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The Great West African Empires Of Antiquity

dopper0189, Black Kos Managing Editor

With the recent turmoil in Mali and this being Black History Month, I decided it would be a great time to look back at some of the peaces I wrote on Western African empires of antiquity. In particular the three empires that cover the area of Western Africa where Timbuktu is located, and whose citizens help to build and nurture one of the most important centers of learning in the ancient world.  We'll look at two of them today, and the third one later in the month.

In West Africa, in what is modern day Mali and southern Mauritania, a golden age was coming into fruition. Ancient Ghana ranks as one of the most note worthy of African Kingdoms.

Despite its name, the old Empire of Ghana is not geographically, ethnically, or in any other way, related to modern Ghana. It lies about four hundred miles north west of modern Ghana. When modern Ghana acheived independance, it chose the name Ghana to both honor the strength of ancient Ghana, but also as a statement that BLACK Africa did have a great history, including advanced empires, prior to European and Arabic slave raids and the destruction of most native functioning Kingdoms (Ethiopia being the notable exception).

The Ghana Empire or Wagadou Empire (790-1076 AD) began in the eighth century, when a dramatic shift in the economy of the Sahel area south of the Sahara allowed more centralized states to form. The introduction of the camel, which preceded Muslims and Islam by several centuries, brought about a gradual change in trade, and for the first time, the extensive gold, ivory, and salt resources of the region could be sent north and east to population centers in North Africa, the Middle East and Europe in exchange for manufactured goods.

The religion of the kingdom involved emperor worship of the Ghana and worship of the Ougadou-Bida, a mythical water serpent of the Niger River.

Taking the title 'Ghana' meaning King, figures through out history expanded upon these beginnings and the Ghanaian Empire began in earnest in 300 AD. Upon the death of a Ghana, he was succeeded by his sister's son. The deceased Ghana would be buried in a large dome-roofed tomb.

My interest in African history had a similar genesis to this. I was being told in my high school "World Literature" that we were not reading any books written by ancient Africans because they didn't have any written languages. But I knew from watching Roots that many Africans were Muslim, but I also knew that one of the central tenants of Islam was that people should be able to learn to read the Koran how were these two facts compatible? I also knew that Ethiopia was the 3rd oldest Christian nation, and they had a Bible that was different than the King James version. Both these facts made me question these "facts" I was being taught. Later in the series I will post copies of the writing by pre-colonial Africans that I was taught didn't exist.


Although Ethiopia had it's own written language. most of West Africa used Arabic as their written language. Arabic was used in much the same way Greek, Latin and later German served as a written language for many European nations until they developed their own written language. The slave traders who purchased slaves from West Africa knew this fact. But based on the "trouble" Brazil had with Muslim slaves (Brazil actually deported many Muslim slaves back to Africa) the slave masters quickly learned that knowledge of ones culture made slaves harder to control. Also once the Catholic church decided that Africans had human souls, the idea of letting slaves keep a language that would make Christianization more difficult was illogical. These facts lead to the suppression of West African Arabic writing.

Important archaeological discoveries in the late 1970's have revealed a more complex and much earlier development, well before Ancient Ghana of 300 AD, of early state-like communities and even early cities. Surveys and excavations in this 'Middle Niger' region completed in 1984 at no fewer than forty-three sites of ancient settlement, proved that they belonged to an Iron Age culture developing there since about 250 BC, that the settlements grew into urban centres of natural size and duration'.

Large stone masonry villages have also been discovered dating as far back as 1100 BC. Their archaeological finds include roads and walls of 2 metres high very likely erect in defense of the village.


The Sonninkes, the founders of the empire, who excelled in the use and manufacture of iron had the advantage of superior weapons, quickly dominated surrounding nations.


At its heart was Kumbi-Salah which acted as a hive of extensive trade and attracted caravans from a variety of regions. Famed for its gold from the Wangara region, commented upon by the Arab writer Ibn Fazari who called Ghana the land of gold, compered it in size to its northern contemporary Morocco, while salt came to the city from the Sahara. Due to their expertise with iron and other metals, ancient Ghana traded in some of the finest artifacts in the area. Along side cotton, it was also known for its leather work called 'Moroccan Leather' despite the fact that it indeed originated in Ghana.

