KNOWLEDGE of the past gives meaning to the present.
Slaves in the British West Indies became free thanks to the continued efforts of William Wilberforce and fellow abolitionists.
Former slaves had to wait for their freedom until August 1, 1838. Slaves were selected for their beauty and physical stature, which no doubt explains why the fastest man in the world came from Jamaica and the stars of the NFL in the US are mainly black.
We Afro-Trinis are the descendants of slaves brought from Africa. We may have lost our ancestral languages, customs, values and skills, but we should take pride that we have survived the traumatic and perilous journey of the Middle Passage.
It is comforting to know from anthropology that our African ancestors also gave rise to every human being on Mother Earth. All humans are genetically related to one another as a result of their common ancestry. Their apparent physical differences are the result of migrations to different lands with different climates, different resources and different opportunities for adapting to the environment for survival. Beneath our skins we possess the same human organs, feelings and desires for love, friendship, security and happiness.
But who exactly were our ancestors? It would be impossible to know the exact individuals. But can we have some understanding of their development? Yes we can. For the present is rooted in the past and the past always beckons to the present.
The earliest black African empires were those of Kush Meroe in the Middle Nile Valley 800 BC to AD 400.
Then in northeastern Ethiopia emerged, during the first to the fifth centuries, the Axum Empire, which was influenced by Egypt and south Arabia, respectively. The Christian empire of Ethiopia later replaced the Axum empire.
But the story does not end there. The area south of the Sahara and north of the tropical forests is called the Sudanic belt.
Ghana was the earliest of the Sudanic empires. It was founded by the West African Soninke people. It became a powerful trading state, with gold being its central resource, bartered from gold producers in the south then sold to North African merchants.
In 1076 it fell to a confederation of Berbers in a Muslim holy war.
Despite this, many smaller kingdoms survived, one of which was the remarkable of Mali Empire. Under the leadership of three great kings – Sundiata, Mansa Ali and Mansa Musa – Mali became one of the greatest empires of the world, covering much of western Sudan. It included the famous city of Timbuktu.
Succeeding Mali in prominence was the Songhay Empire. It had two great rulers, Sonni Ali (164-92) and Aksia the Great (1493-1528).
Kanso and Katsina were Hausa empires that went on to become famous for their powerful kings, arts and craft and leatherwork, also known as Moroccan leather.
The great state of Karnen-Bornu was ruled by a Moslem. It was overthrown by European invaders in the late 19th century.
There were also empires in the woodland and forest areas south of the Sudan. Benin and the Oyo Empires of Yorubaland are examples. They produced some of the world’s great sculptures.
The vast region south of the Equator also saw the emergence of several major Bantu-speaking kingdoms, Uganda, the Luba-Lunda kingdoms and the Kongo kingdom.
The empire of Monomapata, farther south, had a brisk trade in gold with the Muslims.
So Africa enjoyed a dynamic history with empires ruled by brilliant and daring leaders. Its several nations were fortunate in having codes of law enshrined in age-old traditions and customs. They had an infrastructure designed to help and protect citizens, and their citizens respected one another and their leaders. It is their unity of purpose and organisation that enabled these empires to flourish.
Our early ancestors could not found a nation or empire without vision, commitment, co-operation, strength of will and hard work.
We Afro-Trinis can show respect for our ancient traditions by emulating the practices that gave our early ancestors unity and success, in particular hard work, respect for our neighbours and respect for the laws that protect us. Only a unified nation can survive. A divided nation will inevitably fall.