One of the tragedies of the modern colonization of Africa has been the reinvention of African history in a European image. Prior to Portuguese incursions, from around the 1500s, Europeans knew very little about the geography and culture of Africa. It was a “dark continent,” and most European knowledge had been received through the limited filters of the Bible, classical histories, and other fragmented sources. As Western interests and colonies became established across Africa, it was presented as a place ripe for discovery by the civilizing forces of modern empires. But in so doing, African history was largely written within a Eurocentric framework. As a result, many aspects of that history were distorted or ignored.
The Western “discovery” of Africa from the 16th century onwards, was underpinned by two basic assumptions—both deeply racist. The first held that black people were incapable of understanding or writing a history of their own; therefore, white people had to discover and write it for them. But the second assumption was even more insidious—black people were deemed incapable of having a history. Thus, throughout the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, the history of Egypt, of the Bible, and of other sources with direct bearing on the history of both the Middle East and Africa, were reinterpreted and reinvented to present a view of ancient civilizations of which the West was the sole inheritor.
One astonishing example of this re-writing of history is the treatment of Great Zimbabwe, the greatest stone monument in sub-Saharan Africa....
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