Support SF BayView
Donate or Subscribe to SF Bay View
Follow Us Twitter Facebook

Problems with the recent exhibit, ‘African Presence in Mexico’

September 16, 2009

by Professor Manu Ampim

This Olmec king with Africoid facial features, rediscovered in 1858 at the Tres Zapotes archeological site in the Mexican state of Veracruz, is convincing evidence of the 3,000-year presence of Africans in Mexico but was omitted from the Oakland Museum of California exhibit.
This Olmec king with Africoid facial features, rediscovered in 1858 at the Tres Zapotes archeological site in the Mexican state of Veracruz, is convincing evidence of the 3,000-year presence of Africans in Mexico but was omitted from the Oakland Museum of California exhibit.
The recent exhibit, “The African Presence in Mexico: From Yanga to the Present” (May 9–Aug. 23, 2009), at the Oakland Museum of California, attracted many visitors from all walks of life who learned about the Black influence in Mexico. This significant influence has been acknowledged by the Mexican government since 1992, and thus people of African descent have been called the “third root” of Mexican heritage, along with the Native American and Spanish ethnic roots. The exhibit focused on Afro-Mexicans from the time when the ex-enslaved African Yanga in 1609 led a successful revolt against the Spanish and founded the first free town of San Lorenzo de los Negros in the state of Veracruz. In 1930, this Mexican town was renamed Yanga.

The exhibit organizers claimed that “the exhibit is the largest and most complete display to date on the African presence in Mexico. The National Museum of Mexican Art and the Oakland Museum of California are honored to help shed light on this missing chapter in history.” While the exhibit did shed some light on the African presence in Mexico, it grossly omitted the African presence and influence in Mexico for thousands of years, dating back to the period of the Olmec civilization around 1000 BCE.

The artifacts and images establishing an African presence in ancient Mexico are definitive and undeniable, and this is documented in the works of Dr. Ivan Van Sertima and other scholars. The exhibit should be rated a C- or D+ because of this profound omission of Africans in the Mexico region before Christ.

Only partial admission

The Olmec king’s Africoid hairstyle with braided hair is further evidence that Africans came to Mexico at least 3,000 years ago.
The Olmec king’s Africoid hairstyle with braided hair is further evidence that Africans came to Mexico at least 3,000 years ago.
At the end of the exhibit was a large placard discussing Dr. Van Sertima’s work in a few paragraphs. The placard mentioned that Van Sertima’s book, “They Came Before Columbus,” argues that there was a significant African presence in Mexico several thousand years ago. However, it asked a question, “the African Presence in Meso-America, myth or reality?”

In answering this question, the placard did mention in passing the categories of Van Sertima’s arguments of an African influence in ancient Mexico – linguistic, historical, archaeological, botanical, ancient maps, ocean currents etc. – yet at the same time it dismissed his conclusions with one sweeping statement. “The evidence that does support this theory are for the most part isolated artifacts, taken out of their archaeological context,” it stated.

Carefully selected images

Further, the placard did not present Van Sertima’s most definitive proof of Africans in ancient America. Instead, it presented three small images shown next to the text, and none of these images clearly showed an African ethnicity. These images were carefully selected to give an ambiguous and inconclusive view of the Olmec identity and thus create suspicions about Van Sertima’s conclusions.

The images presented in “They Came Before Columbus” and Van Sertima’s “Journal of African Civilizations” were ignored for obvious reasons because any visitor would then be able to see the objective evidence of Africans in ancient Mexico. It would have been more honest for the exhibit officials to present most, if not all, of the 17 heads of the Olmec kings and let the visitors decide on the racial identity of the images.

Indeed, the first of these heads, rediscovered at Tres Zapotes in 1858 is a 15-ton image of a king with a stunning Africoid appearance. This image and other clearly Africoid artifacts were deliberately left out of the exhibit, which would suggest to the uninformed visitor that Van Sertima’s conclusions are unproven.

Thus, the exhibit made note of Van Sertima’s research only to dismiss his findings. The main thesis of the exhibit was that there was an African presence in Mexico from the time Africans were brought there as slaves by the Spanish in the early 1500s, and that from the time of Yanga in the early 1600s Africans have had an important impact on Mexican history and culture.

