan and what is now Kenya. If so, then it could be argued that it should not be repatriated, as it was a legitimate spoil in a war the British were justified in waging.

And let’s not be under any illusion that the African slaving nations wouldn’t also have enslaved the British servicemen they fought. One of the documents I found cataloguing the materials on slavery in the Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol was a parliamentary blue book on the British action against the African slavers in Lagos. One of the chiefs involved stated that if he won, he was going to shave the head of the British commander and make him carry his palanquin. Which sounds very much like a declaration that he intended to enslave him.

I think the area of the repatriation of objects looted from Africa is much more complicated morally than is being discussed and presented, and that African involvement in and culpability for the slave trade is being quietly glossed over in order to present a cosy, straightforward narrative of imperial aggression and guilt.

 

A British Colonial Governor’s Attack on Racism

July 31, 2020

Sir Alan Burns, Colour and Colour Prejudice with Particular Reference to the Relationship between Whites and Negroes (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd 1948).

I ordered this book secondhand online a week or so ago, following the Black Lives Matter protests and controversies over the past few weeks. I realise reading a book this old is a rather eccentric way of looking at contemporary racial issues, but I’d already come across it in the library there when I was doing voluntary work at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum. What impressed me about it was that it also dealt with anti-White racism amongst Blacks as well as the book’s main concern with anti-Black racism, discrimination and growing Black discontent in the British Empire.

Burns was a former governor of Ghana, then the Gold Coast. According to the potted biography on the front flap of the dust jacket, he was ‘a Colonial Civil Servant of long and distinguished experience in tropical West Africa and the West Indies.’ The book

deals with the important question of colour prejudice, and pleads for mutual courtesy and consideration between the white and the coloured races. Sir Alan analyses the history and alleged causes of colour prejudice, and cites the opinions of many writers who condemn or attempt to justify the existence of prejudice. It is a frank analysis of an unpleasant phenomenon.

He was also the author of two other books, his memoirs of colonial service in the Leeward Islands Nigeria, Bahamas, British Honduras, the Gold Coast and the Colonial Office, Colonial Civil Servant, and A History of Nigeria. The Gold Coast was one of the most racial progressive of the British African colonies. It was the first of them to include an indigenous chief on the ruling colonial council. I therefore expected Burns to hold similar positive views of Blacks, given, of course, how outdated these would no doubt seem to us 72 years later.

After the introduction, the book is divided into the following chapters:

I. The Existence and Growth of Colour Prejudice

II. The Attitude of Various Peoples to Racial and Colour Differences

III. Negro Resentment of Colour Prejudice

IV. Political and Legal Discrimination Against Negroes

V. Social Discrimination Against Negroes

VI. Alleged Inferiority of the Negro

VII. Alleged Shortcomings of the Negro

VIII. Physical and Mental Differences between the Races

IX. Physical Repulsion between Races

X. Miscegenation

XI. The Effect of Environment and History on the Negro Race

XII. Lack of Unity and Inferiority Complex Among Negroes

XIII. Conclusion.

I’ve done little more than take the occasional glance through it so far, so this is really a rather superficial treatment of  the book, more in the way of preliminary remarks than a full-scale review. Burns does indeed take a more positive view of Blacks and their potential for improvement, but the book is very dated and obviously strongly influenced by his own background in the colonial service and government. As a member of the colonial governing class, Burns is impressed by the British Empire and what he sees as its benevolent and highly beneficial rule of the world’s indigenous peoples. He is in no doubt that they have benefited from British rule, and quotes an American author as saying that there is no other colonial power which would have done so for its subject peoples. He is particularly impressed by the system of indirect rule, in which practical government was largely given over to the colonies’ indigenous ruling elites. This was peaceful, harmonious and had benefited the uneducated masses of the Empire’s indigenous peoples. These colonial subjects appreciated British rule and largely supported it. He did not expect this section of colonial society to demand their nations’ independence. However, this governmental strategy did not suit the growing class of educated Blacks, who were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with their treatment as inferiors and demanding independence.

As with other, later books on racism Burns tackles its history and tries to trace how far back it goes. He argues that racism seems to go back no further than the Fifteenth century. Before then, culture and religion were far more important in defining identity.  He’s not entirely convinced by this, and believes that racism in the sense of colour prejudice probably existed far earlier, but there is little evidence for it. There have been other explorations of this subject which have attempted to show the history and development of racism as a cultural idea in the west. Other historians have said much the same, and I think the consensus of opinion is that it was the establishment of slavery that led to the development of ideas of Black inferiority to justify their capture and enslavement.

Burns is also concerned at what he and the other authorities he quotes as the growth in anti-Black racism that came following the First World War. He compares this unfavourably with a comment from an African lady, who went to a British school during Victoria’s reign. The women recalls that she and the other Black girls were treated absolutely no differently from the Whites, and that the only time she realised there was any difference between them was when she looked in a mirror. This is interesting, and a good corrective to the idea that all Whites were uniformly and aggressively racist back then, but I expect her experience may have been very different from Blacks further down the social hierarchy. Burns believes the increase in racism after the First World War was due to the increased contact between Blacks and Whites, which is probably true following the mass mobilisation of troops across the Empire.

But what I found as an historian with an interest in African and other global civilisations is the book’s almost wholly negative assessment of Black civilisation and its achievements. Burns quotes author after author, who states that Blacks have produced no great civilisations or cultural achievements. Yes, ancient Egypt is geographically a part of Africa, but culturally and racially, so it is claimed, it is part of the Middle East. Where Black Africans have produced great civilisations, it is through contact with external, superior cultures like the Egyptians, Carthaginians and the Arabs. Where Blacks have produced great artistic achievements, such as in the Benin bronzes of the 16th/17th century, it is claimed that this is due to contact with the Portuguese and Spanish. This negative view is held even by writers, who are concerned to stress Black value and dignity, and show that Blacks are not only capable of improvement, but actually doing so.

