30.01.2017 - UNESCO Havana/Portal of Culture of Latin America and the Caribbean

General History of Africa enriched in Havana

© UNESCO Havana/E. Suárez. Presiding over the opening ceremony, from left to right, Zuleica Romay, Augustin Holl, Miguel Barnet, Roberto Fernández Retamar, Katherine Muller-Marin, Ali Moussa-Iye and Macae Evaristo.

From 23 to 28 January, Casa de las Américas hosted in the Cuban capital the 5th Meeting of the International Scientific Committee of Volume IX of the General History of Africa, whose core objective was to evaluate the progress made, review and validate the recent articles presented by authors, as part of a strategy to finish drafting this work by late 2017.

Organized by UNESCO, the event counted with the invaluable support of its counterparts in the country, particularly the Cuban National Commission for UNESCO and the Ministry of Culture of Cuba, as well as the emblematic Casa de las Américas, its venue, and institutions such as the House of Africa, the International Film and Television School of San Antonio de los Baños and Fábrica de Arte, among others.

Presiding over the opening session were the President of Casa de las Américas, Dr Roberto Fernández Retamar; the Director of the UNESCO Regional Office for Culture in Latin America and the Caribbean, Dr Katherine Muller-Marin; the President of the International Scientific Committee of Volume IX of the General History of Africa, Professor Augustin Holl; and the Head of the UNESCO History and Memory for Dialogue Section, Mr Ali Moussa-Iye.

Also present were the President of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba and of the Fernando Ortiz Foundation, Dr Miguel Barnet; the Secretary of Education of the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, Ms Macae Evaristo; and the Director of the Casa de las Américas Programme of Studies on Afro-America, Zuleica Romay, who served as moderator of the session.

After Romay’s introductory remarks, where the essayist described Cubans as “proud sons and daughters of Africa”, the president of the host institution declared that Casa de las Américas was honoured to have been chosen as the venue for the event. “This exchange,” Retamar added, “begins the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the establishment of relations between UNESCO and Cuba on 29 August 1947”.

In turn, Mr Ali Moussa-Iye highlighted how the long-standing demand of intellectuals of Africa and of African descent motivated UNESCO to undertake as early as 1964 the difficult task of reconstructing the history of Africa in order to disencumber it from colonizing approaches, falsehoods, preconceived notions, racial prejudices and stereotypes that have characterized the few analyses made on the great continent.

“This General History, whose elaboration has undergone two stages and has been translated into 13 languages, including three African languages, not only constitutes a point of reference, but also one of the main contributions of UNESCO to the knowledge of the region”, affirmed Moussa-Iye.

In addition, the UNESCO official underscored that writing history is a dynamic process, subjected to an ongoing renovation of knowledge. Consequently, the Heads of State and of Government of the African Union adopted in Sirte, Libya, a resolution demanding the elaboration of a new volume for the project, aimed at updating the knowledge already contained in the collection, the place of the continent in today’s world, the relations with its diaspora, and the new challenges it must face. It is to these aspects that the ninth volume of the series is dedicated, and this 5th Meeting will centre its discussions on its elaboration.

In turn, the Secretary of Education of Minas Gerais spoke of the unique experience put into practice in Brazil with the passing of a law in 2003 instituting the compulsory teaching of Afro-Brazilian history and culture in primary and secondary school programmes.

Cuban ethnologist and poet Miguel Barnet developed this idea further stating that the history of Africa should form part of educational processes throughout the world, and expressed that the folk cultures of our countries, fruit of the African legacy, zealously conserved through “an orality that refused to be forgotten”, should also be studied in depth.

The President of the International Scientific Committee of Volume IX of the General History of Africa, Prof Augustin Holl, recognized the transcendental nature of the meeting being held in Havana and thanked Cuba and Casa de las Américas for hosting the event.

The opening session continued with presentations on the theme “Global Africa. Revisiting the Relations between Africa and its Diasporas” by the distinguished intellectuals, members of the International Scientific Committee of Volume IX of the General History of Africa, Dr Yolanda Wood (Cuba), Prof Mamadou Diouf (Senegal), Prof Carole Boyce Davies (Trinidad and Tobago), Prof Vanicleia Silva Santos (Brazil) and Prof Olabiyi Babalola Joseph Yai (Benin).

The meeting continued until 28 January with private sessions, as well as activities that allowed Committee members to exchange with researchers, artists, civil society and Cuban journalists on the new approaches and concepts developed in preparation for the volume.

As part of the public programme of the event, the launching of the Spanish edition of the entire collection in digital format took place on Friday 27. The activity took place at the House of Africa Museum in the historic centre of Havana.

On Saturday 28, the closing ceremony of the Meeting took place at the Che Guevara Hall in Casa de las Américas.

On that same day, in the evening, there was a concert at Fábrica de Arte given by the renowned Congolese musician Ray Lema, spokesperson for the Coalition of Artists for the General History of Africa, together with a group of national and foreign musicians, in order to launch it in Cuba.

Speech delivered by Mr Roberto Fernández Retamar, President of Casa de las Américas (ENGLISH)

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