In this regard, the exhibit stated that the “Mexican multi-racial society absord[ed] nearly everything African until all traces of African culture would completely vanish into the Mexican culture – Mexicanidad.” While this absorption process is generally true with little African evidence remaining, the exhibit shamefully dismissed the absorption of the initial Africans within the ancient Olmec civilization 3,000 years ago, and thus the “African Presence in Mexico” was not a “complete display” on Black people in Mexico.

This exhibit left the public with the same old misinformation – despite the abundant evidence to the contrary – that Africans first came to the Americas as slaves, rather than as independent traders and rulers. Let the public beware!

Manu Ampim
Manu Ampim
Professor Manu Ampim teaches in the Contra Costa College History Department and is a primary (first-hand) researcher specializing in African and African American history and culture. He can be reached at Mampim@contracosta.edu. Inquire about his study tours to Africa and Central America. Learn more at his website, http://manuampim.com.

22 thoughts on “Problems with the recent exhibit, ‘African Presence in Mexico’

  1. S Murph

    Thanks Mr. Ampim for shedding some light on this subject. Any truthful discussion about Africans in Meso-America without including the bed rock scholarship of the late Dr. Ivan Van Sertima is dishonest in the least and outright fraud at worst. I have read the book more than once and each time I have read it something new is brought to light that I missed the last time I read it.

    As you clearly state with the preponderance of linguistic, historical, archaeological, botanical, ancient maps, ocean currents etc evidence laid out in his book “They Came before Columbus” (and we are not even going to talk about the PHOTOGRAPHS) it is criminal that the exhibit at the Oakland Museum plays him real cheap and sells him real short (that is probably why I do not go to see the exhibit in the first place). But what can you expect in a world dominated by the white supremacy dynamic, any contributions made by Africans and the Diaspora get buried NOT absorbed (code speak).

    And oh by the way lets not overlook Thor Heyerdahl and his trips in (African made) reed boats across the Atlantic Ocean (not to mention the Pacific) using the same ocean currents that the African would have used 1200 years prior to him using them. The reed boats and the currents took him to the same region on the other side of the Atlantic where most of the artifacts left by the Africans are found (Image that). Thor clearly demonstrated that (African made) reed boats could cross the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean oh by the way (I Wonder Who would have tried to do that, Oh No it could not have been THOSE PEOPLE)!!!

    And just to add a measure of visual credibility there are the PHOTOGRAPHS!!! I don’t care how you slice dice or dissect them you can not deny that they are depictions of BLACK PEOPLE (Don’t believe your lying eyes)!!! I have a Van Sertima documentary video that has more photographs than the ones shown in the book. I remember seeing a documentary on the Discovery channel on this same subject and they said that the features on the statues were Asian. Asian, I thought to myself what kind of drugs and how much of them do you need to take to get that interpretation???

    It is a shame how African/Our contributions to the human story are so blatantly marginalized minimized and trivialized. It is the same thing with the “Stolen Legacy” by George GM Jones. Anything that contradicts came before or has parity with the Greco-Roman story get absorbed eclipsed or subjugated to oblivion.

    Personally I think one of the traps we get caught in is trying to convince the dominate culture that Dr. Ivan Van Sertima and the work of other Black Scholars is valid and valuable. Why would you waste your time (much less your breath) trying to convince the very people who have taken a lot of our story/contributions and clamed it as their own??? Then project that lie back on us and add to it that we made no significant contributions to the human story. The other is that we keep whoring after everyone else’s story instead of trying to find out about understand and embrace our own story, whether anyone else believes it or not. It is not important that other people believe Our Story the only people that need to believe Our Story is US!!! If you do not know understand or believe Your Own Story, Whose’ story will you believe????