Since then a series of historians, archaeologists and art historians have attempted to redress this view of history by showing how impressive Black African civilisations were. Civilisations like ancient Nubia, Ethiopia, Mali and the other great Islamic states of north Africa, and advanced west African civilisations like Dahomey. I myself prefer the superb portraiture in the sculptures from 17th century Ife in west Africa, but archaeologists and historians have been immensely impressed by the carved heads from Nok in Nigeria, which date from about 2,000 BC. Going further south, there is the great fortress of Zimbabwe, a huge stone structure that bewildered western archaeologists. For years it was suggested that Black Africans simply couldn’t have built it, and that it must have been the Arabs or Chinese instead. In fact analysis of the methods used to build it and comparison with the same techniques used by local tribes in the construction of their wooden buildings have shown that the fortress was most definitely built by indigenous Zimbabweans. There have been a number of excellent TV series broadcast recently. Aminatta Forna presented one a few years ago now on Timbuktu, once the centre of a flourishing and immensely wealthy west African kingdom. A few years before, art historian Gus Casely-Hayford presented a series on BBC Four, Lost Civilisations of Africa. I think that’s still on YouTube, and it’s definitely worth a look. Archaeologists are revealing an entire history of urban civilisation that has previously been lost or overlooked. Nearly two decades or so ago there was a piece by a White archaeologist teaching in Nigeria, who had discovered the remains of house and courtyard walls stretching over an area of about 70 km. This had been lost as the site had been abandoned and overgrown with vegetation. He lamented how there was little interest in the remains of this immense, ancient city among Nigerians, who were far more interested in ancient Egypt.

This neglect and disparagement of African history and achievement really does explain the fervour with which Afrocentric history is held by some Blacks and anti-racist Whites. This is a view that claims that the ancient Egyptians were Black, and the real creators of the western cultural achievement. It began with the Senegalese scholar Cheikh Anta Diop. White Afrocentrists have included Martin Bernal, the author of Black Athena, and Basil Davidson. Following the Black Lives Matter protests there have also been calls for Black history to be taught in schools, beginning with African civilisations.

More positively, from what I’ve seen so far, Burns did believe that Blacks and Whites were equal in intelligence. The Christian missionaries Samuel Crowther, who became the first Anglican bishop of Africa, and Frederick Schon, had absolutely no doubt. Crowther was Black, while Schon was a White Swiss. In one of their reports to the British parliamentary committee sitting to examine slavery and the slave trade, they presented evidence from the African missionary schools in the form of essays from their pupils to show that Blacks certainly were as capable as Whites. Possibly more so at a certain age. As Black underachievement at school is still a very pressing issue, Crowther’s and Schon’s findings are still very important. Especially as there are real racists, supporters of the book The Bell Curve, keen to argue that Blacks really are biologically mentally inferior to Whites.

Burns’ book is fascinating, not least because it shows the development of official attitudes towards combating racism in Britain. Before it became such a pressing issue with the mass influx of Black migrants that came with Windrush, it seems that official concern was mostly over the growing resentment in Africa and elsewhere with White, British rule. The book also hopefully shows how we’ve also come in tackling racism in the West. I’m not complacent about it – I realise that it’s still very present and blighting lives – but it’s far, far less respectable now than it was when I was a child in the 1970s. My concern, however, is that some anti-racism activists really don’t realise this and their concentration on the horrors and crimes of the past has led them to see the present in its terms. Hence the rant of one of the BLM firebrands in Oxford that the police were the equivalent of the Klan.

Burn’s book shows just how much progress has been made on, and makes you understand just what an uphill struggle this has been.

 

 

Correspondence with Deputy Major Asher Craig on Slavery Education in Bristol

July 9, 2020

Asher Craig (below) is Bristol’s deputy mayor from communities, which takes in public health, public transport, libraries, parks, and events and equalities, and the Labour councillor for St. George West.

Councillor Asher Craig

I sent an email to her on Tueday this week, 7th July 2020, expressing my concerns at a brief interview she had given to BBC News Sunday night, and which had been repeated that morning on Radio 4. This was about Edward Colston and the legacy of slavery in the city. The Beeb had dispatched Lisa Mzimba to Bristol to investigate this lingering issue, and sound out local people about their opinions on it. One of those he spoke to was Asher Craig. And her comments frankly annoyed me, because they appeared to show that she was unaware that the city had tackled slavery and produced books and exhibitions about it, and that there was now a gallery devoted to it at the M Shed museum on Bristol’s docks. She kindly replied to me, and I include this with my email in this article, as well as my own comments on this.

I’m very well aware how sensitive racial issues. Please don’t anyone troll her or send her abusive or threatening messages. There’s far too much of this on the net as it is, and I don’t want to stoke up more of it or increasing racism instead of trying get rid of it.

Craig had declared that Bristol had covered up its history of slavery, and that she wanted to see a museum of slavery opened here. She also said that the council was introducing a new curriculum, which would educate children about this aspect of the city’s past. This also concerned me, as I feel very strongly that western slavery needs to be put into its global context. Slavery has existed in many societies right across the world, including Africa and Islam. It was Black African kingdoms who sold the slave to us, rather than White Europeans raiding Africa directly for slaves, although that had also gone on. Furthermore, in the 16th and 17th centuries the Barbary pirates of Muslim north Africa raided Europe for slaves. Ships from Bristol were also attacked and their crews enslaved. I am concerned that these aspects of the slave trade should also be taught in order to avoid teaching a view that is equally racist but against Whites, that racism and slavery is something that only Whites do to people of colour.  And anti-White racism has also existed in Bristol alongside hatred of Blacks and other people of colour.

I therefore sent Deputy Mayor Craig the following email:

Dear Madam,

This morning Radio 4 broadcast a brief interview you did with the BBC’s news presenter, Lisa Mzimba, about the current controversy surrounding Edward Colston’s statue and the need to confront the city’s participation in the slave trade. You, like many people, feel that it has been insufficiently addressed and more needs to be done to tackle racism. Unfortunately, you made several statements which were factually incorrect and suggest that there are areas about Bristol’s education system and the various displays the city’s museums have put on to address this, of which you are unaware.

Firstly, you claimed that the city has covered up its involvement in the slave trade. This is myth, and I am shocked that it is still circulating. I understand that it comes from an incident in the 1970s when a member of Bristol’s Black community telephoned the city council whether there was anything available about the city and the slave trade. The person answering the call denied that Bristol ever took part in the trade. Obviously that is clearly wrong, and it is understandable that after this many of Bristol’s Black citizens would feel that the city was engaged in a cover-up.

However, educational materials produced at the time for teaching the city’s history in schools do cover the slave trade. The book Bristol: An Outline History for Schools, by H. Chasey (Bristol: George’s Booksellers 1975) discusses the slave trade on its page on 18th century trade. 13 years ago there was also a book published about Bristol in 1807, which was specifically brought out to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. While this was a work of general history, it made a point of discussing the city’s participation in the slave trade. The book was available from the Central Library among other venues. The Central Library has also published a booklet of materials they hold on slavery. This was published by the Reference Library, and titled Bristol 1807: A Sense of Place – Our City in the Year of Abolition. It had the subtitle, Slavery, Abolition and Emancipation: A Reading List. The local branch of the historical association also published a booklet,Bristol and the Abolition of Slavery, by Peter Marshall.

