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West African Presence in the New World

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    West Africans’ presence in the New World, prior Christopher Columbus, has always been downgraded, simply because historians and teachers have failed for years to recognize their actual existence in the Americas. Individuals must pay homage to dedicated historians, such as: Ivan Van Sertima, Leo Wiener and Alexander Van Wuthenau; they have proven that Africans were actually present in the New World prior to 1492 through research on Africans’ immigration in the New World, either through tangible or non-tangible evidence. The first of the two is shown through visible witnesses; first-hand and archaeological encounters, Negroid physiognomy, radio-carbon dates, seacraft and oceanography, botany and the influence of African and Egyptian cultural history.

    The latter is demonstrated through the study of philology. Sertima said in his book, ‘They Came Before Columbus’, With respect to the visible witnesses, there were two instances: first hand and archaeological encounters. The first hand encounters were actually the findings of Vasco Nunez de Balboa, Fray Gregoria Garcia and the Spanish. Vasco Nunez de Balboa, a Spanish explorer, discovered an African presence in Darien on 25th September, 1513. Darien is a term previously referred to the Isthmus of Panama and Balboa was there on the basis for gold.

    Based on advice by the son of the Indian cacique, Comogre, and the Native Indians, he ventured further south past the sierra de Quarequa mountains by the Mal de Sur and came across black war captives among an Indian settlement. These were described as tall, black men of ‘military bearing’, who were in war with neighbouring Natives. According to Lopez de Gomara in ‘Historia de Mexico’, “These were the first Negroes that had been seen in the Indies.

    Fray Gregoria Garcia reiterates this point through his own personal discovery of ‘New World Negroes’ off Cartagena, Columbia, where the Spanish also found them. His discovery also noted that the black war captives were among the Indians. Peter Martyr, the first historian of America, writes that the Spanish discovered these black men in the same province of Darien and but there were Negro pirates from Ethiopia, who stayed in the sierra de Quarequa mountains after a shipwreck.

    These were some of the historians valid information since these factors actually saw the Africans in the Americas first-hand leaving no doubt about their presence. Another visible witness was the many discoveries of Negroid relics and artifacts, from the statuettes, American Indian gods with negroid physical features, Negroid terra-cottas, Negroid heads to the Negroid skeletons. Historians found lifelike portraitures of Negro-Africans made of clay, gold and stone extracted in pre-Columbia strata in South and Central America.

    They were Negro-Egyptian remains found around 800-700 B. C. in the center of Mexico. One of the remains dating as far back as the early pre-Classic period, a woman, had a striking resemblance to the ebony head of the Egyptian queen, Tiy, the Negroid mother of Tutankhamen. What made it seem African was its hairstyle, similar facial characteristics as Africans and its expression. Another was some clay figures made by the Indians imitating the African features.

    Some of the features had been distorted such as prognathism, but some came close such as the: dense, kinky Negroid hair, the goatee beard not identified on the American Indians, and heavy ear pendants, a recognized West African culture. Other artifacts found that had African traits were the gods moulded by the Mayans and the Aztecs, whom they worshipped because of their black ceremonious colour, similar to their own gods. These gods were: Tezcatilpoca- an Aztec god, Naualpilli- a Mexican god of jewelers and Eku-chu-ah- the Mayan god of travellers.

    Another factor showing African traits were the terra-cottas of the Native Indians with a Negroid strain. This factor came about through the Negroid women who interbred with the Native Indians in the New World. This was proven because the women actually did voyage to the Americas but were only allowed on planned expeditions to aid the formation of settlements. These ‘planned expeditions’ were really when the ships destined for other places in Africa and due to the light-weight of the boats the Africans used and the strong currents, they were blown off-course and ended up in America.

    Last were the discoveries of the Negroid heads. These were one the most significant archaeological pieces of evidence of Africans presence in the Americas because it not only dates as far back as 1862 but still can be found presently in Mesoamerica. The first Negroid head found was in 1862; this colossal granite cranium was discovered in the Canton of Tuxtla, near the pre-Columbian strata. Some other negroid heads were found in Oaxaca, Mexico during the post-classic period.

    Cadamosto, a Portuguese explorer, noted on warrior boatmen on the Gambia, a very vivid and genuine picture of the Negroid head, which is similar to the African physiognomy of today, “The full, vivid lips, darkened grain of skin, prognathic bone formation of the cheeks, the wide nostrils, the generously fleshed nose, down to the ceremonial earring and the cotton cap. ” The artist’s influence for the Negroids was possibly the Africans who accompanied an African King on an expedition and emerged in Central America. Abubakari the Second, decided to venture on the Senegambia coast along the canaries current in 1311 and ended in Central America.

