Why And How History Defines Who We Are (Part 2) By Mike Ozekhome, SAN

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INTRODUCTION
In part 1 of this write up, I strongly discussed the importance of history and why it must be introduced into Nigerian schools’ syllabi. It is with great nostalgia I recall our history lectures in most primary and secondary schools.
Can you believe that in the primary school (St. Mary’s Catholic Primary School, now Athekhai Primary School, Iviukwe, my home town, near Agenebode), we were already taught deep history concerning important world affairs.
In Primary School in the rustic village environment of Iviukwe, we were taught by renowned Primary School teachers like Dakpokpo, Iboi, Eshiebor, Obagidi, Mayaki Elomhi, Agwanyeokhai, Kadiri, Akpeokhai, Ikhane, Onemhegbai, Aipoh, etc. One teacher usually took all the subjects, ranging from Arithmetic, English, Civic education, History, Handwriting, to Nature study. We started with chalk on black slates; graduated to using wooden pen holder and later, in primary six, to fountain pen.
We would fetch firewood for our teachers; carry out work in their farms; went through the caves and hills to fetch stagnant spirogyra-infested water for them, which would then be treated with allum. To be a class monitor was a special honour and privilege. And for at least three of my six years in the Primary School, I was one. It was a great honour (to the envy of other pupils), to carry the table, with the class bell on top, from the classroom to the teacher’s house during holidays. What honour was greater than being the class monitor who kept time, rang the bell for morning Assemblies, closing times, prayer times, and recesses.
In Primary School, we acted drama, participated in debates, recited poems, quoted memorised history, etc. Guess what? We acted “The Trials of Brother Jerro” by Wole Soyinka, in my final year (1969) in the Primary School!
SOME DEFINING HISTORICAL FACTS AND FIGURES
Can you believe we were taught about the 300 year old Slave Trade (1856 – 1915), Booker T. Washington, an African-American Educator, Orator, Author and Advisor to many Presidents of America. We were taught that Mary Slessor (1848 – 1915) was a Scottish Presbyterian Missionary to Nigeria, who arrived Calabar, learnt the Efik language and taught the native people Christianity, in their native language. The most famous act Slessor is remembered for is that she stopped the then prevalent practice of infanticide of twins among the Ibibio people. By the time she died in 1915 at a mere 66, she had become famous for Christian missionary working Africa, women’s rights and rescuing children from infanticide.
LADY FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE
Were we not taught about Lady Florence Nightingale (1820 – 1910), the English Social Reformer and founder of modern day Nursing Profession? She organised training courses for Nurses during the Crimean war, caring for wounded soldiers. One of her most famous quotes that we were taught was that “it may seem a strange principle to enunciate as the very first requirement in a hospital that it should do the sick no harm”.
GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER
We studied the history of George Washington Carver (1864 – 1943) in Primary School. A professor at Tuskegee Institute, USA, the African-American Agricultural Scientist and Inventor actively promoted alternative crops to cotton, and developed techniques to improve soils depleted by repeated planting of cotton.
You can see from my reminiscences and recollection of history we learnt about 50 years ago, why I was deeply pained about the deletion of history from Nigerian schools syllabi?
THE SLAVE TRADE
We were also taught about the Atlantic or Trans-Atlantic slave trade, which for about 300 years, led to enslavement and transportation of Africans from their various settlements to mainly America. From the 16th to the 19th centuaries, we witnessed this inhuman, degrading and heinous triangular trade route merchantilism which involved indigenes of mostly of Central and West African countries. Started by the Portuguese in 1526, they completed the first trans-atlantic slave voyage to Brazil, promoting other European countries to follow immediately.
These human slaves were regarded by the transporting ship owners as cargo to be sold in America, to work in coffee, tobacco, sugar, cocoa and cotton plantations. They also worked in gold and silver mines, rice fields, construction industry, etc. They hewed timber for the building of ships. They were used as skilled labour and as domestic servants. The evils of slave trade were perpetrated by the British, French, Portuguese, Dutch and Spanish Empires. Many of these countries established outpost on the African continent where they purchased slaves from local African leaders and merchants.
