“Mathematics develops according to a need. If a situation calls for a simple count of objects a people will develop a simple set of numbers. If their cultural demands are more complex, a more complex mathematical system will evolve. Thus systems of numerations may range in Africa from a few number words among the San people, who have been pushed into the least hospitable areas of the continent to the extensive numerical vocabulary of African nations having a history of centuries of commerce. One such nation is the Yoruba and the related people of the city of Benin in Nigeria, who have been urbanized farmers and traders for centuries. They have a complex number system. The mathematician Conant calls is ‘the most peculiar number scales in existence.’ One has to be really bright at maths in our system to handle the Yoruba one. It is a system based on twenty, of which we find many examples in Western Africa. The unusual feature of this system is that it relies on subtraction to a very high degree. To the Yoruba it seems perfectly natural and he uses it with the same ease with which we write IX (ten minus one) for nine in Roman numerals, or read the time as ‘Twenty (minutes) to three.’ Robert Armstrong, in a study of the Yoruba numerals, states that ‘it is a testimony to the Yoruba capacity for abstract reasoning that they could have developed and learned such a system.'”

Source: Dr. Ivan Van Sertima. Blacks In Science: Ancient and Modern. pg. 14-15. 1983

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