Afrikan history is hectic. Both in volume, magnitude, presence and…absence. And more absent than present. Because, where is really our contemporary sense of the historical roots of the continent? Obscured, hidden, misinterpreted and forgotten. This is where “When We Ruled” falls down from the Afrikan sky as a gift to knowledge- hungry readers. Written by the Afrikan-British scholar Robert Walker, it is a 700- pages, comprehensive journey through thousands of years of Afrikan history. Yes, I said thousands.
Some of us will happily proclaim Afrika’s greatness, but fall painfully short if asked to give a breakdown of her major achievements throughout time. This has made us uncomfortable to the whole notion of Afrikan history. We simply don’t know it. We’re not even sure if we want to know it. And, when we do get exposed to bits and pieces of it, they remain just that; Bits and pieces. How do we piece them together?
The genius of this book lies in its’ comparative overview of historical events and significant personalities. It covers all regions of Afrika and also includes Afrikan-founded civilizations in Europe and Asia. In line with scholars like Cheikh Anta Diop,Theophile Obenga and Ivan Van Sertima it firmly establishes the Black civilizations in the Nile Valley as the foundation of Afrikan advancement. Advancements that other nations would later destroy and claim as their own achievements. One chapter is devoted to the centrality of Afrikan women as matriarchs, leaders and freedom fighters, a much neglected aspect of history recollection.
The book carries the subtitle “The Ancient and Medieval History of Black Civilisations” and draws lines from Egypt through Carthage in North Afrika, the Nok civilization in West-Afrika, East Afrikan antiquities to Great Zimbabwe. And more than just mere accounts of years and geographical names, the content paints a picture of Afrikan life, tribulations and inventions.
A key word to define the author’s approach would be “thoroughness”. Walker has studied the studies, researched the sources and gathered a wide spectrum of data. The findings in “When We Are Ruled” builds on the immense catalogue of research on Afrikan history over the last 200 years. And it documents some of the controversial discussions these studies have fuelled; Whether Egypt was a Black civilization, where the Greek philosophy has its origin from, how Afrika fell from its greatness. The book is written to suit both the scholar and the layman. Numerous quotes, well researched references, illustrations and a polemic style of presentation make it a true joy to read.
A particularly refreshing point is that the book is written from a genuine Afrikan perspective. For once, Afrikans are not portrayed just as subjects, obstacles, natives or faceless masses, they are active agents in their own reality. Chapter after chapter presents facts you would, indeed, like to know if your sole intention was to study the continent and her people, not justifying an economic theory or trying to make a sensational point. Not an everyday experience this, in other words.
To those who fear this to be a slogan-book, do not worry; It is not a forceful manifest for Afrikan romanticism. Yet, nowhere does the author try to hide behind so-called neutralism. There is a drive behind the writing. An infectious curiosity for detail, fact and source. A quiet appetite for balance.
The book cuts through layers of racist scholarly work that has contaminated even the staunchest Afrikan-minded reader. And it poses a great challenge; What do we do to truly re-educate ourselves about Afrika? And, if we achieve this – what happens next? This is where the book stops and our creative minds, as readers, should take over. Sometimes, getting to know a whole lot also demands a whole lot.
The proverbial lions have got their historians. And we should all be one of them, unveiling the Afrikan history. Or, our-story, rather.
This is a hectic book about hectic history.
In a very good way.
Book: “When We Ruled”
Author: Robin Walker
Publisher: Every Generation Media, London