In the 1990’s the City Museum presented an exhibition, ‘A Respectable Trade’, about Bristol and the slave trade, which coincided with the drama of that name then showing on BBC television, based on the book of the same name by Philippa Gregory. This exhibition has now ended, but there is an entire gallery devoted to the subject at the M Shed. I realize that a gallery or exhibition is not the same as the museum you wish to be built, but it does show that the local council has addressed this issue.

You also said that you had created a curriculum for schools across the city that would cover this and other aspects of Black history. I’d be very grateful if you could tell me whether this includes the participation of African states in the slave trade, and their resistance to its abolition. As I’m sure you’re aware, the slave trade was not simply a case of White Europeans kidnapping Black Africans. Many African states, such as Dahomey and Mali, had slavery long before the appearance of White Europeans in Africa. Europeans were largely confined to ghettos in some of these states’ cities, and it was these African states that led the raids and obtained the slaves, which they then sold to Europeans.

The slave trade was also not confined to White Europeans either. There was also the Arab and Indian slave trades, which saw people from central and eastern Africa enslaved and then exported to India, Afghanistan, Arabia and other countries. It was partly to suppress this slave trade that the British empire first made treaties with Imam of Muscat, who was then the region’s suzerain, and then invaded this part of Africa.There was also the Turkish slave trade, which saw Black Sudanese enslaved and transported north to Egypt and the other states of the Maghreb.Moroccan slave trade only ended in 1911, because the British empire actively opposed its conquest by the other European powers.

I realize that this goes beyond merely local history, but it is important to avoid perpetuating a simplistic view in which slavery in only something that Whites ever did to Blacks. You have made it very clear that you wish to stamp out racism. However, in my experience racism is far from being confined to Whites. There has been anti-White as well as anti-Black racism in Bristol’s schools, as well as vicious ethnic hatred between Asians and the BAME community. As difficult as this, I feel very strongly that this also needs to be addressed.

I would also like to know what you are doing to cover the subject of the White Bristolians, who were also enslaved. As you know, Bristol’s participation in the slave trade actually predates that of the transatlantic slave trade.The city sold English slaves abroad in the 11th and 12th century centuries. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Bristolian seamen were also kidnapped and enslaved by the Barbary pirates. Five of Bristol’s ships were captured in one year. While the enslavement of White Europeans was obviously minuscule compared to that of the Black Africans enslaved – 2 1/2 million compared to 12 1/2 million, nevertheless it occurred and is, I believe, partly responsible for modern prejudices towards Islam.

I would greatly appreciate it if you could tell me what you are doing to address these issues, and look forward to your reply

Yesterday I got this reply from her.

Thank you for your email.

I am very much aware of the history of slavery in this city and the resources & educational materials you refer to in your email.

It’s a pity that my interview was edited because if you had heard my full response you would not have sent me such an email.

The One Bristol curriculum will tell the full truth not the half truths of history we were all taught in school. It will celebrate our black history from Africa, Caribbean, UK but will also expand to look at the wider local history of poor white working class communities. The History Commission the Mayor is putting in place will  also I form our work going forward.

We have to start somewhere and we’ve always known that the burning platform, I’m sure you’d agree, is eliminating racial hatred & discrimination which is deeply embedded in this society.

Thank you for the history lesson but we know what we’re doing. We work inclusively not exclusively which I’m afraid is the centuries old way of white men in power.

It’s possible that the appearance of ignorance on her part was caused by the Beeb’s editing. I think if you challenged them, the Corporation would probably tell you that it was all for time. But considering their shenanigans in trying to present as biased a view of the Labour party as they can get away with, I’m not sure you can completely discount malice. I doubt it in this case, however, as by and large the broadcast media has presented Black Lives Matter sympathetically. I am very much aware that there are glaring exceptions to this from the usual crowd of right-wing shills. There is a problem with the broadcaster’s own ignorance of Bristol’s history. An ITV report on the pulling down of Colston’s statue recited some of the old myths including that about Black Boy Hill. This is supposed to be named after a slave, but the 1990’s exhibition at the City Museum showed that this probably wasn’t true, and that it was most likely named after a race horse owned by Charles II.

Councillor Craig’s statement that the history curriculum would include that of the White working class is interesting, and a positive step if that is the case. However, I’m not impressed her comment about White men. It’s been true of western society,  but in nearly all societies across the globe power has been in the hands of elite men. And most societies have been extremely nationalistic as well as hierarchical, excluding other ethnic and social groups from power and privilege. I’ve met people, who have been really shocked at how racist some non-Western nations, like China, can be.

Bristol has also been an ethnically diverse city for centuries. The latest issue of the Postscript bargain books catalogue contains a book on this aspect of the city’s history. Written by Madge Dresser and Peter Fleming, two of the history lecturers at the University of the West of England, it titled Bristol: Ethnic Minorities and the City 1000-2001 (Phillimore 2009). The blurb for it runs

Over the past thousand years, Bristol, as one of England’s most important ports, has been a magnet for migrants. From medieval Jews to 21st-century asylum seekers. This pioneering study examines the activities of the various ethnic groups who have settled in the city. Investigating how the survived economically, how they dealt with social dislocation and discrimination, and how they constructed identities for their communities, it offers insights into the wider history of the city and the nation.

Dr Dresser was one of those involved in the creation of the 1990s slavery exhibit along with several others. I think one of them might have been Dr Mark Horton of Bristol University and then Time Team fame. Dresser teaches 18th century history and the slave trade at UWE, and has published a book on how the city continued slaving after its formal abolition, Slavery Obscured. If the city is putting together a commission to produce a multicultural approach to the city’s history, then it almost certainly will contain her.

As for Craig’s statement ‘Thank you for the history lesson but we know what we’re doing’, apart from showing a certain tetchiness – she obviously doesn’t like being pulled up on her history by a member of the public – it remains to be seen if the council does know what it’s doing. They won’t be short of experts, with real insights into these issues from the city’s universities.

