Dr. Kwame Nantambu

Origin of terms 'Negro' and Afrika

By Dr. Kwame Nantambu
January 09, 2007

According to Anthony T. Browder in From 'The Browder File: 22 Essays on the African-American Experience' (2000), "...the Portuguese were the first to enslave Afrikans and they were the first to call them Negroes. When the Spanish became involved in the slave trade, they also used the word Negro to describe Afrikans. Negro is an adjective which means Black in Portuguese and Spanish. But since 1444 and the beginning of the slave trade, the adjective Negro became a noun and the legitimate name of a newly enslaved people." (p.1).

The fact of the matter is that under Euro-centrism, "...the word for Black was typically associated with aspects of death. The word death is derived from the Greek word Necro which means dead and is similar in sound and meaning to the word Negro."

As part of "the manifestation of the evil genius of Europe," Euro-centric thought process deceitfully juxtaposed the words "Necro" and "Negro". "...to reference the physical, spiritual or mental death of a person, place or thing." (Ibid).

In his seminal opus titled 'The Name "Negro": Its Origin and Evil Use' (1972), Richard B. Moore documents that, "...it was in the development of this infamous, iniquitous and inhuman slave traffic that the term 'Negro' was foisted as a noun, as a designation, as a name, upon those who were unfortunate enough to be caught in the clutches of the (European) slave traders. This is the origin of the term 'Negro.' Its origin is vile and infamous. It began in indignity. It began in immorality and the consciousness and dignity of man must now rise and dispense with it forever."(p.37).

Indeed, the record reveals that when the Portuguese explorers went down the Afrikan coast until they reached below the Senegal river, they called the people whom they met "Moors" or "Azenegues." This name "was later transposed into English as Negroes."

By this name "Negroes", Afrikan slaves, "...were thereby branded as bestial and savage, innately inferior, fit by nature for slavery and indeed ordained by God himself for perpetual slavery." (p.40).

The word "Negro" is applied, "...also to the Black people of Afrika (but the ordinary term for 'Afrikan Negro' or 'Afrikan' were Aethiops and Afer)." It is very instructive to note that "...the word usually employed in the classical Latin language to designate people of Afrikan origin was "Afer" and not "Niger", as some who are addicted to the term 'Negro' would like to have us believe."(p.79).

Now, there is a difference in the use of the word "Negro" "as applied to slaves" and the term "Negro" "simply meaning Blacks."

Richard B. Moore elucidates as follows: "The same word 'Negroes' was used for both meanings in Portuguese and Spanish, whereas in English 'Negroes' was generally used for slaves and 'Blacks' for simple colour designation." (p.39).

In Euro-colonial countries, the word "Negro" had a specific meaning beyond the simple connotation of colour or skin. The expression, "He is a Negro," was equivalent to saying, "He is a slave". Since almost all the slaves in certain countries and epochs were "Negroes", "Negro" came to be synonymous with slave.(p.46).

Furthermore, the term "Negro" implies that Afrikans are a cursed people. And that, "...this curse was declared to be the true and undeniable word of God who had thereby condemned the Afrikans, said to be the sons of Ham, to perpetual slavery to the Europeans, conveniently held to be sons of Japheth and to Asian people, similarly deemed to be the sons of Shem." (p.40).

As deceased Afri-centric, Afrikan-American scholar/historian, Dr. John Henrik Clarke once admonished, "...dogs and slaves were named by their masters and that only free men named themselves." As the Afrikan adage suggests, "It's not what you call me but what I answer to."

Truth be told, Euro-Spanish-Portuguese-British colonialism and slavery have ended. Ergo, there is absolutely no need for some Trinbagonians to refer to each other as "Negro" either in Calypso or in daily greetings and interactions.

As Kwame Ture once instructed, "If you don't know who you are, you would not know what your interests are."

Trinbagonians also kicked out the Euro-British governor in 1962. TnT is now an independent, sovereign nation-state. The former colonized and enslaved are now in charge. It is to be hoped that the above-presented historical context of the term "Negro" and its negative, detrimental, inferior, powerlessness, nothingness connotations will compel Afrikan-Trinbagonians to reject this derogatory, demeaning, dehumanizing and insulting term and to embrace and internalize their innate Afrikanness. Mother Afrika to the rescue!.

In the very same way the term "Negro" must be totally expunged from Afrikan-Trinbagonians' social lexicon, the term "Afro" must also be totally deleted. Negroland does not exist and never existed. Afroland does not exist and never existed.

Afrikans were brought involuntarily from Afrika to TnT; they did not come from Negroland or Afroland. There have never been a landmass or Continent called "Negro" or "Afro."

The fact of the matter is that the term Afro-American has been expunged from the societal fabric/lexicon of the United States since 1988. The descendents of the Afrikans who came to the United States as slaves in 1619 are now called Afrikan-Americans. That's their correct, historical designation. Now is the time for the descendents of the Afrikans who came to TnT to refer to themselves as Afrikan-Trinbagonians. That's our correct, historical designation.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), during the time of the Roman empire, the term Afrika became accepted as a replacement for the word "Libya" which meant "the land of the Lebu or Lubins in Genesis."

Geographically, Libya meant only the north coast of the Continent and at first, so did Afrika. By the end of the first century A.D., Afrika came to mean the entire Continent. The etymology (origin of the term Afrika) is not so precisely agreed upon and according to UNESCO, its origin is credited to one of six theories, as follows:

One: "The Afarak, also known as the "Aourigha", were a Berber people who lived south of Carthage. The terms "Afarak" or "Afrika" were used to denote the land of the "Afarak."

Two: Some people believe that the word comes from the Latin adjective "Aprica" which means "sunny" or the Greek "Aprike" which means "free from cold."

Three: The Phoenician root "Faraqua" which suggests " a separation" or in other words, "diaspora." This same root is found in some Afrikan languages, like Bambara.

Four: In Sanskrit and Hindu, the root "Apara" or "Afrika" denotes that which, in geographic terms, comes "after" the west. From the geographical position of India, "Afrika" is the western Continent.

Five: Another school of thought states that the word "Afrika" comes from two Phoenician terms, one of which means "an ear of corn", which was a symbol of fertility in that region and the other "Pharikia", which means "Land of the fruit."

Six: A historical tradition states that a Yeminter chief named "Africus" invaded north Afrika in the second millennium and founded a town called "Afrikyah." Others suggest that it is more likely that the Arabic term "Ifriqiya" is the Arabic translation of the word "Afrika."

However, in his Black Man of the Nile and His Family (1970), Dr. Josef A.A. ben-Jochannan documents that in 1,5000,000 B.C.E., this Continent was called "Alkebu-lan."

Shem Hotep ("I go in peace").

Dr. Kwame Nantambu is a part-time lecturer at Cipriani College of Labour and Co-operative Studies and University of the West Indies.

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