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Is there a future for Afrocentrism

despite Stephen Howe's dismissive 1998 study

by Wim van Binsbergen

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Stephen Howe’s book Afrocentrism: Mythical pasts and imagined homes[2] is in the first place a conbtribution to intellectual history, and as such I can only have admiration for the writer and his product. The book is an excellent piece of scholarship. Its breadth of argument and the depth of reading supporting it, are most impressive. Afrocentrism is one of the first books to map out in detail, from its remoter origins to its contemporary ramifications and high profile manifestations, one of the most significant intellectual and political movements of the world today. It is no longer unique. For instance, recent French work has greatly added to our understanding of Cheikh Anta Diop and of Afrocentrist movements in general;[3] and where Howe’s book spends one substantial chapter on the Black Athena debate as initiated by Martin Bernal, there is a fast growing literature of writings[4] which largely converge, and in part go beyond, the largely sensible things Howe has to say on this Afrocentrism-related topic. But even so, Howe’s book is deservedly a standard work and will remain so for years to come.

                        However, Stephen Howe was a political activist before he materialised as a high-ranking academic writer, and his book despite its unmistakable academic qualities is less a contribution to detached scholarship than an instance of political polemics. Its aim is not only to depict the Afrocentrist movement and to trace its trajectory through the last two centuries of intellectual and political global history, but also to pass an intellectual, political and moral judgement on that movement. Unmistakably the author intends his book to constitute Afrocentrism’s definitive denunciation. His primary motivation is profound alarm over what he (with many others, foremost Mary Lefkowitz)[5] sees as the sell-out of intellectual and moral values merely for the sake of Black, mainly African American, consciousness-raising. The underlying reasoning is something like: ‘should we allow the standards of scholarship to be abandoned merely for the sake of letting a few African Americans forget slavery and the Black ghetto?’ If historical truth, intellectual and pedagogic integrity, the canons of logic and proof are to be violated for the sake of the boosting of Black identity, then Afrocentrism is among greatest contemporary threats to mankind, at a par perhaps with environmental destruction, or AIDS. Exposing Afrocentrism would be every intellectual’s duty, and Howe leads the way.

                        If one is familiar with current Afrocentrist writings one cannot help being aware (just as aware as Howe turns out to be) of the deficiencies which are endemic to that genre: the poor scholarship; the amateurish and autodidactic approach to grand historical and comparative themes without systematic use of obvious sources and obvious methods;[6] the Afrocentrist authors’ manifest and deliberate isolation from current debates and current advances in the fields of scholarship they touch on; and the tendency — yet by no means universal among Afrocentrists — towards Black racism. On all these points Howe has extremely sensible things to say. He parades well-chosen and convincing examples of these ills of Afrocentrism. I for one find myself in agreement with much of the details of his writing. I particularly admire his uncompromising stance[7] against any introduction of race-based arguments in decent academic debate — a weakness by which Afrocentrists, and Bernal, often embarrass their otherwise most sympathetic readers.

In vindication of Afrocentrism

However, where Howe and I fundamentally disagree is with regard to the extent of dismission that Afrocentrism calls for. Howe’s book ends with a note of tragedy: how regrettable that the paradoxes of the modern global history of Black people have ended them up with such a collection of deeply cherished untruths as constitutes Afrocentrism. For him, Afrocentrism is largely what in our Marxist days we used to call false consciousness: a systematically mistaken view of reality which can be explained from the historical trajectory traversed, in recent centuries, by the collectivity (mainly African Americans, but also an increasing number of Africans) holding these views. Where he finds Afrocentrism by and large intolerable it is because, in the context of the politics of identity on which the postmodern world revolves, it is no longer politically correct, yea it is more and more even politically impossible, to publicly ignore or dismiss the Afrocentrist claims; hence their increasing influence in the U.S.A. educational system. For Howe,[8] as for me, the central issue here is explicitly the truth value of Afrocentrism.

                        Interestingly, Howe asserts himself as one primarily interested in the politics of history writing, but he fails to elaborate on the formidable philosophical question of what constitutes truth in historical analysis. If yet he insists on calling the Afrocentric version of history, mythical (obviously reserving the claim to non-mythical truth for the non-Afrocentrist history of his own favourite brand, he sadly misses the opportunity of exploring the possibly mythical dimensions of mainstream historiography. In the present argument I shall briefly outline what I see as the mythical, specifically hegemonic, potential of mainstream North Atlantic hsitory, as confronted by Afrocentrism; but obviously this is not the context to pursue the philosophical implications any further.

                        In fact, Howe’s special expertise in British anticolonial politics, a thoroughly documented modern topic, renders him apparently immune for he dynamics of the production of African history, where it is not so much unequivocally documented facts which inform the writing of history, but often[9] the permutation of theoretical models in the light of marginally available shred of factual evidence, including oblique mythical statements which might or might not contain a kernal of hsitorical truth. In such a context, the distinction between truth and myth is far less evident than Howe suggests. Let us be heedful of the following assertion by the nestor of African History in his critique of Luc de Heusch:

‘All history as reconstruction of the past is of course mythical.[10] Myths are held to be ‘‘true.’’ De Heusch is to be faulted for not using all[11] the traditions about the past, however recent that past, and considering them myth. But, conversely, historical accounts reflect the past. The well-known problem is to find exactly how a set of data reflects the past as well as how it expresses the present. The succeeding problem, then, is how to reconstruct the past most objectively, and in doing so create a new myth. Not because the account is not true, but because it will be held to be true.’[12]

                        For Howe the truth value of Afrocentrism is zero, in other words Afrocentrism is entirely mythical. For me,[13] on the other hand, Afrocentrism has admittedly all the defects summed up above, but it also contains a kernel of truth, in the form of an elaborate set of testable hypotheses about the possible contributions which the inhabitants of the land mass we have come to call Africa, may have made towards the world-wide development of human culture. And I would go further: if there is even the remotest possibility that only a mere handful of the Afrocentrist tenets, however unscholarly in their present elaboration and substantiation, might yet be confirmed in part when restated in a scholarly manner and investigated with state-of-the-art scientific methods, then the dismissal of Afrocentrism cannot simply be the positive, enlightened gesture it claims to be. Such dismissal would then turn out to be a confirmation of the status quo, a continuation of the processes of exclusion to which Black people, inside and outside the African land mass, have been subjected for centuries. Here there is a strategic role to be played by the odd person out: the scholar and polemicist who for lack of Black or African antecedents cannot be suspected of being on a mere conscious-raising trip, and who yet, for respectable scholarly reasons, defends views similar to of identical with those of the Afrocentrists. Martin Bernal’s has been such a case, and inevitably there have been numerous attempts (not all of them totally unconvincing) to deny his integrity, to emphasise the differences between himself and the certified, Black Afrocentrists, and to demolish his scholarship and the conclusions to which it has led him; however, there have also been voices vindicating Bernal and urging that his research initiatives be carried on.[14]

