As a European student I’ve been taught the past history and the culture of Europe, from pre-history to contemporary history, and I knew but nothing about places like Africa.[1]
There’s something called “general culture”, something I can’t escape from or ignore as part of my being human, and although I understand that I might not be able, under any idle circumstances, to acquire all the infinite knowledge of our world, I know I can try.
I’ve realised with great awareness that, even though I’m African, I do not have any tangible knowledge about the African continent.

I have some interest in pre-colonial Africa, I’m eager to know the context in which African culture developed, but it seems to me that all I’ve been taught is the history of this continent from colonialism onwards. It seems that the way African history is portrayed in the western world, or at least in Europe, is an assumption; somehow there is this idea that history started on this continent with colonialism. This is wrong! Not only this picture limits the material information to one’s cultural knowledge, but it also create biases on how Africa is seen. For me what this did was to shape pre-colonial Africa as a barbaric and uncivilised world, where I couldn’t picture human beings without associating them to brutes.
The outcome is not right and it’s not good. It’s not good for those students who do not carry out further research about what they study once they are out of their classrooms; it’s not right for all those people in that mighty continent, who shaped and created tradition and material culture that still live on.
From my own school experience, I can say that the information I was given and what I was taught about pre-colonial Africa was related to slavery and slave trade. So, how can one form a critical knowledge about a place when biased by just one picture?
At the moment I’m reading History and Archaeology in undergraduate school and my tutor never gets tired to tell us that no matter how much we think we know, no matter how many versions of the story we might actually know, we will always be biased in our ideas and theories. This happens not because we are not able to be impartial, but because it’s in the human nature to be prejudiced, regardless. Agreed! So, isn’t this the reason why we need to know the full version of the story? Don’t we need to know the whole history of Africa so we can actually be aware of what we decide to stand for, which version of the story to stand for?
I recently started reading Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, as a means to understand pre-colonial Africa. Now, one would not have to reach the hundredth page to notice that the people described in it are more than evolved. I say this with triumph but also with sadness. It’s sad because in my mind I’ve always overlooked this part of the history, some of us have wrongly shaped into slave every being in pre-colonial Africa; however triumph is to be found in the realisation that there is a more profound and rich version of the story.

I worry that not teaching or at least introducing the whole (hi)story to the young ones, prevent them from acknowledging the other version of the story, taking away from them the ability to think critically about one of the main places of human activity and civilisation.

[1] Dear reader, please note that what I’m writing about (and what I write about in general) is fruit of my own experience as individual, therefore I do not intend (at least not intentionally) to speak for or on behalf of others (unless otherwise stated). Be aware that this post/blog does not pretend to reflect everyone’s experience except my very own.