African Cultural Astronomy
Afrofuturism’s past reaches back to antiquity. From the pre-colonial kingdoms of the Mali to the ancient world of the Egyptians, African art, philosophy, symbols, and cultural practices emphasize connections of people, places, and ideas. These connections, which bind the corporeal with the ethereal, provide the historical and intellectual framework for Afrofuturism and guide the efforts of today’s Black technologists, scientists, and astronauts.
African civilizations have looked to Space to gain scientific and spiritual insights. Such insights informed the technological, ideological, and spiritual makeup of community life. Stargazing and Skywatching people—from the Dogon to the Yoruba – also developed technologies based on astronomical observations. Studying the heavens allowed them to predict the weather, create calendars, develop trade routes, follow the changing seasons, and forge philosophical concepts. African civilizations created art and social practices from both scientific observation and symbolic representation. These would later form the building blocks of Afrofuturism.
"Egyptian deities, Dogon myths, and Yoruba orishas are the most referenced sources for Afrofuturist art. Egyptian technology and Dogon star studies in particular often form the basis of Afrofuturist lore, art, and spectacle."
Ytasha Womack, 2013
While a distinctly 20th century term, Afrofuturism’s history traces back to America’s origins. Scholars like Dr. Isiah Lavender use the term “Colonial Afrofuturists” to describe those who imagined better futures amid the backdrop of slavery and racism. Early proto-Afrofuturists like Benjamin Banneker sought literacy as a new and essential technology. The written word created paths for African Americans to imagine their futures as free Individuals.
The prototype of an Afrofuturist, Benjamin Banneker (1731–1806) was a scientist, stargazer, mathematician, and polymath who produced knowledge for public good and used his platform to challenge racist misperceptions and the evils of slavery. Said to be a descendant of the Dogon people, Banneker was born free in Baltimore and authored a series of almanacs, yearly publications that included important dates, astronomical data, and statistics, that gained him broad recognition. He was also a vocal anti-racist, amplifying the cause of abolition and speaking truth to power “to eradicate that train of absurd and false ideas and opinions” that echoed in the pervasively racist atmosphere of Colonial America. Banneker’s interest and knowledge of space would continue with further generations of Afrofuturists.