Personal intermezzo: Comprehensive correspondences in space and time

My own case is formally similar to Bernal’s although the scope of my scholarship and my public exposure are so much more limited as to make the comparison an imposition on my part. I am a European born, light-skinned scholar who for thirty years has conducted research on and around Africa, both localising and comparative, both synchronic social scientific and historical. For the past ten years I have effectively combined this identity as a North Atlantic empirical social scientist with that of an African-initiated diviner-priest; and for the past three years with that of an academic philosopher, exploring interculturality as the key to the globalising world of today. Socially and ethnically I have no reason to pose as an Afrocentrist, but emotionally, spiritually and scientifically that is what I have become. In my recent academic work, therefore, it has been my central concern to thresh testable scientific hypotheses out of the ideological and otherwise defective writings of the Afrocentrists, and put these hypotheses to the test; I have been struck by the — also for me — unexpectedly great extent to which their empirical truth would appear to be confirmed.

                        Around 1990, during field-work in Francistown, Botswana, my personal itinerary from poet and ethnographer to intercultural philosopher would take me to a further exploration of the relativity of cultural specificity. In that year I became a Southern African diviner-priest, a sangoma. In the process I acquired the mysterious rough wooden tablets of the sangoma oracle, consecrated in the blood of my sacrificial goats and periodically revived by immersion in rain water and by the application of the fat of these animals. They seemed to represent the epitome of strictly local cultural particularism. It was as if they had risen from the village society of Southern Africa at some indefinite Primordial Age, and the same seemed to apply to the interpretation scheme which names the sixteen specific combinations which may be formed by the tablets when these are ritually cast. The local oracle of four tablets had been described by missionaries as long ago as four hundred years.[15] ‘The old woman like a stone’, ‘the old male witch like an axe’, ‘itching pubic hair like a young woman’s’, ‘the uvula like a youthful penis’ — this is how the four tablets are named, and their various combinations have connotations of witchcraft, ancestors, taboos, sacrificial dances, and all varieties of local animal totems. What could be more authentic and more African? Not for nothing had I, at the time, described my initiation (which, after mor ethan twenty years of work as a religious and medical anthropologist, made me an accomplished and recognized specialist in an African divination and therapy system) as

‘the end point of a quest to the heart of Africa’s symbolic culture’.[16]

Now I had to admit that this romantic suggestion of extreme locality was a mere illusion, under which lurked a reality which had enormous consequences for my theoretical and existential stance as an ethnographer and a world citizen. The interpretational scheme, right up to the nomenclature of the sixteen combinations, turned out to be an adaptation of tenth-century (C.E.) Arabian magic, with a Chinese iconography (consisting, just like I Ching, out of configurations of whole and broken lines), and at the same time astrological implication such as had been elaborated another fifteen or twenty centuries earlier, in Babylonia. The local cultural orientation in which the inhabitants of Francistown had entrenched themselves, and from which I initially felt painfully excluded, turned out not to be at all the incarnation of absolute and unbridgeable otherness, but -- just like my own cultural orientation as a North Atlantic scholar -- a distant offshoot of the civilisations of the Ancient Near East, and like my own branch of science it turned out to have been effectively fertilised by an earlier offshoot from the same stem: the Arabian civilisation.[17] I had struggled with the other, as if it were an unassailable, utterly alien totality; but parts of it turned out, on second thoughts, to be familiar and kindred, and available for appropriation.

                        This amounted to a head-on collision with the central theory of classic cultural anthropology since the 1930s: the historical and cultural specificity of distinct, for instance African, societies, the assumption of their being closed onto themselves and bounded, of their having a unique internal integration and systematics, and in general the idea that something like ‘a culture’ exists.

                        This insight was for me the trigger to start a comprehensive research project, which has meanwhile resulted, among other publications, in an edited collection Black Athena: Ten Years After,[18] on the work of Martin Bernal, and a book manuscript entitled Global Bee Flight: Sub-Saharan Africa, Ancient Egypt and the World: Beyond the Black Athena thesis.

                        The latter study is based on a similar Through the looking-glass (Lewis Carroll) experience as I had in connection with the Francistown divination system. A few years ago I went through my various articles on western Zambian kingship in order to collect these in a single volume. This was shortly after I has spent a year at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (NIAS) in 1994-95, as the only anthropological member of the Working Group on ‘Magic and religion in the Ancient Near East’. After this extensive exposure my eye was suddenly and totally unexpectedly caught by the many specific and profound parallels between the ceremonies and mythologies surrounding Nkoya kingship in South Central Africa, and Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and South Asia. The parallels were so striking, so detailed, that I had to seriously consider the possibility of cultural diffusion from these various regions towards South Central Africa -- once again the suggestion of continuities in space and time across thousands of kilometres and across several millennia.

                        The Francistown divination system and Nkoya kingship are two concrete examples of the kind of serendipities -- totally unexpected finds -- of cultural convergence and diffusion across the entire Old World, which have occupied a central place in my empirical research since 1990. But there is also a more systematic source of inspiration: the anthropological fieldwork which I have undertaken over the past thirty years in various locations on the African continent. In combination with the scholarly literature, with discussions with my colleagues, and with my involvement in the work of my Leiden colleagues and of my research students, these researches have created a context for comparative hypotheses suggesting considerable correspondences between local cultural orientations, far beyond the strictly local and presentist horizons of classic ethnography.

                        Against this background I immediately recognised a kindred spirit in Martin Bernal, the author of the multi-volume book Black Athena.[19]

                        Bernal intends to expose the Eurocentrism which -- as he demonstrates -- has been at the roots of the study of Graeco-Roman Antiquity over the past two centuries. In Bernal’s opinion the idea of being heirs to the genial Greek civilisation, allegedly without roots in any previous non-European civilisation, has played a major role in the justification of European intercontinental imperialism. His central thesis is that we must recognise the African and Asiatic roots of classical Greek civilisation (especially its philosophy and religion) -- and in doing so, we would also recognise the non-European roots of major cultural orientations in today’s North Atlantic civilisation, which is increasingly becoming global anyway. Hence the pragmatic title of Bernal’s magnum opus, Black Athena: this title is to indicate that the goddess Athena, although the central symbol of classical Greek civilisation, yet had an origin outside Europe, in Africa. The question is not without interest for philosophers for the principal stake in the Black Athena debate is the claim concerning the non-European origin of the European philosophical tradition.[20]

