Afro-Israelism & Other Alt-Histories

The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that new technology requires us to reassess, in 21st century light, some of the seminal outputs of African historical scholarship.

We need to consider the use of novel “pattern analysis” algorithms to trace the evolution of certain interesting ideas, including some scorned in mainstream scholarship.

Case in point: the number of mainstream African historians who have dabbled in the “Afro Israelism” genre (the idea that various African ethnic groups originated from Judah/Canaan or were the “original Hebrews”). Sure, they are not that many in the larger scheme of things, but the “African migratory routes” field is a rather small one.

In Ghana this genre is most strongly associated with the “origins” of the following ethnic groups in particular: Ewe, Asante and Ga. In Nigeria, both Yoruba and Ibo chauvinists have made similar claims.  And whilst some orthodox historians may scoff, these ideas have serious resonance with many, especially Christian revivalist, Africans.

When you look at the pattern of arguments deployed, however, it doesn’t take you long at all to see that they are mostly regurgitations of established pseudo-historical “Israelisms”, many of which take a leaf from the playbook of the “lost tribes” motifs, as pioneered by Le Loyer as far back as the 16th century.

However the peculiar strain that has most entrenched in our local variant of Israelism may owe a lot to Gibsonite revisions to the core tenets of the tradition dating to the late 19th Century. You see coastal dabblers in colonial Ghana start to rev up their speculative analysis around this same period.

I strongly feel that technology-aided research would make the task of locating the twisted trajectories of many of these ideas much easier, and thus more fruitful.

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