Ibn Khaldun the well known Arab historian of the 14th century had this to say concerning the Ghanaian empire.

At the time of the conquest of Northern Africa by the Arabs (between the periods 639 and 708 CE), some merchants penetrated into the western regions of the blacks and found among them no king more powerful than the King of Ghana. His states extended westwards to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Ghana (Kumbi-Salah) the capital of this strong, populated cities of the world...

More wonders came from these African lands as attested too by another Arab geographer Ibn Haukal who commented in amazement on the lucrative trade that flourished in the region. His comments made in 951 CE mentions a cheque produced for the sum of 42,900 golden dinars written for a merchant in the state of Audoghast from a partner in Sidjilmassa in the north! Tales abound of one particular gold nugget weighing 30 pounds! This was truly a land of astonishing wonders and lavish wealth. A far cry from the misconception of the African languishing in barbarity and ignorance!

Ibn Khaldun again makes mention of the lifestyle of the ancient Ghanaians while quoting from a book written in 1067 by Abu Ubaid Al-Bakri. He describes the Muslim quarter which had sprung up to facilitate the trans-Saharan trade with North Africa, containing 12 mosques, buildings of stone and acacia wood, schools and centres of education. It was described further as 'the resort of the learned, of the rich and pious of all nations'.

A truly cosmopolitan city where the finest silk and brocade were worn by the populace.

In 990 CE Audoghast to the north was captured and included into the sprawling Ghanaian Empire. It was a fine addition and boasted a dense population including many from as far away as Spain. Its streets were lined with elegant houses, public buildings and mosques. The surroundings were rich in pastoral lands including sheep and cattle, making meat plentiful. Wheat was found in the market places in abundance imported from the north, honey from the south and a variety of foodstuffs from other regions. Robes of blue and red from Morocco was a popular fashion at the time. All which exchanged hands with payments of gold dust, cowrie shells or salt.

The ruler at the time emperor Tenkamenins court was described in the following terms by Al-Bakri;

When he gives and audience to his people he sits in a pavilion around which stand his horses caparisoned in cloth and gold; behind him stand 10 pages holding shields and gold-mounted swords and on his right hand are the sons of the princes of his empire, splendidly clad and with gold plaited into their hair. The governor of the city is seated on the ground in front of the King, and all around him are his ministers in the same position. The gate of the chamber is guarded by dogs of an excellent breed, who never leave the kings seat, they wear collars of gold and silver.'
However in 1079 the land was invaded from the north by Almoravids pouring out of the newly founded Moroccan city of Marrakesh. A mass exodus insued by the people of Ghana who fled southwards to escape the conflict. This may go some way in explaining why ancient and modern day Ghana are not in the same place today.

By 1087 the Almoravids lost control of the empire to the Soninkes, but the empire disintegrated into several smaller states. Leadership was again assumed by native Ghanaian leaders but the days of glory were gone and the empire soon broke up.



                        THE MALI EMPIRE

Next up in our look at ancient African empires is Mali. Once one of the great centers of Islamic culture and wealth, Mali owes much of it's reputation to both its position as a major trading center, and the tax that is levied on it's control of trans-Saharan route.

The Mali Empire was a West African empire of the Mandinka people that lasted from about 1230 to 1600. The empire was founded by Sundiata Keita and became renowned for the wealth of its rulers, especially Mansa Musa. The Mali Empire had many profound cultural influences on West Africa, especially from the city of Timbuktu. It powerful position facilitated the spread of its language, laws and customs along the Niger River. The Mali empire extended over a large area and consisted of numerous vassal kingdoms and provinces.