                        With Black Athena: Ten Years After (1997) I reopened the debate on Bernal’s work, which appeared to be effectively closed after the devastatingly critical Black Athena Revisited[21] With the new book, Global Bee Flight, I return to Africa in order to investigate the implication of the Black Athena thesis for our Africa research today — and the implication of our Africa research for the Black Athena thesis. Because Ancient Egypt occupies a key position in the debates on Africa’s cultural historical relation to Europe and to the rest of the world, a massive section of Global Bee Flight is occupied by an analysis of the mutual interpenetration of Ancient Egyptian and sub-Sahara-African themes, in the way of concepts and structures of thought, myths, symbolism, the kingship, state formation, and productive practices. One absolutely surprising outcome of the book (when I started out I sincerely thought I could prove the opposite to be true!) is my confirmation, without the slightest reservation, of one of the most ridiculed ideas of early twentieth century anthropological diffusionism: Egyptocentrism as a model for African cultural history. By the end of the fourth millennium before the common era, Ancient Egypt owed its emergence as a civilisation (contrary to what Bernal thinks to be the case) to the interaction between Black African and Eastern Mediterranean cultural orientations. But as a next step my analyses demonstrates that Ancient Egypt, in its turn, did have a decisive fertilising effect not only (as stressed in the Black Athena thesis) on the eastern Mediterranean basin and hence on Europe, but also, in a most significant feed-back process, on Black Africa, right into the nooks and crannies of many aspects of life, including the kingship, law, ritual and mythology.[22] In stead of the familiar image of mutually absolutely distinct ‘cultures’, as in the dominant view both among scholars and in the modern world at large, what thus emerges in the image of Africa which displays a very remarkable cultural unity, not for any mystique of Africanity, but as a result of clearly detectable historical processes: as first a principal source and subsequently as a principal recipient of Ancient Egyptian civilisation, and finally as a result of converging Arabian/Islamic as well as - in the most recent centuries -- North Atlantic colonial influences. The general conclusion of Global Bee Flight is a radical, positive and unexpected revision of our conception of the place of Africa in global cultural history. Meanwhile there is little reason why no the same model of qualified continuity over large distances in space and time would not also apply to other continents including Europe, and to the historical connections between these other continents.

                        Meanwhile it is strange that the argument of convergence has met with so little acceptance on the part of African philosophers today. Instead they virtually unanimously support the argument of cultural diversity. In the words of Kwame Appiah, one of Howe’s intellectual heroes and someone under frequent attack from Afrocentrists:

‘If we could have traveled through Africa’s many cultures in (...) [precolonial times] from the small groups of Bushman hunter-gatherers, with their stone-age materials, to the Hausa kingdoms, rich in worked metal – we should have felt in every place profoundly different impulses, ideas, and forms of life. To speak of an African identity in the nineteenth century – if an identity is a coalescence of mutually responsive (if sometimes conflicting) modes of conduct, habits of thought, and patterns of evaluation; in short, a coherent kind of human social psychology – would have been ‘‘to give to aery nothing a local habitation and a name.’’ ’[23]

In line with this stress on precolonial fragmentation lies the African philosopher’s Kaphagawani’s thesis on ‘C4’, which is a scientistic formula meant to express

‘the Contemporary Confluence of Cultures on the Continent of Africa. This is a postcolonial pheno­menon where different cultures meet and mingle to form new, hybrid forms’.[24]

In this formulation the emphasis on a plurality of mutually distinct and bounded cultures is indeed does give way to a recognition of greater unity, but extreme multiplicity and fragmentation is still held to be the hallmark of the African past, the point of departure. Such unity between African cultures as is being recognised is taken to be the result of the postcolonial phenomenon of globalisation, which allows this view to salvage the concept of a pristine distinctness of a great number of precolonial cultures in Africa. The entire discussion on Afrocentrism (with its Senegalese precursor Cheikh Anta Diop) appears to be lost on the majority of contemporary African philosophers. Afrocentrists are scarcely welcomed or cited in the circles of academic African philosophers.

Hegemonic paradigms and the empirically testable hypotheses threshed out of Afrocentrism

Underlying these excursions in space and time is a more fundamental questions which takes is right back to the very heart of Howe’s argument: By what method and with what validity and reliability do we construct images of the past? This question is obviously relevant to Howe’s argument, to which he came, as he states himself, not as an Africanist but as one interested in the politics of history writing.

                        Historiographic usage offers a number of ready answers to this question. For Howe, and for many historians who like him situate themselves in the empiricist tradition while being suspicious of an over-reliance on systematic theory, a central methodological approach is that of ‘common sense’, an appeal to the self-validating effect of simple everyday logic and common everyday concepts. Inevitably (since everyday common perspectives are eminently intersubjective, shared with others and recognised to be so shared) a common sense appeal would favour the paradigm which is in fashion in a given discipline at a given moment of time. One such paradigm has been

(a) the virtual independence of Greek classical culture from any inputs from the Ancient Near East (Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, Anatolia),

although this view was admittedly coming under attack even before Bernal. Three other such paradigms, dominant throughout the second half of the twentieth century, have been:

(b) the assertion that Ancient Egypt did not have a profound, lasting, and therefore traceable impact on the African continent, particularly not on sub-Saharan Africa (interestingly, Egyptocentrism — often in the trappings of the Hamitic thesis[25] which claimed sub-Saharan Africa to be the passive recipient of cultural innovations coming in from a West Asiatic culture carried by people who lacked the somatic features common among contemporary Africans — was a major Africanist paradigm in the first half of the 20th century);

(c) the assertion that contemporary Africa is a patchwork quilt of numerous distinct local cultures, each supported by a distinct language and each giving rise to a distinct ethnic identity, in the light of which broad perspectives on continental cultural continuity going back to the remoter past much be relegated to the realm of ideology and illusion (again earlier work, e.g. that of Frobenius predating the structural-functional obsession with fieldwork in one narrow local setting), would stress far more African continuity in space and time)

(d) the assertion (also with overtones of the Hamitic thesis) that Ancient Egypt, although fortuitously situated on the edge of the African continent, was essentially a non-African civilisation whose major achievements in the fields of religion, social, political and military organisation, architecture and other crafts, the sciences etc., were largely original and whose historical cultural indebtedness lay, if anything, with West Asia rather than with sub-Saharan Africa.

Phrased in this way, these paradigms have nothing intrinsically ideological about them; they are in principle testable hypotheses, and so are their inverses, which would stress historical cultural continuity

(ainverse) between Greece and the ancient Near East including Ancient Egypt;

(binverse) between Ancient Egypt and latter-day African cultures;

(cinverse) between latter-day African cultures even regardless of the influence of Ancient Egypt;

(dinverse) and between prehistoric cultures situated on the African land mass south of the Tropic of Cancer,[26] and Ancient Egypt.

