Dialogue July-September, 2011, Volume 13 No.1
The African Nature of Ancient Egypt
The Egyptian civilization was one of the earliest and most magnificent in human history. Down the ages it has been adored, honoured and revered for its brilliance much of which still amazes and also baffles the world. Even though we see it in ruins, dug out after being buried for centuries, overlaid by succeeding other civilizations following their invasions, its awe-inspiring and spectacular uniqueness captures our imagination. While other ancient civilizations have their merits there is nothing like the extensive achievements of this civilization stretching from 3200 years B.C. and known to be dating from prehistoric times, when much of the world, and especially Europe, lived in barbarism. Ancient Egyptian civilization ranks amongst the finest the world has known and celebrates, and all the human achievements of material culture existed here in their totality.
The Great Pyramid, soaring into the skies, the Sphinx with its mystical look peering into the far horizons and more mysterious than Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the obelisks, several of which were taken to adorn European capitals, the gigantic statues of Pharoahs and Queens, captivating even in their ruins still stand in all their unequalled grandeur, and the glorious Temples of Karnak and Luxor are all eternal reminders of the greatness of this African civilization. Only about 30% of the ancient monuments, it is said, have been found as excavations go on and new discoveries in all their marvels are made. How a race transformed a desert country with its mountains and its lifeline, the Nile; how that barrenness was turned into something so beautiful and meaningful is in itself an incredible achievement of the highest human genius.
Egypt is not only about its amazing monuments like the Great Pyramid, sculptured out of the bleakness of stones, it was a complete culture and civilization of its own, based on a philosophical understanding of human destiny on earth, and embracing a cosmic view of that destiny. It tried to answer the ultimate question of human existence that drives humanity in its search for truth, why and how did we become to be here, the meaning of God, what happens after death, what are the natural laws, social and physical that govern the universe, and how do humans fit into the cosmic order of things, and the relationship between the material and spiritual. Cosmology, - the vast universe that encloses us, the stars, galaxies, the infinite space – and the human relationship based on that great mystery - was integral to Egyptian civilization, and enveloped all its artistic achievements and thinking about life and the universe. Its temples and pyramids were ultimately dedicated to this spiritual search. This approach transcends narrow race and speaks to humanity as a whole. It is an approach that still informs our search for truth through science and spiritual intuition. It is why African regeneration and dignity after over 2000 years of enslavement, exploitation, oppression by foreigners, must find its deepest meaning and re-orientation in the African civilization of Egypt, which it has lost through Asiatic, Western and Arabic colonial conquest and slavery. It is unfortunate too that the library of Alexandria which was burnt down lost much of the Egyptian writings that would have given us greater knowledge about the civilization.
African Egyptians were foremost in the fields of mathematics, geometry, medicine, astronomy, astrology, arts, sciences, writing, architecture, etc. They were amongst the first to invent the calendar. In their mathematical calculations and geometry their achievements were stupendous. It still puzzles the world, and all kinds of theories are put forward about how those gigantic stones were cut, shifted, put together to build the Great Pyramid with an accuracy we cannot achieve today. No architectural structure throughout human history stands up to the Great Pyramid. African Egypt first gave the world monotheism which Judaism borrowed. Every aspect of Christian belief came from African Egypt including the concept of the Trinity, the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection. The entire history of Christianity is tied up with the history of Egypt, the Pharaohs and Ethiopia.
But the civilization of Egypt is dogged by the most strange and bizarre contradiction and controversy which has led to heated debates and publication of numerous books and pamphlets on the subject between Western Egyptologists and Afrocentrists. This contradiction stems from what was the race of the ancient Egyptians? One would have thought that given that Egypt is in Africa where the human race (homo sapiens sapiens) emerged the answer would be simple. No. Western Egyptologists, and their fascination with Egypt, have consistently maintained that the Egyptians were white!! If they have not stubbornly maintained this, they would not have studiously overlooked the fact that it was an African people who built the Pyramids, the tantalizing Sphinx, and the stupendous Temples of Karnak and Luxor, when this fact stares them in the face. The iconography and statues of all the pharaohs are distinctly African in appearance. Can anybody doubt that the face of the Sphinx is not African? At a UNESCO conference held in Cairo in 1974 on the “Peopling of Ancient Egypt and the De-Ciphering of the Meriotic Script” it came to the conclusion after opposing arguments were heard on the “ethnic, linguistic and cultural compositions of the ancient Egyptians” that the unrevised white Indo-European” model had many weaknesses, i.e. the wonders of Egyptian civilization was of African origin. Two people, Diop and Obenga demolished a whole band of Western Egyptologists.