The Mali Empire grew out of an area referred to by its contemporary inhabitants as Manden. Manden, named for its inhabitants the Mandinka (initially Manden’ka with “ka” meaning people of) , comprised most of present-day northern Guinea and southern Mali. The empire was originally established as a federation of Mandinka tribes called the Manden Kurufa (literally Manden Federation), but it later became an empire ruling millions of people from nearly every ethnic group in West Africa.

Unlike the empire of Ghana which we looked at last week, the Malian empire did in fact encompass parts of modern day Mali, and many of the people there are descendents of the empire's inhabitants.


The Mandinka kingdoms of Mali had already been in existance for several centuries before Sundiata’s unification as a small state just to the south of the Ghana Empire.

The Keita dynasty from which nearly every Mali emperor came traces its lineage back to Bilal, the faithful muezzin of Islam’s prophet Muhammad. (But it should be noted that it was common practice during the Middle Ages for both Christian and Muslim rulers to tie their bloodline back to a pivotal figure in their faith’s history.) So while the lineage of the Keita dynasty may be dubious at best, oral chroniclers have preserved a list of each Keita ruler from Lawalo (supposedly one of Bilal’s seven sons who settled in Mali) to Maghan Kon Fatta (father of Sundiata Keita).

During the height of imperial Ghana's power, the land of Manden became one of its provinces. The Manden city-state of Ka-ba (present-day Kangaba) served as the capital and name of this province. From at least the beginning of the 11th century, Mandinka kings known as faamas ruled Manden from Ka-ba in the name of the Ghanas.

                            The Lion Prince

During the rise of Kaniaga, Sundiata of the Keita clan was born around 1217 AD. Sundiata’s was a hunchback from the land of Do, south of Mali. The child of this marriage received the first name of his mother (Sogolon) and the surname of his father (Djata). Combined in the rapidly spoken language of the Mandinka, the names formed Sondjata Keita. The anglicized version of this name, Sundiata, is also popular. In Ibn Khaldun's account, Sundjata is recorded as Mari Djata with "Mari" meaning "Amir" or "Prince". He also states that Djata or "Jatah" means "lion".

Prince Sundjata was prophesized to become a great conqueror. To his parent's dread, the prince did not have a promising start. Sundiata, according to the oral traditions, did not walk until he was seven years old. However, once Sundiata did gain use of his legs he grew strong and very respected. Sadly for Sundjata, this did not occur before his father died. Despite the faama of Niani’s wishes to respect the prophecy and put Sundiata on the throne, the son from his first wife Sassouma Bérété was crowned instead. As soon as Sassouma’s son Dankaran Touman took the throne, he and his mother forced the increasingly popular Sundjata into exile along with his mother and two sisters. Before Dankaran Touman and his mother could enjoy their unimpeded power, King Soumaoro set his sights on Niani forcing Dankaran to flee to Kissidougou.

After many years in exile, first at the court of Wagadou and then at Mema, Sundiata was sought out by a Niani delegation and begged to combat the Sosso and free the kingdoms of Manden forever.

                          Battle of Kirina

Returning with the combined armies of Mema, Wagadou and all the rebellious Mandinka city-states, Maghan Sundiata led a revolt against the Kaniaga Kingdom around 1234. The combined forces of northern and southern Manden defeated the Sosso army at the Battle of Kirina (then known as Krina) in approximately 1235. This victory resulted in the fall of the Kaniaga kingdom and the rise of the Mali Empire. After the victory, King Soumaoro disappeared, and the Mandinka stormed the last of the Sosso cities. Maghan Sundiata was declared “faama of faamas” and received the title “mansa”, which translates roughly to emperor. At the age of 18, he gained authority over all the twelve kingdoms in an alliance known as the Manden Kurufa. He was crowned under the throne name Mari Djata becoming the first Mandinka emperor.


The Manden Kurufa founded by Mari Djata I was composed of the “three freely allied states” of Mali, Mema and Wagadou plus the Twelve Doors of Mali. The twelve doors of Mali were a coalition of conquered or allied territories, mostly within Manden, with sworn allegiance to Sundiata and his descendants. Upon stabbing their spears into the ground before Sundiata’s throne, each of the twelve kings relinquished their kingdom to the Keita dynasty. In return for their submission, they became “farbas” a combination of the Mandinka words “farin” and “ba" (great farin). Farin was a general term for northern commander at the time. These farbas would rule their old kingdoms in the name of the mansa with most of the authority they held prior to joining the Manden Kurufa.