    Mexicans who must have seen this fleet used these ‘alien’ people for their future artifacts. One described a black man according to Ivan Van Sertima in ‘They Came Before Columbus’ as, “a black-haired, black-bearded figure in white robes, one of the representations of Quetzalcoatl, modeled on a dark-skinned outsider, appears in the paintings in the valley of Mexico. ” The last set of Negroid heads was found around the Gulf of Mexico. Eighteen miles from the Gulf lay the sacred center of the Olmec’s culture, La Venta, where four massive Negroid heads were discovered.

    They were six to nine feet high, made of basalt block, weighing an astonishing forty tons each. Apart from the four in La Venta, five were discovered at San Lorenzo and three at Tres Zapotes in Southern Vera Cruz, all in the vicinity of the Gulf of Mexico. The last archaeological findings were the Negroid Skeletons because these were latest to be found, quite in the twentieth century. A Polish craniologist, Dr. Andrzej Wiercinski, wrote to the Forty-first Congress of Americanists in Mexico in September, 1974, that some of the skulls from Tlatilco, Cerro de las Mesas and Monte Alban have African physiognomy.

    One year later, in February 1975, a Smithsonian Institute team found two male skeletons in a grave located in the U. S. Virgin Islands, yet the soil from the earth layers dated these skeletons as far back as A. D. 1250. Further evidence was that the teeth indicated a form of ‘dental mutilation characteristic of early African cultures. ’ Last, were skeletons found in the vicinity of the Pecos River, flowing through Texas and New Mexico, along the outskirts of the Gulf of Mexico.

    Professor Hooton, a physical anthropologist, explained that the crania of these skeletons were comparable to Negro groups coming from parts of Africa found to have a traceable infusion Hamitic blood. The use of radio-carbon dates definitely proved the antiquity and authenticity of these Negroid findings. All the archaeological findings were radiocarbon- dated and indicated that these remains and artifacts were associated directly with the African culture and people, and not accidental stylization or possibly, ritual stereotypes of African facial characteristics of the unknown race around that era.

    Another tangible evidence of Africans’ presence in the Americas is seacraft and oceanography. We must first question ourselves how exactly did these Negroids come across to the New World prior Christopher Columbus’ arrival. Whilst the Mongolians came across using the Berring Strait glacial bridge, others had to venture across the Atlantic Ocean after the disappearance of the bridge. Africans were exceptional shipbuilders and possessed great navigational skills, in fact, the Africans yoked these currents in their favour to end up in the New World for trading purposes.

    Also, material evidence, such as the papyrus boats was used because it was ‘lightweight’ and can be easily maneuvered by the currents to land in the New World. These strong currents are the reason why many small, isolated black communities were found on the provinces of Darien and Columbia. According to Alphonse de Quatrefages in the book, ‘The Human Species’, “Black populations have been found in America in very small numbers and as isolated tribes in the midst of very different nations. Such are the Charruas of Brazil, the black Caribees of St. Vincent in the Gulf of Mexico, he Jamassi of Florida”.

    Based on this profound statement, the professor of anthropology was reinforcing the point that Africans existed in the New World and these locations named actually correspond with the terminal points of Africa-to America currents or sea-roads. Yet, due to the intense conditions of the ‘Kouro-Siwo’ ,also known as the ‘black stream’ current of the Pacific and the ‘Equatorial’ currents of the Atlantic, many times they will blow the ships off-course causing them to end up in the Americas, almost as if the currents were ‘marine conveyor belts’ .

    Once the Africans sailed onto the Mid-Atlantic, it was almost impossible to pass the South American coast. Another piece of tangible evidence is the study of botany. Historians found some ‘alien’ species growing in the Americas that was unknown by the Native Indians such as: African bananas, jack beans, yams and the Lagenaria (bottle gourd) plants. Additionally, the evidence of the use of shells as money rather than symbolic items have proven that the Africans did immigrate to the New World. The last piece of tangible evidence is the influence of the African and Egyptian cultural history.

    One of the relics that showed the Africans’ influence on the Native Indians in the World is the ‘guanines. ’ This relic is particular type of alloy fabricated out of a mix of precious minerals such as: gold, copper and silver, and of the proof that this was actually an old African artifact was its manufacturing location. It was made in Africa and spread to the New World through widespread overseas trading and this was very essential because it was needed regularly for the tips of spears, which are used for fighting as well as, obtaining food.

