CCC professor shines rare light on pre-colonial African history

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CCC professor shines light on pre-colonial African history
All photos courtesy of Contra Costa College Professor Manu Ampim.

By Mike Kinney

Contra Costa College Professor Manu Ampim has made it his life’s work to research pre-colonial African history, a subject he laments doesn’t get nearly enough attention on college campuses and in the public sphere in general.

A professor of History and Africana Studies at CCC and director of Advancing The Research, Ampim recently authored A History of African Civilizations,” the fruits of years of extensive research both in historical literature and in the field traveling in 22 African countries. The book “mirrors much of what I teach” in a course by the same name at Contra Costa College, according to the professor.

“I wanted to take my knowledge outside of the classroom and share it with the general community,” he said.

The book and course are unique in the U.S. in that they examine classical African civilizations and their global contributions prior to slavery and colonialism. Professor Ampim drew inspiration for writing this book from his parents, Rosie Jones and Kofi Ampim, who injected in him at a young age “a sense of racial pride and a respect for Black culture.”

While in undergraduate studies at Canada College in Redwood City in 1984, the professor said his father introduced him to books on classical African civilizations and their contributions to humanity.

“I was stunned by this powerful information and have never been the same since that day,” he said.

Today, Ampim serves as among few U.S. professors with expertise on pre-colonial Africa, which he says is a problem. 

“With rare exception, Africana Studies students are taught only about Africa and Black people since the advent of slavery, and then in turn they become professors and authors who regurgitate the same limited and superficial scholarship which omits African civilizations,” he said.

Professor Ampim has been spreading the word on early African civilizations both inside and outside of the classroom for decades. Since 1994, he’s led dozens of classical educational tours in Africa, including the recent Ancient Egypt (Kemet) Educational Tour. The professor says the highlight of such tours is the “ah ha” moments experienced by tour participants visiting some of the world’s greatest and most spectacular monuments.

“Three of the main goals of my recent tour were for the tour members to learn about Kemet (Ancient Egypt) as a classical African civilization, to learn about its unique contributions in various disciplines such as writing, medicine, math, the solar calendar, and architecture, and to be learn basic primary (first-hand) research methods,” he said.

Since 2011, Professor Ampim has also helped to organize the Save Nubia Project (SNP) to help preserve the archaeological sites of ancient Kush and Nubia, which are threatened by the ongoing construction of a series of dams. 

“We organized the SNP to help support the local Sudanese people and raise international alarm about the series of dams being constructed by the Sudanese government in northern Sudan to transform the region into a series of isolated lakes, dislocate hundreds of thousands of people, and flood one of the greatest archaeological regions in the world,” the professor said. “These dams were not constructed to increase electricity in Sudan, but rather to export this electricity to neighboring countries to generate profits for Sudanese government officials.  SNP has been effective in raising international awareness and documenting the historical importance of this northeast Africa region. In April 2019, the Sudanese government led by President Omar al-Bashir was overthrown and this has halted the dam projects, for now.”

Meanwhile, Professor Ampim’s field research is ongoing, and is two-fold. First, the professor said his research aims to learn the oral history, beliefs, and traditional practices of the living indigenous groups to reconstruct a comprehensive history of northeast and east Africa, where many of the practices continue without much change into the present time. And secondly, the professor aims to conduct meticulous studies at various ancient archaeological sites, such as temples, tombs, pyramids, ancient residential sites, and museums to document the past to help give insight into the current practices.

All of this effort will benefit both his students and U.S. citizens in general who may be unaware of this important part of human history.

“Primary research is the greatest weapon against the distortion of African history and culture,” the professor said.

Professor Ampim is originally from Mobile, Ala. He graduated from Serramonte High School in Daly City in 1981 and earned a Masters of Arts degree from Morgan State University in History and African-American Studies in 1989.