                                 EMPEROR MANSA MUSA

Mansa Musa, was the tenth mansa, which translates as "king of kings" or "emperor", of the Malian Empire. Musa was a devout Muslim and his hajj (a pilgrimage to Mecca ordained by Allah according to core teachings of Islam), made him well-known across northern Africa and the Middle East. He belief in the religion of Islam was deep and more than just the repetition of Qur'anic verses and prayer. To Musa, Islam was the foundation of the "cultured world of the Eastern Mediterranean". He would spend much time fostering the growth of Islam in his empire.


                                 MANSA MUSA

Musa made his pilgrimage in 1324. Mansa Musa's famous hajj (pilgrimage) placed him in history and in the attention of the entire European and Islamic world. About the time that the Aztecs began building Tenochtitlan, and the Ottoman Turks began the creation of their empire. In his caravan he brought 60,000 people dressed in fine silk and 80 camels carrying 2 tons of gold. Among this throng Mansa Musa had 12,000 servants, 500 of which carried staffs of gold. If this entourage had not caught the attention of the countries he crossed through, his generous giving would. Wherever he went he gave gold to the needy as given is required by a pillar of Islam. One writer even suggests that on every Friday during his travel he erected a mosque in the city that he found himself in. In Cairo he gave so much gold that in Egypt its value did not recover for twelve years. Before he returned to Mali, he had given away or spent so much that he was forced to borrow money from a merchant in Cairo for his return trip. Musa provided all necessities for the procession, feeding the entire company of men and animals. Musa not only gave to the cities he passed on the way to Mecca, including Cairo and Medina, but also for souvenirs. Furthermore, it has been recorded that he built a mosque each and every Friday.

Musa's journey was documented by several eyewitnesses along his route, who were in awe of his wealth and extensive procession, and records exist in a variety of sources, including journals, oral accounts and histories.

Musa is known to have visited with the Mamluk sultan Al-Nasir Muhammad of Egypt in July of 1324. Al-Omari, an ancient Muslim historian, described Mansa Musa as:

"the most powerful, the richest, the most fortunate, the most feared by his enemies and the most able to do good for those around him" in all of (West Africa).
(Ibn Battuta gives a detailed description of Mali just a few years after the reign of Mansa Musa.)

Musa's generous actions, however, inadvertently devastated the economy of the region. In the cities of Cairo, Medina and Mecca, the sudden influx of gold devalued the metal for the next decade. Prices on goods and wares super inflated in an attempt to adjust to the newfound wealth that was spreading throughout local populations. To rectify the gold market, Musa borrowed all the gold he could carry from money-lenders in Cairo, at high interest. This is the only time recorded in history that one man directly controlled the price of gold in the Mediterranean.

                             Culture and religion under Mansa Musa

While most of the inhabitants of Mali were not Muslim, and although he allowed them to maintain their religious diversity, Mansa Musa remained distinctly Muslim. While returning from Mecca, Mansa Musa brought back many Arab scholars and architects. Abu-Ishaq Ibrahim-es-Saheli, one of these architects, introduced new ideas into Mali architecture. With his help Mansa Musa constructed a royal palace, libraries, and mosques, and brought his trade city into international acclaim. This architect introduced to Mali a new mud construction technique that would establish a building tradition for centuries. With this technique he built the great Djingareyber Mosque at Timbuktu that stands to this day. He also built the great mosque at Jenne and a mosque in Gao that remained important for four centuries.