It’ll be very interesting to see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

African Resistance to the Ending of the Slave Trade

July 7, 2020

One of the most shocking aspects of the history of the slave trade is that its abolition was opposed by many African states. These were kingdoms like Dahomey that profited from the trade. As a rule, it wasn’t Europeans who conducted the slave raids. They were largely confined to merchant ghettos within the African towns and ports serving the trade. The actual warfare and slaving that brought them their human cargo was done by warlike African states. And despite being frequently cheated by European slave merchants – John Newton describes the various ruses used to do this in his 1788 Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade – many African princes grew extremely rich on the profits of the trade. Duke Ephraim of Dahomey was raking in £300,000 per year, an income that exceeded that of many English dukes.

These states were extremely reluctant to give up such a lucrative trade, and resented British insistence that they now turn to more legitimate items, such as palm oil and the other products they believed would be far more useful for British industry after abolition. At the very least, they thought it was hypocritical for their former customers and co-partners in the slave trade to now demand they stop it and lecture them on their wickedness for not doing so. One west African kingdom was so incensed at British refusal to continue slaving that they attacked a British trading fort in order to force them to take it up again. And for a short period bloodshed actually increased. The slave states were faced with keeping large numbers of captives, whom they could no longer sale. As a result there was a series of massacres as they murdered the excess slaves. One of the most notorious was the murder of 300 such captives, which was debated in parliament in one of the many meetings of the Committee of Inquiry held to investigate the slave trade. Some believed that the mass murder was actually human sacrifice, but other witnesses testified that this was not the case. When one of those testifying before the Committee, Captain Denman, was asked if he was surprised or shocked by the massacre, he replied that he was because of the considerable advances this African people had made in the arts of civilization. This statement is itself remarkable as it shows that while Europeans viewed African civilization as inferior, many of those charged with actively ending the slave trade knew it existed and were impressed with Black Africans as cultured, civilized peoples.

Colin McEvedy discusses these negative consequences of the ending of the slave trade in his The Penguin Atlas of African History (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1980) which I reviewed a few days ago. He writes

No one in Africa was going to say thank you for this [the ending of the slave trade]. Most West African states suffered a severe loss of revenue and, though the British granted some of them subsidies in compensation and, in the case of the principalities of the Niger delta, went to considerable trouble to encourage the production of palm oil as an alternative source of income, this was a period of relative impoverishment all along Africa’s Atlantic seaboard. Even the various categories of people who had supplied the slave trade with its raw material can’t be said to have benefited: criminals were once again handed over to the civil executioner and prisoners-of-war to the witch-doctor for sacrifice. This is the reason why the accounts of West African kingdoms in the nineteenth century are so blood-curdling: states like Dahomey that had built up a big slave-exporting capacity now had to consume a lot of unwanted human beings. Their ways of doing so provide a last bizarre flourish to what always had been a sad and sorry business. (p. 97).

This aspect of the slave trade also needs to be taught. Not to try to justify the trade, but to show that Africans were also actively involved in it and not mere victims. We need to remember this so that when the history of the slave trade is taught in schools, it isn’t presented as simply as evil White Europeans preying on noble Black Africans.

Yay! My Book on Slavery in the British Empire Has Been Published with Lulu

January 30, 2019

On Monday I finally got the proof copies I ordered of my book, The Global Campaign, which I’ve just published with Lulu, the print on demand service. The book’s in two volumes, which have the subtitles on their first pages The British Campaign to Eradicate Slavery in its Colonies. The book’s in two volumes. Volume One has the subtitle The Beginnings to Abolition and the British Caribbean, while Volume Two is subtitled Africa and the Wider World.

My blurb for the book runs

British imperialism created an empire stretching from North America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific, much of whose population were slaves. Global Campaign tells how slavery in the British Empire arose, the conditions and resistance to it of the peoples they enslaved, and the steps taken to end it by the abolitionists across the Empire and the metropolitan authorities in London.

The first volume of this book, Volume 1: The Beginnings to Abolition and the British Caribbean describes the emergence of this Empire, and the attempts to end slavery within it up to end of apprenticeship in 1838.

Volume 2: Africa and the Wider World describes how the British tried to end it in their expanding Empire after 1838. It describes how abolition became part of the ideology of British imperialism, and spurred British expansion, annexation and conquest.

The two volumes also discuss the persistence of slavery after abolition into the modern world, and its continuing legacy across continents and cultures.

The contents of vol. 1 are an introduction, then the following:

Chapter 1: the British Slave Empire in 1815
Chapter 2: From Amelioration to Abolition
Chapter 3: Abolition, Apprenticeship and Limited Freedom, 1833-1838.

Vol. 2’s chapter are

1: Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast and Lagos
2: India, Ceylon, Java and Malaya,
3: The Pacific, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji
4: West Africa and the Gold Coast, 1874-1891
5: The Ottoman Empire, Egypt and Sudan
6: East and Central Africa
7: Zanzibar and Pemba
8: Legacies and Conclusion

Both volumes also have an index and bibliography. I also drew the cover art.

Volume 1 is 385 pages A5, ISBN 978-0-244-75207-1, price 12.00 pounds.
Volume 2 386 pages A5, ISBN 978-0-244-45228-5, price 12.00 pounds. Both prices exclusive of VAT.

The books are based on the notes and summaries I made for the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum of some of the official documents they’d acquired from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on slavery. I also supplemented this with a mass of secondary reading on slavery, the slave trade and the British Empire. It’s a fascinating story. I chose to write about slavery in the British Empire as a whole as I found when I was looking through the documents that slavery certainly wasn’t confined to the Caribbean. It was right across the world, though most of the published books concentrate on slavery in the US and the Caribbean. There has been a recent book on slavery and abolition in British India and Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, and I remember seeing a book on the British campaign against slavery in the Pacific, published, I believe, from one of the antipodean publishers. I doubt very many people in Britain are aware that it existed in India and Sri Lanka, and that attempts to outlaw it there date from c. 1798, when the British judge of the Bombay (Mumbai) presidency ruled that it was illegal. Similarly, general histories of slavery do mention the infamous ‘coolie trade’ in indentured labourers from India and China. They were imported into the Caribbean and elsewhere around the world in order to supply cheap labour after the abolition of slavery in 1838. However, they were treated so abysmally in conditions often worse than those endured by enslaved Blacks, that it was dubbed by one British politician ‘A new system of slavery’. There’s an excellent book on it, with that as its title, by Hugh Tinker, published by one of the Indian presses.

