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Wednesday, 14 December 2016

BBC's "Black and British: A Forgotten History: 1. First Encounters" Burgh by Sands African heritage

The first episode of the BBC 2 series "Black and British: A Forgotten History - 1. First Encounters" first broadcast 9/11/2016, presented by David Olusoga (and whose book this series derives from).
The first part of the episode regards how Africans were stationed at a Roman fort along "Hadrian's wall".

At 04:51 into the episode David introduces an Archaeologist, Richard Benjamin (Dr Richard Benjamin).
Dr Benjamin heads the "International Slavery Museum" team at National Museums, Liverpool.
Dr Benjamin states that Roman history was a "conduit for him being of a diverse backround" as he is of Gayanan parentage.
Dr Benjamin then shows an image of the tomb slab found in South Shields of a Roman by the name of Victor who was "MAVRVM" and he states "so a Moor so from the north african provinces".
Dr Benjamin then shows an image from a medieval copy of the Roman "Notitia Dignitatum" of a "military unit" called the Numerus (auxillary) Maurorum Aurelianorum. Richard says the unit was "named in honour of Marcus Aurelius" and who were "stationed at Aballava" (Burgh by Sands in the modern English county of Cumbria).
What Dr Benjamin does not say is this is not the famous Marcus Aurelius, the stoic Emperor and of "Gladiator a la Richard Harris" but the regnal name of an Emperor who is known to us today as Caracalla.
Dr Benjamin also did not mention that the modern descendants of the Roman province of Mauretania are the Moroccans.
Dr Benjamin then states "the likelyhood they were brown or black, not all of them but equally people can't say to me that they weren't, that this unit were all white by the time they got here. For me personally to realise there may have been Roman soldiers, you know, two thousand years ago who may have looked like me or members of my family, that gave me a sense of identity and made me very proud."
Dr Benjamin seems to think that those people (such as myself) who have read the Roman histories that have come down to us think everyone within the Empire was "white" when that was far from the recorded case.  Its absurd.
Dr Benjamin's academic backround, his heading of the "International Slavery Museum" in Liverpool as well as his Gayanan ancestry, shaoes the agenda behind this "discovery" of Africans stationed at Aballava.
David then states: "After some eighteen hundred years the people of Burgh by Sands are reawakening the memory of their villagers African Roman heritage."
Going along with Dr Benjamin, David now conflates a continent with an ethnic group.

(Aside from the racial agenda manipulation, the plaque commissioned by the BBC looks very similar to the popular, and since 2014 cancelled, Channel 4 "Time Team" logo.)
Then a local boy shows a drawing he made of "Septius Servus" (Septimius Severus) to David, he states "ah this is the Emperor who we know was from north Africa".
Septimius Severus, though from north Africa (the town of Leptis Magna) was of Italian, Punic and maybe Libyan parentage. He was a "child" of the Empire, at a time when people who had the means to move around the provinces, did, as his parents clearly did. In his time it was loyalty to Rome that was asked whilst being free to retain a "mother tongue" and local traditions.
Then the boy states "It's spectacular that Romans came from Africa and this is where the Aballava fort was."
Though this sounds scripted, the use of the name Roman is correct as in 212 AD Caracalla (Marcus Aurelius) had made all free men in the Empire Roman citizens, regardless of their ethnic origin by an edict known as the "Constitutio Antoniniana".
At 07:09 into the episode David goes into the local church, St Michael's, which had resued some of the stones from the ruined fort.

It is likely that when this fort was constructed in the 2nd century AD it would have been by masons within the Roman army and the hard, dangerous, work of extracting the rocks would likely have been done by slaves. White slaves, likely from Britannia.
David states: "there could have been as many as 500 soldiers occupying the fortress that stood here and the culture and beliefs that they brought with them would have shaped life around the fort. Beyond the walls of the fort was the Vicus and this was a cilivian area. Roman soldiers were pretty well paid and so there was no shortage of traders and merchants only too happy to provide them with everything that they needed. So out there would have been bars and gambling houses and grocers and take aways and doctors and spirit guides. Now some of these merchants will have travelled across the Empire with the legions. But so perhaps would some of the families of the soldiers and they would have settled here. So what we have here at Aballava is the first community that we know of in Britain that included people from Africa."
Again, the conflation of a continent with an ethnic group, the Berbers, whom the Mauretanians belong to.
 
A local girl states: "it's quite amazing that a small village like Burgh by Sands can have such like big history".
Then an unnamed man, in front of the gates of St Michael's, states: "we think about the songs the soldiers would have sung and the bed time stories told in the civilian settlement of African songs and African stories here."
 