                               Djenne Mosque
(courtesy of mali muso)

                               Mosque in Gao

When Mansa Musa went on his hajj, he paraded his great wealth before the world. His generosity was quickly noted by European and Islamic nations alike. One contemporary, Spanish mapmaker depicted Mansa Musa seated on his thrown, gazing at a gold nugget in his right hand, holding a golden scepter in his left, and wearing a golden crown on his head. The Islamic world took notice because of his encouragement of Islam and his construction of Islamic centers of learning. These centers attracted Muslims from all over the world, including some of the greatest poets, scholars, and artists of Africa and the Middle east. This greatly increased the fame of Mali.

In the long run, partly due to Musa's conspicuous flaunting of wealth, when the ships of Portugal's Prince Henry captured Cuenta in 1415, Moorish prisoners told more details of the gold trade. Henry set his explorers down the African coast to find a route across subSaharen Africa in order to contain Islam. Containment failed as Constantinople fell in 1453 and after the successful reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula to push out Islam, Europeans turned toward the Americas. However, it had been Mali gold that provided the initial material for exploration and conquest.

                            Wealth of the Empire

The Mali Empire flourished because of trade above all else. It contained three immense gold mines within its borders unlike the Ghana Empire, which was only a transit point for gold. The empire taxed every ounce of gold or salt that entered its borders. By the beginning of the 14th century, Mali was the source of almost half the Old World's gold exported from mines in Bambuk, Boure and Galam. There was no standard currency throughout the realm, but several forms were prominent by region. The Sahelian and Saharan towns of the Mali Empire were organized as both staging posts in the long-distance caravan trade and trading centers for the various West African products. At Taghaza, for example, salt was exchanged; at Takedda, copper. Ibn Battuta observed the employment of slave labor in both towns. During most of his journey, Ibn Battuta traveled with a retinue that included slaves, most of whom carried goods for trade but would also be traded as slaves. On the return from Takedda to Morocco, his caravan transported 600 female slaves, suggesting that slavery was a substantial part of the commercial activity of the empire.

Gold nuggets were the exclusive property of the mansa, and were illegal to trade within his borders. All gold was immediately handed over to the imperial treasury in return for an equal value of gold dust. Gold dust had been weighed and bagged for use at least since the reign of the Ghana Empire. Mali borrowed the practice to stem inflation of the substance, since it was so prominent in the region. The most common measure for gold within the realm was the ambiguous mithqal (4.5 grams of gold). This term was used interchangeably with dinar, though it is unclear if coined currency was used in the empire. Gold dust was used all over the empire, but was not valued equally in all regions.

The next great unit of exchange in the Mali Empire was salt. Salt was as valuable if not more valuable than gold in Sub-Saharan Africa. It was cut into pieces and spent on goods with close to equal buying power throughout the empire. While it was as good as gold in the north, it was even better in the south. The people of the south needed salt for their diet, but it was extremely rare. The northern region on the other hand had no shortage of salt. Every year merchants entered Mali via Oualata with camel loads of salt to sell in Niani. According to Ibn Battuta who visited Mali in the mid 14th century, one camel load of salt sold at Walata for 8-10 mithkals of gold, but in Mali proper it earned 20-30 ducats and sometimes even 40.

                 Sankore Mosque in Timbuktu

Its geographical setting made it a natural meeting point for nearby west African populations and nomadic Berber and Arab peoples from the north. Its long history as a trading outpost that linked west Africa with Berber, Arab, and Jewish traders throughout north Africa, and thereby indirectly with traders from Europe, has given it a fabled status, and in the West it was for long a metaphor for exotic, distant lands: "from here to Timbuktu."

Timbuktu's long-lasting contribution to Islamic and world civilization is scholarship. Timbuktu had one of the first universities in the world. Local scholars and collectors still boast an impressive collection of ancient Greek texts from that era. In fact, when modern scolars visit Timbuktu, they are shocked by families who have preserved these ancient works as heirloom. By the 14th century, important books were written and copied in Timbuktu, establishing the city as the centre of a significant written tradition in Africa.