Although the above paradigmatic statements (a) through (d) are not intrinsically ideological, unmistakably they are far better attuned to a hegemonic North Atlantic perspective on the world than their inverses. Paradigms (a) through (d) postulate a world which is neatly compartmentalised; incomparably more compartmentalised than would be suggested not only by the globalising experience of our own time, but also by the demonstrable spread of agricultural techniques, weaponry, musical instruments, languages, belief systems including world religions, formal systems such as board games, divination methods, myths and symbolism, across the African continent and in considerable (though painfully understudied) continuity with the rest of the Old World, and even the New World. Under such compartmentalisation, an entire mythical geopolitics comes into being: the mystery and mystique of Europe — more recently: of the North Atlantic in general — can be maintained as a solid ideological power base for colonialism and postcolonial hegemony; Egypt, Africa, African cultures, remain the ultimate other, to the North Atlantic, but also to one another; a conceptual and geopolitical ‘divide and rule’ keeps them in their subordinate place vis-?vis the North Atlantic; and the basic flow of achievement is defined as going from north to south, while hegemonically undesirable idea of counter-flows in a northerly direction are ruled out. These may be testable hypothesis, but they are very close to geopolitical myths.

                        If our four paradigms (a) through (d) can easily be demonstrated to be saturated with hegemonic ideological potential (not to say that they are downright Eurocentric and racist) , their inverses are likely to have a similar but opposite ideological charge. If (a) through (d) are so ideological as to be probably untrue to a considerable extent, the same might be the case for (ainverse) through (dinverse), but it is far more likely that the latter contain a healthy and serious critique of hegemonic misconceptions, and therefor in themselves are to a considerable extent, demonstrably true. To dismiss these inverse views ‘myth’, as Howe does in the subtitle of his book, is not only doing them injustice, but also means that the potentially mythical nature of the dominant paradigms is insufficiently realised.

                        It now so happens that (ainverse) through (dinverse) are among the most central tenets of Afrocentrism, which therefore can no longer be relegated to false consciousness and Black consciousness-raising, but deserve to be admitted to the central halls of scholarship. It is not in the Black ghetto or in its academic counterparts (such as the Journal of African Civilizations and Karnak Publishers, both bastions of Afrocentrism), but in the open, transparent, universally accessible environment of academia itself, that Afrocentrism will be forced to enter into open debate, and can be cleansed from bad methodology, restrictive selection of data, entrenched refusal to take cognisance of existing detached scientific inquiry, and above all, racism.

                        However scholarly, therefore, and however driven by justified irritation at a lowering of widely accepted standards of academic, pedagogic and political conduct, Howe’s book is myopic. It does not recognise the implicitly, potential, or (as far as I am concerned) unmistakable, hegemonic nature of the paradigms (including (a) through (d) as above) which it propounds. It can afford to ignore this state of affairs, since the execution of its design is largely impeccable. Not being an Africanist himself, Howe can only be praised for the meticulous way in which he has digested the vast relevant bibliography. He finds little, in the enormous literature he has plodded through, to falsify the paradigms (a) through (d). ‘Black Athena’ is a slogan just as false to history as is ‘White Egypt’.[27] To Howe, ‘the actual evidence of ideas about kingshiop paralleling Egypt’s either in Sub-Saharan Africa or in the Aegean is extremely thin’,[28] despite a massive literature (partly consulted by Howe), of which I shall only quote the following counter-opinion, as prhased by the prominent, non-Afreocentrist Meroe specialist Shinnie:

‘But having said all this, it can be seen that, here and there, there are strong resemblances to Egyptian objects and to Egyptian culture scattered throughout Africa. In the realm of material culture a small number of objects have been found which might reasonably be supposed to have originated from Egypt. Amongst these are musical instruments such as the small harp used by the Azande and other peoples of the southern Sudan and Uganda, wooden headrests in various parts of the continent, certain types of sandals, and many other similar objects. In West Africa attentian has been drawn to the use of ostrich-feather fans, very similar to pharaonic ones, in Wadai and Bagirmi and other places in the neighbourhood of Lake Chad. (...)

In other parts of West Africa, particularly Nigeria, there are resemblances in the regalia of chiefs to the pharaonic regalia - whips, crooks, and flails have all been reported and ome have seen them as direct borrowings from Egupt.

              The god Shango, of the Yoruba, whose sacred animal is the ram, has been derived by some from the god Amun, and Wainwright[29] has cited a ram-headed breastplate from Lagos which certainly very strongly suggests an Egyptian influence.


‘Seligman, taking the existence of such a [ divine ] king, or for some peoples the custom of king-killing, as an indication, suggests Egyptian influence at work amongst such diverse peoples as the Dinka and Shilluk of the Upper Nile, the Banyoro and Baganda of the Great Lakes, the Jukun of Nigeria, and the Bambara of the Western Sudan.

The only one of these where the case of  for Egyptian influence looks at all convincing is amongst the Banyoro, where he draws attention to two significant features:

1. The male members of the royal family are related to the eagle, though there is no eagle clan. Seligman suggests this is a memory of the Egyptian Pharaoh’s membership of the falcon clan.

2. The custom of the King of Bunyoro ‘shooting the nations’ by bow and arrow, which he claims resembles the Egyptian sed festival.

Personal investigations have also shown that there is a ceremonial digging-up of the ground by the king at his accession, a custom which also has its Egyptian counterpart.

The royal family of Bunyoro have strong traditions of having come from the north, and in the royal enclosure at Hoima maintain a carefully attended clump of papyrus as a reminder of their Nilotic origin.

All this does suggest, however remotely, Egyptian influences. Yet the Bunyoro royal line cnnot have reached its present home more than a few hundred years ago and, as Seligman himself obserbed, this makes Egyptian influence unlikely, it being just as probable that these traditions are due to old and widespread African beliefs which affected Egypt as they have affected other parts of Africa.’[30]

To Howe, Nubia appears not as a corridor between sub-Saharan Africa and Ancient Egypt,[31] but remains a forbidding boundary, in line with the dominant paradigm cited above but at deviance with some available specialist readings of the archaeological evidence. For all these statements impressive amounts of secondary sources are paraded. But Howe has simply not spend enough time in the various disciplines his argument touched up, nor looked closely enough once he was there. He misses the feel of the disciplines involved[32] and of their most recent developments. Thus the African origin of mankind is dismissively glossed over in chapter III, but hardly a word here on recent discoveries which have added, to the now generally accepted view that humanisation took place in Africa some three million years ago, the rapidly increasing probability that also the Human Revolution of only fifty thousand years ago, producing modern humans capable of language, art, symbolism, social organisation etc., may well have taken place in Africa, from which now hail our oldest finds of animal representation, paint, sophisticated weaponry like barbed harpoons.[33] Such a probable African background of modern humans (who, for reasons of ultraviolent ray protection, may well have been black-skinned) provides Afrocentrism with a prima facie case too good to be ignored or dismissed of hand.