    Peace

    S Murph

    Reply
  2. Monica Davis

    As always, the mainstream ‘historian’ attempts to white wash history and white out black/african cultural influences on and presence in Meso-America prior to the caucasian “discovery of the new world”.
    Back in the dark ages when I was being edumacated at Indiana University-Bloomington, my botany professor—he writ the book, dontcha know, said that just because african species of gourds had been found in S. Amer. it didn’t mean that Africans brought them there prior to slavery. Why, them thar strong currents probably brought all of those african seeds to south america—’cause it was highly improble that backward africans with no culture could possibly have the navigational skills to have traversed the waters without the white man’s help.
    OK, I’m dripping with sarcasm here, but I am so tired of black accomplishments being watered down, wiped out and eliminated from “history”. monica davis

    Reply
  3. Gracie Rodriguez

    It is an outrage the voices of prominent BLACK/ AFRICAN scholars were not included in this exhibit.

    However, it should be said that the value the exhibit held was not in proving undoubtedly through “racial” and cultural characteristics (read, stereotypes) seen in ancient Mexican culture that there was an African presence in Mexico, but that the line between what is “indigenous,” what is “African,” and what is Mexican is not always clear.

    It is radical to take race out of a binary (in this case black/ white/ indigenous) and consider that most Mexicans are also part African, whether or not the they have obviously Africoid features or hairstyles.

    Secondly, if you (rightly) believe that there was an African presence in Meso-America, why is it so far fetched to believe there could also have been an Asian presence? To assume this is impossible to perpetuate the nationalistic/regional binary that insists Europeans were the “first” to have presence, and is violent toward the native peoples.

    Who is to say some of our people (indigenous Meso Americans) did not naturally have facial features similar to Africoid features? With the example of the Africoid hairstyle, it is certainly possible that it is a depiction of African influence, but trenzas, or braids, were a huge part of indigenous spirituality from the very founding myths of Meso-America. Commonality does not always mean collaboration.

    I am not trying to say there was not an African presence in Mexico. I firmly believe that there was. I also believe that world was a much more transnational and global community than previously imagined. Although the exhibit ultimately failed to present Black scholarship on the issue (vital for an exhibit claiming to give voice to Afro-Mexicanos) it laid a good groundwork for starting to deconstruct the assumptions that most in the Latino community make about our own heritage (a difficult task given the extent that Eurocentric visions have shaped our sense of self image and history).

    Reply
  4. Ken Williams Sr.

    Dear Brother Ampin

    The time has come for Africans of all strips to come together
    and take back our heritage. And for God’s sake, Be Loud About It. The recent discoveries in the Sudan , the Timbutu
    manuscripts in Mali, The ancient astronomical stone structures in South Africa and on and on. Only the real
    truth about earth’s past and the Ancient African involment can provide the light in which to save all humanity from destruction. Peace !!!!!

    Reply
  5. Monica Davis

    Oh, most definitely the ancients were more well-traveled and more inter-connected than we think. We have been brainwashed to think that only the ‘western’–AKA white man had the technology to cruise the planet, “in search of”. Yet, we know that not to be the case. Witness the Chinese maps–which often served as 3rd party guides to ‘western’ explorers who ‘explored’ lands which had already been explored and settled by others for centuries, if not thousands of years.
    When we consider that “Columbus discovered America”–he stumbled across lands which had already been discovered, explored, settled, farmed, fished, and built upon for thousands of years.
    Once we get out of the mind control box that Africa is “primitive”, we see that “Africans” like “Europeans” and “Asians”, if I may exploit the sin of lumping people from entire continents and considering them homogeneous, then we see that even if the evidence wasn’t staring us in the face in the form of art as evidence, that sheer probability alone would speak of a the possibility of folk traversing the planet as currents would carry them,

    Reply
  6. Manu Ampim

    Thank you for the positive responses.

    This type of historical ignorance and propaganda denying an African presence and contributions in the world can be effectively challenged. For example, it was our collective effort throughout the country from 2005-2007 that eventually stopped National Geographic and A&E International from continuing to exhibit an absurd modern Caucausoid image allegedly representing King Tutankhamen. As a result of this collective community effort, the current King Tut exhibit in S.F. no longer contains this absurd image.

