Black Bartholomew Diaz and Colonial Pedagogy

Marcus Garvey famously proclaimed:

Whilst our God has no color, yet it is human to see everything through one’s own spectacles, and since the white people have seen their God through white spectacles, we have only now started out (late though it be) to see our God through our own spectacles. The God of Isaac and the God of Jacob let Him exist for the race that believes in the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 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.

This is not just a theological proclamation. It is also a pedagogical directive. A properly “liberal” education would recognize that humanity wears a plurality of spectacles. And there is nothing wrong with looking at the world  through the spectacles of Ethiopia.

On 19th December 1931, a British member of the London Missionary Society sends a report back home from Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe). He details educational activities at Hope Fountain, the missionary school he works in. He singles out a piece of historical composition by one young Black-African student, which reads:

Bartholomew Diaz is the first black man who went to a new land. He started away by sailing on the sea in West Africa; he went for many days in the sea. His servants were afraid. They said to him let us go back. They were afraid because many days they never see land. Bartholomew Diaz said to them, will you be kind let us go for few days. When they still walking the storm came blow them back where they know not where they are. He began to sail in the West Africa until they see a green land and beautiful hills. He called this land Cape of Good Storm.

There is nothing wrong with this historical report. The student presumes that the first human to “discover” and sail round the southern tip of Africa was Black. And in all probability, wasn’t that the case?

In 1488 Bartholomew Diaz, the Portuguese explorer, is tasked to seek out the ancient Christian Ethiopian kingdom of Prester John. By 1931 it is not unusual at all to come across “Ethiopian” churches in Southern Africa, that is, churches that have decided to worship God through the spectacles of Ethiopia. One year prior to this report, on November 2nd 1930, Ras Tafari has been crowned in Ethiopia as Qedemawi Haile Selassie, King of King, Lords of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah. And there is oral evidence to suggest that at the time some people in Southern Rhodesia have sighted up Selassie I as the Black redeemer featured in Revelations.

So why should this child not presume that Diaz is Black? And that Africans return to themselves? Is she not relating an African story, one that she is part of, one that she wants to make sense of for herself, one that is owned by more spectacles than white?

Everything that is wrong about colonial pedagogy – that selfish pedagogy that uses only one pair of spectacles, that pedagogy that still controls our schools and universities – is represented in the condescending comments of the missionary regarding this child’s historical comprehension:

Our old hero Bartholomew Diaz has figured in many compositions but never perhaps to greater effect than in the present one. That he should have unfortunately got mixed up with Columbus is to be regretted and we trust that the present composition will not create any bad feeling between these two great explorers in the land of shades.

Black history does not even deserve a comment.

But fear not. Those things that have been hidden from the “wise” and “prudent” have been revealed unto the babes.

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