Maths explored

2017-11-29 06:02

Prof. Abdon Atangana of the Institute for Groundwater Studies at the University of the Free State (UFS) has received a feather in his cap in the prestigious African Award of Applied Mathematics.

The accolade was presented to him recently during the international African Days on Applied Mathematics conference that was held in Errachi­dia, Morocco.

Atangana delivered the opening speech with the title “Africa was a temple of knowledge before: What happened?”

The focus of the conference was to offer a forum for the promotion of mathematics and its applications in African countries.

At the conference the idea was explored that when Europeans first came to Africa, they considered the architecture to be disorganised and thus primitive. It never occurred to them that Africans might have been using a form of mathematics that they had not even discovered yet.

Africa is home to the world’s ear­liest-known use of measuring and calculation. Thousands of years ago Africans were using numerals, algebra and geometry in daily life.

“Our continent is the birthplace of both basic and advanced mathema­tics,” said Atangana.

Africa attracted a series of immigrants who spread knowledge from this continent to the rest of the world, he explained.

In one of his examples of African mathematics knowledge, Atangana referred to the oldest mathematical instrument as the Lebombo bone, a baboon fibula used as a measuring instrument, which was named after the Lebombo Mountains of Swaziland. The world’s oldest evidence of advanced mathematics was also a baboon fibula that was discovered in present-day Democratic Republic of Congo.

Another example he used is the manuscripts in the libraries of the Sankoré University, one of the world’s oldest tertiary institutions. This university in Timbuktu, Mali, is full of manuscripts mainly written in Ajami in the 1200s AD.

“When Europeans and Western Asians began visiting and colonising Mali between the 1300s and 1800s, Malians hid the manuscripts in basements, attics and underground, fearing destruction or theft by foreigners.

“This was certainly a good idea, given the Europeans’ history of destroying texts in Kemet and other areas of the continent. Many of the scripts were mathematical and astronomical in nature.

“In recent years, as many as 700 000 scripts have been redisco­vered and attest to the continuous knowledge of advanced mathematics and science in Africa well before European colonisation.”

“Can Africa rise again?”

Atangana believes it can.


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