They Came Before Columbus: The Mandingo Traders of Medieval Mexico

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We observe the fusion of two forces, tradition and newness, to produce the Aztec empire. This fusion was accelerated by the arrival of a series of cultured immigrants who brought with them ancient knowledge. The most interesting are those whom the chronicles name Those Who Returned.~Ignacio Bernal, Mexico before Cortez

Ivan Van Sertima
Dr. Ivan Van Sertima


Dr. Ivan Van Sertima wrote the book They Came Before Columbus with the intent to reconstruct a fragmented history of Africa in the America’s. His purpose was to rebuild libraries of history that had been destroyed. It was estimated that over 84,000 books were destroyed that killed off African/and or black history. His goal was to not only re-write the history, but rid the minds of the Eurocentric viewpoints of history. His pioneering work in linguistics and anthropology brought to light  the African presence in Ancient America prior to Columbus discovering America. Van Sertima writes about how not only did they arrive in the America’s, but the influence they made integrating with other cultures. This is the story of the Mandingo Traders in Medieval Mexico.

They Came Before Columbus


The traders had migrated to Tenochtitlan  today known as Mexico City.  No one had no idea where they originally came from, as all sorts of people were gravitating toward the lakes to form the  of nucleus of New Mexico. The traders were described as the black merchants from the Hot Lands selling vivid colored mantles of cotton cloths, golden ear pendants, & smoking pipes. The appearance of these men dressed in loincloths made observers pass judgement on them as being barbaric and wretched.

Settling into Mexico the traders had built houses and a temple. A wooden statue of a werewolf stood at the forecourt of the temple. The Coyotli-naual was built in the form of a werewolf and a man. Dressed in coyote skin, but had the figure of a  slightly bent over old man. A human mask covered the coyote head. Protruding from its mouth were long pointed gold teeth. Decked out in black stones was a stick in the hand of the statue. The statue resembled the appearance of the black traders with small white rattles on the ankles and sandals of yecotl leaves on its paws. Haven’t experienced or seen anything like this before featherworkers in town were fascinated & loved all the exquisite new material that was being  exchanged through trade.  As the new main attraction in the city Africans had influenced those to join in their rituals and festivities.  The origins of the werewolf cult were was traced back to the Bambara, the leading tribe of the Mandingo of Medieval Mali. In examining Mexican rituals, it was observed the God of the Amanteca was clothed in werewolf skin, similarly wearing a human mask on its head. In the Mexican ritual the God also yields a stick deck out in black stones. In Bambara rituals feathered carcass of two great birds are part of the ceremonies. In comparison to the Mexican rituals a pot is carried on the back of the god with numerous feathers of a bird. According to the text the Quetzalli bird was introduced by the  pochteca. Pochteca is defined as long distance traveling merchants in the Aztec Empire. Visually you could see the Mexico God wearing an anklet of small white rattles. Rattles were are part of the Bambara rituals.  Is it by coincidence that we see similar parallels between the Bambara tribe rituals and Mexican rituals? Van Sertima states we can see the confluence of cultures. We can look at it as merging  or blending of cultures seeking to understand each other & adopting customs, rituals, & goods they were not previously accustomed to.


Ruins of Tenochtitlan

Mandingo traders not only played a role in influencing new cultural norms in Mexico. The infusion of linguistics & adoption of Nagualism. Nagualism is the belief of Nahuals. Merriam Webster defines Nahuals as a personal guardian spirit or protective alter ego assumed by various Middle American Indians to reside in an animal or less frequently in some other embodiment. In his book Van Sertima references Daniel Garrison Brinton.

Daniel Garrison Brinton was an American surgeon, historian, anthropologist, and ethnologist who authored the book Nagualism: A study of Native American folk lore and history. In his book he discusses the nature and meaning of nahual and the derivatives of the verbal root na.  It was concluded that the  word na and the body of beliefs attached to them-nagualism were brought into Mexico by foreign medicine men.
Furthermore it is discovered the meaning of Nahual meaning knowledge. Mystical knowledge, the knowledge of the hidden secret things of nature. Evidence suggest that root word na, nahual, nagalism was not ever  found in the dialect of the Mayan society prior to the arrival of traders from the Hot Lands.

During their time in the America’s the mandingo traders mixed and mingled. In the 1960’s serological surveys were conducted on the Lacandon Indians of the Maya tribes. Serology is the scientific study or diagnostic examination of blood serum. Dr. Alfonso de Garay Director of the Genetic Program of the National Commission for Nuclear Energy in Mexico, uncovered from his surveys early and extensive contact between the Lacandons and Africans. As Negroid characteristics had been found in their blood. Dr. de Garay’s report includes, a reference to the sickle cell,  which is a malaria resistant mutant gene that usually is only found in the blood of black people.

  • From eyewitness accounts, to  linguistics research, & scientific studies Africans were in ancient America prior to the arrival of Columbus.
  • The value of They Came Before Columbus showcases a different black history, that there is far more to black history than slavery.
  • His book shows the impact Africans had on the civilizations they interfaced it. More importantly his work back up is backed up by references that point you to the evidence.
  • As quoted by publishers weekly They Came Before Columbus is a big boost to black cultural history.
  • I encourage anyone seeking to learn a different black history other than slavery,  to read this book.
  • Let us honor Ivan Van Sertima legacy for his dedication, commitment, and sacrifice in rebuilding libraries of history to educate the generations of the past, present, and future.


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african history, african tribes, Aztec empire, Black History, Christopher Columbus, Igancio Bernal, Ivan Van Sertima, Lacandon Indians, Mexico City, The Coin: Black History on the Other Side, They Came Before Columbus

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