A crew of us decided to drive three hours or so to the Sukur Kingdom on Sunday. When I heard that there was a kingdom in Nigeria over 500 years old, atop a mountain we could hike up and down, I was more than game. One, I am an avid workout junkie, whenever I can get it in. Second, the idea took me back to my college years, when I first discovered global Black history,
I recall reading books like Before The Mayflower by the great and long-time Ebony magazine writer and editor Lerone Bennett. I would turn page after page in awe, particularly the beginning sections, as the history of Africa and the world unfolded before my mind’s eye. I could not believe that we had build kingdoms, magnificent civilizations, had institutions for higher learning, and every manner of invention one could name in those ancient times before slavery and colonization ravaged Mother Africa.
Further studies by scholars like Ivan Van Sertima led me to understand that while the Greeks and Romans had certainly built incredible universes in their own right, that many Europeans had learned at the feet of the African world. What I was getting was, first, a deep pride in who I was as a Black person, as an African, if you will; and, secondly, a much more balanced portrait of history, a history that had been mostly erased, and certainly not even remotely shared or taught to American children of any race as we went from kindergarten through the 12th grade. And if a people do not know who they are, they will not like who they are or what they see, and will engage in behavior that is self-hating, self-sabotaging, and self destructive.
For the Black community globally that means internalizing racism, thinking it is mad cool to refer to ourselves as “niggas,” Black-on-Black violence, the bleaching of our skin to make it lighter or closer to white, and even how we put chemicals in our natural hair to make it appear to be straighter or curlier. To me no knowledge of self means no love of self.
The ride to Sukur Kingdom was very difficult, as Nigeria’s roads and so called highways are terrible. I will never again complain about New York City’s many potholes after the three-plus hours to Sukur and three-plus hours back from Sukur. Imagine driving a mini-van on the moon, having to dodge crater-size holes in its surface every few feet, for miles and miles. That is what we experienced. It was rough, bumpy, uncomfortable, and I often wondered if the vehicle would simply break down under the pressure of this terrain.
But the trip was worth it because the beautiful sights of Nigeria were unveiled minute by minute and mile by mile: There were the beautiful Black children, faces smeared with dust and clay dirt, selling sugarcane, or bottles of water, or apples and oranges. There were the many Nigerian women dressed either in traditional African attire or Muslim garb, or some version of both, with a baby strapped to their backs, with buckets filled with items to sell atop their heads, with the songs of Nigeria remixed by the steady and slow foot-beat of their strides. There were the daring young men who ride the cheap-to-buy motorcycles across Nigeria, their recklessness less about a fear of dying than about a love of living, and creating a space where that motorcycle caper is as close to freedom as they are this very moment. There were the many police and military checkpoints along the route, where we were confronted by stone-faced Black men with helmets and dark, penetrating eyes and guns or rifles, their stoic demeanor scanning us closely, including the side of the van that read “American University in Nigeria, Yola.” I wondered what would have happened, at any given stop, if our van had no marking whatsoever.
And there was the little Black boy, sleeping on the front patio of a seemingly abandoned building at the foot of the Mandera Mountains, one of which we would climb to Sukur Kingdom. I did not now whether to wake him or not at first, as he was in a peaceful rest, his shoes to his right, his bare feet pointing up and tickling the face of God. Baby lizards, bees, butterflies each attempted to disturb his sleep, to no avail. But then he jerked himself awake, as he must have sensed my presence. He did not speak English and I did not speak his language of Hausea. But when he smiled, this strikingly handsome young boy with a smile that could easily land him a contract as a model in another land, I could do nothing but smile back. Turns out he was a prince in the village there below the mountains, and was resting so before taking a message to the king atop the same mountain where we were headed.
Kevin Powell is an award-winning writer, public speaker, and political activist. Through the years Kevin has written for Ebony, Esquire, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Essence, Rolling Stone, The Huffington Post, and Vibe, where he served as a senior writer. He is also the author of 11 books, including his latest, “Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and the Ghost of Dr. King: Blogs and Essays.” Follow him on Twitter @kevin_powell, or email him at [email protected]