Nigerian scholar, Prof Al-Bishak, MON, demistifies age-long colouration of Africa as ‘savages’ ‘illiterates’ and ‘slaves’. Al-Bishak, a Professor of African Literature with speciality in Literary Egyptology, is a lecturer with the Federal University, Lafia. In his latest book entitled ‘Black Papyrus: Global Origins of Writing and Written Literature Traced To Black Africa’, the versatile researcher asserts that contrary to claims that writing originated from Europe, ‘basic literary forms were designed in Africa, and exported to the world’. He said his research took him fifty years. The excerpts.
Fifty years of research, why did it take such a long time?
It took me almost fifty years of research because I was a secondary school student in the 1970s when I came across a book titled, ‘Africa Before They Came’, by Galbraith Welch in the Kaduna State Library, Kaduna. It was about the people and civilization of Africa before the Europeans came to the African continent. I was shocked to read that Africa had great empires, kingdoms and queendoms, and her people were quite civilized and educated before Africa was invaded by the Eurasians (Europeans and Asians). I continued searching for and reading history books that shed light on the African past. I somewhat picked up the subject in my Master’s degree at the University of Lagos, when I subtitled my thesis, ‘Africa, Mother of European Drama’. During my doctorate degree program at Nasarawa State University, Keffi, which took me about 10 years, I wrote my thesis on ‘The Precedence of African Written Literature to the Eurasian Literature’. It wasn’t easy. I faced a lot of challenges by my examiners, who were Professors and PhDs. I had to travel to Egypt for further research where I saw evidence of the things I read about. After my PhD I continued the research until this book was eventually produced. I’m still interested in further research.
How fulfilled are you to have accomplished this task?
I don’t know if I can talk of fulfilment at this stage even though I know that I have worked hard enough to produce this book, which is an original scholarship. A highly respected female don, Professor (Mrs) Ebele Amali, Dean of Postgraduate School of Nile University, described the book as a ‘masterpiece’, while my Pro-Chancellor, Emeritus Professor Munzali Jibril, posted to me that, “We’re proud to have such an original scholar among our staff.” So let’s wait and see how the world receives the book. The book is meant for the world not just Africa. That’s why it’s sub-titled, ‘A PILL FOR RACIAL HEALING’. It aims at bringing equal respect to all the races of the world without any sense of humiliation or denigration. The Negroid (black African) race has paid its dues, and deserves equal respect as the Caucasoid (European) and Mongoloid (Asian) races in the contribution to global civilization.
What new knowledge has the book unravelled?
I don’t know if I can talk of new knowledge. It’s not a new discovery or invention based on latest archaeological findings or laboratory experiment. I am not the first to advocate what I have written. Many European and African historians as well as archaeologists have written about the greatness of the African past. The white historians include Herodotus, Athanius Kircher, Flinders Petrie, Basil Davidson, Galbraith Welch, Oscar Brocket, Margaret Murray, Robin Walker, Martin Bernal, etc. The African historians include Cheikh Anta Diop, Molefi Kete Asante, Yosef ben Jochannan, George G.M. James, William du Bois, Marcus Garvey, George O. Cox, Clyde Winters, etc. Nigeria scholars like Professors Chinweizu, Emmanuel Obiechina and Innocent Onyewuenyi and Chief Naiwu Osahon, etc have talked about such things though not in detail. I cited over 170 critical sources to support my position. The difference here is that whereas they talk generally about the African civilization, I have narrowed mine to the origins of writing, written literature and formal education. For instance, Africa has the two oldest varsities in the world – al-Qarrawiyyin University of Fez, Morocco, and al-Azhar University of Cairo, Egypt – and also the oldest book in the world, ‘The Teachings of Ptah Hotep’. How do you call the people of Africa with such history savages, uneducated or illiterates? Africa civilized Eurasia before Eurasia attempted to civilize Africa. Perhaps, what can be seen as new is the courage to re-present the historical facts to the contemporary world with greater force or energy. It’s only new to those for whom the truth was hidden for a long time.
To what extent has your work demystified age-long portrayal of Black Africa in both writing and written literature?
The book has sought to demystify many things. First is slavery which has come to be associated with the black or Negroid race. I have shown evidence of white slavery. The black Pharaohs of Egypt enslaved the whites for 3000 years along the Mediterranean. In Greece the highly revered Western scholar, Plato, was sold into slavery. Even in modern times up to the 17th century CE, there had been white slave camps in Spain, Greece, Britain, etc supplying slave labor to the Roman plantations. In fact, the word, “slaves” originated from the white people called “Slavs”. At the peak of African civilization when the Africans were fully clothed, some whites like in Britain went about half-naked, according to a report in 55 BCE by the Roman war general, Julius Caesar. So the white intellectuals have suppressed their own history of slavery and barbarism, and decided to trumpet black slavery which they sustain through the mental enslavement of the black students in African schools that they were savages and needed to be civilized. Bob Marley in his famous lyrics, ‘Redemption Song’, has challenged us, Africans, to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery so as to free our minds and become global champions once again.
