Encyclopedia Britannica’s Original Asiatic Blackman

Many, many moons ago the Nation of Islam tried to tell Black folk in America that someone was running an enormous con game with respect to the history of Asia and Africa; that Black people were actually spread out over a much larger swath of the Earth than “modern scholarship” was willing to admit.  NOI scholars (like many others) had seen through the Hamite-Semite-Negro-Negroid-Hottentot charade.  They said the homeland of Black peoples was on the continent of Asia.  Now, who’s to say?  What we do know is that the Encyclopedia Britannica has historically been one of the most trusted sources of information in the West.  What do they have to say, not about the birthplace of Black folk, but rather about who the original, authentic “Arabs” are?

This is now:

According to tradition, Arabs are descended from a southern Arabian ancestor, Qaḥṭān, forebear of the “pure” or “genuine” Arabs (known as al-ʿArab al-ʿĀribah), and a northern Arabian ancestor, ʿAdnān, forebear of the “Arabicized” Arabs (al-ʿArab al-Mustaʿribah). A tradition, seemingly derived from the Bible, makes ʿAdnān, and perhaps Qaḥṭān also, descend from Ismāʿīl (Ishmael), son of Abraham. The rivalry between the two groups spread, with the Muslim conquests, beyond Arabia; it even recurred in northern Yemen in the 1950s when the Zaydī imams, descendants of the Prophet Muḥammad, a “northern” Arab, were called “ʿAdnānī.”

A darker-skinned strain occurs in southern Arabia, where also are found the low-status groups called Akhdām and Ṣibyān. In the north are the Ṣulubah, known to the ancient Arabians as qayn, a low-status group regarded as being of non-Arab descent. In Oman the Zuṭṭ, a nomadic Roma (Gypsy) folk, seem to be descendants of Indian emigrants to the gulf in the early 9th century, but the Baloch, whose ancestors immigrated more recently, have formed a sort of warrior tribe there. In the border regions of Oman and Yemen are the Mahra, Ḥarāsīs, Qarā, and others, speaking languages of the South Arabic group, and on the Musandam Peninsula are the Shiḥūḥ.

From ancient times African slaves were imported to Arabia; Saudi Arabia and the Yemens abolished slavery only in 1962. Some districts such as the oasis of Khaybar in the Hejaz and parts of the Tihāmah are largely populated by black cultivators. The ports always had a large element of Africans, Asians, and others. The oil era brought many Lebanese, Egyptians, Jordanians, and Iraqis with the education and skills the Arabians lacked, and great numbers of Yemenis moved into the oil-producing states as unskilled labourers. Palestinians make up between one-fifth and one-fourth of Kuwait’s population, refugees from Yemen occupy entire streets in Abu Dhabi, and so many Pakistanis, Indians, Sri Lankans, Koreans, and Filipinos have flocked to the Persian Gulf states that often they considerably outnumber the native inhabitants. By contrast, almost no Jews, long settled in western Arabia, now remain.

This paragraph requires some reading between the lines.  The authors have selected interesting words like “Arabicized” and “darker-skinned strain” and “African slaves” and “black cultivators” without much context.  There is no mention of the Cushite invasion of Arabia in this section, but the mention of an “ancient” importation of “African slaves” suggests something long, long ago.  Was it before the reign of Abraha?  Was it centuries later?  Is it relevant to the question?  Notice the presence and absence of dates and tenures in both pieces.

But, back in the day (1926), when Drusilla Dunjee Houston wrote, “Wonderful Ethiopians of the Ancient Cushite Empire,” Encyclopedia Britannica had this to say:

“The first dawning gleams that deserve to be called history find Arabia under the rule of a southern race.  They claimed descent from Khatan.  They were divided anciently into several aristocratic monarchies.  These Yemenite kings descendants of Khatan and Himyar ‘the dusky,’ a name denoting African origin, whose rulers were called ‘Tobba,’ of Hamitic etymology, reigned with few dynastic interruptions for about 2500 years.  They demanded the obedience of entire southern half of the peninsula and the northern by tribute collectors.  The general characteristics of the institutions of Yemen bore considerable resemblance to the neighboring one of the Nile Valley.”

Times have changed.

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Or have they?

According to Robert Davis between 1 million and 1.25 million Europeans were captured by Barbary pirates, who were vassals of the Ottoman Empire, and sold as slaves between the 16th and 19th centuries.[10][11] These slaves were captured mainly from seaside villages from Italy, Spain, Portugal and also from more distant places like France or England, the Netherlands, Ireland and even Iceland and North America. The impact of these attacks was devastating – France, England, and Spain each lost thousands of ships, and long stretches of the Spanish and Italian coasts were almost completely abandoned by their inhabitants. Pirate raids discouraged settlement along the coast until the 19th century.

The capacity of Christian whites to defend themselves from Muslim whites (and others) is a relatively recent phenomenon.  While the United States was never compelled to discourage coastal residency, they were forced to pay tribute.  Today’s Encyclopedia Britannica dares to go where its predecessor would not — to a mythical land of perpetual Black servitude…to a place in the mind of a people who, perhaps, would like to forget their own bondage and retreat from the icy waters of the Atlantic.

2 comments

  1. This is fascinating and has me wanting to see this movie, “Kingdom of Heaven,” again. This topic is seriously intriguing and also brings to mind Chan. Williams work. It also makes me wonder if whether what’s going on in Darfur somehow factors into the equation.

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