by Anita Harrell
Native peoples have been in the Americas for from 13,000 to 20,000 years, depending on your source. Those in what is now Virginia Beach were part of a group referred to as Eastern Woodlands, found up and down the East coast, most speaking a variant of Algonkian.
After them came the Africans, among others, although chances are you didn't learn that in school.
There are documents in Arabic recording the story of Abubakari II, who in the 1300s abdicated the throne of Mali in favor of his brother, known as Mansa Musa. Abubakari had heard old stories of ships that went to sea and didn't return, and had a burning desire to explore what lay on the other side of the ocean. There is a current off the west coast of Africa that carries ships south, then meets another current flowing west. Barring accident or poor planning, such as not taking along enough fresh water, the second current will deposit those same ships anywhere from northern South America to the Caribbean, whether they had intended to go there or not. It is believed that this is where Abubakari II's ships went, because they didn't return either.
Although the early arrival of Africans in the Americas is not widely known, those who doubt should consider this:
We know that those who live on the water, like the people of the Mali Empire, are likely to be good sailors. If you check a map, you'll see that there are waterways in the Americas that, with a few breaks, will take you from the far tip of Argentina in the south all the way to the Great Lakes and their tributaries in Canada. So it isn't too much to expect that, along with period trade goods since found in the Americas far from their point of origin, African traders also left their DNA. This may account for a 17th century English writer's describing the Eastern Woodland Natives he encountered as having “a black, swarte [dark-skinned] complexion.”
Even today, there are many similarities between the worldviews of traditional Native and African peoples, reflected in reverence for the land, communal living, the importance of the drum, certain spiritual practices, respect and appreciation for the wisdom of elders and more. (The English settlers later worked very hard to disrupt this natural affinity – through legislation and by both hiring Africans to hunt Indians and by pressuring Indians to enslave Africans.)
Not too long before the English arrived, blood began soaking the soil. And it started near Virginia Beach.
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