Professor dispels myths about life in Africa

Lucas Shamala (PhD religious and theological studies ’06) may have grown up in Kenya, but he didn’t live in the jungle or meet lions while he played. Those are just a couple of myths about Africans and African life that Shamala tries to dispel among his students at Metro State College of Denver.

“I think that there are a number of misconceptions about African descent, and the students are very surprised at some of the things I share,” says Shamala, a professor of African and African-American studies at Metro. “They often admit that they have not been given enough information. I try to provide that missing link.”

When Shamala talks about his childhood in Kambiri, Kenya, he describes a rural upbringing not unlike pioneer days in America’s West. He had to walk many miles to school, there was no running water and he was responsible for various farm chores. Yet, he points out that people are quick to think that living in Africa is savage, violent, primitive and backward simply because it’s called a “tribe” instead of a “town.”

One student admitted that the word “tribe” made her think of people running around naked with spears and drinking blood. That’s why Shamala tries to stay away from the word and instead uses “community” or “peoples.” When asked their source of information, he says students point to the media and what friends have told them.

Shamala takes an interdisciplinary approach to his classes, blending history, culture, science and anthropology in courses like African History, African People and Cultures, and West African Civilizations. He’s even introduced a Swahili language course.

What other myths does he encounter and counter with facts and his personal experience of growing up in Africa? Africans have no religion, they love war and fighting, and they have no history.

“Like any other nation in the world, Africans have their own religious, economic and political issues, which have been by shaped by geography and history and have produced a particular culture,” says Shamala. “We need to celebrate the uniformity of humankind and also celebrate our uniqueness and diversity. When you look at biology, we are the same — blood and bone.”

Comments are closed.