The Guyana Cultural Association New York Inc. /Guyana Folk Festival committee yesterday announced the passing of Dr. Ivan Van Sertima, a former professor of the University of Rutgers and an important son of Guyana’s soil.
Ivan Van Sertima, born January 26, 1935, is a Guyanese-British historian, linguist and anthropologist noted for his Afrocentric theory of pre-Columbian contact between Africa and the Americas.
Van Sertima was born in Kitty when Guyana was still a British colony and remained a British citizen up until his demise. Van Sertima’s, father Frank Obermuller, was a trade union leader. Van Sertima completed his primary and secondary education then commenced poetry writing.
In 1959 he began pursuit of his university education in London where, in addition to producing an array of creative writings; he completed undergraduate studies in African languages and literature at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London in 1969, and graduated with honours.
During his studies he became fluent in Swahili and Hungarian dialects.
He worked for several years in Great Britain as a journalist, delivering weekly broadcasts to the Caribbean and Africa. In doing field work in Africa, he compiled a dictionary of Swahili legal terms.
In 1970 Van Sertima immigrated to the United States, where he entered Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey for graduate work.
Van Sertima began his more than 30-year teaching career at Rutgers as an instructor in 1972 and completed his master’s degree in 1977. He was Associate Professor of African Studies in the Department of Africana Studies.
Van Sertima has written books in which he argues that the Ancient Egyptians were black and his 1976 book “They Came Before Columbus” was a bestseller and achieved widespread fame for his claims of prehistoric African influences in Central and South America.
It did not receive much professional attention when published, and has been criticized by academic specialists.
On July 7, 1987 Van Sertima appeared before a United States Congressional committee to challenge giving credit for the discovery of America to Christopher Columbus.