    There is also the talk of fourteenth century African arrival on the influence on the culture of the black in the Americas ranging from the symbolic evidence of the black Quetzalcoatl, the influence of the African cultural analogies on America in terms of the black Quetzalcoatl’s new feast festival, dance, tree, priestly cap, artificial beard, calendar, and rainmaking ritual; the practice of private castoffs for magic, voodoo, the similar gods from Mali, the winged disc symbol to the thirteen Zodiac signs.

    The Quetzalcoatl is generally referred to as the ‘feather serpent king’ and rainmaker; ‘Quetzal’ meaning bird or plume and ‘coatl’ meaning serpent, both having an underlying association between the bird and snake symbolization in Africa. From thence, the Quetzalcoatl is known as the ‘man of the medieval Mexican world. ’ In Mexico, this title was given to two high priests of Tenochtitlan founded by Aztecs in 1325. There has been many discussions whether the Quetzalcoatl seen by the Native Indians in 1311, was either black or white.

    He had always been described as a tall, bearded man, who carried a royal ball in his hands, wore a turban, conical crown and headdress, but what has confused many historians, even the Native Indians, is that he was clad in white garments which some misinterpreted as his skin colour. Basil Hedrick corrects history in his book, ‘Man Across the Sea’ and proves that the Mexican Quetzalcoatl was actually black in this quote, “The Quetzalcoatl of the Mexican valley documents was never blond (or fair) as stated by the friars, but virtually always pictured as black-bearded, and in illustrations had his face painted black.

    There was also the issue of the art representations of the Quetzalcoatl that came directly from Africa and somewhat, influenced the art and culture in Ancient America. Erich Von Daniken, an acclaimed historian, wrote that he found representations of birdmen in Egypt as well as America. The Quetzalcoatl was popularly known as the ‘birdman’ himself and the art sculpture was first discovered on the rock art of Africans in the Tassali mountains of the Sahara centuries ago and now appears in Ancient America’s art.

    Then, there was the introduction of the special ‘feast’ after harvest to worship the god of medieval Mali, Dasiri. The Dasiri was known as the ‘protector of the village’ and the people of Mali will worship him to thank the man responsible for his rain prosperity on their harvest. This was eventually passed on to the American Indians who, in turn, worshipped their Quetzalcoatl at the beginning of the year, similar to the Africans. With this festival came a cultural dance of the Africans, the Americans imitated.

    The Mandingo ‘kuare’, a special clique, were set to execute ‘self-flagellating’ dances and sacrifices under a tree where the Dasiri’s spirit dwelled was eventually passed down. These dances of penance and punishment included harsh acts as wrapping themselves in thorns or slashing their breasts and armpits. These harsh acts were symbolizing the falling of ‘raindrops’ metaphorically when really it was used to bring blood out in drops. Next, was the association of the symbolic tree of the Quetzalcoatl which came directly from the African influence.

    The same way the rainmaker god called ‘Dasiri’ was linked to a tree, similar was the Quetzalcoatl linked to the representation of a ‘hummingbird kneeling on top of a tree,’ according to author, E. Seler, in his book, ‘Codex Borgia. ’ The Quetzalcoatl was also associated with wearing a priestly cap; similar to the name, star decoration and conical shape of the Magi. It was considered a ‘distinctive headgear’ of king and priests in ancient Persia. It was passed to Arabs, then magicians of West Africa, down to Africa, as it appeared as a crown on the Quetzalcoatl.

    The same author describes the hat called the ‘copilli’ as, “Was a headdress frequently made of an ocelot skin, so as to represent a lot of dots, that is, the stars of the magician’s cap. ” Another association of the Quetzalcoatl was the facial characteristics related to that of the Africans. Native Indians are not related to the facial characteristic, beards, and so, it is evident to say the idea first came from the West Africans. The religious priests in Dasiri’s worship were recognized with beards and so the introduction of artificial beards began on the Quetzalcoatl.

    In the Mexican ritual, the artificial beards will be adopted by the respective presiding priests of Quetzalcoatl’s cult. Next, was the introduction of the calendar by Quetzalcoatl based on influence of the Egyptian calendar presented in 747 B. C. Just as how the Dasiri bore importance as the ‘measurer of time’, the same was done for Quetzalcoatl, his reason for the invention. The last association of Quetzalcoatl was the rainmaking ritual. In both cultures, African and America; the rainmakers (priests and magicians) bore importance for controlling the weather and ensuring a sufficient fall of rain.