    The next venue for the “African Presence in Mexico” exhibit is the Anacostia Community Museum (ACM) in Washinton, D.C., and it will display from November 9, 2009 to July 4, 2010. People should contact everyone they know in D.C. to help apply pressure on ACM to make sure this exhibit is not displayed with the same misinformation as was done in Oakland.

    Advancing the work,

    Manu Ampim

    Reply
  7. Manu Ampim

    You stated, “The evidence refutes that claim quite convincingly.”

    This comment is absurd. If you simply bother to look at the objective and clear images of the Olmec king that I provided in the article, then this clearly shows that there was an important African presence within Olmec civilization, and this is beyond all *sane* rebuttal.

    Reply
  8. Salsassin

    You obviously did not follow the link to the videos as those features have been seen quite clearly in Native American populations.

    Here I’ll help you with even more.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqMi9YDRlEI

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVCSttXBapw

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKimQ8qaC-g

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9efzhf_4uRs

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgNT8xId_2c

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYoTFE3a7cc

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ff2g-G0ogVI

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScnaRa9fb6I

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bhWeMl4LZzI

    Reply
  9. Manu Ampim

    Check your eyesight!

    Besides, you carefully and conveniently avoid dealing with the AFRICOID BRAIDED HAIRSTYLE, which is a distinctive African feature (see photo in my above article). As a result of your desire to deny objective visual evidence of Africans in ancient Mexico, it does not occur to you that the Native Americans have the common STRAIGHT hair (check your own photos), which does not easily lend itself to cornrow braids. I advise that you learn about the intimate link because coarse African hair and cornrow braids before you continue wasting your time posting irrelevant photos.

    You overlook the combination of facial features *and* hairtype as important racial indicators because you are burdened down by outdated misinformation and old false notions that have been fading away since 1992.

    You need to actually look at the numerous stunning Africoid photos in Van Sertima’s works, including “The African Presence in Early America” and “Early America Revisted,” and read the numerous categories of evidence of African influence on Olmec culture.
    http://www.journalofafricancivilizations.com/page/189

    Then, if you are serious, look at the numerous Africoid images collected by Alexander von Wuthenau, etc. Otherwise you will remain very confused.
    http://www.bookfinder.com/author/alexander-von-wuthenau/

    Any honest and rational person who actually looks at the evidence (starting with BOTH photos in my article) can see the African influence on Olmec civilization, which is beyond all *sane* and rebuttal.

    Reply
  10. Salsassin

    Wishful thinking is entertaining. I have read all of Van Sertima’s books. In fact, until I did more research on the subject, I believed his misinformation as well. VOn Wuthenau’s collection of terracottas is undated. Non of them have been aquired in situ through primarey excavation. He bought them from various different peoples. A claim of dating through private methodology that is uncorroborated is just that, an unsubstantiated claim.

    The fact remains that Von Wuthenau presents a ton of terracotas that look nothing like earthenware that is carbon dated and classified from in situ corroborated digs.

    Therefore, his claims as to their provenance are highly suspect. A much more plausible explanation is right in front of your face. Africans were over 10% of the population during colonial times. Especially in Veracruz where Von Wuthenau acquired the vast majority of his terracottas. Africans in the Americas also did art work. And those terracotas would be excellent examples of colonial African artwork (Some have claimed outright fraud, but I believe that would be a discredit to the Afrodiasporic experience in the Americas)

    As for your supposed Africoid hair claims, they have been addressed ad nauseum in these videos:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScnaRa9fb6I
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9efzhf_4uRs

    No evidence WHATSOEVER of cornrows in Olmec art. (even though straight haired people use them ALL THE TIME, in fact it is very popular among mixed people who can’t do the regular Afro styles and in wannabes, LOL)

    As for videos of the REAL Afrodiaspora in Latin America (my heritage)

    http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=884C4E7CB0269D7F

    Reply
  11. Sacredly breathing

    What about ancient indigenous peoples like the negritos of the phillipines or the so- called black chinese of southern china. These people were the original peoples before other peoples mixed with them to become newer races. The African and Asian races are some of the most widely scattered races on earth. Look at the polynesians for example. They clearly have characteristics of both the african and asian race. The indian subcontinent clearly has a heavy influence from africa on it. The caste system was put into place by the invading northern european race so as to divide conquer and oppress the darker races of southern india. I can only imagine what we would no right now about africa if the library of Alexandria, Egypt had not been destroyed. I cannot wait for the thirteenth century manuscripts fond in Timbuktu is deciphered. There is already evidence in the book called Black Athena of the fonding of a city called Athens by black people.

