African History Month

African History Month

With October been the dedicated month for Black history or BHM, now more than ever before it’s time to shine light on the positive aspects of African history especially for young children of all races. Black history is African history. African history is Black history. It all began in Africa and I believe eventually will end back in Africa – with Africa getting the recognition, respect and reaping her just rewards for her positive part in humanity.

Finally, there is room for African music, African food and African culture in the mainstream so this year for BHM we must remember that Black history has to be a celebration of Africa first. Not because Africa is perfect but because now it’s time take it back to confident African leaders and African royalty who made impact on who we are today, notable figures like Queen Nzinga, Kwame Nkrumah, Thomas Sankara, Patrice Lumumba and many, many more. The children of the diaspora must be taught that their Continent made and makes significant contributions to life as we know it, so they regard themselves and are filled with African pride.

Africa must stand alone and be counted this Black history month more than ever in order to celebrate her far reaching participation in society, in what has been a turbulent year marked with protests, a global pandemic and tragic death of black icons. Her people, her landscape, her importance in the world cannot be hidden anymore. As Africans arise to more prominence it begs the question, why wasn’t Africa and her people given more attention particularly during BHM that has been happening since the 1980s? Why did the story of Africa and her people always start in a vast body of water on their way to the Americas to be ensnared and enslaved? What about the woman of North African descent found in the 4th Century with wealthy possessions in  England or the African trumpeter from the 1500s in Tudor times for which there is an image of him on that can be seen today at the National Archives?

Pre-slavery, there were prominent Africans in England and Europe, unshackled and unchained and living normal life or in some cases an exceptional life. Unrefuted evidence of African soldiers in Rome and Afro-Portuguese royalty give a brief glimpse into life of Africans prior to the slave trade. I cannot speculate as to the reasons why African history begins at slavery but I often wonder what African children are taught back in the Motherland, does history for them begin at slavery also? How unjust would that be if it did. Peter Fryer in his 1988 book Black People in the British Empire that apparently the British thought ‘God had entrusted to them: to rescue black people from backwardness, barbarism, and heathenism’. This may give us an incline into why our history wants to conveniently skip over royal households and kingdoms that were expansive and technologically advanced for their era like the Benin Kingdom or Timbuktu – a place that records one of the oldest libraries known to man, now diminished to a throwaway phrase “from here to Timbuktu”, how far from the truth that is.

I discovered my Queen, Queen Nzinga in my mid to late twenties. I was born in Luanda the capital of Angola. I wasn’t taught that there were kings and or more specifically Queens in my country. I knew of the long-standing civil war and that we came to London for better prospects. But what really dented my confidence was the fact that though I grew up in quite a mixed area of Black, white and Asian – many of my fellow Africans knew nothing about Angola or had even heard of it, only my Congolese counterparts were aware of Angola…one asked me if I was from Mongolia?! From then on, I was from Portugal which is why I spoke Portuguese. And bless my parents they just wanted us to assimilate quickly into British life, plus the past was painful and hard to explain to five young children. I researched myself into Queen Nzinga stumbling across her merely by fate, her bravery against the Portuguese was well noted; her dignity, self-worth and willingness to fight inspirational still today, centuries later. I must say it was a great feeling reading about Angola in Akala’s Natives, particularly as I am still told at times “you’re the only Angolan I have met”.

Amazing Africans was the norm and should be taught so, figures such like Kwame Nkrumah who led Ghana to independence from the British, Thomas Sankara, a leader who shunned foreign aid – his trial for murderer commences only now, promoted national literacy programmes and many other policies in Burkina Faso. The formidable Patrice Lumumba who was responsible for an independent Congo free from Belgium’s grip who was assassinated because he threatened the status quo, his influence and resolve would have been unstoppable. No point merely learning about the evils of the American slave owners and the horrors on the idyllic-looking plantations when on closer shores there were human zoos, black bodies put on show and massacres en masse of the African people that Ronald Segal wrote in his 1962 African Profiles “…such savagery may seem to have been minted more in Europe than in Africa”.

Let’s not do our children a disservice of not informing about the great leaders of old and the beauty of our landscape so they can be inspired to truly know that they do not come from slaves but countless noble men and women who wanted to serve the people of Africa and be self-sufficient. Let the children know that our land is one of diamond, gold and oil, of beauty and significance. Yet according to Ha-Joon Chang in 23 Things they don’t tell you About Capitalism African geography and too many natural resources makes ‘Africa..destined for underdevelopment.’ A myth he succinctly refutes. 

So parents let’s start purposely ensuring that our history does not start at the transatlantic slave trade. Here are five books to introduce young children all over the world to iconic African figures and great African stories in general:

  1. These are our Heroes: 24 Famous Change Makers from Africa by Delali Avemega
  2. Africa, Amazing Africa: Country by County by Atinuke 
  3. Femi the Fox: A Pot of Jollof by Jeanette Kwakye
  4. Tobias The Dream Adventurer by Destynee Onwochei 
  5. Baby goes to Market by Atinuke

Written by Peléna Cosme, writer and author of a new children’s picture book Exploring London with Ama and Neri: Flip Out available now. Keep updated with on Instagram @exploringlondonbook

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