General books on slavery also discuss the enslavement of indigenous Pacific Islanders, who were kidnapped and forced to work on plantations in Fiji and Queensland in Australia. But again, I doubt if many people in the UK have really heard about it. And there are other episodes in British imperial history and the British attempts to curb and suppress slavery around the world which also isn’t really widely known. For example, abolition provided some much of the ideological impetus for the British conquest of Africa. Sierra Leone was set up in the late 18th century as a colony for freed slaves. But the British were also forced to tackle slavery and slaving in the Gold Coast, after they acquired it in the 19th century. They then moved against and conquered the African kingdoms that refused to give up slaving, such as Ashanti, Dahomey and the chiefdoms around Lagos. It’s a similar story in east Africa, in what is now Tanganyika, Zambia, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Malawi. The British initially wished to conquer the area as part of the general European ‘Scramble for Africa’, and their main rivals in the region where the Portuguese. But the British public were also aware through the missionary work of David Livingstone that the area was part of the Arabic slave trade, and that the indigenous peoples of this region were being raided and enslaved by powerful local African states, such as the Yao and the Swahili as well as Arabs, and exported to work plantations in the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba off the east African coast. At the same time, Indian merchants were also buying and enslaving Africans from that area, particularly Uganda.

The British were also concerned to crush slavery in Egypt after they took control of the country with the French. They encouraged Khedive Ismail, the Egyptian ruler, to attempt to suppress it in Egypt and then the Sudan. It was as part of this anti-slavery campaign that the Khedive employed first Colonel Baker and then General Gordon, who was killed fighting the Mahdi.

At the same time, Stamford Raffles in Singapore and Raja Brooke of Sarawak justified their conquest and acquisition of these states as campaigns to end slavery in those parts of Asia. The British also took over Fiji at the request of the Fijian king, Cakabau. White Americans and Europeans had been entering the country, and Cakabau and his advisors were afraid that unless the country was taken under imperial control, the settlers would enslave the indigenous Fijians. Indeed, Cakabau had been made king of the whole of Fiji by the colonists, though he was acutely aware of how he was being used as a figurehead for effective White control of his people. At the same time, the White planters were also forming a White supremacist group. So he appealed to the British Empire to takeover his country in order to prevent his people’s enslavement.

British imperial slavery started off with the British colonies in the Caribbean and North America. I’ve ignored slavery in the US except for the period when it was part of the British Empire. The Canadians ended slavery nearly two decades before it was formally outlawed throughout the British Empire. It was done through enlightened governors, judges as well as abolitionists outside government. The country’s authorities did so by interpreting the law, often against its spirit, to show that slavery did not legally exist there. There were attempts by slaveowners to repeal the legislation, but this was halfhearted and by the 1820s slavery in Canada had officially died out.

After the British acquired Cape Colony at the southern tip of Africa, the very beginning of the modern state of South Africa, they were also faced with the problem of ending the enslavement of its indigenous population. This included the indigenous Khoisan ‘Bushmen’, who were being forced into slavery when they took employment with White farmers. At the same time, the British were trying to do the same in Mauritius and the Seychelles after they conquered them from the French.

The British initially started with a programme of gradual abolition. There was much debate at the time whether the enslaved peoples could support themselves as independent subjects if slavery was abolished. And so the abolitionists urged parliament to pass a series of legislation slowly improving their conditions. These regulated the foods they were given by the planters, the punishments that could be inflicted on them, as well as giving them medical care and support for the aged and disabled. They also tried to improve their legal status by giving them property rights and the right to be tried in ordinary courts. Special officials were set up, the Guardians and Protectors of Slaves, to examine complaints of cruelty.

This gradualist approach was challenged by the female abolitionists, who grew impatient with the cautious approach of the Anti-Slavery Society’s male leadership. They demanded immediate abolition. I’ve also tried to pay tribute to the struggle by the enslaved people themselves to cast off their shackless. In the Caribbean, this took the form of countless slave revolts and rebellions, like Maroons in Jamaica, who were never defeated by us. At the same time a series of slaves came forward to accuse their masters of cruelty, and to demand their freedom. After the Lord Mansfield ruled that slavery did not exist in English law in the late 18th century, slaves taken to Britain from the Caribbean by their masters presented themselves to the Protectors on their return demanding their freedom. They had been on British soil, and so had become free according to English law. They therefore claimed that they were illegally kept in slavery. As you can imagine, this produced outrage, with planters and slaveowners attacking both the anti-slavery legislation and official attempts to free the slaves as interference with the right of private property.

This legislation was introduced across the Empire. The same legislation that regulated and outlawed slavery in the Caribbean was also adopted in the Cape, Mauritius and the Seychelles. And the legislation introduced to ensure that indentured Indian and Chinese labourers were treated decently was also adopted for Pacific Islanders.

Slavery was eventually abolished in 1833, but a form of servitude persisted in the form of apprenticeship until 1838. This compelled the slaves to work unpaid for their masters for a certain number of hours each week. It was supposed to prepare them for true freedom, but was attacked and abandoned as just another form of slavery.

Unfortunately slavery continued to exist through the British Empire in various forms despite official abolition. The British were reluctant to act against it in India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Java and Perak in what is now Malaysia because they were afraid of antagonizing the indigenous princes and so causing a rebellion. In Egypt they attempted to solve the problem by encouraging the slaveowners as pious Muslims to manumit their slaves freely as an act of piety, as the Prophet Mohammed urges them in the Qu’ran. In the Caribbean, the freedom the former slaves enjoyed was limited. The British were afraid of the plantation economy collapsing, and so passed legislation designed to make it difficult for the freed people to leave their former masters, often tying them to highly exploitative contracts. The result was that Black West Indians continued to fear re-enslavement long after abolition, and there were further riots and rebellions later in the 19th century. In British Africa, the indigenous African peoples became second class citizens, and were increasingly forced out of governmental and administrative roles in favour of Whites. Some colonies also conscripted African labourers into systems of forced labour, so that many came to believe that they had simply swapped one form of slavery for another. The result has been that slavery has continued to persist. And it’s expanded through people trafficking and other forms of servitude and exploitation.

The book took me on off several years to write. It’s a fascinating subject, and you can’t but be impressed with the moral and physical courage of everyone, Black and White, who struggled to end it. I chose to write about it in the British Empire as while there are many books on slavery across the world, there didn’t seem to be any specifically on the British Empire. Studying it also explains why there is so much bitterness about it by some people of West Indian heritage and how it has shaped modern politics. For example, before South Sudan was given its independence, Sudan under the British was effectively divided into two countries. In the southern part of the country, the British attempted to protect the indigenous peoples from enslavement by banning Arabs. They were also opened up to Christian evangelization. In the Arab north, the British attempted to preserve good relations by prohibiting Christian evangelism.