Manucripts from Timbuktu
(courtesy of mali muso)

Timbuktu was established by the nomadic Tuareg as early as the 10th century. Although Tuaregs founded Timbuktu, it was only as a seasonal settlement. Roaming the desert during the wet months, in summer they stayed near the flood plains of the Inner Niger Delta. Since the terrain directly at the water wasn’t suitable due to mosquitoes, a well was dug a few miles from the river. This fabled city reached it heights during a later African empire we will explore in a future Black Kos. I mentioned it here because this is when it was founded.

                  News by dopper0189, Black Kos Managing Editor


President Obama travels to Las Vegas, Nevada Tuesday for a event where the nation’s 11.2 million immigrants will be represented.   The face of immigration in this country includes Hispanics, Asians and Blacks. April D Ryan: Immigration: A Black Story.
Like all immigrants in the United States, black immigrants come to this country to chase their dreams and to provide their families with a better life. Despite facing linguistic barriers, stereotypes, and misconceptions, black immigrants have developed social networks and small-scale entrepreneurship that have helped them successfully integrate into the United States. While their voices have been absent from much of the immigration debate, black immigrants know how important their voices are—as the example of young black DREAMers illustrates—and they are beginning to use those voices in support of immigration reform.

For the first time this year, SEIU is joined by NAACP, immigration reform advocates, religious leaders, and a DREAM activist, all united in the call on President Obama and Congress to pass common-sense, accountable immigration reform. Very important issue considering there are 3 million black immigrants in the United States who are largely neglected in the immigration reform discussion.

The event happens in advance of President Obama’s expected immigration policy outline during the State of the Union Address on February 12. It also comes just one week after a groundbreaking, national poll of U.S. voters that showed strong support among African Americans for long-term solutions to the immigration system.

Among the African Americans polled, 84 percent agree that “We would be better off if people who are in the country illegally became taxpayers so they could pay their fair share and can work toward citizenship in the future;” 64 percent say that it’s an important goal to ensure immigrants who come to the United States illegally become legal and have the opportunity to work toward citizenship.

The Center for American Progress gives some key facts about what they call an often-overlooked group:

1) Black immigrants are a significant group in the United States—more than 3 million people comprising 8 percent of the U.S. foreign-born population. More than half come from the Caribbean, with the rest mostly coming from Northern and sub-Saharan Africa. A small number also come from Europe and Canada. Black immigrants account for more than one-quarter of the black population in New York, Boston, and Miami.

2) Black immigrants arrive in the United States through multiple pathways. Most black immigrants—especially those from the Caribbean—arrive as legal permanent residents based on their family ties. Refugees from Ethiopia, Somalia, Liberia, Sudan, and Eritrea accounted for 30 percent of all black African immigrants in 2009, while around one-fifth of black African immigrants entered the United States through the diversity visa lottery program—which provides 55,000 visas each year to countries underrepresented in immigrant streams to the United States. Around 400,000 black immigrants in the United States are here without legal status.
3) Black immigrants are one of the most-educated immigrant groups. Black immigrants have more college education and higher rates of degree attainment than any other immigrant group in the United States.

4) Black immigrants face many challenges in the United States. Even with high levels of education, black immigrants tend to earn low wages compared to other similarly trained immigrant or native workers. In 2011 black immigrants had the highest unemployment rate—12.5 percent—of any foreign-born group in the United States. Proposed immigration reforms such as reductions in family-based admissions and elimination of the diversity visa lottery could affect the flow of black immigrants to the United States, cutting off all legal means of entry into the country.


First lady Michelle Obama will attend the funeral service of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old girl who was shot and killed last week in Chicago shortly after performing at President Obama's second inauguration as a majorette in her high school's marching band. Chicago Tribune: Michelle Obama to attend funeral for Hadiya Pendleton.
First lady Michelle Obama plans to attend Saturday’s funeral in Chicago for 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who was fatally shot last week about a mile from the Obama family’s Kenwood home
Pendleton, an honor student and band majorette at King College Prep, had participated in inaugural festivities near Washington about a week before her death.

