Rediscovering the African past
Man is an historical animal and African man is no exception. Just as everywhere else in the world, he created his own history and his own idea of it. Yet myth and prejudice of every kind have left the world with a grossly distorted view of African history, if not with the impression that Africa has no history at all.
After a long period of painstaking research and meticulous preparation, the record is now being put straight with the publication of successive volumes of Unesco's eight-volume General History of Africa.
The General Conference of Unesco has placed the preparation and drafting of the History under the sole intellectual and scientific responsibility of the 39-member International Scientific Committee for the Drafting of a General History of Africa, two-thirds of whose members are Africans and whose Secretary is Mr. Maurice Glélé.
Following the directives of the General Conference of Unesco, the Committee, at its first session, defined the principal characteristics of the work in terms which merit quotation at some length:
- Although aiming at the highest possible scientific level, the history will not seek to be exhaustive and will be a work of synthesis avoiding dogmatism. In many respects, it will be a statement of problems showing the present state of knowledge and the main trends in research, and it will not hesitate to show divergencies of doctrine and opinion where these exist. In this way, it will prepare the ground forfuture work.
- Africa will be considered as a totality. The aim will be to show the historical relationships between the various parts of the continent, too frequently subdivided in works published to date. Africa's historical connexions with the other continents should receive due attention, these connexions being analysed in terms of mutual exchanges and multilateral influences, bringing out, in its appropriate light, Africa's contribution to the development of mankind.
- The General History of Africa will be, in particular, a history of ideas and civilizations, societies and institutions. It will introduce the values of oral tradition as well as the multiple forms of African art.
- The History will be viewed essentially from the inside. Although a scholarly work, it will also be, in large measure, a faithful reflection of the way in which African authors view their own civilization. While prepared in an international framework and drawing to thefull on the present stock of scientific knowledge, it will also be a vitally important element in the recognition of the African cultural heritage. . .
Volume I, Methodology and African Prehistory, and Volume II, Ancient Civilizations of Africa, have already been published (see the Unesco Courier, August-September 1979). Volume IV, Africa from the Twelfth to the Sixteenth Century, and Volume VII, Africa under Colonial Domination, are to be published this year. In this issue of the Unesco Courier we publish extracts from these two volumes. The extracts from Volume IV throw new light on the ancient civilizations of west and southern Africa. Those from Volume VII reveal the extent of theAfrican resistance to the colonial invaders, until now concealed by what might almost be described as a conspiracy of silence. Our readers will find faithfully reflected in them the trueface of a great and hitherto largely misrepresented continent Africa.