I also attempt to explain how it is that under the transatlantic slave trade, slavery became associated with Blackness. In the ancient world and during the Middle Ages, Whites were also enslaved. But Europeans started turning to Black Africans in the 14th and 15th centuries when it became impossible for them to buy Slavs from eastern Europe. So common had the trade in Slavs been that the modern English word, slave, and related terms in other languages, like the German Sklave, actually derive from Slav.

It’s been fascinating and horrifying writing the book. And what is also horrifying is that it persists today, and that new legislation has had to be passed against it in the 21st century.

Jeremy Corbyn in Bristol: It Is Important Children Understand the History of the Empire

October 14, 2018

This is a short clip, of just over a minute, of Jeremy Corbyn at Bristol’s City Hall, put on YouTube on Thursday by the Daily Fail. Corbyn speaks on the need to educated children about Britain’s role in the slave trade and the British Empire, and mentions Bristol as one of the cities involved in the trade, like Liverpool, and some of whose merchants became rich from it. He states that it’s important people understand the treatment of Black people across the Empire and the contribution they made to it. He says that Windrush has highlighted this need, and the making sure all our children understand the history of the Empire will make our communities stronger. The video shows him descending the ramp leading up to the Council House’s entrance, and inside standing in a dock watching a video on the Empire, or slavery.

The blurb for the piece runs:

Jeremy Corbyn today unveiled proposals to ensure schoolchildren are taught about the legacy of Britain’s role in slavery and colonialism. The move comes on the same day as Labour faces accusations that it is ‘putting ideology first and children second’ with its plans to impose a new rule book on all schools. The National Curriculum already recommends that children learn about the slave trade, the British Empire and colonies in America. Mr Corbyn said that ‘in the light of the Windrush scandal’ it is ‘more important now than ever’ that children learn ‘the role and legacy of the British Empire, colonisation and slavery’. Pictured top right, a drawing showing a slave ship and bottom right, immigrants arriving on the Empire Windrush in 1948.

Thangam Debonnaire, the Blairite MP for Bristol West, also got into the I on a related issue. She had stated at a council meeting that the statue of Colston in the centre of Bristol should be taken down. Colston was a Bristol slave trader, who spent most of his life actually in Mortlake in the London area. He used some of the profits he made from his slaving to do charities in Bristol, including Colston Girls school. Redcliffe School, an Anglican faith school in Bristol, which Mike and I attended, was also endowed by Colston. Every year there is a Colston Day service at which a select group of pupils are given a Colston bun. The big concert hall in the city centre is also named after him.

He’s obviously a very controversial figure, and the Black community has been demanding since the 1990s to have the statue of him taken down. Debonnaire has added her voice to the campaign, saying that we shouldn’t commemorate those who have oppressed us.

Mark Horton, a professor of archaeology at Bristol University, was also on the local news programme for the Bristol area, Points West, on Thursday as well, talking about the statue, the debt Bristol owes to Africa and the need for museums here on slavery or Africa. When asked about Colston’s statue, he made the point that it wasn’t even a very good statue. It’s not actually very old, dating from the late Victorian period. He felt that instead there should be a plaque explaining Colston’s role in the enslavement of Africa’s people, and the statue should be packed in a crate in the City Museum.

He stated that if we wanted our children to be world citizens, we should also have a museum dedicated to slavery and Africa, like Liverpool’s Museum of slavery. David Garmston, the co-host of the news programme, said that Bristol already had a gallery on slavery at the M Shed here in Bristol. Horton agreed, but said that it was a small one. He then referred to the exhibition at the City Museum back in the 1990s, entitled ‘A Respectable Trade’, which went on at the same time as the TV series of the same name, based on the novel by Philippa Gregory. This had a huge number of people attending. Mark said that he had worked in Africa, and had seen for himself the damage imperialism had done, and a museum to Africa was the least we could do.

Listening to him, it struck me that what was really needed was for the Empire and Commonwealth Museum to be revived and brought back to Bristol. I did voluntary work in the slavery archives of that museum from the 1990 to the early 2000s. It was a private museum housed in one of the engine sheds in Bristol’s Temple Meads station. And it did a good job of representing the peoples and cultures of the British Commonwealth, including marginalized indigenous peoples like the Australian aborigines. Unfortunately, in the early part of this century the Museum was offered the premises of the Commonwealth Institute in London. They accepted and went off to the capital. The Museum failed, and the last I heard its former director, Dr. Gareth Griffiths, was being investigated for illegally selling off the Museum’s exhibits. He claimed he was only doing so as the trustees hadn’t given him enough money to keep it running. In my opinion, the Museum should never have been moved from Bristol. If it had still remained here, I’m sure it would still have been running, and would have been a major part of Bristol heritage sector.

I’ve got mixed feelings about these proposals. I’ve no objection to a museum of slavery in Bristol. Liverpool has one, and other cities around the world also have them. Roughly at the same time Bristol was mounting its ‘Respectable Trade’ exhibition, Nantes was also mounting a similar one on its history as France’s main slaving port, called ‘Les Annees du Memoir’. The slave fort at Elmina in Ghana, one of the main areas from which western ships collected their human cargo, also has an exhibition on its part in the slave trade. However, I feel that every care needs to be taken to prevent such exhibitions being used to inculcate White guilt, to express the attitude that White Bristolians are somehow indelibly and forever guilty because of what their ancestors did.

And there are grave problems with any museum of slavery which does not include the wider background to the European transatlantic slave trade. Slavery has existed in various forms across the world since antiquity. The Arabs also conducted a trade in Black slaves from Africa. They were driven across the Sahara into the North Africa states, and sometimes beyond. During the Middle Ages, they were imported into Muslim Spain. The Arabs also exported them across the Indian Ocean to what is now India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as Arabia. Indigenous African peoples were also involved in the trade. One of the chief slaving states in West Africa was Dahomey. In East Africa, in what is now Kenya, Uganda and Malawi, the slaving peoples included the Swahili and Yao. The Europeans didn’t, as a rule, enslave Africans directly themselves. They bought them off other Africans, who could also make immense profits from them. Duke Ephraim, one of the kings of Dahomey, had an income of 300,000 pounds a year in the 1820s, which was larger than that of many English dukes.

