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We Came Before Columbus



“Fake news,” if let to stand unchallenged long enough, becomes fake history and gets to be taught in school and taken as fact. Such is the case with the canard that Christopher Columbus “discovered” the North American continent. He was the second European after Viking explorer Lief Erickson, but he came later than voyagers from the African Continent.

Dr. Ivan Van Sertima, author of They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America, has written about two periods of African influences in the early Americas. First came those who influenced the Olmec civilization, and the second period was probably the result of Mandingo voyages in the 1300’s. In these excerpts from an interview with the OTP publishers in October in 1997 at his home in Highland, NJ, he elaborated on his findings of evidence. DG


Ivan Van Sertima: What startled me most and I think I have said that before, was to find that Columbus was the chief witness.

He actually wrote in his Journal of the Second Voyage that when he was in Haiti, the Native Americans came to them and told them that Black-skinned people had come from the south and southeast trading in gold-tipped metal spears. Columbus may not have believed but he actually sent two of these spears back to Spain and they were inspected microscopically in Spain and found to be identical, not just similar, identical, in their ratio of gold, silver and copper alloys to spears being forged in Guinea.  They were composed of thirty-two parts – 18 of gold, 6 of silver and 8 of copper.


And all the words for the spears had identical sounds that Africans were using on the other side of the Atlantic.  Now how can you argue with that?  And as I probed further into the matter, I discovered that it was not just Christopher Columbus but a dozen Europeans who claimed they saw, or heard from other Europeans who saw, these Africans.  My critics claim this is just an Afrocentric theory.  Then Columbus and his son and all the explorers who came, who saw, who conquered, were all Afrocentrics, if one follows the logic of this silly argument.

Ferdinand Columbus, one of the four sons of Columbus, said, “My father told me he saw Negroes north of Honduras”. Then there is Vasco Nunez de Balboa coming down the slopes of Quarequa, which is near Darien, which we now call Panama. We have it down to the day -September 25, 1513. He sees two tall Black men among the Native Americans. This is not the era of the African Slave Trade.

The Spanish were utterly startled (so startled that four of them comment on it) and they asked the natives from whence did these Black men come. They did not know. All that they knew was that they lived in a large settlement nearby and they were waging war with them and had captured these two. These Africans are described in detail. Exceedingly Black, a foot and a half taller than the average Native American, of military bearing.

Peter Martyr, the first historian of the European contact period, said that these Blacks must have been shipwrecked long ago from Africa (he called it Ethiopia, which was then a general word for Africa from the word aethiops, meaning burnt skin). You also have other commentators like Lopez de Gomara, who wrote that, “These Blacks Balboa saw were identical with the Blacks we have seen in Guinea”. Rodrigo de Colmenares reported that one of the captains of Balboa saw Blacks “east of the Gulf of San Miguel”.

Then Alphonse de Quatrefagos, author of “The Human Species”, presents us with a map drawn by a French sea captain, Kerhallet, showing independent Black settlements in the area later called Brazil.  Also at the tip of Florida and on the island of St. Vincent.  This can account for the Charruas of Brazil, the Jamassi of Florida and the Black Caribs of St. Vincent.  They were all pre-Columbian Black settlements. Captain Kerhallet presents a map of these settlements and that is the area, that very area, that is the endpoint or terminus of currents flowing in across the Atlantic from Africa.  The Africans appeared exactly where the ocean current from Africa takes you.


Few people are aware that there are natural sea-roads, I call them “marine conveyor belts”. That is what they really are. Once you are caught in these currents and you do not have an engine (and no one had engines at that point in time), you have to come to America. The better your ship and knowleOTPe of the ocean, the more likely you will come on purpose. The worse your ship and seamanship, the more likely you’ll come by mistake. It is clear when you look at this map.

OTP:  That’s a very powerful map. That map of the currents.   As soon as you see it, you say, “Yes, that’s right.”

IVS: There is also evidence in the form of a map which as early as 1448, roughly half a century before Columbus, shows both the outline of Brazil as well as the relatively exact distance of Brazil from the West African coast.  So there you have it – eyewitness accounts, metallurgical evidence, linguistic evidence, botanical evidence, cartographic evidence (the map), oceanographic evidence (the currents that sweep you from Africa to America), skeletal, oral, documented, and above all, iconographic evidence; that is, paintings and sculptures of these people which show clearly, except to those who refuse to see, all the features we associate with the African. There is also, as I mentioned, the epigraphic evidence, the script I found on the rock at St. John’s in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

OTP: What about the boats they came in?  Tarzan movies give millions of people the impression that African navigational development stopped at the canoe.

