The ‘old’ Atlantean Myth…

Brass head with a beaded crown and plume. Yoruba, probably 12th–14th century AD. From Ife, Nigeria. © The Trustees of the British Museum

I had a really great Myth, Media and Modern Times session on the 9th December with a group of students from Two Trees Sports College. We managed to have a really interesting discussion about the History GCSE syllabus and how African History is not just poorly under-represented but also still taught from a primarily Eurocentric point of view.

Not only that, I was able to introduce the students (and their very enthusiastic tutor) to the amazing Ife Head now on display at The Manchester Museum – kindly on loan to us from the British Museum.

I asked Stephen Welsh, our Curator of Living Cultures, to fill me in about the history of the object before the session and I found the information fascinating:

“From 1910 onwards Leo Frobenius, a German philosopher and archaeologist, conducted excavations in the Nigerian city of Ife. Several years earlier and following his extensive travels throughout Africa Frobenius formulated the African Atlantis theory. This theory astoundingly proposed that Europeans had settled in Africa way before colonial times and brought all the trappings of civilisation with them. Hence any degree of cultural sophistication or organisation was the residual legacy of these ancient European colonisers. Frobenius believed that the rich material culture of Ife proved his theory beyond any doubt.”

The Ife Head is, of course, a traditional African object and not the product of ancient Europeans. But, this historical tale exemplifies how African culture and technology was grossly misrepresented in Europe during the 19th and early 20th Century.

It makes a perfect ‘guest’ addition in the Myth, Media and Modern Times session, which focuses on distilling the stereotypes about Africa and intends to portray to students that Africa is a place full of awe-inspiring cultural diversity and has a long and rich history not commonly included in their classroom syllabus.

Made in Africa: portrait of an Ife ruler is on display at The Manchester Museum until 7th February 2010.

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