After the British banned the slave trade and then slavery themselves, they launched a campaign against it across the globe. the east African countries that became Uganda, Kenya, Malawi and Rhodesia were invaded and conquered as they were centres of the Arab slave trade and the British wanted to prevent them from exporting their human cargo to British India. In some parts of Africa, slavery lingered into the early years of the 20th century because those countries weren’t conquered by the British. Morocco continued importing slaves from Africa south of the Sahara until c. 1911 because the British prevented the other European countries from invading. At the same time, North African Arab pirates preyed on and enslaved White Europeans until Algeria was invaded and conquered by the French. It is estimated that 1 1/2 million Europeans were enslaved over the centuries in this way.

Slavery also existed in Indian society, and the British were responsible for trying to suppress that also in the 19th century. Then Indians, and also the Chinese, were also virtually enslaved too in the infamous ‘Coolie Trade’ in indentured Indian servants, who were imported into the British Caribbean and elsewhere, to replace the Black workers, who had been freed. The Indian and Chinese workers were technically free, but were bound to their masters and worked in appalling conditions that were actually worse than those endured by the former Black slaves.

The history of slavery is complex. It is not simply a case of White westerners preying on people of colour, and I feel strongly that any museum set up to show the history of this infamous trade should show that.

Evolution, Race and African Civilisation: A Remedial Course for Kippers

June 27, 2014

A few days ago I reblogged a piece from Still Laughing At UKIP, reporting the massive racial abuse and vilification directed against the Labour MP, Chuka Umunna, by the Kippers on Facebook after he had the audacity to observe that they weren’t actually very good at spelling and grammar. The article’s ‘Racism. Uncontrolled, Mass Racism’, and it’s at http://stilllaughingattheukip.wordpress.com/2014/06/23/racism-uncontrolled-mass-racism/, if you want to check it out for yourself. The racist remarks reported by the Kipper Smoker include the crass, racial insults of ‘monkeys’ and ‘spear chuckers’ to describe Blacks, as well as remarks that people of ancient African extraction are ‘uncivilised’. So let’s go through a few facts about evolution and African civilisation, just to straighten the record.

Archaic Features in First Human Colonists in Europe Compared to Africa

The comments about ‘monkey’s recalls the daft and dangerous racial hierarchies Europeans drew up in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, which placed White Europeans at the top of the evolutionary ladder as the apex of human evolution, and Blacks at the bottom. The lowest rung was occupied by Aboriginal Australians. Below them were Orang-Utans, which Europeans were originally unsure whether they were human or apes. Science has overturned this classification, and I cannot see any modern, ethical archaeological department ever endorsing such claims that certain sections of the human species are inferior to Whites, no matter what the authors of the infamous ‘Bell Curve’ may claim about innate differences in cognitive ability between different ethnic groups.

It is true that physiologically Aboriginal Australians have many archaic features, such as a pronounced brow ridge. This is hardly surprising considering just how ancient these people are, having colonised the continent about 40,000 years ago. They are, however, just as human as every other part of the human race. Their facial features are also very close to those of the ancestral humans that colonised Europe at about the same time. Skeletons showing Australian Aboriginal characteristics from that remote epoch have been found in Southern France. A little while ago I went to a seminar at Uni taken by an American professor, who was one of the world’s greatest authorities on early man and the Neanderthals. He pointed out that the skeletons of the early modern humans – Homo Sapiens Sapiens recovered from that period have archaic features, and are less gracile than African skeletons from the same period. If you want to put it crudely, at that stage the ancestors of modern Europeans were less evolved than their cousins in Africa. Despite their physiological differences, they were still Homo Sapiens Sapiens. Their appearance does not saying anything about their essential humanity.

Ancestral Skull

Ancestral Modern Human Skull from Broken Hill, South Africa. The first humans to colonise Europe 30-40,000 years ago had similar features

Africa: Continent of Many Cultures and Civilisations

Now let’s deal with the claims that Africans are somehow ‘uncivilised’. For a start, Africa is a continent, not a single country, and contains a plethora of cultures and peoples, whose lifestyles can vary considerably. The Bushmen of South Africa – the Khoisan peoples – are hunter gatherers, while many of the peoples of East Africa were traditionally nomadic pastoralists, herding their cattle across the Savannah. Others have long been settled in village as settled farmers and agriculturalists. And some of these peoples have developed highly advanced civilisations.

Ancient and Christian Nubia

The Nubians of the Sudan took over much of the culture of ancient Egypt, and for a time even ruled the ancient Land of the Nile. Regardless of the claim that the Ancient Egyptians themselves were Black, there was a dynasty of Black pharaohs, whose empire stretched into the Ancient Near East. One of these was the pharaoh Taharqa, who is mentioned in the Bible for his part in struggling with the Assyrians for the control of the various minor, Near Eastern states dominated by these two superpowers, like ancient Israel. The Nubians later converted to Christianity, and had a literate, Christian civilisation with strong links to Egypt and the Byzantine Empire until the country was conquered by Islam in the 14th century. Archaeologists have been studying the remains of their ancient culture since that part of Africa was opened up to Europeans in the 19th century.

Ethiopia

Further east is the equally ancient culture of Abyssinia, now Ethiopia. This too is also extremely ancient. There were early centres of civilisation at Meroe and then Aksum. Although Meroe was a literate civilisation, they spoke a language completely unrelated to any other, so that although their inscriptions can be read, scholars at still at a loss to know what they mean. The main languages of modern Ethiopia, Amharic, Tigre and Tigrinya, are descended from Ge’ez, which in turn is descended from the South Arabian languages, such as Sabaic, when colonists from these civilisations conquered and settled there well over 2,000 years ago. It converted to Christianity under its king, Ezana, in the fourth century, before the Anglo-Saxons had managed to over-run Roman Britain.

The Swahili in East Africa

South of Ethiopia, the great Muslim civilisation of the Swahili emerged later in the Middle Ages. They adopted not only Islam, but also other features of Islamic and Arabic life and culture. They built impressive cities from blocks of coral taken from the east African reefs, which were covered with a kind of lime wash produced by burning the same coral. In their time, they created some of the most outstanding examples of Islamic architecture, some of which can still be seen today in places like Zanzibar.