                        Howe is insufficiently aware of research work now in progress and not yet available in published and canonised books, and his good intentions cannot prevent him from implicitly endorsing a view of world history which is potentially hegemonic, Eurocentric, mythical, and probably demonstrably incorrect.

Polemical overkill

That Howe is ideologically far from neutral is suggested by his style of writing. Far too frequently his good intentions are overtaken by his polemic stance.

                        When he refers to the collectivity of Afrocentrists as a ‘posse’ (a mindless group of henchmen relentlessly pursuing their adversary at the orders of an authoritarian leader)[34] or a ‘pack’ (a noun usually reserved for a collectivity of non-humans, specifically canines), the boundaries of good taste and decency appear to be crossed. This is also the case when, out of sheer philosophical ignorance, the idea of possible African alternatives to binary logic has to be caustically dismissed.[35] Likewise the nostalgic or proud adoption of African and Egyptian names by Afrocentric writers has to be ridiculed by Stephen Howe, as if it incomparably more rational that twentieth century parents, like his own, call their children after a early Christian martyr...[36]

                        Scholarly reputations are also readily sacrificed on the altar of Howe’s indignation vis-?vis Afrocentrism, and the more readily, the less Howe knows of their specialist field. The synthetic, programmatic overview of Afrocentrism by Clyde Ahmad Winters is sarcastically dismissed, but no attention is paid to that same writer’s intriguing linguistic work, published in authoritative international journals, tracing linguistic parallels between West African languages, Asian, and native American contexts, and suggesting an unexpected Asian dimension to the global African presence challenging all accepted geopolitical wisdom.[37] Inevitably, and in rather facile a manner, Herodotus is paraded[38] in the all too familiar manner as the ‘Father of Lies’, whereas more recent reassessment of the amazing extent of objective hsitoriocal fact in Herodotus is ignored.[39] Henry Frankfort, who was one of the greatest Egyptologists[40] and Assyriologists of his generation (less than half a century ago), and whose books still rate as lasting standard works among the specialists, is denounced as ‘outdated’. Frobenius, one of the greatest Africanists of his generation (early twentieth century) who has been the main single intellectual influence upon Afrocentrism,[41] is depicted as of negligible intellectual capabilities, of damaging influence even on European Africanism, hardly taken seriously by the specialists, and an art thief to boot.[42] Sergi, a highly original physical anthropologist of the early twentieth century, is filed by Howe as merely ‘long-forgotten and academically discredited’.[43]

                        What Howe does not realise is that all these ancient and modern scholars have one thing in common, which makes them unwelcome in the common-sense, main-steam paradigmatic world to whose authority Howe appeals. They all had the ability to think across established cultural and geopolitical boundaries, whether this means discerning African linguistic traits in Asia (Winters), explaining the origin of the Persian wars in a complex context encompassing the entire Ancient World (Herodotus), or lumping Egypt and Mesopotamia in one grand argument (Frankfort’s Kingship and the gods),[44] or stressing the essential continuity between West Africa, North Africa, and Europe, when it comes to kinship somatic traits,[45] kinship patterns and symbolism.[46] Not surprisingly, Howe’s villains appear as intellectual hero’s in one of my own books in progress.[47]

Transcontinental influences

The case of Frobenius is particularly instructive. In addition to other allegations (some of which may be only too true but none of which should be treated anachronistically), Howe reproaches Frobenius[48] for stressing outside influences on African cultures. Such emphasis on Frobenius’s part certainly does not fit in with the Afrocentrist orientation, yet is the inescapable implication of global cultural exchanges percolating since at least the Upper Palaeolithic. In fact, the contention which dogmatically denies non-African influences on African cultures could be presented as a fifth mainstream paradigm, but one that happens to be adopted by the Afrocentrists too. In my opinion, the hegemonic background of this contention lies in a combination of two ideological stances: the North Atlantic tendency to an absolute othering of things African, which does not tolerate to be polluted by transcontinental connections; and the compensation for a guilty feeling about the violation of African dignity in the context of the transactlantic slave-trade and colonialism: ‘After all that happened, let us at least grant Africans the right to their own unadulterated identity’. Yet Africa has been part of the world since the origin of mankind; and transcontinental exchanges in human culture have been the hallmark of human history, also as far as Africa is concerned.[49]


I chose a question as the title of this paper: Is there a future for Afrocentrism after the book by Stephen Howe? It is time for an answer.

                        Let us be grateful to Howe for having given us a serious scholarly study of the background and contents of Afrocentrism as a case of intellectual history. His devastating political and ideological critique of Afrocentrism has been inspired by the best of intentions, by concern not only for the future of scholarship and education but also by abhorrence at the thought of Black intellectuals retreating into an intellectual ghetto. Contrary to Bernal, who tends to be right for the wrong reasons,[50] Howe can be said to be wrong for the right reasons. His book does not put paid to Afrocentrism; and I am pleased to report, as a sign of profound commitment and intellectual integrity on Howe’s part, that he was obviously pleased when at the conference where the present paper was originally delivered, I stated the case for the possible empirical truth of some of the most cherished Afrocentrist theses. Beyond the racism, the bad scholarship, and the entrenched intellectual isolationism as admittedly negative features of current Afrocentrism, glows the promise of a bright future, where thanks to Afrocentrism’s inspiring reversal of accepted hegemonic paradigms, we may hope to come much closer to the empirical, demonstrable truth concerning such contributions to mankind’s world-wide culture as have emerged, over the millennia, from the African continent.


[1]              An oral version of this paper was presented at the Colloque sur l’Afrocentrisme, Centre de Recherches Africaines, Universit?de Paris I (Sorbonne), 2nd May 2000; I am grateful to Richard Banégas, François-Xavier Fauvelle, Claude-Hélène Perrot, and the journal Politique Africaine for their invitation; and to Stephen Howe for a generous response, and for hours of friendship spent together in Paris.

[2]              Howe, Stephen, 1999, Afrocentrism: Mythical pasts and imagined homes, London/New York: Verso, first published 1998.

