Posts Tagged ‘Shona’

No, Europeans Didn’t Introduce Ironworking to Africa during the Slave Trade

October 2, 2021

I have several times posted about and reposted some of the videos made by Simon Webb of the History Debunked channel. Those I’ve reposted are usually criticisms of Black Lives Matter or falsehoods repeated as truth in Black history. I’ve said that Webb should be taken with caution as he’s a Telegraph-reading Tory. Where he quotes historical and mainstream scientific texts, I think he’s correct. But occasionally he comes up with falsehoods of his own which show he needs checking. Yesterday he put up a video on the transatlantic slave trade and how it benefited west Africa. Now he’s right that the slave trade did bring some benefits to west Africa. The African states who supplied the European slave merchants, Dahomey and Whydah, for example, grew extremely rich. Duke Ephraim of Dahomey had an income of £300,000 a year, and the abominable trade plugged Africa into the wider global economy. According to mainstream academic historians, it introduced modern commercial methods into Africa and allowed capital accumulation.

But Webb seems instead to make a very curious claim. Noting that the Black African professionals people may meet tend to be Nigerian or west African, Webb says in this video that its because Europeans brought iron working and civilisation to Africa. Before the arrival of the Europeans, Webb claims, most buildings were made of mud. Bronze was used for decoration – I assume here he’s talking about the Benin bronzes, sculptured heads what were produced as shrines to the king’s spirit. But iron was unknown. This is bizarre, as it’s very much not the view of conventional historians and archaeologists.

I looked in Colin McEvedy’s The Penguin Atlas of African History (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1980) to see when sub-Saharan African entered the Iron Age. He notes on page 30 that iron-working communities emerged around Nok in what is now Nigeria c. 202 BC. Iron-working also existed in Nubia by AD 200. C. 200 AD is started reaching the rest of Africa as the Bantu peoples expanded east and south, pp. 34, 36. I don’t actually know why Webb should think that they only developed iron working with the slave trade. I think it perhaps comes from the fact that Europeans did trade iron bars for slaves. These were made into objects called manilas, shaped like bracelets. A few of them are on display in the slavery gallery in Bristol’s M Shed. Webb has said that metallurgical analysis has shown that some west African artefacts now at the centre of demands for repatriation, were ironically made using metals that could only have been introduced by European traders. I’ve no doubt this is true, but it doesn’t contradict the fact that Africans were perfectly capable of producing iron for themselves. It may just indicate that Africans were willing to import European iron because it may have been cheaper, better or more easily accessible than that domestically produced. Just a Britain now imports cars despite having a domestic car industry.

HIs claim that Africans also built in mud is also questionable. They certainly did in west and other parts of Africa, so that it’s largely true. The city of Whydah was built of wood, and the Dahomeyans certainly used mud brick to build their towns. But the Islamic states of the Sahara, including Nubia, built in stone. And the Swahili were using coral blocks to construct their cities from the 9th century onwards, roughly as the same time when the ancestors of the Shona built the fortress of Zimbabwe.

This seems to come from Webb’s view that Africa didn’t produce any real civilisations. This was very much the view of 19th and early 20th century historians. On the other hand, one commander of the West African Squadron, Captain Denman, testified to parliament that the mass murder of slaves by one of the African cultures was remarkable, given that the people there had made such progress in the arts of civilisation. Which shows that at that time in the 19th century, not all Europeans thought Africans were uncivilised savages.

I think its undoubtedly true that Europeans introduced modern science and technology to Africa during colonialism, even if this was to exploit the countries and their peoples. They also benefited from the introduction of modern education and literacy, when it was available. If Nigerians are more prevalent among Black African professionals in Britain, it may well be due to a number of factors that have little to do with the slave trade. It may simply be that Nigeria is a richer country than many other African nations, and so has a larger middle class able to afford an education. It also possesses its own university, though I don’t know if it has a medical faculty. It is certainly more populous than some African countries, with a population of about 100 million. It may also have stronger ties with the west and particularly Britain, so that it’s people go here rather than to France or Portugal, the other African colonial powers.

It is therefore far more likely to be due to the education, science and technology introduced to Nigeria and west Africa during colonialism, and the enduring ties with Britain forged during this period, that have led so many west Africans to migrate here rather than the slave trade. Which certainly did not, in any case, usher in the Iron Age in Africa.