    Reply
    1. Salsassin

      This would be inaccurate. The various populations refered to as negrito have been shown to be genetically quite close to their Malay neighbors. The exception are the Andamanese, but they group close with Indians. These are example of convergent evolution. Especially the diminution of body type. The first migrations out of Africa were 5'10 on average, not diminute. The closest in features to them would be Australians, but still much less robust in facial features. Polynesia is a product of Taiwanese and Melanesian population admixture. For a better concept of 'racial' features and humanity look up videos by Shomarka Keita, biological anthropologist from Howard University.

      Reply
  12. Sacredly breathing

    White historians have not till this day explained how a large continent in the center of the world has no historical importance to the world. Yet the continent of africa has the most diverse species of animals of any continent and yet has animals in it that can be fond in other continents. Like the leopard, the horse, the hawk, dogs, alligators and so forth…
    The facial features of most races can be fond in africans. From the aquiline nosed and thin lipped east africans to the slant eyed flat faces of the bush people of southern africa. Even for people who are not scholars it makes more since that humans came from a warm hospitable climate with a variety of plants and animals rather then start out from a land of cold icy winters.

    Reply
  13. Salsassin

    The Aeta of the Philippines and the Mani of Thailand, and the extinct little people of Taiwan, amomg others, are populations that are still related to their Aisan cousins of lighter complexions. Their features and craniometric characteristics are still Asian and have also evolved from more robust features. So they are not an earlier look. WHere they always outliers? Or were they there before modern Han look? Who knows. The evidence isn’t clear yet which evolved from Proto-Asians first. Or if they occured at about the same time in different regions. Melanesians are not African either. Their features are different from modern Africans, as are their genetic markers. Polynesians are actually populations that were formed when Taiwanese migrants encountered Melanesians. India does not have a heavy African presence. There are the Siddi, Habshis and Kaffir from Africa, but do not confuse them with the Dravidians which are Austronesian. The library of Alexandria was not destroyed by any invading army, in fact it was founded after Alexander had already conquered Egypt. Black Athena is a cute speculative book, but it fails when it comes to hard facts. Where there African people in contact with Greeks? Of course. Were the original Greeks African, no evidence of it.

    No continent is more central than the other. Unless you mean centered on the equator. Africa has some of the largest diversity of animals in the world, no doubt. The problem is that the vast majority are not domesticable. Even to this day. Most animals that are domestic that are used in Africa, and the Americas, come from Eurasia.

    There are no races. There are just genetics for individual facial features. Some may be reciprocated in various parts of the world without any contact. Convergent evolution. Some might be in the genes from the first migrations out of Africa. To assume one way or another without actual evidence is just that, an assumption.

    No one claims humans started anywhere except Africa. But for various reasons, Eurasia, North Africa, that latitude, provided a lot more opportunities for farming dispersion and for animal domestication. From diseases that would kill domestic animals and human expansion would be much harder because of lack of food sources and risk of disease explosions. This is true, even to this day.

    Reply
  14. Ken Williams Sr.

    Dear Mr. Salsassin,

    I would love for you to explain with your unique expertize
    to us Afro Centrist Maniacs and to the rest of the world
    just a few of the recorded ancient olmec finds. I’m sure
    that you’ll do your very best.
    No.1, The visually stunning 10 ton olmec head which shows
    irrefutablly a very obvious looking African Male with an Afro hair style. No.2, The clay Olmec statues of African
    Elephants displade in a Jalapa Mexico museum. No.3, The
    statues of Gorillas that were unearthed in the Yucatan area of Mexico. This is your assignment for today. I can hardly
    wait !