The White House announced today that the first lady would attend the Saturday morning services at Greater Harvest Baptist Church on the South Side. The first lady is not expected to make public remarks, and the Obamas’ daughters, Malia and Sasha, are not expected to accompany their mother.

“As a mother and Chicagoan, the first lady was heartbroken to learn of the tragic loss of Hadiya Pendleton due to senseless gun violence,” said Kristina Schake, communications director for Michelle Obama. “Too many times, we’ve seen young people struck down with so much of their lives ahead of them.  The first lady is traveling to her funeral on Saturday to offer her condolences and support to Hadiya’s family and loved ones.”

Scheduled to speak at the funeral is Gov. Pat Quinn, who mentioned Pendleton during his annual State of the State speech on Wednesday as he called for tougher gun control measures. Quinn said he spoke to the teen’s family this week.

A top expert on the evolution of our pigmentation explains how we all became so color-struck. The Root: What Is It About Skin Color?
The first scientific classification of humans, published by Carl Linnaeus in 1735, was simple and separated people into four varieties by skin color and continent. Later, Linnaeus not only added more physical traits to his descriptions but also changed them to include information that he had surmised about temperament. Europeans were white and "sanguine," Asians were brown and "melancholic," Native Americans were red and "choleric" and Africans were black and "phlegmatic."

This analysis was the first authoritative classification that combined physical traits with folk beliefs about dispositions and character. The folk beliefs had little to do with fact or observation but were mostly just fables -- racist pronouncements that were personal and emotional expressions of, at best, discomfort and, mostly, prejudice. From this point on, debasing associations of physical appearance with temperament and culture became commonplace and were considered scientific. Racism had found its intellectual foundation.

The first person to formally define "races" was the noted philosopher Immanuel Kant, who in 1785 classified people into four fixed races, which were arrayed in a hierarchy according to color and talent. Kant had scant personal knowledge of human diversity but opined freely about the tastes and finer feelings of groups about which he knew nothing. For Kant and his many followers, the rank-ordering of races by skin color and character created a self-evident order of nature that implied that light-colored races were superior and destined to be served by the innately inferior, darker-colored ones.

Despite the strong objections of many of his contemporaries, Kant's ideas about a fixed natural hierarchy of human races, graded in value from light to dark, gained tremendous support because they reinforced popular misconceptions about dark skin being more than a physical trait. The preference for light over dark -- strictly speaking, white over black -- was derived from premedieval associations of white with purity and virtue, and of black with impurity and evil.

                     Digital Vision/Thinkstock

An interesting piece of Civil War, sport, and black history. Slate: A Baseball Salvaged From A Civil War Battlefield.
Organized baseball has been played in America since before the Civil War. The game evolved from bat and ball games brought to the “new country” during the 17th and early 18th centuries. From the late 1850s throughout the 1860s, baseball exploded in popularity and became, as Walt Whitman famously said, “Our game…America’s game, [with the] snap, go, fling of the American atmosphere.”

During the War Between the States, the game was played on the battlefields and even in wartime prison camps. Baseball was, after all, portable, and even amid the horrors of war, soldiers sometimes found opportunities to play on the vast open fields where they needed only a bat, a ball, and a few willing participants.

This ball was found and retrieved in 1862 in Shiloh, in southwestern Tennessee, on the grounds of one of the Civil War’s bloodiest battles. The ball is inscribed: “Picked Up on the Battle Field at Shiloh by G.F. Hellum.” Giles Hellum was an African-American who worked as an orderly for the Union Army at Shiloh. He later enlisted as a soldier in the 69th Colored Infantry.

The artifact is a “lemon peel ball,” looser and softer than today’s baseballs, and it is hand-stitched in a figure 8 pattern with thick twine.

          Courtesy of


Hundreds of tourists have joined Rastafarian priests and reggae musicians at Bob Marley’s old house in Jamaica to mark the 68th anniversary of the late reggae icon’s birth. The Grio: Fans mark Bob Marley’s birthday in Jamaica.
Since his death from cancer in 1981, Marley has become more than just Jamaica’s most famous musical export. Marley’s message of unity and respect remains a beacon of hope in this Caribbean nation struggling with joblessness and violence.

