Dr. Runoko Rashidi is an author, historian, researcher, and world traveler who has dedicated his life to uncovering the African foundation of world civilizations. Dr. Rashidi is the author of The Global African Community: The African Presence in Asia, Australia and the South Pacific; Black Star: The African Presence in Early Europe, and African Star over Asia: The Black Presence in the East. Recently, Dr. Rashidi was featured in the documentary film entitled Hidden Colors 2: The Triumph of Melanin. When Dr. Rashidi isn’t writing books, conducting lectures, or creating documentaries, he is traveling the globe conducting research for his next project. Dr. Rashidi’s life purpose is to help make people of African descent proud of their heritage, increase awareness about ancient African contributions to civilization, and to unify all people of African descent. Below is my in depth interview with Dr. Runoko Rashidi about the connection between Africa and Latin America.
Phillips: In your travels to Latin American countries, have you seen people with hairstyles that are similar to African-Americans? If so, where?
Rashidi: I have traveled to Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Panama, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru and if you see the brothers and sisters from a distance, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the Afro-Latinos and African-Americans. In various Latin American countries, you will see Afro-Latinos with Afros, Braids, Cornrows, and Straightened Hair. The one thing I didn’t see among the Afro-Latinos are those horrific hair weaves that so many African-American sisters seem to wear with pride.
In Costa Chica (Mexico) their hair tends to be a little frizzy because many of the people that I encountered shared both African and native Mexican lineage. When I was in Northern Ecuador, I thought I was in Nigeria because these brothers and sisters have physical features that are distinctly African. During my time in Curacao, I was told that there are pockets of Africa in the Americas. I encourage your readers to join my Travel With Runoko global educational tours so that they can see these places and people for themselves.
Phillips: How and when did people of African descent arrive in Latin America?
Rashidi: We need to be aware of the fact that Africans came to the Americas at different times. Most people are familiar with the enslaved Africans who arrived in the Americas, but thousands of years before the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade the first Africans arrived in the Americas. The Olmec people were the first great civilization of the Americas; I consider the Olmec lands the Nile Valley of America. The Olmecs came into existence around 2500 B.C., and in the Olmec territory, near the Gulf of Mexico, there are large colossal stone heads with distinct African features, including large lips, large noses, braids, and Afros. The evidence indicates that the Olmecs were a native American civilization who made contact with Africans who sailed on an Atlantic ocean current that was an ancient express-waterway from Africa to Mexico. Based on the evidence, the Africans were probably high priests, builders, and astronomers; they brought skill sets (such as calendars and the ability to move large stones) and knowledge that wasn’t evident until after their arrival. The colossal Olmec heads reflected the high level of respect and honor the Olmec people had for the Africans who traveled to the Americas.
Phillips: Does physical evidence exist that proves that Africans traveled to the Americas prior to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade?
Rashidi: Yes! Ferdinand Columbus, the son of Christopher Columbus, wrote several eyewitness accounts that he and his father had interactions with Native Americans who said that they traded with Africans for metal spears. Also, Vasco Nunez de Balboa documented that he observed members of an Ethiopian tribe in Panama’s Darien Peninsula. Archeologists have unearthed a total of seventeen colossal Olmec heads with features that are clearly African. Additionally, there are many small works of Mayan and Peruvian art that most reasonable people would say have African features. If your readers want more information on the evidence of Africans in Latin America, I suggest they get their hands of a copy of Alexander Von Wuthenau’s Unexpected Faces In Ancient America: The Historical Testimony of Pre-Columbian Artists.
Phillips: Do Afro-Latinos accept or reject their African heritage?
Rashidi: The majority of Afro-Latinos who live in Latin American countries know less about Black History than African-Americans. All the Afro-Latinos know is that they were slaves and that’s about it. They have no knowledge of their past achievements or cultural significance. And currently, they are on the bottom of the social hierarchy. So compared to African-Americans, Afro-Latinos don’t accept their African heritage.
In 1999, I was invited as a guest speaker for the International Reunion of African Family in Latin America. During this event, this was the first time that many Afro-Latinos interacted with fellow Afro-Latinos from nearby Latin American countries. One of the advantages that we have as African-Americans is access to information, our Afro-Latino brothers and sisters don’t have access to historical information which contributes to their impoverished condition. We need to get accurate African-centered information to our Afro-Latino extended family members to help transform their lives.
Phillips: Can you share something that African-Americans don’t know, but should know, about Afro-Latinos?
Rashidi: First and foremost, we need to know that Afro-Latinos exist. We have sisters and brothers in Latin American countries facing similar issues but living in far worse conditions. Afro-Latinos are facing poverty, poor housing conditions, very limited educational opportunities, and discrimination. Even in the Latin American countries like Columbia, with an Afro-Latino population of nearly forty-five percent, many Afro-Latinos don’t have access to government services. In some cases, our Afro-Latin brothers and sisters live in remote areas and are left to survive on their own.
Next year marks the 100th year anniversary of Marcus Garvey’s journey from Jamaica to travel to countries in Central and Latin America. Garvey concluded that black people around the globe had no leader and no standing army to protect us. A century later, we still have no leader, no standing army, and a collective lack of knowledge of our extended family members in Latin America.
Phillips: Can you suggest books or DVDs for our readers to learn more about Afro-Latinos?
Rashidi: I strongly encourage your readers who are interested in learning more to purchase my DVDs entitled High in the Andes and Africans in Early America. I recommend the following books:
- The African Presence in the Americas, by Carlos Moore
- They Came Before Columbus, by Ivan Van Sertima
- Early America Revisited, by Ivan Van Sertima
- The First Americans were African, by David Imhotep.
Also, I invite your readers to follow me for more information about my research, DVDs, and my global study tours.