by Legrand H. Clegg II
A blatant example of the latest attempt to suppress information and to discredit Black scholars is the current assault against Dr. Ivan Van Sertima of Rutgers University. Van Sertima is a brilliant historian, anthropologist, archeologist, linguist, poet and author. He has written or edited twenty books over the past twenty years. He is best known for his compelling arguments that Black people reached the New World thousands of years before Columbus.
In a democratic society, academic journals would be expected to invite Van Sertima to publish his ideas on their prestigious pages for the evaluation, analyses and critiques of his colleagues; followed by a general exchange of ideas between him and his critics. In America, of course, no such democratic exchange is available to Black (and most other) scholars who fail to toe the conventional line. They are isolated, marginalized and, if possible, destroyed.
Just such a movement is afoot at this very moment before our eyes. In the Spring of this year, "Current Anthropology" and "Ethnohistory" published vicious attacks against the outstanding scholarly legacy of Van Sertima without providing him with sufficient opportunities to respond to his critics. Outraged by this obvious conspiracy, Van Sertima is writing a book, to be published in the Winter of 1998, entitled "A Reply To My Critics." In the meantime, he has issued a two page statement, which he asked us to reprint for MAAT readers.
Recognizing this assault for what it is, Eso Won Bookstore and Compton Community College hosted a large reception for Van Sertima (about seven hundred people attended) on October 10, 1997, during the eve of Columbus Day. At the stellar event, the scholar received tributes from U.S. Congressmen, State Assemblymen as well as mayors and council people from several cities in Los Angeles County. It was a magnificent tribute to a giant scholar.
REPLY TO MY CRITICS
by Ivan Van Sertima
An attack on my thesis that Africans made contact with America before Columbus in two major pre-Christian periods (circa 1200 b.c. and circa 800 b.c.) in addition to the Mandingo contact period (1310/1311 A.D.) has been circulated in advance to hundreds of subscribers to a journal, Current Anthropology. Copies of this attack by Bernard de Montellano, Warren Barbour and Gabriel Haslip-Viera were also sent out to African-American scholars, some of whom were cited in the attack, dishonestly titled "Van Sertima's Afrocentricity and the Olmecs." The title's emphasis is meant to suggest that all revisions of African history by so-called "Blacks" belong to a common school, radiate from a common brain, and are cast in the same "racialist" hue and mode. This circular, which precedes my new book, REPLY TO MY CRITICS (scheduled to appear in Sept), seeks to highlight the brazen and malicious lies, slanders and misrepresentations that characterize this attack. Let it be noted that I was invited to respond to this attack but was forced to withdraw. The editor, after verbally agreeing that I could reprint my commentary, after the issue of the Journal appeared, did a dramatic about-turn when pressed to sign a
written agreement to back up his word. He wrote that I could only reprint my "commentary" (15 pages) if I also reprinted the attack on me (50 pages) since "they form a unit." To feel the full absurdity of this, just imagine the Jewish Defense League being forced to republish an extended Nazi-type attack on their positions in order to republish a brief response to such a slanderous attack.
- LIE ONE: - "Van Sertima's expedition allegedly sailed or drifted westward to the Gulf of Mexico where it came in contact with inferior Olmecs. These individuals created Olmec civilization." - De Montellano, Barbour and Haslip-Viera.
- THE TRUTH: As far back as 1976, I made my position on this matter very clear. I never said that Africans created or founded American civilization. I said they made contact and all significant contact between two peoples lead to influences. "I think it is necessary to
make it clear - since partisan and ethnocentric scholarship seems to be the order of the day - that the emergence of the Negroid face, which the archeological and cultural data overwhelmingly confirm, in no way presupposes the lack of a native originality, the absence of other influences or the automatic eclipse of
other faces"-p. 147 of "They Came Before Columbus." See also Journal of African Civilizations, Vol 8, No. 2, 1986 "I cannot subscribe to the notion that civilization suddenly dropped onto the American earth from the Egyptian heaven."
- LIE TWO: None of the early Egyptians and Nubians looked like Negroes. "They have long, narrow noses..." "Short, flat noses are confined to the West African ancestors of African-Americans." Again, "there is no evidence that ancient Nubians ever braided their hair.
This style comes from colonial and modern Ethiopia."
- THE TRUTH: Narrow noses have been found among millions of pure-blooded Africans. We can see this among the Elongated and Nilotic types. My critics know nothing about the variants of Africa, ancient or modern. All the six main variants of the African have been found in the Egyptian and Nubian graves. For examples of ancient braided Nubian hair, see Frank
Snowden's "Before Color Prejudice," As for Egypto-Nubians only having narrow noses, see Egyptian pharaohs in Vol 10 and 12 of the JAC and major Nubian pharaohs in Peggy Bertram's essay (JAC, Vol.12)-Ushanaru, Plate 8, p 173; Taharka as the god Amun from Kawa Temples, Plate 9, p. 173; Shabaka, Plate 12, p. 176. Tanwetamani, Plate 16, p. 180. To say that
these are narrow noses is to exhibit a colossal ignorance of African types in ancient Egypt and Nubia. The agenda behind this is to bolster their case that they could not have been models for any of the Olmec stone heads.