Once again the conflation of a continent with an ethnic group (the Berbers). If the man is ignorant of Roman history he can be excused of such a deception.
David then mentions how members of the African (west African instead of Maghrebi, whom the Berbers still live) and Carribean (mostly Jamaica and some of the Lesser Antilles islands) communities, who are said to live alongside "Hadrian's wall" today, have joined in the celebration.
The priest of St Michael's then asks a Ghanan man by the name of Tony to do the honours of unveiling the plaque.
 
Tony states: "I'm privillaged for me to unveil the plaque to say the Africans were here (sic)."
 
Then a woman, unnamed, of the "local" Caribbean community states: "For me what started here was the Black presence in Britain, the presence being real rather than just in a history book".
 
Yet it was due to a "history book" called the Notitia Dignitatum that provided the evidence that a contingent of Mauretanians were based at Aballava.
A man, unnamed, of Black African parentage, then states: "in times when multicultural Britain seems to be breaking down I think its quite interesting that before the formation of Britain there were foreign African Romans working here to protect the borders. So yeah it makes me proud to be African and proud to be British."
(He doesn't state what aspects of multicultural Britain are "breaking down" or why he could not have been proud before of being African until this event. Ultimately we are all Africans since it is where humanity origanted from.) 
After Caracalla's edict the Mauretanians could no longer be classed as "foreign" or even "African". They were Romans. But he can be excused if he is ignorant of Roman history but airing this ignorance on the BBC pushes an erroneous agenda.
Tony then states "I was so pleased that African army brought the children African songs. So the children we promise you if you want to learn many African songs let us know and I will teach you (sic)." Tony then gets some of the white villagers to take part in a rendition of a Ghanan song and chant out the words "che che kulay" a few times whilst holding their hands to their heads.
 
Great fun but it obscures the supposed aim of the event, commemorating the contingent of Mauretanians who, according to this episode, had been forgotten about and were based at Aballava. Their Berber songs would have been different to the Ghanan songs. 
If truth had been the objective of this event the BBC could have arranged for a representative of the Moroccan community in Britain to come along, unveil the plaque and teach the locals a Berber song.
Maybe for the BBC, Moroccans are not a suitable "African" representation for their program?
At 10:20 into the episode the unnamed woman who was supervising the fitting of the plaque to the gate of St Michael's church then states that she is "fourth generation in the village, Cumbria we go back to the eleven hundreds but not as, not as (sic) far as the Black history that we have revealed today. This is now part of our story in a very real special way."
 
She may consider herself English but the Cumbrians predate the Roman invasion and are related to the Welsh
If this woman is ignorant of British history she can be excused, but from what she stated it seems an intentional, misleading, statement by her or even scripted for her to read from an autocue by those behind this program. If truth had been the aim of the event and a Moroccan representative had been invited to unveil the plaque it would have been interesting what they would have been their reaction to be simply labelled as "Black".  
Africa is a continent, of a diverse number of ethnic groups rather than one ethnic group and this fact should have been recognised rather than obfuscated to fit an agenda. 
However, an agenda it does seem to be, pushed by the likes of Dr Benjamin.
A further example of obfuscation is the other ethnic groups who had been based at Aballava that were not mentioned, such as the "First Ala of Tungrorum" who were Germans, stationed there in the second century as well as a mixed cavalry regiment called the "First Cohort of Nerva’s Own Germans". 
There was a detachment of mounted Frisians (who still live in the modern Netherlands) stationed at Aballava along with the Mauretanians in the third century.
I doubt the BBC will commission a program about the Arab heritage of South Shields, via the Roman fort of Arbeia
Yet such a subject ("Arabs in the western world") is the "hot topic" of today rather than the "Black v White" issue in the UK that really reached a cresendo in the 1970s.
Concluding that part of the episode David states: "I think if you ask most people to guess where the first African encounters between Britons and Africans took place they wouldn't guess that it was in this tiny Cumbrian village. And I think if you asked the same people to guess when that encounter took place they wouldn't dream that it was nearly eighteen centuries ago. But the people of this village are genuinely proud and excited that their village and the African Romans who were stationed here are the first chapter in this long history."
Roman Africans, David. Roman was their citizenship, thanks to the Italo-Punic-maybe Libyan-Syrian Emperor, Marcus Aurelius II a.k.a Caracalla. They were not ethnic Italian. Didn't you explain that?

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