Africa has a long history of ancient civilisations and complex cultures waiting to be unravelled. Unfortunately, our pre-colonial history is often neglected, as Africa today is perceived globally through the eyes of slavery and colonisation. This emphasizes the importance of telling the African story, as many are not aware that the continent was once a centre of trade, art and education. We can view Africa’s global relevance through the prism of two fundamental concepts; ‘Identity’ and ‘Understanding’.
IDENTITY I came to this realisation at my sister’s introduction, when my dad narrated the brief history of my family’s name to the visitors. He said my ancestors once lived in a land we know today as Ekiti State (the state of my sister’s fiancé’s family coincidentally). After the British demarcated the land, they moved down South into the area now known as Delta state. The Urhobos who already resided in Delta State, began to call them “Oke”, because they came from the mountains. There is treasure in these words, as that narrative reinforced my sense of identity. Identity builds a sense of belonging and helps an individual appreciate him/herself and others better. There’s a need for Africans, Africans in diaspora, and individuals with African descent to understand that their identity is greater than that of slavery and colonisation. They share a history with the great civilisations of the Kushites and the Egyptians, who built the marvellous pyramids, and the Kingdom of Axum who were one of the first to establish trade with India. They can take pride in the great walls of Benin and the great Zimbabwe, because these structures were built by their ancestors and their ancestry is a form of their identity. As the African proverb says, “It is better to know yourself than for someone to tell you who you are”.
UNDERSTANDING History is the answer to the question “How did we end up here?”. Knowledge of history relays the events of the past and links it to the present. For example, the name ‘Okada’ which is generally used to refer to commercial motorcycles in some parts of Nigeria, was derived from a defunct airline Okada air in Edo state which was known for its swift and efficient travel. The motorcycles earned the name ‘Okada’ because they transported people efficiently through traffic jams and bad roads. Without the element of history, we would not understand how many interesting facts came to be. History gives us the opportunity to analyse why certain decisions were made in the past, and then equips us with knowledge to formulate better solutions for the future. The origin of NYSC is another good example. The National Youth Service Corps was an initiative created after the Nigerian civil war. The aim of this initiative was to expose Nigerians to other cultures in the country, in an attempt to encourage unity and integration. It has been expressed that due to the poor security and sanitary conditions, it should be cancelled. However, considering the historical significance of the initiative, we are moved to understand the importance of its purpose. This implies the aforementioned concerns are mere hurdles to be overcome, and jolts us to critically pursue possible reforms to improve the experience. In a multi-ethnic continent like Africa, history gives us a basic understanding of our cultures which helps us improve our social interactions with each other.
African history told from an African perspective, contributes massively to global education. However, for us Africans, it means something more. It is a part of who we are, it is the story of our ancestors, and it is a cornucopia of practical experiences we can learn from to build a better Africa. And to build this better Africa, we need to take steps to know more about who we are. So, the next question is, what are you doing today to learn more about your history?