Paint stains, and the word oppression is seen on the Christopher Columbus statue outside Washington's Union Station during the annual Columbus Day ceremony. File picture: Ken Lambert/AP
Paint stains, and the word oppression is seen on the Christopher Columbus statue outside Washington's Union Station during the annual Columbus Day ceremony. File picture: Ken Lambert/AP

The myth and reality about Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the new world

By Opinion Time of article published Aug 6, 2020

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Phatse Justice Piitso

It never sparked my mind, that beyond the marrow of our horizons, at the far reached end of the impenetrable curtain between the earth and the sky, beyond the horizons of the mountain ranges surrounding my village, lays a splendour beauty of topographic diversity and grandeur, which embodies the countless contours of our mother earth.

Being a tabula rasa, I could not even reckon with the unexplainable, with the wonders of the boundless universe and its wondrous worlds around, that beyond the heights of the mountain ranges, is a window of vast infinity of the heavenly blue skies, continents and seas which are the abundant home of our fauna and flora.

It was a momentous stage of the humble pathways of my early school days under trees which were turned into classrooms, and indeed the best of what my community could do to prepare our brighter future against the horrors of the racist apartheid regime.

Our communities had to find creative ways of surviving against the monstrous system the world declared a crime against humanity.

At the turn of each and every year, we would be required to bring sand from the nearby Ngwaritsi river, using it for the purpose of a desk as we sat bare on the ground under the shadows of the trees, which were turned into classrooms.

As we do so, little did I know, that the struggle of the people of the world is an endless episode of pain, which we have to endure and continue to encapsulate into our thoughts.

Walking to there everyday barefoot, we could not comprehend the hypocrisy of imperialism and colonialism, the gruesome horrors of the world of capitalism and of the evil racist apartheid regime, which subjugated the overwhelming majority of the people of our country, to the most brutal forms of oppression and exploitation.

I did not know that the struggle of the people of my village, is part of the broader struggle of the people of the world to build a better future for humanity.

The classroom trees became a perennial fountain of knowledge which awoken our minds about the existence of continents such as Africa, Europe and the Asia and seas such as the Atlantic, Indian, Mediterranean and the Caribbean, beyond the edges of our horizon.

It was there that the myth about the discovery of the continent of the Americas by the renowned Italian voyager Christopher Columbus came to grapple with my world view.

It was an impeccable moment of truth about the story of immortal folk of men and women, whose philanthropical endeavors, the generations of man, past, present and the future, shall never forget.

Men and women whose contribution towards the development of human society, remains a debt we owe and shall never be able to pay, I refer to the titans of knowledge and new discoveries of the art of writing, mathematics, astronomy, those who started to build ships and airplanes.

The trees became a commonplace for the youth of the village of Ga-Masemola, who through the blistering sun and hail storms, converged to almost everyday, harvesting knowledge about the realities of the world we find ourselves in.

Even today, as I pass through the village to my parental home, I am greatly humbled by the aging trees, the treasure store houses I graciously embrace as the monuments of knowledge.

The fundamental question we all have to ask about this myth is how could Christopher Columbus discover a continent as vast as the Americas, with all its thriving culture and traditions of generations of people, who have been living there thousands of years before his adventurous journey.

How could he discover the Americas in the midst of people who have been long staying there and waited for his arrival along the shores of the beautiful coastlines of the Atlantic and the Caribbean seas.

Historical manuscripts are a testimony of a concealed truth by the forces of imperialism and colonialism about the true history of the civilization of humankind.

We need to grapple with this important question about the myth and reality of the civilization of the generations of man and the role of European imperialism.

The epoch of imperialism had been, as its principal feature, marked by a perpetual falsification of the history of the African civilization and other civilizations, especially in the former colonies and semi-colonies.

There has been a widespread surge with utmost pseudo revolutionary arrogance by scholars from the western world, to undermine the true history of the development of our modern day society.

The true facts are that in earliest antiquity, most of the African communities, and other communities in the former colonies and semi colonies, where already at their most advance level of development as the masters of both the land and the oceans.

The birth of imperialism brought a systematic purge of this ancient civilizations which were essentially the cradle of the present political, economic and social organisation of human society.

There is overwhelming archeological evidence about the presence of the African people to the new world of the Americas, in the Caribbean, Cuba, Haiti, Mexico, Central and South America long before the arrival of Christopher Columbus.

What imperialism does not want the generations of humanity to know, is that civilization in the Americas before Columbus had its foundations built by Africans, whilst it was built on the genocide and extermination of the indigenous people and the enslavement of the African people by colonial forces after his arrival.

Academics, scholars and anthropologists are unraveling the untold truth that thousands of years before the arrival of the much decorated Italian voyager, sailers from the west coast of Africa, which includes the present Guinea, Senegal, Mali and Egypt, frequently sailed to the Americas on trade routes.

Some of the compelling evidence presented is the oceanographic proof that currents running from Africa to the America can pull a vessel across the Atlantic Ocean in less than a period of a year.

The Egyptian and West African civilizations have contributed immensely to the American civilization, which today has grown into the world empire.

The civilization from the African continent imported to the region knowledge about the contemporary political systems, about religious practices and cultural rituals, art of sophisticated astronomy, written language and mathematics and calendar.

