While much of the world, including in Africa, celebrates Christopher Columbus for his exploration and expeditions into hitherto unknown parts of the New World, very little is known or even heard, of black explorers who have been instrumental in shaping much of our history.
The euro-centric view of celebrating Europeans for much of the discoveries and explorations that took place in the history of the world has led to the relegation of some of the most outstanding contributions of black explorers to the world.
History of the world is never complete if we fail to mention some powerful Africans. As with every other position in the world, African people were powerful explorers as well.
Here’s a list of some of those black explorers who helped shape our modern world:
The Niño Brothers — Pedro Alonso (also Peralonso Niño), Francisco and Juan
Fondly called “El Negro,” explorer and navigator Pedro Alonso Niño, son of a Spaniard and enslaved African woman, has long been acknowledged for accompanying Columbus on his first expedition to the Americas in 1492 as the pilot of the Santa Maria. Although Pedro is one of the most well-known of Columbus’s crew, he was not alone — his brothers Francisco (youngest) and Juan (oldest) were also part of Columbus’s voyages.
In their home of Moguer, Spain, they were prominent sailors with experience on Atlantic voyages. It’s been reported that Pedro even sailed the West African coast. During the first Columbus voyage, Juan helmed La Niña, which he also owned. Francisco was most likely a sailor on La Niña.
Both brothers also took part in the well-documented Columbus’s second voyage where history has is that Pedro was with Columbus when he “discovered” Trinidad.
As a matter of fact, sons of Pedro and Juan are said to have participated in Columbus’s voyages as well. Pedro set out on his own expedition, in search of riches in the Americas. Columbus never really went as expected. Though he returned to Spain later, Pedro was accused of duping the King of 20 percent of the treasure and would later get arrested.
Pedro died in prison before he could go on trial. Francisco died in Honduras. However, there is no exact details of how Juan died.
Abubakari II (also Abu Bakari, Abu Bakr II, and Mansa Musa II)
Many Western scholars and Euro-centric historians have dismissed the facts that Africans had contact with the Americas long before Columbus (No clear details either on this). But scholars such as Ivan Van Sertima and Cheikh Anta Diop rejected this in the books, They Came Before Columbus (1976) and The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality (1974).
However, they were not alone. Decades before, respected Harvard lecturer, Leo Wiener, a Russian-born scholar of Polish-Jewish heritage who was a man skilled in more than 20 languages, noted the African presence in his 1920 book Africa and the Discovery of America.
A Malian historian, Gaoussou Diawara, author of Abubakari II, along with other African researchers, began to explore the history of Abubakari, who once ruled the Mali Empire in West Africa, and to proclaim him the main force behind the African arrival to the Americas prior to Columbus.
According to documented history, Abubakari is said to be the son of Kolonkan, sister of Sundiata Keita (also Sundjata Keita and Soundjata Keita) who is the founder of the great Mali Empire in West Africa. In 1311, Abubakari renounced his throne to Mansa Musa to pursue his belief that the Atlantic Ocean had another bank. However, during his ruler-ship, Abubakari had funded a 200-boat expedition to find the bank which, to many, was still a fascinating endeavor.
When only one ship returned, with the captain reporting that a current swept the rest of the fleet away, prompting him to turn back, Abubakari put together a 2000-boat expedition he himself helmed. It is believed that Abubakari, who never returned home, landed at what is now Recife in Brazil and that some of the previous boats landed throughout the Americas, including what is now Mexico and even in Colorado. This is the main reason Wiener and others before and after him note early remnants of African culture in the Americas, some of which Columbus found upon his arrival.
Historians are of the opinion that Esteban was sold into slavery around 1513 in the Portuguese-controlled Azemmour, on Morocco’s Atlantic coast, at around age 10 to 13 and brought to Spain, where he became the servant of Andrés Dorantes de Carranza.
Esteban traveled to Cuba to join the Pánfilo de Narváez expedition to conquer Florida for Spain. Raised as a Muslim, Esteban would later convert to Catholicism, as it was an important requirement in order to participate in Spanish expeditions to the Americas. From Cuba, the expedition of approximately 600 Spanish, Portuguese and African troops set sail and arrived in Tampa Bay in 1528.
Most of the soldiers died along the road. Eventually, a hurricane displaced Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Alonso del Castillo Maldonado, Dorantes and Esteban around Galveston, Texas. Reportedly captured by native peoples for five years before becoming free, the four-man crew walked for four years through New Mexico, Arizona, and Northern Mexico all the way to Mexico City.
In 1536, Esteban conducted an exploration of northern Mexico with Cabeza de Vaca. Around 1539 as he was part of an expedition led by Friar Marcos de Niza. This scouted terrain for Francisco Coronado’s search for “Seven Cities of Gold”. However, Esteban was reportedly killed by the Zuni tribe near the border of Arizona and New Mexico, although his body was never recovered to date.
Confirmed to be born in Africa, Juan Garrido was enslaved in Portugal but began his career in exploration in Seville, Spain, probably as a slave (not confirmed, though). Between 1502 and 1503, he landed in Santo Domingo.
Garrido was later promoted to the status of a conquistador and was with Ponce de Leon during his search for the Fountain of Youth in Florida in 1513. Garrido was also part of the Hernán (also Hernando) Cortés-led invasion of Mexico in 1519, which would later result in the conquest of the Aztecs.
Garrido participated in expeditions to Michoacán in Mexico in the 1520s. He traveled to numerous islands around San Juan and Cuba, as well as marrying and having children. Garrido settled in Mexico City. Today, Garrido is credited with harvesting the first commercial wheat crop in the Americas.
We have not attached many pictures here because we can’t truly confirm the pictural representations we have found in the course of our research. Many of the pictures we find attached to these names have been that of Caucasians, and are not true representations of the Black explorers we have written about.
This piece is still a work in progress, and we are hopeful that we will uncover sources to their identity (sketch) since photography might not have been invented at their time.