Second, there’s evidence that the blacks were the first to record their history in books or monuments. That bears evidence with the reign of Pharaoh Thutmosis III, “the Napoleon of ancient Egypt” who conquered 110 states across the world to form the first world empire (before the Persian, Macedonian, Roman, Arabian/ Ottoman, French, British empires, etc.), and his scribes wrote down the history of his conquests. It contradicts the white propaganda that Africa had no history or written record of its past.
Third, it disproves the claim that the whites invented writing or written literature including poetry, the novel and drama. The blacks invented writing which they called ‘medu-netjer’ (words of God). Among the black Pharaohs of Egypt, Hatshepsut, wrote and engraved her poem on an obelisk in front of the Karnak Temple. The novel and drama were also scripted in ancient Egypt, long before Europe contemplated writing its literature. Some of the ancient Egyptian novels used magical realism, epistolary method, or adventure or crime and detection literary techniques. The basic literary forms were designed in Africa, and exported to the world. We have shown how Africa had literary influence on Hesiod, Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, etc. So those considered to be the early Greek literary superstars were influenced by African literary techniques, some of whom got them directly from their black African masters when they came to study in the mystery schools of Egypt.
Indeed, acting did not begin with the Greek dramatist, Thepsis, hence called the “Thespian art”. Abydos in Egypt has evidence of the oldest dramatic production in the world that featured actors and actresses about two millennia before Thepsis. So we should call acting the “Abydosian art”. Our Nollywood actors and modern drama scholars should know it, and champion it so as to portray themselves not as Eurasian copycats but descendants of the pioneers of drama or acting in the world.
Fourth, we demystified the claim of illiteracy by showing that Africa had knowledge of both literacy and numeracy. Besides, Africa invented the first paper from the papyrus plant, which it called “paperaa”. The white man simply removed the “aa”, and claimed that he invented paper! In addition to paper, the African invented pen, ink, etc.
In my book, we have 20 full colour pages of pictures showing evidence of the greatness of the African past like the black Pharaohs, black Egyptians, hieroglyphic writing from A – Z, numerical symbols from 1 to 1 million, papyrus with diagrams and calculations, school with pupils and teacher, etc. The pictures will disabuse the minds of Africans that they were illiterates before the whites came to civilize them.
Fifth is debunking the claim that the Eurasian missionaries brought the idea of one God and religion to Africa through missionary activities. We have shown that Pharaoh Akhenaten gave the world the concept of one God, and that even the scriptures were written by the black Africans. The oldest religion in the world in Egypt based on the concept of one God, the Amonian religion, had ‘The Memphite Theology’ scripture. Prophet Moses who wrote the ‘Torah’ was a blackman. ‘The Bible’ (both the Old and New Testaments) was first written by the black Hebrews in Egypt not the whites in Europe. There’s evidence that Jesus Christ was a divine black Hebrew who grew up in Egypt before returning to Canaan for crucifixion by the white Pharisees and Sadducees who didn’t believe in his holiness. Africa has the oldest churches in Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and Coptic Egypt, and exported Christianity to Europe. Indeed, the blackman of the Punic tribe, St. Augustine of Hippo (Algeria), author of ‘Confessions’ and ‘City of God’, who also supervised the canonization of ‘The Bible’, is the grandmaster of Western Christianity. The ‘Nicene Creed’ of Christianity was drafted by St. Athanasius of Egypt. In Islam the first section of ‘The Qur’an’ was written down by Bilal, the Ethiopian black muezzin and scribe of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as dictated to him by the Prophet as revealed by Archangel Gabriel from Allah (SWT). So the black Africans have been spiritually educated, and writers of religious books to guide the world towards piety. They deserve everybody’s respect.
Sixth, we have demystified Egypt as part of the so-called Middle East or a country of whites or Arabs. The Greeks who called the African people “Aegyptus” (singular) or “Aiguptoi” (plural) meant black people. Besides, Egypt was originally inhabited by the black people of Nubia who still exist in southern Egypt and is on the African continent not the so-called Middle East or Asia Minor. So the Egypt of the Pharaohs was a black territory of black people. The Arabs came to North Africa from Arabia in 639 CE (AD) after the death of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The Arabs contributed nothing to the ancient Egyptian civilization. They are currently mere custodians of the black African heritage, and benefit immensely financially from the black African cultural tourism.