[3]              Fauvelle, F.-X., 1996, L’Afrique de Cheikh Anta Diop, Paris: Karthala; Fauvelle-Aymar, F.-X., Chrétien, J.-P., & Perrot, C.-H., 2000, eds., Afrocentrismes: L’histoire des Africains entre Égypte et Amérique, Paris: Karthala

[4]              Cf. Lefkowitz, M.R., & MacLean Rogers, G., eds, 1996, Black Athena revisited, Chapel Hill & London: University of North Carolina Press; and far more positively towards Bernal: Berlinerblau, J., 1999, Heresy in the University: The Black Athena controvery and the responsibilities of American intellectuals, New Brunswick etc.: Rutgers University Press.; van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1996, ‘Black Athena and Africa’s contribution to global cultural history’, Quest — Philosophical Discussions: An International African Journal of Philosophy, 1996, 9, 2 / 10, 1: 100-137; van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1997, ed., Black Athena: Ten Years After, Hoofddorp: Dutch Archaeological and Historical Society, special issue, Talanta: Proceedings of the Dutch Archaeological and Historical Society, vols 28-29, 1996-97, now being reprinted in expanded form as Black Athena Alive, Hamburg/Muenster: LIT Verlag, 2001; also cf. W.M.J. van Binsbergen, 2000, ‘Dans le troisième millénaire avec Black Athena?’, in: Fauvelle-Aymar et al., Afrocentrismes, o.c., pp. 127-150.

[5]                Lefkowitz, M.R., 1996, Not out of Africa: How Afrocentrism became an excuse to teach myth as history, New York: Basic Books. In addition to their shared views of Afrocentrism and Black Athena (cf. Howe, Afrocentrism, o.c., p. 9f), there is a very striking literal parallel between Lefkowitz and Howe: both present, aneccdotically, the picturesk detail of their dismal conversation with an Afrocentrist Black girl student, who in Lefkowitz’s case claims for a fact that Socrates was Black (Lefkowitz, M.R., 1996, ‘Ancient history, modern myths’, in: Lefkowitz & MacLean Rogers, Black Athena revisited, o.c., pp. 3-23; p. 3), in Howe’s case (Afrocentrism, o.c., p. viii) turns out to be ignorant of centuries of West African gold mining and trading. One can only wonder why the combination of Black, female, and ignorant would be so irresistable and infuriating at the same time, to both writers.

[6]              Yet dismissive statements of this nature need to be made with the greatest care. E.g. when Howe declares that no Arocentrist has ever done a serious study opf an African society (neither has Howe), he contradict himself when discussing (Howe, Afrocentrism, o.c., p. 219) The Rebirth of African Civilization by the later Afrocentrist Chancellor Williams (Washinton D.C., 1961), as precisely such a study.

[7]              E.g. Howe, Afrocentrism, o.c., p. 112 n. 9, 226. 

[8]              Howe, Afrocentrism, o.c., p. 6.

[9]              With some but not total exaggeration; cf. van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1981, Religious Change in Zambia: Exploratory studies, London/Boston: Kegan Paul International; van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1992, Tears of Rain: Ethnicity and history in central western Zambia, London/Boston: Kegan Paul International.

[10]            Original footnote deleted.

[11]            Original emphasis.

[12]            Vansina, J., 1983, ‘Is elegance proof? Structuralism and African history’, History in Africa, 10: 307-348, p. 342.

[13]            van Binsbergen, Black Athena: Ten Years After, o.c.; ‘Dans le troisième millénaire’, o.c.; van Binsbergen, W.M.J., forthcoming, Global Bee Flight: Sub-Saharan Africa, Ancient Egypt, and the World — Beyond the Black Athena thesis.

[14]            Cf. footnote 5.

[15]            Cf. Santos, J. dos, 1901, ‘Ethiopia oriental, and Eastern Ethiopia’, in: Theal, G.M., ed., Records of South Eastern Africa, Cape Town: Government of the Cape Colony, vii, pp. 1-182 [reprint of the original edition of 1609], 183-383 [English translation ].

[16]            van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1991, ‘Becoming a sangoma: Religious anthropological field-work in Francistown, Botswana’, Journal of Religion in Africa, 21, 4: 309-344, p. 314.

[17] Van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1994, ‘Divinatie met vier tabletten: Medische technologie in Zuidelijk Afrika’, in: van der Geest, J.D.M., ten Have, P., Nijhoff, G., en Verbeek-Heida, P., red., De macht der dingen: Medische technologie in cultureel perspectief, Amsterdam: Spinhuis, pp. 61-110; Van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1995, ‘Four-tablet divination as trans-regional medical technology in Southern Africa’, Journal of Religion in Africa, 25, 2: 114-140; Van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1996, ‘Transregional and historical connections of four-tablet divination in Southern Africa’, Journal of Religion in Africa, 26, 1: 2-29; Van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1996, ‘The astrological origin of Islamic geomancy’, paper read at The Society for the Study of Islamic Philosophy and Science/ Society of Ancient Greek Philosophy 15th Annual Conference: ‘‘Global and Multicultural Dimensions of Ancient and Medieval Philosophy and Social Thought: Africana, Christian, Greek, Islamic, Jewish, Indigenous and Asian Traditions’’, Binghamton University, New York, Department of Philosophy/ Center for Medieval and Renaissance studies; Van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1996, ‘Time, space and history in African divination and board-games’, in: Tiemersma, D., & Oosterling, H.A.F., red., Time and temporality in intercultural per­spective: Studies presented to Heinz Kimmerle, Amsterdam: Rodopi, pp. 105-125; Van Binsbergen, W.M.J., in press, ‘Board-games and divination in global cultural history: A theoretical, comparative and historical perspective on mankala and geomancy in Africa and Asia’, in: Finkel, I., red., Ancient board-games, Londen: British Museum Publications; van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1999, ‘Islam as a constitutive factor in so-called African traditional religion and culture: The evidence from geomantic divination, mankala boardgames, ecstatic religion, and musical instruments’, paper for the conference on ‘Transformation processes and Islam in Africa’, African Studies Centre and Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World, Leiden, 15 October, 1999, forthcoming in: Breedveld, A., van Santen, J., & van Binsbergen, W.M.J., eds., Islam and transformations in Africa.

[18]            o.c.

[19]            Bernal, M., 1987, Black Athena: The Afroasiatic roots of classical civilization, I, The fabrication of ancient Greece 1787-1987, Londen: Free Association Books/New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press; Bernal, M., 1991, Black Athena: The Afro-Asiatic roots of classical civilization, II, The archaeological and documentary evidence, Londen: Free Association Books/New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.

