Posts in Africa
Fela Kuti

Few things are typical about the Nigerian-born son of a Protestant preacher and school principal named Olu'fela' Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti. Except this one thing: like many of our history heroes, his genius was only recognized in retrospect by the regime he spent his adult life bravely and actively resisting. This he did not with violence, but with music.

Music was Fela Kuti's weapon.

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Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

It's rare to identify a politician as a hero -- winning and keeping power always involves trade-offs, compromises, and confrontations that force the honest writer to balance shades of gray.

Which brings us to Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Though she suffered more hardships that most people experience in a lifetime, she didn't just survive, she thrived, elevating a nation along with her. 

Sirleaf-Johnson overcame an abusive husband, exile from her homeland, imprisonment, two violent civil wars, and the ingrained sexism that has limited women's achievements for much of humankind to become Africa's first female Head of State as president of her native country, Liberia, a nation founded in the early 1800s by freed American slaves.

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The Disobedient Daughter who Married a Skull

Of the roughly 108 billion people who have ever lived over the course of human history, most left behind no record of their existence. We therefore have no means by which to remember them. Nearly all the everyday heroes – the brave, empathetic, spirited, and devoted people we like to celebrate in the #HistoryHero BLAST – are lost to us. This loss is especially heavy when it comes women and members of pre-literate cultures: those who did not have access to the written word until fairly recently (in historical terms) and whose stories were not considered worthy of being recorded by those who did.

Sometimes, however, we find traces of these lost worlds not in histories, but in stories, particularly in folk tales. Even though these are fictional fables, they provide us glimpses into the values, hopes, and dreams of the peoples and cultures that preceded us. Real or not, the characters of such stories continue to live and breathe with each retelling. Here is one version of one such tale, from southern Nigeria, and the history hero that can be viewed inside it: the Disobedient Daughter who Married a Skull.

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Mariama Ba

Being an oppressed, second-class citizen doesn't mean you don't have anything to say ,and that what you do have to say won't resonate with people all over the world. It might even spur them to action and change lives for the better.

Introducing... Mariama Bâ.

Mariama Bâ was born in Dakar in 1929, the capital of what is now Senegal, then French West Africa. Mariama's mother died shortly after she was born. That's when her father, a very busy high-profile civil servant for the French government, sent Mariama to live with her maternal grandparents.

As conservative Muslims, Mariama's grandparents did not believe that girls should be educated. However, though largely absent through her childhood, Mariama's father insisted that his daughter learn to read and write. He made it possible for her to attend a private French-language school.

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Nzinga

From deep inside the slave trade, she resisted. And through her resistance, Nzinga became a symbol of freedom.

It was the 1570s, the beginning of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Portuguese soldiers and missionaries raided central Africa in search of slaves to send to the sugar plantations and gold mines of the New World. With firearms, they slaughtered Africans who resisted, cutting off their noses to present to the King of Portugal as tribute. They bribed African leaders with gold and guns to help them enslave their own people to feed an insatiable market.

The Kingdom of Ndongo, under the brave leadership of Ngola (king) Kasenda, refused to hand over its people to the Portuguese. As revenge, the Portuguese plundered Ndonga and kidnapped 50,000 villagers, killing many more. The invaders sacked the Ndongo capitol city, Kabasa, where King Kasenda lived, in 1584. He fled with his family just as slave traders prowled the streets of Kabasa in search of them. Among the royal refugees was an infant girl named Nzinga.

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Chinua Achebe

Does Africa has a history? Of course it does! But before Chinua Achebe, few outside the "dark continent" believed that it did.

Achebe ignited a revolution and brought his people to the world...

...with words.

In 1974, an older white man asked Chinua Achebe what he studied. Achebe answered, "African Literature." The white man thought that was funny. He had never thought of Africa as having literature, or a history. 

Chinua Achebe spent his whole life proving that man wrong. Africa had a long history, and numerous stories to tell.

Chinualumogu Achebe, better known as Chinua, was born in the Igbo town on Ogidi on November 16, 1930, in what was then the British Colony of Nigeria. The Igbo had inhabited villages around the Niger River for thousands of years. In 1901, the British conquered the Igbo people, burning much of their land in the name of “pacification.” The Igbo survived as best as they could. But when missionaries converted most of the locals into Christians, schools taught only English, and the Igbo were made to follow the British system of law, their culture was all but decimated.

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Zenobia

In an era when men believed women weren't fit for war or politics, Zenobia nearly brought the Roman Empire to its knees.

It was 240 A.D. The Roman Empire, in power now for almost three centuries, stretched from what is modern-day Iraq, throughout the Middle East, northward into Europe and across the Channel into Britain. Syria was one of many provinces that the Romans annexed, ruled, and taxed...heavily.

This was the world Zenobia of Palmyra was born into. Though the daughter of a family of shepherds, she was allowed an education. She grew up speaking four languages, including Greek and Latin as well as the languages of her people. 

Outside school, she learned how to ride horses and command her family's flocks. All these skills would serve her well in the years to come.

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Jane Goodall

Today is #NationalWildlifeDay. And we've got the perfect  #HistoryHero to celebrate and commemorate this special event.

Even as a child, Jane Goodall loved animals. She liked to watch birds and to sketch them, as well as read zoology texts. As a five-year-old, she hid out in the family henhouse in order to discover where eggs came from. Her mother was frantic with worry. But when Jane emerged, wide-eyed with wonder, holding a newly hatched and still warm egg in her tiny hands, mum didn't have the heart to scold her little girl. Instead, she told Jane that if she worked hard, and took advantage of opportunities, she could be anything she wanted to be. But this was more easily said than done.

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Nelson Mandela

Would you dedicate your life to ending racial injustice even at the risk of your life or your freedom?

Nelson Mandela fought against injustice for decades. Even from jail. 

Mandela spent the prime of his life as a political prisoner. Yet when he stepped into the light after 27 years a captive, he refused to choke on bitterness for the wrongs that were done to him. Instead, he practiced reconciliation. And with it, he changed the world...

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Hypatia of Alexandria

What would you give for the propagation of knowledge, reason, and truth?

Hypatia of Alexandria gave her life.

Hypatia was born in the latter half of the 4th C. C.E. – historians estimate between 355 and 370 – in Alexandria, Egypt. At this time, Alexandria was a center of culture and learning. It was also a place of extreme religious unrest: Christianity was on the rise and as it spread its tentacles, dissenters were severely punished. Hypatia has come to symbolize this conflict. Her story ends when she becomes a martyr in history’s endless struggle between reason and faith.

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