Nok, Benin and the Great Civilisations of West Africa

On the other side of Africa, other civilisations emerged which reached an extremely high level of civilisation. Africans in what is now Nigeria began smelting iron early, long before Europeans, in c. 1800 BC, due to the natural iron bloom available in the region. The earliest African artistic culture outside ancient Egypt, the Nok, appeared in Nigeria in the 3rd century BC. This is known for its highly stylised sculptures, the artistic skill of which has drawn admiration from modern art experts and connoisseurs. Other West African cultures also have been the subject of considerable scholarly interest for the high standard of their art, such as Ife and Benin. Both of these cultures produced extremely naturalistic metal sculptures. The Benin bronze heads, produced to form part of a shrine to the rulers’ life-force, are justly famous and are found in many European collections after they were looted by punitive raids by the British in the 19th century after they expanded into the region.

Ife Sculpture

Sculpture of a king of Ife. Similar works have been found in terracotta dating from before the 12th century.

Benin Bronze

Benin Bronze from Shrine to Ruler

These cultures also impressed European observers and traders when they first encountered them in the 16th and 17th centuries. They commented on the size of the cities they encountered, as well as the chastity of the indigenous women, which they considered to be far greater than their own. These civilisations did practise much that struck Europeans as barbaric, such as human sacrifice. What surprised them about this, however, was that such a cultured and civilised people should actually engage in such horrors. Captain Denman of the West African Squadron, charged with suppressing the slave trade between Africa and America, stated this in his evidence to a parliamentary inquiry in the 1840s. When asked whether mass human sacrifice really existed amongst the peoples of Dahomey, Ashanti and other cultures in the region, he replied that it did, and that it ‘was remarkable, given the achievements they have made in most of the arts of civilisation’. In other words, what shocked Europeans wasn’t that the Africans committing these atrocities were barbarous savages, but actually the complete opposite: they were highly civilised, and so the massacres they committed were even more shocking and horrifying by contrast to the rest of their civilisation.

Akure Place

Plan of the palace of the Deji of Akure, showing how complex great African buildings may be.

Benin pic 2

View of the City of Benin, published 1668 by the Dutch explorer, Dapper

North of these pagan civilisations was the great Islamic empire of Mali. Access to a plentiful supply of gold made it one of the richest civilisations in West Africa. So rich, that when its ruler passed through Egypt in the 12th century on the hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, the amount of gold he and his retainers carried was so great that it actually through the country into a recession. Mali was also an important religious and intellectual centre, in which the scientific literature of the Muslim world also circulated. Scholars have uncovered vast libraries of ancient manuscripts preserved in the empire’s mosques from the Middle Ages. Amongst the treasures of this civilisation are manuscripts of the heliocentric system, showing the Earth and planets moving around the Sun, which Muslim scholars discovered independently of Copernicus about two centuries earlier.

Non-Ptolemaic Moon

Non-Ptolemaic Model of the Moon’s orbit, produced by the Turkish astronomer Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi in 1285. Similar works were copied and circulated amongst scholars in Mali.

Further south, in Zimbabwe, is the great stone fort from which the country takes its modern name. This vast structure is so impressive that previous European scholars could not believe it had been built by Africans, and instead attributed it to the Arabs or Chinese. I’ve got a feeling that some of the Ufolks may well believe it was built by ancient space aliens. Examination of the ruins themselves, however, show that it is indeed African in design and construction, similar to the way wooden houses are built by the peoples of the area.

Zimbabwe Fort1

The Temple at the Great Fort of Zimbabwe

There may also have been many other African civilisations, of which we currently know little, simply because the evidence for them has not survived. Africans tend to build in wood, rather than stone, a material that is particularly vulnerable to the continent’s climate and attack by termites. We only know of those civilisations that have either survived to the present day, such as Dahomey, Ashanti and the other contemporary Nigerian cultures, or who built in stone. Other civilisations may have existed which built in wood, the evidence for which perished over the centuries. However, merely because the evidence has not survived, does not mean that such civilisations weren’t there in the first place.

The Kippers racially abusing and insulting Umunna thus reveal just the extent of their own vile bigotry, but also how little they know about human evolution and African culture and civilisation. While these are fairly exotic topics, they’re not so arcane that only a few scholars know about them. There have been some excellent TV series on them, aimed at the general public. These include The Incredible Human Story on the BBC, presented by Time Team’s own Dr Alice Roberts. The BBC also produced a series on human evolution, presented by the avuncular, moustachioed Dr Robert Winston. Further back in the 1990s, Channel 4 also screened a series on human evolution, which presented the case that the early human colonist of Europe were actually Black. Again, an entirely respectable viewpoint, considering that all modern humans arrived out of Africa.

As for African civilisation, there have been a number of blockbusting series. Back in the 1980s there were a couple, one on BBC 2, presented by the Black African scholar Dr Ali Mazrui, and another on Channel 4 presented by the White afrocentrist historian, Dr Basil Davidson. More recently, BBC 4 and 2 screened a series, Lost Kingdoms of Africa, presented by a Black British art historian. I’m afraid the only thing I can remember about this chap’s name is that he was Gus somebody, and his name was double-barrelled. And that, like all archaeologists and intrepid explorers, he wore the de rigueur Indian Jones felt hat. This was also well worth watching, and there was a book to accompany the series. It’s great series like that which provide the strongest argument for retaining the BBC, and keeping television out of the mitts of Murdoch.

Africa’s Problems those of Human Evil, Corrupt International Economic and Political System

Terrible atrocities and crimes against humanity are being committed in Africa, by kleptocratic dictators and army generals, who are a blight on the human race. These have gained power partly through the profound economic and social problems of their nations, but also through the complicity of Western politicians, industrialists and financiers. The difference and superiority of western, scientific and industrial culture is only very recent. Western Europe only began to overtake Islam scientific and technologically in the 17th century, and there were still areas in which the Muslim world was superior in the 18th. Well into the 19th century, much of western Europe was ruled by absolute monarchs, whose societies rested on serfdom, the effective enslavement of their peasants. One American historian of the Balkans has pointed out that while the Turks in the 19th century were seen as barbaric for taking the heads of those they slew in battle, this was actually common amongst American bounty hunters out West. Before the development of cheap, efficient photography, the only way you could prove that you had successfully hunted down and killed a dangerous criminal was to take their heads.

Africa is beset by many severe problems, but this is not because its people are somehow less ‘evolved’ or ‘uncivilised’. Indeed, for much of human history, the opposite has been true. The continent’s problems come from a number of causes, which include the legacy of colonialism, a corrupt and unfair international economic system, and simple pure, unrestrained human evil. The last knows no difference in colour, and affects every culture. Including the upper echelons of the Tory party, and even now clouds the judgment of Kippers towards their fellows.