Africa’s history is overdue for comprehensive update, argues Bobson Gbinije
“History is the life of the times, the torch of truth, the life of memory, the teacher of life and the messenger of antiquity Cicero (106-43BC) De oratore
In his magnum opus and literary tour de force titled Heauton Timoroumentos, the philosopher and essayist Publius Terentius Afer said: “Humo sum; humani nihil ame alienum puto” (I am a man; and nothing human is foreign to me). It is this drive to ensure that nothing human is foreign to man that gave birth to history. History is an authentic chronicle and a verifiable documentation of ancient and modern events.
The matrix of history is buttressed and consolidated by inputs from oral tradition of folklores, preserved by memories and recounted to the existing generation to document for posterity. The elements of written, divinatory and numerological submissions, etc., also contribute as resource archives from which historians, historiographers and archaeologists can get factual information. Before the art of writing was introduced, man, from the Paleolithic through the Mesolithic to the Neolithic ages used primitive means to document events.
Fundamental and remarkably eventful occurrences in history like the Nile Valley Civilization, the Cretan Civilization, the Sumerian Civilization, the rise of Babylon, Assyria, Chaldea, Phonecia, Persia, the Roman Empire, the early history of Greece and Christianity were documented in history. But the art of writing and documentation did not arrive in Africa until the 16th century, when European historians, from a European perspective, had already documented most of Africa’s history.
Although the king of the ancient Mali Empire, Mansa Kankan Musa (1307-1337 A.D) set up the Sankore University in Timbuktu in 1310 A.D, it was a university for the propagation of Islamic studies (Arabic education), as against what was prevalent, the Western education and the art of writing.
This exposed Africa’s early history to the whims and caprices of history dabblers, sentimentality, historical prejudices, myths, tribal jingoism, misplaced patriotism, falsehoods, judgmental fallacies, arrant controversies and apocryphal submissions, making African history and anthology of incongruities. When our African historians came on stage, they depended largely on the historical plinth already created by European or foreign historians.
Where they had to get the factual basis of the history of their own people, it was sometimes coloured by their own prejudices, fabrications and intellectual bankruptcy. African history is to some extent a splendid documentation of falsehood, laced with lies, inconsistent with reason, at variance with logic and grossly out of tune with facts.
African history records that the Ashanti people who were Akan- speaking people subject to the then Denkyra State came out of Lake Bosomtwi, a small crater lake in central Ashanti. And to further consolidate the bases of their unity, Ashanti caused a “golden stool” in which the spirit of Ashanti ancestors was supposed to be hidden to descend on the knees of Osei Tutu, the ruler of Kumasi. The assembled Ashanti rulers acclaimed Osei Tutu as their superior and invested him with powers over all the Ashanti people.
One version of Africa history records that the Yoruba’s migrated from the east in about the 10th or 11th century, that their ancestors belonged to the Quresh tribe of Mecca in Saudi Arabia and that their first father was Lamrud or Namrud who had an idol-priest called Ya-harba. The word Ya-harba is an Arabic word-meaning warrior or army general. When Islam was introduced in Mecca in the 7th century Lamrud, Ya-harba and their supporters refused to embrace Islam. The Islamic Jihadists took up arms against Lamrud and his pagan supporters. In the ensuing battle Lamrud was defeated and they fled the city, crossing the red sea to Africa. They got to Egypt in 648A.D; they moved to Tripoli, Algeria and Morocco. During this journey the idol-priest, Ya-harbar, consulted his oracle, and they were told to follow the oracle’s direction. They followed the oracle’s direction until they arrived at Ile-Ife in 900A.D.
During the journey to IIe-Ife Lamrud and his idol-priest, Ya-harba, died on the way. It was therefore Oduduwa who led the Yoruba to IIe-Ife. This is why Oduduwa and not Lamrud or Ya-harba is referred to today as the father of the Yoruba. Even though Ya-harba could not reach IIe-Ife his people decided to immortalise his name by calling their settlement Ya-harba, which was later converted to Yoruba. One other version says the Yoruba progenitor, Oduduwa fell from heaven.
Some years ago, the Oba of Benin, Omo Noba Nedo, Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Erediauwa launched his book titled “I Remain Sir, Your Obedient Servant.”
He opened the Pandora’s box of Yourba/Benin history, when he claimed that the Yoruba migrated from Benin where prince Ekaladerhan (Yoruba’s Oduduwa) escaped from execution, and that after a horrendous and marathon journey through the thick forest he arrived at IIe—Ife, where he became their king.
When the Binis discovered that tradition made it obligatorily imperative for him to come back home, they requested for him. But he turned down the request and in turn sent his son Oranmiyan to commence the present dynasty in Benin.
This historical submission drew the ire of the Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade Olubuse II. He said that the Oba of Benin whose dynasty began in the last decade of the 12th century was an Ife Prince lent to the Bini people at their request after the reign of the Ogisos ended in Benin.
The Ife monarch asserted that Oduduwa descended directly from heaven through a chain to where is today known as Ife in the company of four hundred deities. They both however agree that Oranmiyan was the son sent by Ekaladerhan (bini), Oduduwa (Yoruba) and whose son, Eweka, born of a Benin woman, became the progenitor of all Benin Obas.