[20] Bernal, Black Athena, I, o.c.; Burkert, W., 1992, The orientalizing revolution: Near Eastern influence on Greek culture in the Early Archaic Age, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, originally published as: Die orientalisierende Epoche in der griechischen Religion und Literatur, Heidelberg: Winter; Evangeliou, C., 1994, When Greece met Africa: The genesis of Hellenic philosophy, Binghamton: Institute of Global Studies; James, G.G.M., 1973, Stolen legacy: The Greeks were not the authors of Greek philosophy, but the people of North Africa, commonly called the Egyptians, San Francisco: Julian Richardson Associates, first edition New York: Philosophical Library, 1954; Lefkowitz, M.R., 1996, Not out of Africa: How Afrocentrism became an excuse to teach myth as history, New York: Basic Books; Palter, R., 1996, ‘Black Athena, Afrocentrism, and the history of science’, in: Lefkowitz, M.R., & MacLean Rogers, G., ed., Black Athena revisited, Chapel Hill & Londen: University of North Carolina Press, pp. 209-266; Preus, A., 1992, Greek Philosophy: Egyptian origins, Binghamton: Institute of Global Cultural Studies; West, M.L., 1971, Early Greek philosophy and the Orient, Oxford: Clarendon.

[21]                Lefkowitz & MacLean Rogers, Black Athena revisited, o.c.

[22]            With reference to the work of the Senegalese natural scientist and cultural philosopher C.A. Diop, more than with reference to Bernal’s work (which he does not like any more than he does Diop’s; cf. Appiah, K.A., 1993, ‘Europe upside down: Fallacies of the New Afrocentrism’, Times Literary Supplement, 12 february, pp. 24-25), Appiah rejects the idea of such a continuity, on the grounds of two self-evidences which however are untenable in the light of recent historical research: the claim that Ancient Egypt had only a non-specialised philosophy (a point reiterated by Howe), which moreover is unrelated, in substance, with current African cultural orientations; and the claim that we cannot expect to find, in Africa, cultural continuities extending over a period of three or more millennia — a mere restatement of the dominant paradigm (c) as discussed below. Appiah, In my father’s house, o.c., p. 161f.

[23]            Appiah, In my father’s house, o.c., p. 174; cited in approval in: Bell, R.H., 1997, ‘Understanding African philosophy from a non-African point of view: An exercise in cross-cultural philosophy’, in: Eze, Postcolonial African philosophy, o.c., pp. 197-220, p. 218f, n. 29.

[24]                Kaphagawani & Malherbe, ‘African epistemology’, o.c., p. 209.

[25]            Cf. Howe, Afrocentrism, o.c., p. 115f.

[26]            23?7’ North.

[27]            Howe, Afrocentrism, o.c., p. 4; I would endorse, however, much of Howe’s middle-of-the-road criticism of Bernal’s position, based as usual on extensive reading of the literature on the Black Athena debate. I would however shrink from calling Bernal a ‘theorist’, like Howe does (Afrocentrism, o.c., p. 8); my reasons for this are presented extensively in my ‘Black Athena Ten Years After: Towards a constructive re-assessment’, o.c.

[28]            Howe, Afrocentrism, o.c., p. 130. On p. 173 he cites approvingly the opinion of the anthropologist Benjamin Ray — not to be confused with the Egyptologist John Ray — according to whose non-specialist opinion not a single Egyptian artifact has ever been found in Sub-Sahran East Africa (Ray, B.C., 1991, Myth, Ritual and Kingship in Buganda, Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 196); alas, by the rules of falsificatory logic one counter example is enough to disprove this claim: Breuil, H., 1951, ‘Further details of rock-paintings and other discoveries. 1. The painted rock ‘Chez Tae’, Leribe, Basutoland, 2. A new type of rock-painting from the region of Aroab, South-West Africa, 3. Egyptian bronze found in Central Congo’, South African Archaeological Bulletin, 4: 46-50.

[29]                Wainwright, G.A., 1949, ‘Pharaonic survivals, Lake Chad to the west coast’, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 35: 167 -75; Wainwright had been a major Egyptologist for decades when he began to explore, towards the end of his career, Egyptian influences in sub-Saharan Africa.

[30]            Shinnie, P. L., 1971. ‘The legacy to Africa’, in: Harris, J.R., ed., The legacy of Egypt, 2d ed., Oxford: Clarendon Press, pp. 434-55, p.p. 447f.

[31]            Cf. Adams, W.Y., 1984, Nubia: Corridor to Africa, Princeton: Princeton University Press/London: Lane, first published 1977. For the crucial extent of interior African influences upon the formation and symbolism of first-dynasty Egyptian kingship, cf. Williams, B.B., 1986, The A-group Royal Cemetery at Qustul. Cemetery L: Excavations between Abu Simbel and the Sudan frontier, in: Keith C. Seele, Director, Oriental Institute Nubian Expedition volume III, Part 1, Chicago: Oriental Institute; Williams, B.B., 1996, ‘The Qustul Incense Burner and the Case for a Nubian origin of Ancient Egyptian Kingship, in: Celenko, T., ed., Egypt in Africa, Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art in cooperation with Indiana University Press, pp. 95-97. Without being aware of this, Howe (Afrocentrism, o.c., p. 140) discusses these findings in a way biased by the dominant, Northern-centred and anti-continuity paradigms. That John Iliffe, an excellent modern historian of East Africa but without the slightest authority on ancient Egypt-African relations, writes that ‘Egypt was remarkably unsuccessful in transmitting its culture to the rest of the continent’ (Iliffe, J., 1995, Africans: The history of a continent, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 26; cf Howe, Afrocentrism, o.c., p. 146) should have been appreciated by Howe as another mere restatement of the dominant paradigm, and not as an independent, authoritative, empirical conclusion in its own right.

[32]            For instance, with the sheer difficulty of mastering the relevant scripts and languages, the century-old backlog in publishing primary materials, and the incredibly small number of Egyptologists and Assyriologists in the world (less than a thousand), and their disciplines’ rather too successful insulation from the rapid turnover of theoretical paradigms (functionalism, structuralism, marxism, postmodernism) which since the early twentieth century have affected most other provinces of academia, the rate of obsolescence of intellectual products in Egyptology and Assyriology is far slower than Howe takes for granted (e.g. Howe, Afrocentrism, o.c., p. 225) on the basis of his personal experience with such fields as political and intellectual history, African Studies, etc. 

[33]            Shreeve, J., 1996, The Neandertal enigma? Solving the mystery of modern human origins, New York: Morrow/ Viking, pp. 216f, 257f; Deacon, H. J., 1992, ‘Southern Africa and Modern Human Origins’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, B 337 (1992): 177-183; Deacon, H. & J. Deacon, 1999, Human beginnings in South Africa, Uncovering the Secrets of the Stone Age, Altamira Press: Walnut Creek CA; Anati, E., 1999, La religion des origines, Paris: Bayard; French translation of La religione delle origini, n.p.: Edizione delle origini, 1995, pp. 88f; Anati, E., 1986, ‘The Rock Art of Tanzania and the East African Sequence’, BCSP [ Bolletino des Centro Camuno di Studi Preistorici ] , 23: 15-68, fig. 5-51; Wendt, W.E., 1976, ‘ ‘’Art mobilier’’ from Apollo 11 Cave, South West Africa: Africa’s oldest dated works of art’, South African Archaeological Bulletin, 31: 5-11. In recent months, I have explored the Afrocentric implications of these finds as part of a book manuscript entitled Cupmarks, stellar maps, and mankala board-games: An archaeological and Africanist excusrsin into Palaeolithic world-views.

