The late Pan Africanist, Scholar and Revolutionary Kwame Ture’ once stated that, one should not judge Christianity by its practitioners; but by its principles. A cursory glance at the hideous use of the religion in the name of slavery and colonialism underscores the wisdom of his argument.
While western interpretations of the faith has led to the most horrific expressions of man’s inhumanity to man, the actual historical contributions of Africans to the faith has been buried beneath the contemporary narrative of a European genesis. It is past time to exhume the skeletal remains of an epic legacy of African expressions of faith in the ultimate intangible (God).
Biblical scholar are in unison with Genesis Chapter 10’s point that the Egyptians, Libyans and Ethiopians, are all descendants of Ham (Noah’s Son). Their biblical names are as follows: Mizraim, Put, & Cush. In fact, it is estimated that the name Cush appears in the Bible a reputed 52 times. When we study these origins ethnographically, we are confronted with an indisputable fact that Africa and Western Asia (The Middle East) figure quite prominently in the evolution of the christian faith.
While there are some detractors that will no doubt argue that since there has been no proof that biblical figures ever existed, the scriptures should be easily dismissed. Whether you believe or not, is not as important as the beginning premise of an African presence in the opening chapter of the Bible.
But before you dismiss this basic premise as a shallow attempt at Afrocentricity for the purpose of ego gratification, you might want to examine this irrefutable fact. The Cushites were renamed by the Greeks as Ethiopians.
According to Dr. Allen Callahan, Professor of New Testament Studies at Brown University, the name means the land of the burnt faced people. Dr. Callahan further states that Greek travelers alleged that these people: “tended to be tall, dark, beautiful people.” In his recitations of Greek observations, he states that these people were also fierce warriors. He goes on to opine that this culture was the quintessence of civilization.
Dr. Roland Werner disagrees. Not with the assertions, but with the location. He argues that Cush was actually the Sudan; yet another race of dark skinned people. The locations as laid out by Genesis Chapter 10 seems to corroborate some of the most monumental events occurring in the African world as the faith began to spread. The first of which is the martyrdom of three North African female saints in the 3rd Century: Nymphamo, Felicitas, and Perpetua. This was about 100 years before the religion was named at Antioch.
If Africans were adverse to Christianity, they sure had a funny way of showing it. When Abraham found his way into Egypt, the Africans made sure this Christian patriarch did not starve to death after an arduous trek from his home.
Additionally, according to 2nd Kings Chapter 19, an Ethiopian King by the name of Tirharka aided King Hezekiah in his military campaign against the Assyrians. Arguably, had it not been for the Africans, there would be no good news (Gospels).
Given this context, it is no surprise that the Roman Province in Northern Africa brought the world its first Black Popes: Pope Victor I(189 to 199), Pope Miltiades (311 to 314) and Pope Gelasius I(492 to 496) . It also brought gave the world one of its’ most prophetic voices: Quovultdeus
Quovultdeus lived in Carthage around 407 AD and became a deacon in 421 AD. He was a correspondent with Augustine of Hippo, his spiritual teacher. Augustine would dedicate some of his writings to Quodvultdeus. Due in part to his faith, Quovultdeus would later be driven into exile in Italy where he died and was buried in the San Gennaro Catacombs in Naples.
But it would be disingenuous to mention the heights of African contributions to the faith without a critical examination of European ascendancy in christianity as radical usurper of African people’s belief in christian theology. Starting with the Council of Bishops in Nicea in 325 A.D. Roman Emperors such as Constantine began to merge state power with the religion to create an unholy derivation known today as Christendom.
This philosophy in short propounds, that the power of God’s word resides in the might of the state. Thus, as a self appointed emissary of God, it is the responsibility of the state to enforce God’s word upon others by the coercive threat of arms. This philosophy legitimizes the theft of foreign lands, genocide of indigenous cultures, and the institution of xenophobic regimes by labeling the conquered as infidels or heathens.
This brings us to the most horrendous violation of the faith: anthropomorphism. In other words, the creation of an image of God synonymous with that of the conqueror. An act which is expressly prohibited in the 10 Commandments.
As Europe became a mighty maritime superpower, its domination expanded over the known world. Accompanying its imperial ambitions were the sword, the gun, and the cross. Whether it was the Portuguese, Spanish, the British, or the French, all were united in their desire to conquer in the name of the lord.
With the expansion of European colonialism came a gospel of dominion based in part around the travels of the Apostle Paul in Europe and Asia Minor. As a result of, or maybe in collaboration with European colonial power, the images of the saints, prophets, and disciples took on the distinct reflections of 14th, 15th and 16th Century Europeans.
