His Majesty Otumfuo Osei TuTu 11, Asantehene of Ghana, walks along the Drag at the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain on Emancipation Day. – Photo by Angelo Marcelle
ALTHOUGH slavery would have eternally scarred the psyche, nevertheless, it is not the defining identity of people of African descent or ancestry.
This was the declaration of the Asante King, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, when he spoke at a Distinguished Lecture forum on Thursday at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine campus.
In his full regal garb and accompanied by his full entourage of Asante drummers and dancers, King Tutu II’s back was arrow-straight when he made his statement.
The king said he wanted to dispel any notion that Africans were less than human and designed only to be subjugated. Although the African people are eternally scarred from slavery, that dark period in history would not be the defining identity of people of African descent, he said.
To the rest of the world, Tutu II said, Africa is seen as either a land of colonialism, where European “servants of God” took a primitive people out of the dark ages into the “light of civilisation”; or simply as continent where slaves were sold for the service of the rest of the new world.
“By the narrative given today, nobody would be faulted into believing slavery and colonialism were simply the African phenomena. Nothing could be further from the truth!”
Tutu II said throughout history and all over the world, as civilisations, kingdoms and empires rose and fell, conflict and conquest led to systems of subjugation and enslavement.
“Wars of conquest led to colonialism. Wars also started another phenomenon that has been with us since antiquity – soldiers captured in battle were usually held or sold into slavery,” he said, reiterating that slavery was not an African-only condition.
He pointed out that in one way or another, there isn’t a single state in the world that hasn’t experienced some form of subjugation of its people.
“England was a colony of the Roman empire for four centuries. All countries of Europe – Spain, Portugal, France, Germany and the Vikings of Scandinavia have taken turns in subjugating each other. The United States had to go to full-blown war to free themselves from colonialism,” he said.
“The point I make is to dismiss notions in our minds that the African people were fated to be subjugated and enslaved.”
What set the African experience apart however, is that while many civilisations and people fell under some form of slavery and colonialism throughout history, none could compare to the torture, suffering and savagery meted out to slaves taken from Africa and sent to the new world including the Caribbean.
Nothing could compare to the African experience of seeing an entire continent carved up by European colonists to their benefit. Saying this has led to a form of mass PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), Tutu II said it was an experience from which African people today are still suffering.
“And yet when emancipation came, it was the perpetrators who were compensated and not us – the victims,” he said. “Not only was no possibility of support available, but crucially, no consideration was given to the consequence of centuries of trauma and suffering.”
He noted that several leaders in the emancipation movement including Marcus Garvey have all asserted that no emancipation can truly be possible unless the mind was also set free.
He said while many of the conflicts today stem from the history of several other civilisations, Africa’s history can unite its people.
“If you are involved in the struggle to shape the face of post-emancipation neglect, to overcome poverty and improve the living standards of our people, it remains my view that history shines a light on the path to global peace,” Tutu II said.