By Natasha A. Kelly
The ‘International Decade for People of African Descent’ (2015-2024), established by the United Nations with resolution 68/237 in 2015, is recognized worldwide. With this decision the international community acknowledges that people from the African diaspora constitute a distinct group whose human rights must be supported and protected. The term ‘African diaspora’ describes all people of African origin who do not live geographically on the African continent. These include Black people in North America, the Caribbean and South America as well as Black people in Europe (e.g. Black Germans and Afro-Germans), in Asia and the rest of the world.
The current status of people of African descent lies in the shadow of Germany’s colonial past, which is still largely suppressed. The consequence of this is that the existence of the African diaspora, which has been established for many generations in this country, is either negated or viewed with a limited perspective in current discourses in the white German majority society. Germany’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade is also unknown to many. Anton Wilhelm Amo himself, the first prominent Black German philosopher, fell victim to this early human trafficking, which may explain his later academic interest in the issue. A central demand of his time lay in the struggle against prejudice and for universal human rights, which were anchored in the ideas of the rational Enlightenment. Amo, as other philosophers of his time, advocated for a radical change in the political and religious mindset, as well as a universal and timeless morality and ethics, in the course of which he turned to the natural sciences. His further studies in physiology, psychology and medicine, which he completed in Wittenberg in 1730, assisted him in gaining a new insight into the essence of the body and the soul of human beings.
The AFRICAN DIASPORA_PALAST is dedicated to Anton Wilhelm Amo. The installation is based on the social-political motive of transforming ignorance into knowledge and introducing interested visitors of the glass palaces to Anton Wilhelm Amo’s early ideas on human rights. It should be made clear that the unscrupulous and degrading treatment of supposed foreigners to Europe is not a new development, but rather an old phenomenon that has persisted for almost three centuries. At the same time, the installation intends to reflect on the life and work of Amo himself. It is only by (bringing the past of Black people in Germany into the present that their future can be redefined as articulated by Sankofa philosophy.
This traditional thought of the Ashanti people of the Ghana region, was not only the basis of numerous decolonization processes on the African continent in the 1960ies, but also the message delivered to the citizens of Wittenberg by the traveling palace. During a tour of the main shopping street, it stopped in front of a vacant plot of land in Collegienstrasse and symbolically filled a gap in the city and in world history. With respect to Amo and accompanied by the Senegalese-German singer Lara Meïmouna Mbaye, an attempt was made, , to “determine the cause of untruth”. Even though racism in German colonialism became a system of law and order, the process of raising consciousness and coming to terms with this period has yet to take place. Until then racism will remain a structural part of German society, which permeates all levels. During the closing concert, held under the memorial plaque of Anton Wilhelm Amo in the Leucorea courtyard, it became clear that Meïmouna’s songs are actually poems. She sang about experiences that she faces in her everyday life as a Black German and those she shares with other people from the African diaspora in Germany – including Anton Wilhelm Amo.
In the context of globalization, it is necessary to find a respectful approach to people who have made Germany their home.. While Amo was biologically and geographically from Africa, he grew up in a European environment. His decision to return to Ghana was driven by his social isolation in Germany. But when he returned to his place of birth, he was foced to face intellectual isolation, since he found neither literary scholars nor universities, let alone an adequate academic infrastructure. Disappointed, he left the city of Axim and went to the Dutch fort at Shama, where he died in 1784.
Amo’s later years cast a dark light not only on the humanism of the European Enlightenment, but also on the sense of community and solidarity in Africa. Amo himself learnt that racism and colonialism influenced the lives of Black people worldwide. It is not surprising in the context of the complex German history that the first ceremony to commemorate Amo only took place in 1965. To mark the occasion, the university in Halle translated and published all Amo’s works that were found from Latin into German, English and French. However, Amo’s dissertation from 1729 on the rights of Blacks in Europe remains untraceable. Nevertheless, Anton Wilhelm Amo remains one of the immortal pioneers of the African diaspora in Germany, who must be continuously commemorated.
For the duration of the World Reformation exhibition visitors are invited to place flowers inside the AFRICAN DIASPORA_PALAST, the temporary remembrance and memorial site for Anton Wilhelm Amo.