The abolition of slavery is one of the greatest most significant events in the history of our country and the West Indies. The desire of finally being free became a reality, allowing our brothers and sisters of the African heritage to grow to their full potential, to help others, and serve as role models for future generations.
As we learn more about the events and individuals that led to the emancipation of our brothers and sisters of African descent; who they truly were and where they came from, we discover a people and nation of unsurpassed beauty and technical genius, to say the least. Africa is the birthplace of the world’s most ancient civilizations. Additionally, the roots of every family tree may be traced back to Africa, as can the history of civilization. This is not only captivating to me but also extremely empowering!
People of African descent are descended from ancient, rich, and sophisticated cultures that developed a plethora of technologies and innovations in a variety of fields. From the simple items like the Iron Wood Axe to the complex ones such as the steam engine, to electricity and computers, the engineering and architectural feats of the Egyptians: the interestingly raised obelisks and the hundreds of pyramids, the Great Sphinx of Giza, the impressive cities in Mali, including Timbuktu with grand palaces, universities, and mosques, etc. are all works of contemporary wonder. Today, we marvel at these inventions as well as the thousands of years of these breathtaking architectures and accomplishments. Amazingly, even to this day, we still are in awe of how these phenomenal masterpieces of architecture were constructed. This is the brilliance of the people of African heritage!
Before the Europeans arrived and seized control of Africa, there were massive and unparalleled achievements in the various regions and their cities. In the Kingdom of Aksum, in present-day Northern Ethiopia, they developed a trade route. In Abyssinia, now Ethiopia, the king, Negus or Al-Najashi, was a person known for fairness and whose nation treasured human rights, so much so that he rescued Islam during the time of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). For Muslims, this country is enshrined in our Holy Scriptures and history to represent freedom from persecution and liberation from fear. The Kingdom of Ghana has the characteristics of great nations of the present era. In the city of Timbuktu, they had great morals and developed the center of Islamic Art. Because of commerce, the Kingdom of Ghana in Western Africa became one of the richest civilizations. It is even said that the Emperor of the great Zimbabwe ate from porcelain plates that came from China. The Red Sea served as a thoroughfare. The Nile was a thoroughfare. The Sahara Desert was a highway, as was the Indian Ocean. However, the subsequent slave trade not only damaged the continent’s economic growth, but it also altered ideas of the African continent’s history and importance. We witnessed, in particular, Belgium’s King Leopold II, who converted a large portion of Africa into his estate, enslaved its inhabitants, and left a legacy of misery that lingers to this day.
We witnessed some of the then famous Generals who fought to the bitter end to keep slavery alive, even though they lost their battles, and who have had statues erected in their honor, particularly in the United States of America. Thankfully, we are seeing a revolution whereby persons are fighting against those statues because they are a disgrace, a shame to the democratic norms that the United States of America upholds. Unfortunately, all of these injustices were perpetrated against people of African ancestry by those seeking to legitimize an economic system based on the exploitation of people of African descent and Africa. As a result, an entire nation’s history was stolen from them.
Nonetheless, despite suffering under the atrocious system of slavery, individuals of African descent made enormous contributions to the development of our civilizations. Their innate intelligence provided a depth of knowledge that would have been hard for any other society to achieve. While we know that slavery had a negative influence on education, some Africans were educated on their own and began to teach others. Because they were slaves, it was difficult for them to obtain the necessary materials, yet despite this, they contributed to the enrichment of the world. In reality, we observed that slavery did not hinder people from completing their jobs, even though it took away many of their liberties and destroyed their identities. But we also saw how determined they were and their unwavering resilience to overcome all obstacles, as we saw with Mr. Toussaint L’Ouverture, who led Haiti’s liberation, and Mr. Cuffy, who led the slave liberation in Berbice by fighting a revolution against the Dutch in the Berbice enclave of the Magdalenenberg protesting harsh and inhumane treatment, which subsequently overthrew the Dutch.
One thing is certain: we must honor the Africans who were subjected to slavery since they made significant contributions to the development of our society. Furthermore, we must continue to learn from them in order to make the greatest use of their knowledge, for they have demonstrated their genius throughout history. Consider writing, which started in African civilizations before spreading to many other regions of the world. Long before it was adopted elsewhere, the Egyptians employed hieroglyphics for writing.
We must correct this misconception that Africa is limited, and we as people of the world must help to contribute to preserving the rich heritage of the people of African descent and propel them to their rightful role as modern leaders across the world. All Caribbean countries, including Guyana, have had Presidents, Prime Ministers, and other leaders of African descent. At this juncture, we commemorate and celebrate all of the courageous men and women of African descent who struggled to make this day possible. We owe so much to our forefathers who gave their lives for us, and we owe it to them to carry on their work and legacy. As we honor these freedom fighters, let us express our deep thanks for all they have done for us.
Hajji Dr. Roshan Khan Snr.