- LIE THREE; Modern Egyptians look exactly as they did thousands of years ago. The composition of the Egyptian has not changed over the last 5000 years. Invasions by
the Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Arabs and Romans left them looking the same today as in the dawn of history.
- THE TRUTH: This is a hasty misreading of the work of scholars like A.C. Berry, R. J. Berry and Ucko who point out that there is a remarkable degree of homogeneity in this area for 5000 years. What a superficial reading of this fails to note is that the period ends with the close of the native dynasties BEFORE the invasions of the Assyrian, Persian, Greek, Roman and Arab foreigners
- LIE FOUR: Faced with the startingly Negroid features of some of the Olmec stone heads, my critics try 4 ways out: (a) They are "spitting images of the native;" (b) they appear dark because some of them were carved out of dark volcanic stone; (c) some were made of white basalt which turned dark over time; (d) ancient Egyptians and Nubians were remote in physiognomy from
sub-Saharan Negroes and none of them could have been models for any of the "Negro-looking" heads. Having said all that, they then claim that "races are not linked to specific physiognomic traits."
- THE TRUTH: No need to shoot them down on this. They turned the gun on themselves.
- LIE FIVE: Nothing African has been found in any archeological excavation in the New World.
- THE TRUTH: In the drier centers of the Olmec world - at Tlatilco, Cerro de las Mesas and Monte Alban - the Polish craniologist, Andrez Wiercinski, found indisputable evidence of an African presence. The many traits analyzed in these Olmec sites indicated individuals with Negroid traits predominating but with an admixture of other racial traits. This is what I have said. The work of A. Vargas Guadarrama is an important reinforcement of Wiercinski's study. He found that the skulls he examined at Tlatilco, which Wiercinski had classified as Negroid, were "radically different" from other skulls on the site, bearing indisputable similarities to skulls in West Africa and Egypt.
- LIE SIX: Van Sertima presents no evidence that a New World cotton (gossypium hirsutum var. punctatum) was transferred from Guinea to the Cape Verde in 1462 by the Portuguese and there is no hard proof that West Africans made a round trip to America before Columbus.
-THE TRUTH: I cited evidence in 12 categories to establish Mandingo voyages to the New World circa 1310/1311 A.D. This included eyewitness reports from nearly a dozen Europeans, even Columbus himself, metallurgical, linguistic, botanical, navigational, oceanographic, skeletal, epigraphic, cartographic, oral, documented and iconographic evidence. With regard to New World cotton in Africa before 1462, Stephens spoke in two tongues to pacify isolationist colleagues.
- LIE SEVEN: My critics claim that I said the bottle gourd came in with Old World voyagers.
- THE TRUTH: I was at pains to point out that this is ONE PLANT THAT COULD DRIFT TO AMERICA WITHOUT THE LOSS OF SEED VIABILITY. "Bottle gourds got caught in the
pull of currents from the African coast and drifted to America across the Atlantic. Thomas Whitaker and G.F.Carter showed that these gourds are capable of floating in seawater for 7 months without loss of seed viability" - "They Came Before Columbus," 204. They indulge in an even more vicious dishonesty with regard to cotton, claiming that I said "Old World cottons came
into America with a fleet of Nubians circa 700 B.C." I never linked cotton transfer to Nubian contact.
- LIE EIGHT: My critics admit "we cannot unequivocally date the heads" but they single out one which they say Ann Cyphers confidently dated about 1011 B.C. Note the date! This is 200 years AFTER the Egyptian contact period c. 1200 B.C. Yet they claim that the dating of this one head proves "Negro-looking heads" were being carved, mutilated, and buried prior to 1200 B.C.
- THE TRUTH: The stone heads could not have been buried before they were carved.
- LIE NINE: Egyptians stopped building pyramids "thousands of years" before 1200 B.C. No relationship whatever exists between Old World/New World pyramids.
- THE TRUTH: Enormous obelisks, calling for the same complex engineering skills of the pyramid age were built at Karnak as late as 1295 B.C. A pyramid was also built as Dashur circa 1700 B.C. Bart Jordan, the mathematical child prodigy, to whom Einstein granted
special audience, established startling coincidences between Old World and New World pyramids. He agrees with me that "The overwhelming incidence of coincidence argues overwhelmingly against a mere coincidence."
- LIE TEN: My critics claim that I have trampled upon the self-respect and self-esteem of native Americans and they have come forward to champion their cause.
- THE TRUTH: My people (for I am part Macusi and part African) would be horrified to have, as champions of our cause, De Montellano, Barbour, and Haslip-Viera, who disgrace us with the charge that "native Americans would have sacrificed and eaten the Africans if they