Robert Mugabe, the Butcher of Zimbabwe, Dies

September 8, 2019

on Friday the media reported the death of Robert Mugabe, the former president of Zimbabwe. Mugabe had been the leader of one of the country’s two opposition, nationalist movements against White colonial rule. There’s seems to have been more than a little optimism over his taking over the mantle of government. Ian Smith, the country’s previous president, had been so opposed to Black majority rule that he had unilaterally declared the country independent of Britain. Nevertheless, he declared that Mugabe was the best man for the job. As a symbol of the country’s new, African identity, the country’s name was changed from Rhodesia, after Cecil Rhodes, the infamous 19th century British imperialist, to Zimbabwe. This is a massive fort, dating from at least the 12th century, whose size and construction so astonished western archaeologists that it was considered the work of outsiders – the Chinese or the Arabs – before it was firmly demonstrated that it was indeed the work of the indigenous peoples, probably the Shona.

These new hopes were to be tragically and horrifically disappointed. Mugabe soon demonstrated that he was a brutal thug, determined to use violence and mass murder to hang on to power. He and the other members of his wretched party looted the country of millions, enriching themselves while they forced the mass of its people into abject poverty and starvation. Mugabe was a member, I believe, of the Shona, historically one of the weakest and most persecuted peoples in that part of Africa. Mugabe was determined to reverse this, and began his reign by attacking and butchering the Ndebele. Zimbabwean soldiers entered Ndebele villages to beat and murder their inhabitants. And it wasn’t just the Ndebele. He soon moved on to other groups and peoples. The thug’s approach to campaigning was simple. During his elections he sent his thugs into villages to break the arms of the local people. They then told them that if the didn’t vote for Mugabe, they’d come back and break their other arms.  In the early part of this century he moved on to attacking White farmers. There appears to have been some agreement with the British government during the negotiations for Black majority rule that Britain would pay a sum to the Zimbabwean government, which would then be used to buy White-owned farms, which would then be handed over to Blacks. Mugabe claimed this money had not been paid, and moved his troops in. The farms were invaded, their owners brutally dispossessed. As with the Ndebele, those who resisted were savagely beaten and killed.

This came at a time when race relations in this country were also fragile. I think it was about the same there was a general election, and once again immigration was an extremely contentious issue. Black groups, such as Operation Black Vote, were also campaigning for a greater number of Black and Asian MPs. I think part of the rise in racism at the time may well have been due these racial issues in Britain coinciding with genuine, anti-White political persecution in Zimbabwe. For those, who really fear and hate Blacks and Asians, the organised attack on the country’s White minority by its government may well have confirmed their deepest fears.

There may also have been something to Mugabe’s accusation that the money to purchase the farms properly had not been paid. When I was working as a volunteer at the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum, a fellow volunteer asked me if I knew what going on at the National Archives. He’d been there in order to study a parliamentary paper from the 1980s about the negotiations for the handover to Black rule. However, he was told it was unavailable, and wondered whether it was being deliberately kept out of circulation for some very dubious reason.

Not that this makes Mugabe any better. As Mugabe filled agriculture and industry with his thugs and butchers, the country’s economy collapsed. Inflation reached the exorbitant levels of Weimar Germany. Previously, Zimbabwe had been one of the most prosperous countries in sub-Saharan Africa. It was actually an exporter of food, and called the continent’s breadbasket. Under Mugabe, this catastrophically collapsed. There was starvation and famine, except for Mugabe and his obscenely rich gang. Zimbabweans began fleeing over the border into South Africa as illegal immigrants simply to survive.

Mugabe fought off several challenges to his leadership, including by Musaveni, before eventually conceding some kind of power sharing agreement. I think he officially retired as President a few years ago. This was cautiously welcomed, as even though Mugabe himself was gone, his successors were still members of his party, who had been willingly complicit in his crimes against humanity.

Reflecting on the old thug’s death on the breakfast news, I heard John Simpson describing how fiercely intelligent Mugabe was. He excelled in embarrassing and humiliating reports by turning the questions against them. Simpson said that every action he did was clearly well thought out in advance. I can actually believe it. Contrary to what many people actually believe, intelligence and education doesn’t necessarily make anyone more moral.

As for Mugabe himself, his death reminded me of a passage from one Tom Sharpe’s books, Riotous Assembly. Published in 1971, this was savage satire of South African police force. One of the characters in it is Constabel Els, a brutal thug, who prides himself on having killed two Blacks with the same bullet. At the book’s climax, Els is himself nearly killed preparing the scaffold for the execution of an Anglican bishop he and his superiors have framed for the murder of a Black cook. The gibbet collapses, taking with it part of the jail, and freeing the Black prisoners. Believing Els to be dead, they dance and sing:

Els is dead, Els is dead,

He’s gone to the Devil where his soul belongs.

Raper of our women. Killer of our men,

We won’t see the swine again!

I think that probably describes how many feel the way about the passing of this old brute.