Yesterday a Facebook friend updated his page with the words Ivan Van Sertima. I thought he was just dropping knowledge; I didn't know he was paying homage. Afrocentric anthropologist and historian Ivan Van Sertima died on May 25. He had suffered with Alzheimer's disease.
I discovered Van Sertima during a lecture at the University of Colorado at Boulder. In his more popular They Came Before Columbus Van Sertima unearths the west African impact on the Olmec culture of early Mexico. He claims prior to Columbus' 15th century expedition to the Americas, birds from west Africa traveled across the Atlantic on the trade winds to the Caribbean. The birds, according to Van Sertima, brought plenty of seeds in their droppings and helped introduce African plantlife to the Americas. Van Sertima also claims indigenous Americans told European adventurers that "black men" had already paid them a visit, decades ago. From the Golden Age of the Moor to African Presence in Early Europe, Van Sertima provided nourishment to my-hungry-for-Africa youth.
Then I read the criticisms. In the 70s Welsh scientist Glyn Daniel called Van Sertima's findings "ignorant rubbish" and "booksellers should reshelve his works in myth and folklore". Some believed Van Sertima "America" research dismissed the contributions of the indigenous culture. Some believed Van Sertima was a marginalized black man who would do anything to integrate Africa into global history [including create theories that suggests African inspired the Aztec pyramids]. There was an extensive critique of Van Sertima's findings in the 1997 Journal of Current Anthropology. Van Sertima allegedly never responded to the critique.
Hey, I want to believe that Van Sertima's research is more than just manipulated racial fantasy. I want to believe his life was a testament to how important African historical and anthropological inclusion is to the global consciousness.
Keith Josef Adkins is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter and social commentator.