It has been left to African scholars from the continent and the Diaspora to challenge those who deny the African origin of Egyptian civilization. Amongst them are Cheikh Anton Diop, William Du Bois, Theophile Obenga, Ivan Sertima, and many others who have put forward irrefutable arguments that the earliest Egyptians were an African people. Diop presented the most comprehensive and conclusive arguments and has thus helped to shape and re-orient the entire Pan-African liberation struggle of the continent.
The denial of the African origin of Egyptian civilization by mainly white Egyptologists is also of historic significance. It reveals the extent to which, Europeans, who have oppressed, battered, and literally destroyed African civilizations would go to deny African people their due place in world history and to negate any positive aspect to the African presence in history. No crime against a people can be greater than this. The attempts by whites to usurp the grandeur of the African Egyptian civilization as a white civilization, or to deny its Africanness, is not only shameful, but obscene, because it is done in the name of cultured values that Europe supposedly espouses and based on a deliberate falsification of history. It is little wonder why they refuse to discuss the race of the ancient Egyptians as Diop has pointed out. Blindly they go on discussing Egyptian civilization as if its African nature did not exist. So enthralled are they by the greatness of this civilization they want to hug and expropriate it for themselves. But it also reflects a deeply psychological anti-African racism. This anti-African racism is a pervasive element in the history of the relationship of Europeans and other races towards African people and the very concept of blackness.
For the African continent and the African peoples this denial is of great significance in their struggle and fight against foreign colonial domination that has brought the African countries to the sad state in which they find themselves today since it negates the beginnings of the grandeur of African civilization and even that of the human race itself. It denies African people their legitimate place in world history. Could it not be said that the destruction of the African origins of Egyptian civilization is the beginning of the tragedy that has befallen the African race and continent over a period of 2000 years of foreign domination and enslavement. It is for this reason that in this issue of our series of calendars dealing with the achievements of the world’s first civilizations, the non-West civilizations, the significance of the African nature of Egyptian civilization is taken up. What happened to the African civilization of Egypt is primary to the destruction of African people that has reduced them to the state in which they find themselves today and against which they struggle to recover their dignity as a people. If Egypt of Nubia and the Kush/Ethiopian Empire still existed in its pristine glory the fate of the African people would have been totally different today. But even in its ruins, Egyptian civilization is testimony to the grandeur of African achievement. In its humanistic nature it belongs to all humanity, and hence the world’s fascination with it. The conquests by Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Europeans destroyed the African nature of Egypt as the country exists today and led to the hybridization and mulatto nature of the original population. It is the position in which Egypt today finds itself as a country of the Arabs, the latest invaders who flooded the country, and who also deny its African nature, while embracing and deriving great benefits from the merits of Pharanoic civilization as part of Arab Egypt.
The out of Africa thesis and who were the Ancient Egyptians
The beginnings of African history has to start from the acknowledged and thus far proven fact at this stage of world history and palaentological and archaeological knowledge that the African people were the first human race who emerged from East and Southern Africa. They spread to every continent and their traces there remain – in Europe, Asia and the Americas. This is borne out by “DNA studies which shows that the DNA of every race is identical to that of the African and that mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), found in living peoples throughout the world could be traced to a common ancestor who lived in Africa about 200000 years ago”. The first rock arts also come from Africa and antedate that of France and Spain which are said to be about 30,000 years old. The rock art of the Blombos Cave on the southern shores of South Africa date back to 77,000 years. Charles Darwin had anticipated that the birthplace of the human race would be in Africa. And so it is. This characterizes the antiquity of African civilizations. Only very recently the fossil of a child said to be 3 (three) million years old was found in Ethiopia, the home of the most ancient Cush /Ethiopian Empire. Increasingly knowledge is coming forth that irrefutably consolidates the view that Africa was the birthplace of the human race.
The Ethiopian Cush Empire
Egypt itself was the offshoot of the ancient African Ethiopian and Cush Empire that embraced Nubia and Sudan. In fact the first pyramids were built in Nubia and it is believed that there are more pyramids in Nubia than in Egypt buried under the sands. It is also known that the pharanoic kings originated in Nubia 300 years before the first Egyptian dynasty. Between Nubia (present day Sudan, meaning Land of the Black man) there was an intimate relationship and some of the great Egyptian Pharoahs who ruled Egypt like Tarquaha came from Nubia.
