Prolific historian no more

The distinguished Ghanaian historian passed away on May 24 at the age of 76 after years of battling stroke. He died at 37 Military Hospital in Accra, Ghana. He had been on admission at the hospital since 2001 when he suffered a stroke.

In Zimbabwe, his books form an important collection of books that are a must for high school pupils and university scholars who want to learn the history of West Africa as told by its own son of the soil -Prof Boahene. His work enjoys profound respect from researchers and academics who see his work as restoring the missing pages of African history.

A Zimbabwean historian said Prof Boahene would be missed for his open-mindedness and non-judgemental approach to historical issues, something that made his work to be of lasting significance.

“In his collection of books, one finds the highest standards of scholarship and sensitivity in restoring the missing pages of Africa’s past,” said a historian who teaches at a high school in Harare. “His work is important for every student who loves African history.”

Distinguished historians, writers and scholars from different parts of the world rolled up their sleeves to pay tribute to one of Africa’s finest historians.

“Death has robbed Africa of a mighty tree,” wrote Cameron Duodu, a veteran scribe who writes for the London-based New African magazine as well as the City Press of South Africa.

“Imagine you are studying history under white teachers and you are ordered to read the works of the British philosopher, David Hume. And you read the following: ‘I’m apt to suspect the Negroes to be naturally inferior to the white. There never was a civilised nation of any other complexion than white,” Doudu went on.

“Next, you read from another ‘authority’ Hugh Trevor-roper, that: ‘Perhaps in the future, there will be some African history to teach.

But at present there is none. There is only the history of Europeans in Africa. The rest is darkness.’

“What would you do? asked Duodu. “You would perhaps ask yourself, “But how can Africa, which is the second-largest continent in the world and which is inhabited by tens of thousands of ethnic groups, have had nothing but ‘darkness’ in its history? What were the African people doing at the time the Europeans had not set foot on African soil? Was that not history?”

These, he wrote, were the type of questions that ‘racked’ the mind of Prof Boahene, when he enrolled at the University of the Gold Coast (now Ghana) in the late 1950s to read history.

Duodu paid tribute to Prof Boahene for challenging the Eurocentric view of history about Africa something that saw him play an important role in redefining history as told by Africans and in the African context.

“He used sources which had never before been used by some of the ‘African historians.’ Adu Boahene then confronted the ‘traditional Eurocentric’ school with his findings. He was sensationally irreverent about them . . .” Duodu said.

Prof Boahene was an Emeritus Professor at the Department of History at the University of Ghana and was most noted for his political activism, international role as a visiting professor to various universities across the world as well as working as a consultant to Unesco.

His collection of work which adds a thread to the tapestry of Africa’s history include several books -A History of West Africa, African Perspectives on Colonialism, Africa In The Twentieth Century, The Ghanian Establishment, The Horizon History of Africa Yaa Asantewaa and the Asante-British War of 1900-1, The monograms Mfantsipim and the Making of Ghana, A Centenar History 1876-1976 for which he won the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa in 1997.

But perhaps Prof Boahene’s most outstanding work that would be permanently etched on the minds of African scholars, is his contribution to Unesco’s eight volume History of Africa series.

He was the president of the Scientific Committee of the Unesco history project. Prof Boahene was the ruling New Patriotic Party’s (NPP) first presidential candidate in the 1992 Ghana general elections and was a well known critic of President Jerry Rawling’s rule.

His inestimable contributions to African studies and Pan African thought is enduring. His loss is like having a library burned to the ground.

“With Adu Boahene’s death, African history has lost a mighty tree, but the ‘branches’ of this particular tree will spread out and drop enormous quantities of seeds, which will sprout on Africa’s good earth,” Duodu concluded in a befiting tribute to one of Africa’s renowned historian.

July 2006
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