EAP Secretariat's Archive
2000 May 20
Encyclopedia Africana Out At Last
Daily Graphic - Page 9
Accra, Ghana, West Africa
Would you believe it if you were told
that Wretched of the Earth author Franz Fanon once lived in Accra? Did
you know that President Jerry John Rawlings’ father was a
pharmacist? That Namibian athlete Frankie Fredericks has a chain of
degrees in Computer Science and Business Administration and that
Denzel Washington is a highly-trained journalist?
Nearly everyone knows Iddi Amin had a
paranoid and volatile temperament but did you know that the former
Ugandan dictator was widely believed to have engaged in cannibalism
and that he suffered from hypermania, a medical condition
characterised by erratic emotional outbursts and extremely rapid
Oral tradition has it that the Ewe
people of the Volta Region of Ghana migrated from Oyo in the Yoruba
State of Nigeria in 13th century. Is there any truth to this? Would
you like to know all there is to know about Akinwade Oluwole Soyinka (
Wole Soyinka) Whitney Houston, Bob Marley, Martin Luther King,
Professor Kofi Awoonor, James Brown, Kwesi Nfume and Michael Jackson?
You will find the information and a lot more in Encyclopaedia Africana.
Until months ago no encyclopaedia
existed on Africa and the African Diaspora. There was none with
detailed entries on every African nation prominent, African ethnic
groups, Black history, the influence of African culture on World
history and Africans and African Americans of great accomplishment.
For more than half a century Africans
on the continent and in the Diaspora have waited for their own version
of Encyclopaedia Britannica. It has been worth the long wait. Unknown
to many Africans at home and abroad, Encyclopaedia Africana literally
sneaked out of the printer’s a few months ago, clad in an aptly
black, leathery, water-proof cover with gold lettering, and encased in
a colourful black, green and blue box sporting the photographs of some
eminent Africans and African Americans.
For sheer weight, Encyclopaedia
Africana is the mason’s proverbial 10-tonne cement block, but that
is only to be expected of a one-volume Encyclopaedia with incomparable
entries on the Black world. The volume is a collosal 2095 pages of
articles, maps, tables, charts and photographs chronicling and
reflecting the experience of Africans at home and Africans in the
Nearly 500 academics from the very best
of universities around the world have contributed invaluable knowledge
and information to Encyclopaedia Africana. The Encyclopaedia is really
made up of 26 "mini-volumes" corresponding to the letters of
the alphabet. Every article in the Encyclopaedia Africana is
cross-referenced to others in order to guide readers through a vast
range of topics on Africa and the African Diaspora. There is enough to
exhaust any researcher’s, teacher’s or student’s curiosity and
interest in such issues as the history of African nations, the history
of slavery, African American literature, music and art, ancient
African civilisations and the experience of black people in France,
India, Russia and other parts of the world.
Some Ghanaians and indeed the people of
other African countries may have their complaints. While there are
entries on some of the greatest African and African American
sportsmen, there is none on Ghanaian boxing legend Azumah Nelson.
While there is a fairly long one on Professor Kofi Awoonor there is
none on such Ghanaian writers of international prominence as Ayikwei
Armah and Ama Atta Aidoo.
Exhausting every aspect of the subject
matter of an encyclopaedia is almost impossible, explain editors Kwame
Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates Jr. "Some choices had to be
made. In the process some interesting questions have been left
The editors say they have sought
nonetheless, to provide a broad range of information and to represent
the full range of Africa and her Diaspora. About 40 per cent of the
text of the encyclopaedia is devoted exclusively to the African
continent. The history of every African nation, what happened within
their respective territories before their political independence, the
names of their ethnic groups and biographies of eminent African men
and women are covered. There is information on their geographical
features, major cities, lakes, deserts, culture, religion, plants,
animals and a lot more.
"A comprehensive reference work
that every family should own" African American basketball great
Michael Jordan says of Encyclopaedia Africana. American poet Maya
Angelo says "Now, with Africana, we have an encyclopaedia where
Africa and her descendants are the features, not the forgotten".
"What a wonderful thing for young
black people to have at last" notes African-American Marian
Wright Elderman. "Within a single source, there is a chronicle of
the history and achievements, the suffering and the triumps of African
Americans and their cousins in Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America
and the rest of the world," Elderman adds.
At home, here in Ghana, the small
handful of people who have browsed the volume seem lost for words in
describing its value to black posterity.
Encyclopaedia Africana is the
brainchild of African American historian, journalist, political
activist and sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois. For more that half a century
beginning from 1909 till his death in 1963, Du Bois resolutely kept
alive a dream to edit an Encyclopaedia Africana, believing as he did,
that "a broad assemblage of biography, interpretive essays, facts
and figures would do for the denigrated black world of the 20th
century what Encyclopaedia Britannica had done for the European world
in the 18th century".
Beginning from 1909, Du Bois announced
his intention to edit an Encyclopaedia Africana in letters to Pan
Africanists around the world. While his proposed project was met with
unanimous enthusiasm, Du Bois found it difficult to obtain funding for
Eventually and quite surprisingly,
Anson Phelps-Stokes, Head of the Phelps-Stokes Foundation which was
dedicated to "ameliorating race relations in America" called
a meeting of scholars and public figures at Howard University on
November 7, 1931 with the express agenda of editing "an
Encyclopaedia of the Negro", a project which appeared no
different from Du Bois’ 1909 project!
Du Bois was not invited to the meeting.
He angrily protested, whereupon a second meeting was convened on
January 9, 1932. The meeting unanimously elected Du Bois
Editor-in-Chief of the now named "Encyclopaedia of the
Negro". After fruitless efforts to raise money from various
foundations to start the project, Du Bois eventually abandoned hope of
ever editing a great black encyclopaedia. At the invitation of Dr.
Kwame Nkrumah, Du Bois repatriated to Ghana 1961 where he established
a secretariat for the Encyclopaedia project.
Henry Louis Gates Jr., a former student
of African Nobel Prize Literature laureate Wole Soyinka and Kwame
Anthony Appiah who had become interested in the project while studying
at the University of Cambridge, kept the dream alive and eventually
secured the necessary support from such people as Quincy Jones, Martin
Payson, Sonny Mether and Alberto Vitale to make Du Bois’ dream come
The chair of Africana’s Advisory
Board is occupied by Wole Soyinka and Robert W. Woodruff, Professor of
Arts at Emory University.
Schools, colleges, universities, public
and work place libraries will find Encyclopaedia Africana a great
treasure. Africana is distributed in Ghana by E.P.P. Books Limited.
Responses to the above article:
- Encyclopedia Africana
Out At Last - Rejoinder
by Mrs. Grace Bansa, Acting Director of the Secretariat, Encyclopaedia Africana Project,
Accra, Ghana, West Africa, June 3, 2000