In her book 'They came before Columbus, the African presence in Ancient America', Prof Ivan Van Sertima, declares her findings about this important and far reaching historical truth, that it is not her who says the Africans arrived in the Americas long before the arrival of Columbus, but is Columbus himself who says in his journal that the aboriginal people of the Hispaniola (Haiti and Dominican Republic) told him of the arrival to their shores, of black skinned people from the south and southeast Hispaniola, who traded gold with tipped metal spears.

King Abubakari II of the fourteenth century empire of the kingdom of Mali, which was at the time larger than that of the Roman Empire, led a historic exploration to the new world of the Americas two hundreds (200) years before the arrival of Columbus.

This emanated from enthusiasm to find out whether the Atlantic ocean, like the river Niger which was passes through Mali, had another bank.

The King assembled engineers of the lake of Chad, who were known to be the best shipbuilders of the time, to help him build a fleet of 200 ships in preparation for his adventure.

Amongst the crew of his men and women were the best sailors, traders, builders, warriors, artists and a supplement of food which could last for two years.

After days of the take off into the Atlantic Ocean, only one ship returned to the palace, and the captain reported to him that after several days on the sea, the ships were sucked up by a sort of a river, with a powerful flow into the ocean and as a result the all ships disappeared into the horizon.

He told him that he could only hear the sounds of drums as the ships communicated with each other vanishing into the deep end of the of the Atlantic Ocean.

He said: "Yes, Oh Sultan, we travelled for a long time until there appeared in the open sea a river with a powerful current, the other ships went on ahead, but when they reached that place, they did not return and no more was seen of them. As for me, went about at once and did not enter the river”.

Upon receiving the news, he became more determined and therefore assembled a massive fleet of two thousands (2000) ships, carrying men and women, and water and food provision for the second expedition to be led by himself.

His interest to know more about the world beyond the Atlantic ocean made him to abdicate his throne to his younger brother in pursuit of knowledge and discovery.

In the new world of the Americas, where he made diplomatic contact with the Tupi tribes in the present day Brazil, his mission was to build a new kingdom of Boure Bambouk, named after the richest gold mine of Mali.

To confirm to the people of the kingdom of Mali that his mission was accomplished, a cargo of tropical fruits, tobacco and cotton was sent to his brother who in return sent a stock of cattle and sheep.

What we are not told is the true fact that the reason why the new world was called the Americas, is that during his voyage of discovery, Christopher Columbus never reached the shores of the North and South America, and therefore the reason why it is named after the Italian explorer from the Florence, Armerigo Vespucci, who was the first to tell the world about vast continent along the shores of South America.

The expeditions led by Columbus only reached the Caribbean world of the present day Bahamas, Cuba, Haiti and Dominican Republic, when he thought he had arrived in India on his way to Japan.

The reason why today we have the so called world of the West Indies and the East Indies, and are calling of the indigenous people of the region the red Indians.

The African people did not only become pioneers of the civilization of the new world but more importantly played an indispensable role in the struggle of the people of the region against imperialism and colonial domination and oppression.

Upon arrival as slave people in the region, most of them distinguished themselves as the best commanders of the battlefields in the thick forests of the unknown world thousands of miles from their motherland Africa.

In Mexico, Gaspar Yanga, a Prince from one of the royal families in Gabon, led the first rebellion for the freedom of slaves. Together with his compatriots, they escaped from the sugar plantation of one of the slave masters, and built the first maroon state at the top of one of the highest mountains In Mexico.

After years of resistance struggle against the Spanish colonial masters, of his armed groups sabotaging and attacking transportation of goods supply to the various communities, he entered into a peace treaty with the Spanish government, granting the slave people freedom and the right to form their own free communities.

Gaspar Yanga was the first African slave to win a battle against Spanish colonialism in the Americas. He was the first slave national hero to be celebrated in Mexico.

Within three years of his arrival in Columbia, Benkos Biohó, a maroon slave leader from Guinea Bissau, organised a rebellion against his slave masters.

Biohó whose name remains synonymous with the struggle of the people of Columbia, was betrayed and executed by the Spanish colonial authorities after entering into a truce with them.

Ganga Zumba, a slave leader from West Africa built one of the biggest maroon settlements of Palmares in Brazil.

He was after many years captured and his head paraded through the streets of Brazil by the Portuguese colonial masters.

Carlota, the first slave woman from Angola, to lead a heroic struggle for the freedom and dignity of the slave people in Cuba, was brutally executed by the Spanish slave masters.

Her body was torn apart between two horses moving into different directions.

In her honour, the leader of the Cuban revolution, comrade Fidel Castro, named the military operation in Angola against the South African regime as operation Carlota.

Her heroic feats symbolises the necessity of solidarity, and internationalism, in our struggle for the construction of a better world for humanity.

There were other heroic slave men and women from countries such as Jamaica, Ecuador, Bahamas, Haiti, Venezuela, Suriname and many other parts of the Amaricas who played an indispensable role in the struggle of the people of the area against imperialism and colonial domination.

Their titanic leadership role led to the Declaration of Independence by many countries in the region against colonial powers.

We the people of the African continent call the Atlantic hemisphere, our America, for the fundamental reason that their struggles are our struggles and their freedom is our freedom.

More has to be taught to the young generation of our country and the continent about the important role our forefathers played in the history of the development of all human society.

Our mother continent is a pioneer of the modern era of human civilization, and we need to ensure that we preserve this important history for our future generations. They are who we are, and we are who they are.

* Phatse Justice Piitso is the Chief of Staff in the office of the Secretary General of the ANC. He writes in his personal capacity.

** The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of Independent Media

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