[34]            Howe, Afrocentrism, o.c., p. 282

[35]            Howe, Afrocentrism, o.c., p. 249; cf. Cooper, D.E., 1975, ‘Alternative logic in ‘’primitive thought’’ ‘, Man, n.s., 10: 238-256; Durkheim, E., & M. Mauss, 1973 (1903), ‘The social genesis of logical operations’, in: Douglas, M., ed, ., Rules & meanings, Harmondsworth: Penguin, p. 32; Salmon, M.H., 1978, ‘Do Azande and Nuer use a non-standard logic?’, Man, n.s., 13: 444-454.

[36]            Howe, Afrocentrism, o.c., p. 247f

[37]            Winters, C.A., 1977, ‘The influence of the Mande scripts on ancient American Writing systems’, Bulletin de  l’IFAN, T39, serie b, no2, (1977): 941-967; Winters, C.A., 1983, ‘Possible Relationship between the Manding and Japanese’, Papers in Japanese Linguistics, 9: 151-158; Winters, C.A., 1984, ‘A Note on Tokharian and Meroitic’, Meroitic Newsletter/Bulletin d’Information Meroitiques, 13 (June 1984): 18-21; Winters, C.A., 1984, ‘The genetic Unity between the Dravidian , Elamite, Manding and Sumerian Languages’, P[roceedings] Sixth ISAS [International Symposium of Asian Studies ] , 1984, (Hong Kong:Asian Research Service, 1985d), pp. 1413-1425; Winters, C.A., 1986, ‘Dravidian and Magyar/ Hungarian’, International Journal of Dravidian Linguistics, 15, no 2.

[38]            Howe, Afrocentrism, o.c., p. 152f.

[39]                Spiegelberg, W., 1927, The Credibility of Herodotus’ Account of Egypt in the Light of the Egyptian Monuments, Oxford: Blackwell; Pritchett, K. 1993, The Liar School of Herodotos, Amsterdam: Gieben; Bernal, Black Athena, I, o.c.

[40]            The measure of Howe’s expertise in the field of Egyptology is indicated by the fact that (albeit on what he claims to be the authority of the non-Egyptologist Michael Mann) he indiscriminately writes (Howe, Afrocentrism, o.c., p. 126) Ma‘at and Macat for the well-known goddess of good measure and equilibrium, mistaking in the latter version of the word the glottal stop for a ‘c’. More importantly, Howe (Afrocentrism, o.c., p. 127) sees Ancient Egypt’s achievements mainly in the spiritual and moral field, ignoring what Egypt gave the world in terms of hydraulic engineering, political organisation, agriculture, myth, culture, law and science... This is not the kind of expertise that should sit in judgement over the specifics of Bernal’s work on Graeco-Egyptian cultural and linguistic interrelations.

[41]            Abiola Irele, F., 1997, ‘Negritude’, in: Middleton, J.M., 1997, ed., Encyclopaedia of Africa south of the Sahara, 4 vols., New York: Scribners, vol. 3, pp. 278-286, p. 281. The founding father of French prehistory, the abb?Breuil, a formidable scholar in his time but of course by now considered as obsolescent, would never have stooped to collaborate with Frobenius if he had not been convinced of the latter’s stature: Frobenius, L., & Breuil, H., 1931, Afrique, Paris: Cahiers de l’Art. For the decisive impact (admittedly, not always for the best) of Frobenius on German African Studies, cf. Haberland, E., ed., 1973, Leo Frobenius 1873-1973, Wiesbaden: Steiner; Jensen, A.E., , 1938/40, ‘Leo Frobenius — Leben und Werk’, Paideuma, 1: 45-58; Luig, U., 1982,  ed., Leo Frobenius: Vom Schreibtisch zum Äquator. Afrikanische Reisen, Frankfurt a.M.; Streck, B., 1995, ‘Leo Frobenius (1873-1938)’In: Frobenius L., Masques, Editions Dapper (Publications No. 23) Paris 1995; Streck, B., 1996, ‘Frobenius’, Deutsche Biographische Enzyklopädie 3. München (1996): 499f; Vajda, L., 1973, ‘Leo Frobenius heute’, Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, 98: 19-29. One of the weaknesses of Howe’s approach is that his academic frame of reference is almost exclusively Anglo-Saxon/Enlgish.

[42]            Howe, Afrocentrism, o.c., p. 167f.

[43]            Howe, Afrocentrism, o.c., p. 34 n. 9, cf. p. 46; unfortunately Howe leaves the reader to guess at the details of Sergi’s downfall.

[44]                Frankfort, H., 1948, Kingship and the Gods: A study of Ancient Near Eastern religion as the integration of society and nature, Chicago: University of Chicago Press; French translation: La royaut?et les dieux: Intégration de la sociét??la nature dans la religion de l’ancien Proche Orient, Paris: Payot.

[45]            Sergi, G., 1901, The mediterranean race: A study of the origin of European peoples, London: Scott; first published as La stirpe mediterranea, 1895.

[46]                Frobenius, L., 1923, Vom Kulturreich des Festlandes, Berlin: Volksverband der Bücherfreunde, Wegweiser-Verlag; Frobenius, L., 1929, Monumenta terrarum, Frankfurt a. Main: Forschungsinstitut für Kulturmorphologie; Frobenius, L., 1931, Erythräa: Länder und Zeiten des heiligen Königsmordes, Berlin/Zürich: Atlantis-Verlag; Frobenius, L., 1954, Kulturgeschichte Afrikas, Zürich: Phaidon; first published Vienna, 1933.

[47]            van Binsbergen, Global Bee Flight, o.c.

[48]            Howe, Afrocentrism, o.c., p. 116.

[49]            For elaborate empirical examples of transcontinental cultural influences upon African cultures, cf. van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1997, ‘Rethinking Africa’s contribution to global cultural history: Lessons from a comparative historical analysis of mankala board-games and geomantic divination’, in: van Binsbergen, Black Athena: Ten Years After, o.c., pp. 221-254; and the literature mentioned in note 17.

[50]            This is the assessment by an anonymous reviewer in the authoritative journal Antiquity, 12/1991: 981; cf. van Binsbergen, W.M.J., 1997, ‘Black Athena Ten Years After: Towards a constructive re-assessment’, in: van Binsbergen, Black Athena: Ten Years After, o.c., pp. 11-64, p. 62f.

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