On Wednesday, some of Marley’s relatives and old friends danced and chanted to the pounding of drums in the yard of his Kingston home, which is now a museum.

Culture Minister Lisa Hanna said his lyrics still call for Jamaicans to create a “more wholesome, caring, peaceful and progressive society.”

Marley’s popularity remains strong across the globe, and his music continues to sell steadily.

Bob Marley’s granddaughter Donisha Prendergast, right, dances to reggae music during the celebration of Marley’s 68th birthday at the yard of his Kingston home, in Jamaica, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013. Marley’s relatives and old friends were joined by hundreds of tourists to dance and chant to the pounding of drums to honor the late reggae icon who died of cancer in 1981 at age 36. (AP Photo/ David McFadden)

A UN-backed court has overturned the genocide convictions of two Rwandan former ministers and ordered their immediate release. BBC: Rwanda genocide: ICTR overturns ex-ministers' convictions
Justin Mugenzi and Prosper Mugiraneza had been sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2011 for complicity, and incitement, to commit genocide. Analysts say Rwanda's government is likely to be angry at their acquittal.

About 800,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus, were killed in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Mr Mugenzi was the trade minister during the genocide and Mr Mugiraneza the minister in charge of civil servants.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) convicted them on the grounds that they had attended a meeting where a decision was taken to dismiss the prefect of the Butare region in southern Rwanda for preventing massacres from taking place and for later being present when interim President Theodore Sindikubwabo urged people to kill Tutsis.

           About 800,000 people were killed during the genocide

A shameful cultural secrets is that African-American composers aren’t featured on our classical music stages as frequently as they should be. Slate: The “One Drop Rule” of Jazz.
As far as shameful cultural secrets go, the fact that African-American composers aren’t featured on our classical music stages as frequently as they should be is one few people bother keeping anymore. “That black composers are poorly represented in mainstream concerts is a germane topic of discussion but one beyond the scope of a single concert review” is how New York Times classical music critic Steve Smith accurately put it last week, when reviewing a Black History Month-timed showcase of oft-overlooked artists.

Outside the strictures of a concert review, though, we can ask the question more directly. And what better time than now, since a broad look at chamber music and orchestral programming in New York, for example, offers little in the way of sustained attention to works by composers like Duke Ellington (who wrote ballets and tone poems), Leroy Jenkins (who was commissioned by German composer Hans Werner Henze to write an opera), or Hale Smith, who composed while teaching inside classical music’s academy (i.e., the way most composers pay the bills), among other underappreciated worthies.

The widely admired conductor Marin Alsop has championed orchestral writing by early stride-piano master James P. Johnson—the composer of “The Charleston”—who also worked on symphonic pieces, sometimes with the help of African-American symphonist William Grant Still. (Alsop continued her campaign recently on the NPR website.) Alsop notes that her advocacy is a reclamation project that comes only decades after a good bit of Johnson’s notated music was lost due to inattention from the classical world. One of the pieces of Johnson’s that I’d most love to hear right now, but cannot, is his one-act opera about the nascent labor movement, De Organizer, which featured a libretto by Langston Hughes. (The piece has recently been partially restored by scholars, though it has yet to be recorded commercially.)

Each of these composers is better known as—or else can be mistaken for—a jazz musician. Ellington, though he strove to be “beyond category,” is obviously essential to any understanding of jazz—yet that shouldn’t prevent us from thinking of him in other contexts. Jenkins was a key member of the jazz avant-garde starting in the late ’60s, but by the 1980s it seems he was devoting as much or more time to formal, traditionally notated works for the stage. As shrewd observers have noted many times before, “The works of African American composers … are often mistakenly classified as jazz.”

                  Wayne Shorter


Welcome to the porch, where it's always warm, and the conversations are just fine.

Originally posted to Black Kos on Fri Feb 08, 2013 at 01:00 PM PST.

Also republished by Black Kos community and Barriers and Bridges.

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