Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Berber Personalities & North African Explorers:

As Phys Carpenter had pointed out, “To say that enormous areas of the Sahara remained unexplored until the nineteenth century merely means that these regions had not until then been visited and examined by any European traveller.”
The five Berber Libyan Nasamonians of ancient Eastern Libya were perhaps the first ever to venture into the Sahara desert – at least the first to leave a record of their heroic efforts. During the conversation between some Libyans (from Cyrene) and the Ammonian king Etearchus regarding the (then) riddle of the source of the river Nile, the latter, according to Herodotus, said that, “he had once had a visit from certain Nasamonians, a people who live in Syrtis and the country a little to the eastward. Being asked if there was anything more they could tell him about the uninhabited parts of Libya, these men declared that a group of wild young fellows, sons of chieftains in their country, had on coming to manhood planned amongst themselves all sorts of extravagant adventures, one of which was to draw lots for five of their number to explore the Libyan desert and try to penetrate further than had ever been done before.”(ii, [29-32], trans. A. de Sélincourt )
The North African navigator Hanno (ca 500 – 450 BC) was also among the first to explore the west African coast; and, about 2000 years ago, Berber Mauritania’s king Juba’s expedition went as far west as the Canary Islands. [It might be of interest to note here that Pausanias (Description of Greece, v. 1, xvii, 2) informs us that there were statues of the Libyan Juba in the gymnasium of Ptolemy, near the market-place of Athena.] Whether Hanno was a Berber or a Phoenician it is difficult to say, given the fact that the Berber libraries were burnt, but we know that he was North African – as some people still consider the Berber Apuleius (the author of The Golden Ass) a Roman, just because he wrote in Latin better than any other Roman writer. According to Phys Carpenter,“In Arrian’s account of India, the so-called Indica, often printed as a supplement to his Anabasis of Alexander, the concluding chapter makes the following reference to Hanno: But Hanno the Libyan, starting out from Carthage, travelled beyond the Columns of Heracles out into the ocean, keeping Africa on his left”.
The North African al-Idrisi (12th century) had discovered that the river Nile flowed from the equatorial lakes of Africa long before the European rediscovered it and named its source Lake Victoria. Between 1325 and 1354 the Berber Moroccan Ibn Batuta explored the western portions of the Sahara, then along the northern coast of the continent he reached east Africa, before he continued his quest into Arabia. His claim of reaching the Far East was disputed, just as those of other ancient and medieval travellers, as he could had had the tendency to exaggerate, for one reason or another. Not to mention that the proper geography of Africa became known to Europeans only after the Berber Leo Africanus published his Description de l’Afrique in 1550 – on which Marmol based his book Afrique (1573).
More interesting, but as yet undocumented academically, Berber and Berber-related-Iberian inscriptions were found in Iowa, Texas, Nevada, New Mexico, California, and St. John’s, as well as in Polynesia. A collection of these inscriptions were published by Barry Fell in his Saga America and America BC, and in The Epigraphic Society Occasional Publications (volumes 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 14, 18, 19, 20; 1975 –1991). He also published papers comparing North African languages to American Zuni. But although Fell’s research shows that the Africans and Iberians were in America long before Columbus, scholars made no attempt to follow his results, which they said are ‘debatable’.
Another Berber explorer rarely mentioned in history books is the Moroccan Estevan (Estevanico) De Dorantes. He was from the Berber village of Azemmour (‘olive’),who was a member of the Narvaez expedition that sailed from Spain in 1527. They were stranded on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico at Texas and consequently captured by the native American. He was reported to have died when he was attacked by the Berber-like Zuni tribes between 1539 and 1540. Apparently he continued practicing his native Berber religious rituals and he became highly respected by the Zuni people and even worshipped as a god, meaning demi-god.
The Moorish (Berber) astrolabe (1067) was used for geographical orientation before the Chinese invented the magnetic needle in 1119, and long before the invention of the octant and then the sextant in the 18th century. A’ebdla’ziz Ben A'ebdella’s book ‘Alu’loum Alkawniyyah Wattajribiyyah Fi Almaghrib (p. 125) lists a number of astrolabes invented by North African scientists including Abu Ar-Rabia’ al-Laji al-Fasi (from Fas, in Morocco) and Ya’qoub Ben Mousa al-Fasi. The same author, in citing the French historian Ronan, informs us (p. 34) that Columbus himself confessed that he did not feel that there was a dry continent beyond the Atlantic until he read the Kulliyyat book (written by the North African scientist Ibn Rushd).
In fact America may have been discovered several times, and nor once, before Columbus by Berber and Celtic navigators. According to Anthony Burgess: "Any boy named Maurice . . . ought to be proud at apparently having named a continent. Dr Basil Cottle, the onomastic expert, considers that 'America' derives from the Welsh 'Ap Meuric', son of Maurice. A certain Richard Amerik, senior collector of customs for Bristol, was probably the 'heaviest investor' in John Cabot's second westward voyage in 1498. The nominative claim of Amerigo Vespucci as regards America Dr Cottle considers 'frivolous'" (A Mouthful of Air, p. 328, 329).
But according to a recent discovery by Kirsten Seaver (Maps, Myths and Men) (endorsed by Peter Barber of the British Library, London, UK) the Vinland map, which rewrote the history of America and was thought to have been drawn in 1440 (or fifty years before C. Columbus’s trip to America), is a 1930 forgery by the Austrian Father Joseph Fischer as a protest about Nazi Norse mythology. The map appears to confirm the arrival of Norsemen in America five centuries before Columbus paved the way for the destruction of Aztec and other Native cultures and sacred temples, which Father Fischer hoped to cure the Nazi’s disease with. “Bjarni Herjolfsson is believed,” reports Nicholas Hellen, “to have sailed there in 985 and Leif Eriksson in 1002. Historians now accept that the Norse explorers were indeed first – but the map which appeared to prove it was an inspired fraud.”(Sunday Times, London, 04/08/2002).
The Berber Andalusian, inventor-engineer Abbas Bin Firnas (عباس بن فرناس, 810–887 AD) was born in Izn-Rand Onda (Ronda, Spain) in 810 AD. At the age 70 he had entered the pages of history as the first man to fly. Inspired by birds, he invented artificial wings, covered them and himself with feathers, took to a hill in Cordoba, Spain, and launched himself into the air. He was said to have flown for a considerable time, before he crash-landed, badly hurting his back; apparently because he had failed to include a tail in his device. His story was told by the Moroccan historian Ahmed Mohammed Maqqari (d.1632), based on a 9th century account of the poet Mu'min Ibn Said, who said that Ibn Firnas flew faster than the phoenix and that he dressed his body in the feathers of a vulture. [Lynn Townsend White, Jr., Eilmer of Malmesbury, an Eleventh Century Aviator: A Case Study of Technological Innovation, Its Context and Tradition, Technology and Culture 2 (2), 1961, p. 97–111.]
 Berber Nesmenser; Zuwarah, Libya.
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Updated: 12 February 2012.

Updated: 06 May 2012.