The fact that these images contradicted those described in the Bible was of no consequence to the artists. They simply increased their distribution to keep pace with the rapid conquest of foreign lands. These images posed a most interesting question. If Jesus is white and the Son of God, then is God necessarily white? In the psyche of millions of Europeans in the Western Hemisphere, the answer is a quiet, yet resounding yes!!!
This rationalization required an ideology that necessitated the submission of all non-white people on the planet; especially those of African descent. This was readily supplied with the fabled Curse of Ham. The myth went something like this. When Noah’s son Ham gazed upon a drunken Noah and mocked his nakedness, Noah cursed the children of Ham with black pigmented skin color and doomed them to be hewers of wood and drawers of water for his brothers. Thus. we have the rationale that supported European Chattel Slavery and the mass extermination of over 50 million Africans in the name of civilization and modernity.
If this myth existed in the absence of social calcification, its effects would have been equivalent to that of a mosquito at a bar-be-que. But with the presence of white power enforcing its edicts of black subjugation at the barrel of a gun, western society erected a racial caste system on the backs of over 100 million Africans scattered throughout the diaspora. This subjugation was codified by law and reinforced by a barrage of negative depictions of blacks as subhuman.
Creating a shell game of racial amalgamation, white society proposed that integration of blacks in America be premised upon the total acceptance of its Eurocentric colonized version of Christianity, which came with its own dalit status. Such an acceptance, if there ever was one, would cost African-Americans their identity as complete human beings.
In this atmosphere of spiritual suppression and political nullification, it would be easy for one to conclude that Africans did not dissent against this monstrous perversion of the scriptures. One would be wrong. In fact, one of the earliest critics of European Christianity was Ethiopian Philosopher Zera Yacob.
Yacob opined that the European was using Christianity as a means to cover their theft of other people’s lands. And in direct opposition to the misuse of the admonition of a slave to obey his master, Yacob defines slavery as an evil institution unworthy of any consideration of legitimacy. He was not alone.
Kimpa Vita (1684 – 2 July 1706), was a Kongolese Noble and leader of her own indigenous christian movement on the continent. Her teachings grew out of the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church of the Kongo Empire, as well as, Kongolese cultural traditions.
In an exegesis that proceeded the arrival of both Garveyism and the Nation of Islam by over a century, Vita argued that Jesus Christ was black, that the holy land was in the Kongo, and that God and the angels were also black. Kimpa Vita is seen as an antislavery figure. She was martyred when she was burned at the stake as a “witch” in the then capital of Evululu in 1706.
In the west, Blacks followed suit with over 250 slave rebellions led by preachers like Nat Turner, Gabriel Prosser and Denmark Vesey. Undeterred by the innumerable amount of European images in Christianity, blacks were able to create a version of the faith that informed the very foundations of their struggle for liberation in the Americas.
Revolutionary Pan Africanist Marcus Garvey put it quite bluntly when he stated that:
” We Negroes believe in the God of Ethiopia, the everlasting God – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, the One God of all ages. That is the God in whom we believe, but we shall worship Him through the spectacles of Ethiopia.”
Garvey’s recrafting of the christian faith as a liberating force for Africans throughout the diaspora was seized upon by organizations like the Nation of Islam, the Moorish Temple of Science, and the Shrine of the Black Madonna. In the latter half of the 20th century, this would come to be known as Black Liberation Theology. As such, it stood as an explicit critique of the incredulous notion that Christianity is the exclusive property of “the white man.”
According to Dr. Edwin Yamauchi of Miami University, the African presence is scattered throughout the Bible. In his ground breaking work, Africa and the Bible, he makes it plain that the myth of the cursed race, is just that, a myth. It was a myth established by the Arabs, but institutionalized by the European.
Christianity is not the white man’s religion. Africans were practicing principles of Christianity when no one was using the word. How else could they have given refuge to the patriarch of Judaism, Christianity and Islam? How else could they have granted political asylum and protection to an illiterate Arab fleeing persecution from his own tribe? How else could they have erected one of the oldest christian churches known to man (The Ethiopian Coptic Church)?
Until African people are reinstated back into the respectful commentary of history, we will never appreciate the impact of our contributions on society, much less realize our greatest potential to change the prevailing social order. We will forever exist in a prison of amnesia as captives of a people living on the myth of our inferiority.
TONY MACEO is a Senior Blogger at the Negromanosphere, and the Chief Blogger at Power & Strategy.com. Like and Share the articles. Subscribe to the website. Support on Patreon @Powerofstrategies or on Paypal @firstname.lastname@example.org. Till Next Time, I’ll Holla!