A new documentary series, Africa’s Great Civilizations, wants to change the way that people think about the continent of Africa. According to its presenter, Henry Louis Gates Jr, a historian and director at Harvard University, when people conjure up images of Africa they tend to think of poverty and disease, but few are aware its great empires and powerful leaders that helped to shape the modern world.
Gates believes that the west had to present Africa as a place of backwardness in order to justify the enslavement of its people and the colonising of its land, but in truth these were very sophisticated societies, responsible for the first iron and stone technology, with the remnants of the world’s largest man-made structure (the Walls of Benin) to be found in Nigeria. The richest man in the history of the world, Mansa Musa, estimated to be worth about $400 billion, also hailed from Africa.
In a rather amusing moment in the series, Gates talks about the discovery of a 6,000-year-old wooden Afro comb which looks as if it could be found in an urban beauty supply store. “So the brothers and the sisters back in the Nile Valley were combing out their hair with an Afro comb,” Gates observes. “I thought we invented this in the ‘60s!”.