Who Should Tell The Story of Africa?
All people need to learn about their past
and need to be able to participate in the creation of their own legacy.
In the past, the story of Africa has been told and defined by others and
these 'others' have been considered authorities on the subject. The representation
of African events and characters by non-Africans has led, in many instances,
to the creation of a negative portrayal of Africa.
"It's not really our history from our point
of view. It might be African history from an European point of view."
Wosene Yefru, Tennessee State University, Nashville, Tennessee.
While Europeans have amassed valuable written
information, the down side is that their interpretation of history has
brought with it cultural baggage, such as stereotyping, says Dr Wilhelmina
Donkoh, who lectures at Kwame Nkrumah University, Kumasi, Ghana.
The history of Africa has tended to rely
on written evidence. But Africans had their own particular system of recording
past events, situations and traditions, before Europeans started writing
about it. This was based on collecting oral testimonies.
Most Western societies regarded this method untrustworthy as a means of
gathering and preserving information. As a result, Non-African historians
used written documentation to chart the history of the continent. If this
was missing, it was assumed that nothing worth recording had happened.
It was not until the 20th century, that there was a major revolution with
regard to oral evidence for history. In the 1960's, oral history went
through a process of validation and historians began to use it as a source.
has political uses. It can be employed by citizens and governments to
create social cohesion as well as division. This means that in the making
of history, there is scope for the distortion and manipulation of historical
events. At certain points societies can choose to distort or misrepresent
"Most societies eulogise their heroes, idealise
their founding fathers and romanticize their past. It might be incorrect
or wrong but it has its political uses…
In the US, the discovery that Thomas Jefferson had a black mistress and
had children by her…Although known to some historians, it was a taboo
subject…Two hundred years later, the country is ready to discuss the intimate
life of one of its founding fathers."
Ali Mazrui, Binghamton University, New York.
NO ABSOLUTE TRUTH
nature of history is such that it provides no absolute truths. Nevertheless,
historians are responsible for interpreting facts and should endeavour
to evaluate data objectively in order to determine the truth.
Modern African historiography has experienced many turning points. Initially
emphasis was placed on the ancient African empires and kingdoms and on
the battles for independence. But since then, African historians have
become more questioning about events in their continent.
"African leaders failed to produce the social
and economic benefits that were expected from independence…
Historians have begun to write a more critical history, that does not
only celebrate the achievements of political independence and political
power but criticizes what to do with that power."
J.F. Ade Ajayi, University of Ibadan, Nigeria.
history examines society as a whole. It concentrates on the ruled, rather
than the rulers.
"You don't look for pyramid builders and sphinx
builders, great monarchs and great architects, and those who beat Columbus
across the Atlantic…
You look at the history of the plough in Africa, the history of the blacksmith
in African villages, the history of a particular marriage custom in African
society and the functions it serves."
Mazrui, Binghamton University, New York.
African historians are concerned about how to interest students in pursuing
a career in the same field. Often students may not be aware of interesting
job opportunities for them. This is a matter for concern for historians
who do not want to witness a decline in commitment to the study of African
hear this discussion, listen to the 'Talkabout History' programme on The
Importance of African History