The great Steve Biko, founder of the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa, the subject of the Richard Attenborough movie ‘Cry Freedom’, might well have written the rhyming African ‘HIS-STORY’ lesson, by Gil Scott Heron. It’s a short two-and-half minute summary of African history by an African-American poet seeking to articulate his roots and bond with the Earth’s most abused continent.
Scott-Heron was born in Chicago in 1949. His mother, Bobbie Scott-Heron, was an opera singer who performed with the New York Oratorio Society and his father, Gil Heron, nicknamed ‘The Black Arrow’, was a Jamaican footballer who became the first black man to play for Glasgow Celtic FC in 1951.
Gil Scott Heron was a poet, jazz singer-songwriter, author and rapp music pioneer in the 1970s and 80s. He died in New York in 2011. He was renowned for his intellectual acuity and challenging insights.
The text of Scott Heron’s poem follows, but if you wish to listen to the poet perform this fascinating African ‘His-Story’ rhyme you may do so by clicking here.
I was wondering about our yesterdays, and started searching through the rubble
and to say the very least, somebody went to a lot of trouble
to make sure that when we looked things up, we wouldn’t fair too well
and that we would come up with unreliable portraits of ourselves.
But I compiled what few facts I could,
I mean, such as they are
to see if I could shed a little bit of light
and this is what I got so far:
First, white folks discovered Africa
and they claimed it fair and square.
Sir Rhodes couldn’t have been robbing nobody
’cause he said “hell, there wasn’t nobody there”.
White folks brought all the civilization,
they said “wasn’t none around”.
Because, ‘how could these folks be “civilized”?
when they didn’t see nobody writing nothing down.
And just to prove all their suspicions,
well, it didn’t take too long.
They found out there were whole groups of people
— in plain sight —
running around without much clothes on.
There were women, and men, and young folks and old folks
well, righteous white folks covered their eyes.
And no time was spent considering the environment.
They said: Hell no, this here, this just ain’t “civilized”!
And another way they knew the folks were backwards,
or at least this how we were taught
is that ‘unlike the very civilized people of Europe’
these Black groups actually fought!
And yes, there were some “crude implements”
and yes, there was “primitive art”
and yes they were masters of hunting and fishing
and courtesy came from the heart.
And yes there was medicine, love and religion,
inter-tribal communication by drum.
But no paper and pencils and other utensils
Hell, these folks never even heard of a gun.
So this is why the colonies came
to stabilize the land.
Because The Dark Continent had copper, diamonds and gold
and the discoverer’s had themselves a plan.
They would “discover” all the places with promise.
You didn’t need no titles or deeds.
And then they would appoint people to make everything legal,
to sanction the trickery and greed.
And out in the bushes if the natives got restless
You could call that ‘guerilla (gorilla) attack!’
and you never describe that somebody got wise
and decided they were going to fight back.
But still we are victims of word games,
semantics is always a bitch.
Places once called under-developed and “backwards”
we now called them “mineral rich.”
And still it seems the game goes on,
with unity always just beyond our reach
Libya and Egypt used to be in Africa,
but they’ve been moved to the “Middle East”.
There are examples galore I assure you,
but if interpreting was left up to me
I’d make sure every time folks knew this version wasn’t mine
which is why it is called “His story”.