In this week's New York Review of Books, Howard W. French reviews several recent books of African history which very successfully banish the common and incorrect stereotypes of the African past that many Europeans and USAers have held: that Africa was "primitive", without states, etc. I have known this. I have a Master's degree in African History from the University of Minnesota where the research we were exposed to made this clear. Nonetheless, I heard nothing at that time about Africans in the Americas before slavery. There has been a lot of quite reasonable speculation about the possibility that Africans landed on the coast of the Americas a long time ago, but none that has been, as far as I know, acknowledged by "main stream (white?) historians. The book that finally presents this in a way that legitimizes it is The Golden Rhinoceros: Histories of the African Middle Ages by François-Xavier Fauvelle, translated from the French by Troy Tice, Princeton University Press, 264 pp., $29.95. Our friend here in Xalapa, Amos Moore, one of the very few black Americans here, had read huge amounts on the subject and talked about it with increasing weariness to his skeptical friends. So here from The Golden Rhinoceros is some documentation for him to add if he exists in some netherworld where he can read it. I still miss Amos more than I can say.
The most intriguing story in Fauvelle’s book comes from the kingdom of Mali in the early fourteenth century. More than a century and a half before Columbus’s voyages, a Malian ruler named Abu Bakr II was said to have equipped an expedition involving two hundred ships that attempted to discover “the furthest limit of the Atlantic Ocean.” The expedition failed to return save for one vessel, whose survivor claimed that “there appeared in the open sea [as it were] a river with a powerful current…. The [other] ships went on ahead but when they reached that place they did not return and no more was seen of them.” Some modern historians (Michael Gomez, Toby Green, and John Thornton, among others) have interpreted this to mean that the Malian ships were caught in the Atlantic Ocean’s Canary Current, which sweeps everything in its path westward at about the same latitude as Mali.
Abu Bakr II supposedly responded not by abandoning his dreams of exploration but by equipping a new and far larger expedition, this time involving two thousand ships and with himself in command. That was the last that was seen of him. We know of this story only because when Abu Bakr’s successor, Mansa Musa, was staying in Cairo in 1324–1325 on his pilgrimage to Mecca, the secretary of the chancery of the Mamluk Dynasty asked him how he had come to power and recorded his reply. There are no other traces of Abu Bakr’s attempt. (New York Review of Books, June 27, 2019 issue).