    Both cultures would dance for showers of rain, by sacrificing black sheep and both stopped the rain by the use of firesticks and firestones, sometimes placing the hot coals on the ground to burn the footfall of the rain. Another African culture analogy that influenced the Americans was the practice of a person’s private castoffs for the purpose of magic directed against him. Both continents used hair, nails, rag of garments or drop of a person’s blood, intertwined these relics into a lump of wax, mold and dressed it to look like the intended victim, in mercy of the tormentor.

    Two examples are if this image was engulfed in fire; the victim fall into a burning fever or if the image is stabbed with a knife, the victim would feel the act. This derived from the practice of voodoo which the Africans and Americans used to create models of adversaries and their belief was that it would injury the adversary which is why it was used often amongst sorcerers. The other African influence was shown through the similarity of the Gods in Mali to the gods in the New World.

    It is seen in title Mexican Quetzalcoatl and his equivalent, Kukulcan, in South America, known as the ‘feathered snake that goes into water. ’ Both are considered high priests who could bring rain prosperity to their communities, and are derived from the African priest, Dasiri of the Bambara, the tribe of the Mandingo from which the King Abubakari originated. One other African influence was the ‘Winged Disc Symbol. ’ This comprised of the religious symbols of Lower and Upper Egypt, where these two provinces are joined through conquest, thus, becoming a political symbol.

    It is evident that this symbol came from the Egyptians and passed down to the Americas because it is used in the same way in Mexico and Polynesia, “Over the entrances to the inner chambers of a temple, as well as over its gates, and on stela and other objects…. In pre-Columbian America the winged disc was placed on temple door lintels as in Egypt. ” The last cultural analogy of the Africans and Americans is the thirteen (13) Zodiac signs. These are only found in the two continents and it is basically the design surrounding the thirteen heads, representing the thirteen ‘ahau katuns’ or greater cycle of years.

    In American mythology, 13 is important; representing the thirteen possible directions of space; the border of thirteen heads making the connections of space and time and thirteenth-headed zodiacal designs on calabashes found in both places. The non-tangible evidence was the study of philology (languages). As mentioned earlier, ‘guanine’ was an alloy that had a name originated from Africa. It can be traced back to languages on the West African coast such as: Mandingo, Bambara and the Mande. This alloy was seen in the West Africa howing how the language eventually spread to the New World, whether by dire There was also the use of ‘gadwal’, a technical term in sorcery.

    It was a charm adapted from talismanic signs written or drawn in columns, drawing semblance from its origin, Arabia. It was later found in the West Africa strata and through several interactions, the magicians from West Africa would have passed its name down to the Americans. Other linguistic influences from the Arabs, passed on to the West Africans to the Americas, were the terms associated with tobacco.

    The first word for tobacco derived from the Arabic word, ‘tubbaq’, the first pipe that was called ‘cassot’ by the Africans was derived from the Arabic word, ‘qasaban’ and the African word for incense, ‘buckoor’ was derived from the Arabic word, ‘bahur. ’ Other smoke words were from the Mande language group and spread to America. These Malinke words are: ‘dyamba and dyemba’ meaning to smoke. Southern American words derived from the Mande language were: Guipinavi, ‘dema’; Tariana, ‘iema’; Maypures, ‘jena’; Guahiba, ‘sema’ . The Caribs were found speaking the Mandingo word for smoke, ‘duli. Several years later, the Africans who immigrated intermingled with the Americans and they began using these terms.

    In conclusion, individuals must now realize that based on this great amount of evidence, Africans were really and truly present in the New World prior 1492. It leaves the question why was the black man still considered as inferior, even with all this evidence? It was indeed shown through first-hand and archaeological encounters, Negroid physiognomy, radio-carbon dates, seacraft and oceanography, botany and the influence of African and Egyptian cultural history. The latter is demonstrated through the study of philology.

    It is up to future historians to present the black race as the light of the Caribbean due to our length presence there and eventually, how they shaped the world as a whole. Sertima said in his book, ‘They Came Before Columbus’, “No longer was the African chapter in American pre-Columbian history an irrecoverable blank because of the vicious destruction of native-American books”.


    1. They Came Before Columbus, Ivan Van Sertima (United States; Random House Publishing Group; 1976)
    2. The History For the Caribbean In the Atlantic World, Cateau and Campbell.

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