The Dawning of the African Eve
Why begin a book review with a story about the ‘African Eve’, who is defined as the most recent woman from whom all living humans descend in an unbroken line purely through their mothers and through the mothers of those mothers, back until all lines converge on one woman? The Clan of Southern Man by John Valentine is written “...in the tradition of pioneering studies in black history in the vein of Chancellor William’s The Destruction of Black Civilization: Great Issues of a Race from 4500 B.C. to 2000 A.D. and Cheikh Anta Diop’s African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality...”, classics in the canon of Africa’s contribution to humanity. The Clan of Southern Man sheds much-needed light on the role, history, and contribution of the “Southern Man” – southern Africa-originated black people – in the evolution, survival, and success of the human species.
Today, Rebecca L. Cann is a professor in the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Hawai’i. Back in 1987, a year after she had joined the faculty, her paper on the genetics of human origins was published. Her paper suffered a contentious two-year incubation at the prestigious British Journal Nature because it totally upended the field of paleoanthropology — the study of human origins. Most of the eminent scientists in the field fought the paper fiercely. However, presently Cann’s paper forms the basis of the most widely held scientific view: that all living humans descend from a small population that dwelled in southern Africa a couple hundred thousand years ago. DNA (the molecule that carries our genetic information) analysis inferred an African origin, and more importantly – that all modern DNA descended from a single African woman. Cann also inferred that the African common ancestor of modern humans lived between 140,000 to 290,000 years ago.
Accordingly, Valentine uses several disciplines (anthropology, history, genetics, biology) and references several respected researchers in support of his work. Through his introduction of the ‘African Eve’, Valentine expands his findings to the evolution of the races: “We don't know for sure whether people at this time saw themselves in terms of race, but I suspect not. The earliest evidence I've uncovered of people being classified by race is found in the tomb of Sesostris I of the 12th dynasty. The bas-reliefs in Sesostris I’s tomb date back to the Eighteenth Dynasty, around 3,600 years ago. The monument is the oldest complete ethnological document available. It lists basically four families of men: The Rot-en-ne-Rome (The Egyptians), the Nahasi (black Africans), the Namou (Asians), and the Tomhou (Europeans)”.
An avid historian and Egyptologist, Valentine skillfully weaves the story of human climatic adjustment, survival intelligence, perseverance, and tenacity; while always noting those African-rooted societal and foundational contributions that have been (and continue to be) absorbed by continuously melding cultures, and that have elevated human sovereignty. Positive acknowledgements given, Valentine does not shy away from listing the ravages that oppressive cultures – those rooted in a savage patriarchy – have imposed on the African matriarchy and its descendants.
Yet, The Clan of Southern Man is not history alone. The author closes the book with two praiseworthy and aspirational chapters: ‘Black Women: Keep Up the Good Work’ and ‘The Coming New Age and the Return of God’.
Along with Destruction of Black Civilization and African Origin of Civilization, The Clan of Southern Man is a very informative and readable addition to the canon of the African contribution to humankind.
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