IVS: Both ancient and medieval African boats have been tested on the Atlantic sea routes to America and crossed the ocean successfully. Thor Heyerdahl, with the help of Buduma boatmen on Lake Chad, rebuilt a pre-Christian African craft – a papyrus reed boat- and crossed the Atlantic successfully. Hannes Lindemann discovered that Africans had enormous dugouts as large as Viking ships.  Lindemann tested one of these and made it to America in 52 days, 12 days less than Amerigo Vespucci, even though Vespucci left from an equally favorable starting point on the African-Atlantic coast.


Dr. Alain Bombard rode a life raft, L’Heretique, from Casablanca in North Africa via the Canaries to Barbados in 1952 without stocking up with adequate supplies of food and water, with only a cloth net for small sea fauna, a fishing line with hook for little tunny and two spears. He also carried a container for collecting water when rain fell. He survived in perfect health.

OTP: Apart from the medieval journeys, you have presented a great deal of evidence for journeys long before Christ.

IVS: Yes, yes. That is the most important section of my new book – the section on the Olmec. The Olmec is the first major civilization in America.

OTP: Your critics claim that you said African Egyptians founded the Olmec civilization.

IVS: That is a naked and nasty lie, I have never said so.  The Native Americans created their own civilization. I pointed to contact with Old World peoples – in this case, the Egypto-Nubian.  I demonstrated a number of remarkable coincidences between their ritual complexes and even a few of their technological developments.  I spoke of an influence.  All contacts between two peoples lead to influences.  But I never claimed they brought civilization to Americans.  That is a very Eurocentric type of claim.  I pointed to specific elements in Nile Valley civilization (both Egyptian and Nubian) which are found as early as the era of Ramses III (circa 1200 B.C.) and persist as late as circa 700 B.C., era of the Nubian Renaissance.


OTP: What of the Olmec stone heads?

IVS: About a dozen of these have been found. Now I want to make it clear at the outset of this discussion that not all of these are foreign types.  I lived among Native Americans for the first 12 years of my life, I know them better than my own nuclear family, half of whom I never saw again after my babyhood, not until the teen years of my life.  De Montellano, chief of my critics, claims that all the stone heads are “spitting images of the Native American”.  I do not like to attack my critics personally.  Arguments should be met with arguments, but I have to say in this case, this man is either blind or an idiot.

Apart from the unique combination of nose, cheek, jaw, lips, there is one unhelmeted head with a tuft of Africoid hair and another one with seven braids.  They are very realistically portrayed in spite of their size.  As the head of the first American expedition, Dr. Matthew Stirling said of the first stone head he examined: “Despite its great size, the workmanship is delicate and sure, the proportions perfect.  Unique in character among aboriginal American sculptures, it is remarkable for its realistic treatment. The features are bold and amazingly Negroid.” He got into big trouble with his colleagues for that.  He is now saying that the models for these great stone sculptures were “mythic beings”.

OTP: Unbelievable.  Who in the archeological establishment supported you?

IVS: The only one who is old enough and free of the constraints of his earlier position to tell it like it is, to speak the truth without fear or favor, Dr. Clarence Weiant.  He actually headed the first expedition of the Smithsonian into the Olmec world.  The New York Times, it seemed, trusted no one here to talk about this matter.  But then came the most surprising thing of all. Dr. Clarence Weiant wrote the Times in my defense.  “As someone who has been immersed in Mexican archeology for some 40 years, and who participated in the excavation of the first of the giant heads, I must confess that I, for one, am thoroughly convinced of the soundness of Van Sertima’s conclusions.”


OTP: To think that after all these years and all the work you’ve done, these people are still trying to sabotage you. You defended yourself eloquently before the Smithsonian, you appeared before a congressional committee and got them to delete the word “discovery”, decisively debunking the Columbus myth. You sat on the Nobel Committee of the Swedish Academy for five years to advise on the selection of Nobel laureates in Literature.  You were even invited to join UNESCO. You are the compiler of the first Swahili Dictionary of Legal Terms.  You have edited 12 anthologies on African civilizations. Your poems appear in English, French and German anthologies. Yet there is a raging debate over everything you have written. They are still trying to put you down.

IVS: Well, fighting for a new vision of man, a new vision of history, is worth it, painful though it may be. The warrior’s courage does not protect him from the wound of bullets.  But I have found over time David, that the negatives have been my greatest help.  That is the one lesson I have learned over the years.  The negative is very important.  Oftentimes, it is more important than the positive.  Sometimes if something is highly successful and meets no great opposition, it can make you facile. If it meets with great negatives, it can be even better in the end.  Unless it is destroyed, it is far better that it meets with negatives.  The negative makes you go back to find and check out everything. You find a whole lot of new things. If before you came in with a revolver, the next time you come in with a cannon.

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