INTRO: While George Padmore’s contribution to Pan-African ideals had been widely acknowledged, to the extent that he’s often called “The Father of African Emancipation”, it is rarely recognised that Padmore obtained his inspiration from Edward Wilmot Blyden. Blyden himself was preceded, in his perception of the task that faced educated Black people all over the world, by Sylvester Williams, who organised the first-ever Pan-African Conference in London in 1900. This second part of the article on Edward Blyden concentrates on his analysis of the failure of nations that called themselves “Christian”, to accord Africa any value, other than the sum total of the commodities secured fro Africa for commercial purposes.
All their interests in the land of Africa are of a commercial nature, Blyden wrote. Many in Europe and America, ‘with souls more sordid and hearts more avaricious, who are never once troubled by any sentiment of humanity, are interested in Africa only as a scene for plunder and carnage.’
‘From these people,’ Blyden sarcastically pointed out, ‘Africa had had “the most frequent and the most constant visits during the last three centuries.” But all they had done was to spread, all along the coast of the African continent – “formerly the abode of peace and plenty, of industry and love” – arrows, firebrands, and death. In their pursuit of blood – not of beasts but human gore – they had “scattered desolation, and misery, and degradation” into all parts of the land to which they had had access.
They had behaved in such a way that “not infrequently has it occurred that some unfortunate and lonely [African] sufferer, standing amid a scene of desolation (having escaped the cruel chase of the slaver, whose ruthless hands have borne away his relatives and acquaintances) has earnestly cursed ‘civilisation’; [he/she] “has solemnly prayed, as he has stood surveying the melancholy relics of his home, thatan insurmountable and impenetrable barrier – some wall of mountain height – might be erected between his country and all [the so-called] “civilised” nations.’
Blyden further noted that only a few, very few, ‘civilised’ people ‘regarded Africa as a land inhabited by human beings;children of the same common Father, travellers to the same judgement-seat of Christ, and heirs of the same awesome immortality.’ it was these very few, among an enormous number. that had laboured ‘to accelerate the day when Ethiopia shall stretch out her hands unto God!’
Blyden vividly excoriated Africa’s ‘adversaries’ – those who had no sympathy to bestow upon the African. The African’s complexion and hair furnished to these people, conclusive reasons why the African should be excluded from their benevolence (such as it was)! ‘And such persons’, Blyden continued, ‘may be found in “enlightened” countries, professing Christianity, and priding themselves on their ‘civilisation‘ and ‘culture‘.
But did not such feelings rather prove them to be ‘connected rather closely with those remote ages when the extent of one’s clan or tribe or district formed the limit of all his benevolent operations?’ Did their conduct not ‘constantly remind those who met them of their intimate relations with the barbarous past?’ Blyden queried.
There were still others who believed, or affected to believe, that Africans were ‘doomed to degradation and servitude’. Yet, some of these same persons also professed to believe in ‘the regenerating and elevating power of the Gospel’! They would ‘declaim long and loudly, upon the efficiency of Christianity to redeem and dignify man – to spread, wherever it goes, light and liberty, and the blessings of an exalted civilisation”. Yet, in their minds, Africa seemed to form an ‘exception.’
Employing Christian theology at its eloquent best, Blyden proclaimed: ‘Glorious truth…is confined neither to countries nor races. It knows no limits. Who will dare to affirm that Africa will remain in her gloom when the glory of the Lord shall have filled the whole earth?’
Blyden prophesied: ‘Oh! the darkness of many generations seems scattered, and I rejoice in the assurance that the land of slaves shall be the home of freedom!’
He added: “Men talk selfishly and scornfully of the long-continued barbarism and degradation of Africa as if civilisation were indigenous to any country; as if the soil and climate of some countries could give existence, and vitality, and growth to the arts and sciences. If this were the case, we should despair of Africa’s ever-rising from its abject condition. But all the teachings of general and particular history, all individual and national experience, are opposed to such an idea. For there is nothing in race or blood, in colour or hair, that impart susceptibility of improvement to one people over another.”
‘Knowledge which lies at the basis of all human progress comes from heaven. It must be acquired; it is not innate. The intellectual plough and rake must be used, and the good seed introduced. Knowledge must be imparted. As one man learns it from another, so nation learns it from nation.’
Blyden asked, with his tongue firmly in his cheek: “If civilisation were inborn in the Caucasian, as some affirm’ if it was indigenous to all the countries inhabited by the Caucasians, should not every land which Caucasians inhabit be in a high state of civilisation?” But (explained Blyden) “many Caucasian countries were far from such a state: ‘Look at the regions of [the] Siberia [of the time]; of [the then] Lapland. Look at the peasantry of many of the countries of Europe…Why are they so far down in the ‘scale of civilisation’? Why did not their Caucasian nature, if it did not urge them onward to higher attainments, keep them in the same leading positions as other nations?’
Blyden cried out: ‘Shall we here tell you of the sufferings which the slave trade has entailed upon the [people of Africa]? Shall we tell you of their sorrows in the countries of their captivity? The barbarities which the Christian nations of Europe and of America have inflicted, and are now inflicting, upon the Negro, would fill volumes, and they should be written with tears instead of ink, and on sack-cloth instead of parchment.
‘We refer not merely to those physical annoyances and diabolical tortures, and debasing usages, to which, in the countries of their exile, they have been subjected, but also to those deeper wrongs whose tendency has been to dwarf the soul [and] emasculate the mind.’
Imagine young George Padmore, forced in a British colonial school in Trinidad to read the works of racist English philosophers like Hume, coming across this positive and refreshing exposition of Africa’s position in the world and its future, by Blyden? Can anyone wonder why Padmore chose to call his only offspring – a girl – after a man who so beautifully articulated the answers to many of the questions that arose in the young Padmore’s mind when he read the literature available to him from the Caucasian world?
(TO BE CONCLUDED)
By CAMERON DUODU