    Reply
  15. Salsassin

    Dear Mr. Williams, I’ll await first your evidence that any Olmec colossal head has an “Afro hair style” as braids are common to the entire world, and your evidence that broad features seen in populations around the world are exclusive to Africans or as you say “irrefutablly a very obvious looking African.” You can claim and misspell irrefutable all you want, but you have provided no evidence to make it so.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_KaHfjrHoog
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScnaRa9fb6I&NR=1
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgNT8xId_2c&feature=related
    No elephants in the Jalapa museum.
    As to the supposed gorillas that Montandon found, I’ll await actual carbondating and information on what dig, etc before making a comment. For all we know they are post 1492. Nor is there truly evidence that they are gorillas.
    http://www.cryptomundo.com/wp-content/uploads/montandon1931b.jpg
    http://www.cryptomundo.com/wp-content/uploads/montandon1931a.jpg
    George Montandon is an anthropologist who was a known racist who has tried to claim Native Americans descended from an American Ape. All his claims are suspect.
    http://www.xprojectmagazine.com/archives/cryptozoology/deloysape.html
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ameranthropoides_loysi
    http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=fr&u=http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Montandon&ei=z57tSpXSNc2XtgeZpt06&sa=X&oi=translate&ct=result&resnum=9&ved=0CCgQ7gEwCA&prev=/search%3Fq%3DGeorge%2BMontandon%2Brace%26hl%3Den
    Unless you truly buy into his claim Africans evolved from gorillas and Asians from orangutangs.

    Reply
  16. JColumb667

    Dear Manu Ampin,

    excuse me for Your disturb,
    the Africans wouldn’t navigate and make explorations by ships before Columbus. The Negroes hadn’t enough technical things to reach America through the Atlantic. There’re NOT (enough) undoubtly evidences of the pre-Columbian African presence or African influences in the pre-Hispanic America. The first Africans were shipped as slaves by the Spaniards to America in 1501. The first ship with enslaved Africans arrived to Hispaniola in 1503. The enslaving of the Africans from Angola, Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, etc. began “officially” in 1517 in the Caribbean and South America. From 1608 were Africans transported to North America. From the 16th century AD is the presence of the African dated in Mexico. The Olmecs were wholly native Americans and the sculptures in Tres Zapotes, La Venta were made by these Amerindians without any African influence.
    These are the historical facts and not the speculations (for example) of Ivan Sertima and Tim Makekoutu about the pre-Columbian African-American relations or trade!
    I wate for Your Kindly Answer!

    Reply
  17. Chuy

    This professor Manu Ampin is a joke. I am shocked he has a PhD degree. I've heard this garbage from so called scholars like him who claim the Olmecs were African and based solely on speculation with any concrete facts and that means doing scientific testing other than looking at a picture or sculpture and coming up with not theories, but opinions. These same people also claim that Cleopatra was black when in fact it is common knowledge among achaeologists that she was actually Greek since she is directly descended from one of Alexander the Great's generals. What a joke of a history professor.

    Reply
  18. Al Doss

    Salsassin is a fraud who has been exposed on youtube & is highly known to edit & alter information on youtube thus getting his videos taken down & him being exposed. Just type his name in on a youtube search & you will see thus most of his information is useless & false. This news article shows africans were in america according to even BBC News
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/430944….

    And Dr.Ivan van Sertima gave countless references that checked out in his work they came before columbus even quoting Columbus & Vasco Nunez de Balboa themselves seeing africans in the americas. The evidence is there you will always have haters & naysayers trying to knockdown Africans cause in reality we did everything first & it irks people to know this. As for your assertion Chuy that Cleopatra was not black, what do you make of this:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/also_in_the_news/79453

    Step your game up

    Reply
  19. IMHOTEP

    why do people ALWAYS WANNA DISCREDIT BLACK HISTORY?!!!!! U DON'T HEAR US DISCREDITING ANY OF UR HISTORY! WHY ARE YAW SO WORRIED ABT US? #U KNOW ITS THE TRUTH GET OVER IT! WE HAD 2! THE GODS HAVE RETURNED! #UNIVERSAL LAW HAS SPOKEN!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

BayView Classifieds - ads, opportunities, announcements
San Francisco Comcast
Advertisement