While awaiting shipment, packed like sardines, slaves were first kept in factories. Over 12 million people were involved in this inhuman exploitation for over 400 years.
We were taken through the trajectory of Abolitionists of slave trade. We read about Thomas Clarkson (1760 – 1846), William Cowper (1731 – 1800), Olaudah Equiano (1745 – 1797), Alexander Falconbridge (1792), Elizabeth Heyrick (1769 – 1831), Toussaint Louverture (1743 – 1803), John Newton (1725 – 1807), Mary Prince.
Serial campaigns, especially by William Wilberforce, led to the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. Wilberforce died just three days after hearing the good news of passage of the Act through Parliament.
It was Abraham Mauri Lincoln, American President, who issued the Emancipation Proclamation. On 1st January, 1863. The passage of the 13th Amendment (ratified in December, 1865) finally abolished slavery in America, with over 50,000 slave freed in Kentucky and Deware.
HENRY THE NAVIGATOR
Let us examine in details the life, times and contributions of Henry the Navigator, another great historical figure we were taught in the Primary School.
Henry the Navigator was born in 1394 in Porto, Portugal.
In 1415, Henry, his father and his older brothers led an attack on Ceuta, a town in Morocco, along the Strait of Gibraltar. The attack succeeded, and Ceuta fell under Portuguese control. Henry became fascinated with Africa, a continent about which the Portuguese knew little. He thereafter developed a desire to learn about the Muslims who lived there, primarily in hopes of conquering them and spreading Christianity. And he became aware of Africa’s many resources, which he hoped to exploit for Portugal’s gain.
Under his patronage, Portuguese crews founded the country’s first colonies and visited regions previously unknown to Europeans. Henry is regarded as an originator of the “Age of Discovery” and dubiously, of the Atlantic slave trade.
NOW THIS
HENRY THE NAVIGATOR’S SIGNIFICANCE IN HISTORY
Henry is often credited with beginning the Age of Discovery, the period during which European nations expanded their reach to Africa, Asia and the America. Henry himself was neither a sailor nor a navigator, his name notwithstanding. He did, however, sponsor many exploratory sea voyages, along the West African Coast. In 1415, his ships reached the Canary Islands, which had already been claimed by Spain. In 1418, the Portuguese came upon the Madeira Islands and established a colony at Porto Santo.
In addition to sponsoring exploratory voyages, Henry is also credited with furthering knowledge of geography, mapmaking and navigation. He started a School for Navigation in Sagres, at the southwestern tip of Portugal, where he employed cartographers, shipbuilders and instrument makers. It was from Lagos, near Sagres, that many of his sponsored trips began.
AND THIS
Henry has the dubious distinction of being a founder of the Atlantic slave trade. He sponsored Nuno Tristao’s exploration of the African coast, and Antao Goncalves’s hunting expedition there in 1441. The two men captured several Africans and brought them back to Portugal. One of the captured men, a chief, negotiated his own return to Africa, promising in exchange to provide the Portuguese with more Africans. Within a few years, Portugal was deeply involved in the slave trade.
Henry died in 1460 in Sagres, Portugal. By the time of his death, Portuguese explorers and traders had advanced as far as the region of modern-day Sierra Leone. It would be another 28 years before Vasco da Gama, under the Portuguese flag, would sail clear around Africa and complete an expedition to India. (To be continued).
THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK
“What is history? An echo of the past in the future; a reflex from the future on the past.” (Victor Hugo).
LAST LINE
I thank Nigerians for always keeping faith with the Sunday Sermon on the Mount of the Nigerian Project, by Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, OFR, FCIArb., Ph.D, LL.D I enjoin you to look forward to next week’s treatise.
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