MINNEAPOLIS – Twin Cities residents got a rare glimpse of radical African history earlier this month when Afrifest hosted its Pan-African Historical Exhibit at the Powderhorn Park Recreational Center.
The architect of the exhibition was Dr. Joseph Mbele, a Tanzanian Professor of English at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. From ancient Egypt’s famed civilization to the murkier Great Zimbabwe, from the anti-colonialist movements to the origins of traffic lights, viewers were reminded of Africa’s contributions to global history and culture.
“Ignorance about Africa afflicts Africans and non-Africans alike,” said Mbele.
“How many people know that Matthew Henson, a black man, reached the North Pole before Robert Peary, the famous explorer? How many people know that Garrett A. Morgan, again a black man, invented the traffic light?”
“I had no idea about that; we see and use traffic lights every day I’ll think about that every time I stop at one from now on,” said Abdi Guled, 18, of Minneapolis.
According to Mbele, the need for Africans to take pride in their history is essential but reaching that goal requires removing the myths surrounding our history.
“I doubt many Africans have a clear idea of their cultural identity today,” said Biniyam Zenaw, 32, of St Paul.
The Pan-African exhibition moved beyond mapping out overlooked achievements, it pondered a way out of the trappings of simplistic pessimism. Continuing political strife, hunger and disease continue to dominate the discourse on Africa and this might be the greatest hurdle to the reassertion, not only of our history, but also of our humanity.
If as Mbele says, ignorance about Africa affects the global village then it is on this scale that Africans must proclaim the complexity of their history. Afrifest’s Pan-African History Exhibition was a small step in the right direction.