It is not the concern of this writer to look at which of the submission is plausible, true or false. But to observe that there is a trend in African history, which is based on a tribal renaissance-a kind of Risorgimento that stimulates a rewriting of history. This is a prevailing situation across Nigeria and nay Africa.
Why did the Oba of Benin wait for so long to rewrite a part of Benin history? Is it possible for Ekaladerhan to have trekked such a long distance to Ife and through a thick forest? So nobody accompanied the Bini Ekaladerhan? And why would a man or fugitive from justice be called back to come and become a king? How is it possible for Oduduwa to have fallen from heaven?
These are glaring cases of half-truths, philistanization of history and deliberate mythologization of the origin of a people. The case of a ‘golden stool’ being invoked from heaven for the Osei Tutu of Ashanti and the Ashanti people haven come out of a lake are sheer myths, frills and thrills on the edge of perfidious manipulations. History is supposed to be a pedantic hallmark, a check valve, a vertical and horizontal integrator of a people’s life and a factual record of past events.
A reliance on the facts of history enables people to understand themselves and strategize for the future. History is a barometric format and a lodestone to the future. It is the intrinsic paradigm, steer man, master, cicerone and conductor of a people’s development.
In Warri, Delta state, the Ijaw, Urhobo and Itsekiri, have been sunken in dastardly fratricidal and internecine wars over the ownership of Warri. The collective troika have doctored, falsified and even created history to justify their ownership claims.
The story is the same in virtually every family, tribe and community, etc., in Nigeria nay Africa. This is partly so, because the economic, socio-political metamorphosis of a people entails renewed renascence where the elements of pride, power, position and growth becomes issues in the front burner of their discourse.
It is so critically crucial to them that they in most cases resort to rewriting of history to enable them to be put in proper and advantageous stead in the comity of peoples, states and nations. But a history written with such background is always fraught with bias, concooned in pyrrhonism, silhouetted in the configurations and contours of asymmetrical and nebulous mélange.
They drum up myths, fictitious, non- existent and never-existed dates, heroes and heroines. In the book “A Text Book of West African History (A.D 1000 to the present Day), the author Ola Abiola, not too sure of dates and scenarios wrote “several hundreds of years in the past there existed in what is today known as West Africa some flourishing kingdoms and empires, whose brand of civilization was comparable to that developed at that time in other parts of the world”. What can be more vague, inarticulate and indefinite?
Africa’s history is too laced with folklore, unverifiable dates and persons. Great historical submissions like, Old Africa re-discovered by Basil Davidson, the Dawn of Africa History by R. Oliver, A History of Islam in West Africa by J.S. Trmingham, History of the Yorubas by S. Johnson, Africa : its people and their Cultural History by G.P. Mudock, the Lost Cities of Africa by Basil Davidson, A short History of Benin by J. Egharevba and a Brief History of the Okpe people by Prince Mebitaghan etc., all suffer from conflicting dates, wrong geographical setting, half-truths, mythologization and exaggerations. They are in most cases inadvertent because of insufficiency of information, where they exist they are not put in proper perspectives and used in details.
In the preface to his book entitled, “Merchant Prince of the Niger Delta Professor Obaro Ikime said ,“In the context of Nigerian History, certain names spring readily to mind-Bishops Crowther and Johnson, Kosoko, Jaja, Ovonramwen (Overami) and Nana, the subject of this study, to mention but a few. Although the names of these and other leading Nigerians of the nineteenth century are freely mentioned in history circles, it is a fact, at the time of writing that none of them is there in any detailed study.
The reason usually advanced for absence of detailed studies is the lack of the kind of materials required for biographical surveys. This is largely true. But the absence of detailed studies has meant that even such materials as does exist have not been fully used in existing works”. This is an inviolable truism.
But the history of Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries carries a lot of credibility and dependability index. Because the art of writing, education, revelations from the 2nd World War gave a great impetus to nationalism, constitutional developments, religious teachings and independence, which are easily verifiable because of adequate documentation, although with miniscule bias by European and African historians and nationalists.
In this historical genre we have, Pan Africanism by G. Padmore, Ghana-Road to independence by F. Bourret, Nigeria-Background to Nationalism, Politics in French speaking West Africa by R.S. Morgenthau. Others are The Development of Modern Nigeria by O. Arikpo, Nationalism in Colonial Africa by Thomas Hodgkin; Senegal: A study in French Assimilation Policy by Michael Crowther; A Thousand Years of West Africa History by J.J.A. Ajayi and lan Espie, Catholic Missions in Nigeria by Martins Bene and West Africa since 1800 by J.B Webster, A. Boahen and Idowu.
It is clear from details of the aforementioned historical observations that Africa’s ancient and parts of its modern history are long overdue for more factual and comprehensive research. It is also overdue for a complete demystification; demythologization and purged of prejudicial syphilization, because a people whose past is unknown cannot channel a great course into the future.
Chief Gbinije, a social critic, wrote from Warri, Delta State