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Olmec Exhibition Hoax
By Kwaku Person-Lynn, Ph.D.
When word went out that an Olmec exhibition was coming to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, there was a quiet kind of excitement. The Olmecs were America’s first civilization; located in Mexico, with a strong Afrikan influence.
For those unable to travel to Mexico, this was going to be a special occasion. Most had never heard of the Olmecs until Ivan Van Sertima’s book (They Came Before Columbus – The African Presence In Ancient America), was published by Random House in 1979. The book reached its 21st printing several few years ago. No telling where it is presently. The book is a literary legion.
After Van Sertima lectured at Compton Community College’s “Afrikan Peoples Conference”, organized by Dr. Billie Jo Moore, the audience was sold on an Afrikan presence and influence on the Olmec civilization.
Those who studied the Olmecs, but had never seen Olmec art, were ecstatic they would finally be able to see what they had been reading and researching. Seeing Olmec artifacts would only validate what had been researched over the years through literature, photographs and slides.
Upon entering the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the first thing one sees is a colossal Olmec head, the exact same one on the cover of Van Sertima’s book.
I was really anxious to read the written description, naively thinking Afrikan people would finally receive credit, grudgingly withheld over decades since this topic became public. As usual, not one mention was made of the Afrikan presence or influence in Olmec culture. I could not believe, or maybe I could, that they had done it again.
Many remember this occurring during the King Tut Exhibition, at LACMA. National Geographic, along with Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Kemet (Egypt), meaning, you have to go through him to do research in Egypt, teamed up to describe Pharaoh Tutankhamen, a “North African Caucasian.” National Geographic and Dr. Hawass placed a photo on its cover, with ‘their’ white King Tut. When walking through the exhibition, all of the figures of King Tut were either black or brown.
Dr. Hawass brushed this off on the National Geographic website in an interview titled, “Color, Symbolism, and Race (EGYPT)”. He stated the dark color represented the “fertility of the land,” and had nothing to do with the color of his skin. Of even greater note, is his statement from a BBC interview, where he said, “Blacks had nothing to do with Egypt.”
That battle is still being waged in the denial that Afrikans (Black people) in Kemet (Egypt) created: civilization, science, medicine, philosophy, education, law, engineering, art, music, spiritual thought, writing, architecture, agriculture, and so many other human gifts for the world. This war is being fought right here, right now.
The written description of the mentioned Olmec head in the museum would lead one to believe, if there was no figure to look at, that a person of Afrikan descent was being described. “The furrowed brow, almond-shaped eyes, flaccid cheeks, flat nose, and thick mouth on this head convey great realism and suggest an individual of mature age in a leadership role.” One description stated that the figure might look the way it does due to it being “re-carved”, rather than just looking Afrikan.
It also stated, “The helmet [also on other Olmec colossal heads] displays some features typical of other San Lorenzo portrait heads, such as the horizontal band topped by a woven motif with circular elements.”
I remember Van Sertima stating in one of his lectures, the only other place those particular helmets were seen, were wore by Afrikan soldiers in the Egypto/Nubian area (southern Egypt/northern Sudan).
One telling point is the Olmec head, not in the exhibition, but readily accessible on the Internet, with seven corn roll braids on the side of the head. That was only seen on Afrikan men in the Egypto/Nubian area.
In 1964, the Congress of Americanists stated, “There cannot be any doubt that there were visits from the Old World to America long before Columbus.” We know of the Vikings visit to America, around 1000 A.D., but that was long after the Afrikans, around 1200 B.C.E.
It is really difficult to comprehend the denial of the presence of Afrikans in the Olmec culture, who sailed back and forth to the Americas almost two thousand years before Columbus. Due to Van Sertima’s presentation before a United States Congressional Committee, 7 July 1987, in charge of the quincentennial (500 years) celebration of America, declared that Columbus’ visits to the Western world “could no longer be considered discoveries, but simply as voyages.” The sad note regarding this, our children are still being taught that Columbus discovered America.
There are such stellar scholars as Van Sertima, Legrand Clegg II, Rafique Jairazbhoy, Jan Carew, Alexander Von Wuthenau, Cheikh Anta Diop, Michael Coe, among several others, who have demonstrated an absolute presence of Afrikans in the Olmec culture. When the number of pyramids, especially those in Teotihuacán: Pyramid of the Sun, Pyramid of the Moon, with the same shape and functions as the pyramids in Egypt are included in the mix (temple, tomb, observatory), where is the basis for denial?
When evidence is presented regarding American fruits and vegetables found in Afrika, and Afrikan fruits and vegetables found in America, indicates somebody had to travel to transport those items during the time of Olmec civilization, where is the basis for denial?
It is unfortunate that such a fine institution as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is so derelict in their duty in providing accurate information to the public. How can one trust such a place when they have deliberately omitted or distorted information I’m sure the public would love to see?
#1 by Colleen Allen-Woods on October 28, 2010 - 2:32 am
Hello Dr. Kwaku,
I whole-heartedly agree that this too has been white-washed. It’s more than disturbing that there is never positive historical recognition or contribution given to people of Afrikan descent unless it comes in the form of a basketball or its player.
I was looking forward to going to the exhibit with the expectation of seeing accurate information listed about the culture and origin of the Olmec head. Why again are we not surprised? Anything good can’t contain an element of “blackness,” but we know otherwise. Racism is so intrenched in this society that its stench sickens me to the core.
What a job we have. Maybe we should send letters to the curator of the museum letting it be known that based on our findings they “mistakenly” placed the incorrect description on the name plate or card.
Keep up the good work Dr. Kwaju.
#2 by adreana obienu on October 29, 2010 - 3:14 am
wow. I sent my children to your summer program a couple of years back and listening to all they learned taught me more then I ever gotten from school. I plan to soon attend your classes myself along with the children when time permits. Stay Blessed. Thanks always.
#3 by T. Williams on November 5, 2010 - 11:17 am
This is why we have to continue educating and owning and operating our own museums.
#4 by Sonia T. Gittens on November 5, 2010 - 6:31 pm
Frankly, the attitude of the museum doesn’t surprise me one bit. Unfortunately, there is much denial in the “Caucasian world” concerning the true nature of many marginalized peoples. I find this to be a common thread among even the highly visible scholars of the world, who repeatedly, either omit racial accuracy or distort the facts to make it more palatable for the public to accept.
As a Master exhibitor of historical artifacts and information for more than 23 years, I believe that until the world can come to grips with the fact that, in all probability, Jesus the Christ (who’s proven geographical linage is from a Middle Eastern society) did not have blue eyes and blonde hair. However, ignorantly, we will continue to dicker back and forth on the issues of accuracy, inclusion and exclusion until which time we can liberate our minds, free our souls and tell the whole truth.