My Quick Take On “They Came Before Columbus”

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On July 7, 1987, a Guyanese-born scholar and historian appeared before Congress. His aim was simple: to separate history from myth by demonstrating conclusively that Christopher Columbus was not the first voyager to ‘discover’ the Americas, that in fact he was preceded by seafaring African nomads several centuries before. The man’s name was Ivan Van Sertima, and this book is the brilliant compilation of research that informed his groundbreaking speech on that summer day in Washington. Written in an elegant, academic manner with a literary flair, Van Sertima makes a stunning case for pre-Columbus, African contact with Mesoamerican cultures which, when viewed in its totality, stands as incontrovertible evidence. Such a claim requires multiple threads of corroborating research, and Van Sertima does not disappoint. He discusses ‘Negroid’ artifacts, linguistic and religious parallels between Egypt and Central American cultures, testimonials of Portuguese sailors and even royal court documents from Mali. Through Van Sertima’s fastidious detective work, an amazing picture of the early Americas emerges, one that is perhaps not in favor with popular colonial history (something which the author is not timid in pointing out) but nonetheless warrants our attention.

A people’s history is often the sum of its most popular stories, and They Came Before Columbus, in my opinion, offers us a new and dynamic story of American history, one that can only further enrich our appreciation of the cultural exchanges that have happened on this continent for a millennia. Food for thought the next time we get Columbus Day off!


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4 thoughts on “My Quick Take On “They Came Before Columbus”

  1. must be close to 10 years since i read this book. some of the main arguments are still clear in my mind though. the main argument seems irrefutable after reading the book and the fact that he references everything in an academic matter makes it even more bullet proof. too bad that books like this don’t get more attention. someone should do a documentary on this for black history month.

  2. From what i understand, Nordic seafarers also beat Columbus (to North America, specifically)…looking forward to reading this, if i get a chance! i’ve been a little busy reading Eagleton/Zizek/Marx of late, though…

  3. Van Sertima talks about that too, SOH, but he makes the point that they didn’t seem to have had any appreciable impact on the cultures in the Americas, while the Africans demonstrably did…specifically the Egyptians and Nubians!

    Sebastian, the proofs he sets forth are amazing. Remember how he talked about the transmission of the banana and corn? He gets really specific, especially with the linguistic and religious parallels. Given that Africa and North America occupy opposite sides of a conducting Atlantic current, there’s no way any of it is coincidence. The purple dye….the cult of Quetzalcoatl…come on, you can’t say anything to this man!

    1. some of the specifics i forgotten over the past 10 years lol. but i remember the linguistic discussions and cloth print and artifacts, turbans, earrings etc. just way too many correlations for there to not be causation and just be the result coincidences.

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