The Cushite Empire was the world’s most ancient. It goes into the mists of antiquity, so long ago that its roots are almost completely lost, except for its magnificence in the Egyptian civilization. “Cushite colonies were all along the southern shores of Asia and Africa and along the southern and eastern coasts of Arabia. The name Cush was given to the whole territory between the Indus and the Tigris in pre historic times. In Africa the Ethiopians, Egyptians, Libyans, Cannanites and Phoenicians were all descendants of Ham (according to the Bible the children of Ham were Negroid). They were a black and dark coloured race and pioneers of our civilization……….. Sanskrit writings of India say that Cush included Arabia, Asia Minor, Syria, Nubia, Armenia, Mesopotamia and an extended region in Africa”. The Cush Empire was the very first civilization dating back to 8000 B.C….alphabetical writings, astronomy, history, chronology, architecture, plastic art, sculpture, navigation, agriculture and textile industries” had their origins in the Cush Empire. The Phoenicians in the days of Christ called themselves Ethiopians, and the Scriptures called the Samaritans Cushites…..The Puranas, ancient historical books of India, speak of the civilization of Ethiopia as being older than that of Egypt. The Puranas speak of the Cushites going to India before they went to Egypt, proving Hindu civilization coeval with that of Chaldea and the country of the Nile”. “It seems certain” says Wallis Budge, “that classical historians and geographers called the whole region from India to Egypt by the name of Ethiopia …..Homer and Herodutus called all the peoples of Sudan, Egypt, Arabia, Palestine and Western Asia and India Ethiopians”. Bishop William Montgomery Brown says: “For the first two or three thousand years of civilization, there was not a civilized white man on the earth. Civilisation was founded and developed by the swarthy races of Mesopotamia, Syria and Egypt, and the white race remained so barbaric that in those days an Egyptian would have said that the riffraff of white tribes a few hundred miles to the north of their civilisation were incapable of acquiring knowledge requisite to progress. It was southern coloured people everywhere in China, in Central America, in India, Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt and Crete who gave the northern white peoples civilization”. (Wonderful Ethiopians of the Ancient Cushite Empire). Omer and Herodutus Homer Homer All this has been obscured by the new names that are given to peoples and countries and because the history of the Ethiopian Cush Empires goes back to the obliteration of the remotest of times. In fact tracing the history of Egypt, Nubia and Ethiopia is to trace the history of human origins and the emergence of civilization.
Count Volney, who traveled through Egypt between 1783-1785, in his Ruins of Empires (published 1890) says: “Those piles of ruins which you see in that narrow valley watered by the Nile, are the remains of opulent cities, the pride of ancient kingdom of Ethiopia….There a people, now forgotten, who discovered while others were yet barbarians, the elements of the arts and sciences. A race of men now rejected from society for their sable skin and frizzled hair….this race of blacks who nowadays are slaves and objects of our scorn is the very one to which we owe our arts, our sciences and even the use of the spoken word; and finally recollect that it is in the midst of the peoples claiming to be the greatest friends of liberty and humanity that the most barbarous of enslavements has been sanctioned and the question raised whether black men have brains of the same quality as those of white men!”
Edward Malkowski in his Before the Pharaohs says: “Despite Arabization and a fundamental change in religion Egypt has never lost its ancient heritage. There are those who have passed it down from generation to generation over a score of millennia. Cumulative evidence – genetic as well as archaeological – suggests that Africa’s ancient Egypt is the host of modern man’s original culture…From Africa spawned all other cultures…As we have seen with the Sphinx, the Great Pyramid, the evidence has always been there.The host culture that produced the magnificent and artistic cultures of Cro-Magnon can be in no other place but Africa. The Cro-Magnon traditions not only support the “out of Africa” model, but also bring a whole new understanding of mankind’s history”.
The Ancient Egyptians
Egypt is a name given by the Greeks. They called it Aegyptos. The original African people of Egypt called their country “Kamit” i.e. “the Black land”, and their own name for themselves was “Kamiu” which translates literally as “Blacks”. Because of the various invasions that took place, the original African names of places (toponomy) were changed into Greek, Roman, Arabic and Anglo-Saxon. For example one of the earlier Greek names of Thebes was No, the No-Amun of the Bible but the African name was Wo’se. “This name comes from the South (Ethiopia) which is the name of imperial scepter of Ethiopia, which gives an insight into the history of Egypt”. (Chancellor Williams – Destruction of Black Civilisation). Williams adds: “I have urged that high up on the list of research fields there should be one devoted to the rediscovery of African names and their meaning…much of the African past was effectively blotted out by blotting out African names”…
Western Denial of African Nature of Egypt
As mentioned one of the oddest aspect of Egyptian history is the persistent denial of the African nature of Egyptian civilization, which goes upto this day, although through Diop and others that position is considerably weakened. Arnold Toynbee, the famous historian denied that Egyptian civilization was of African origin and even that Africans made any contribution to civilization. So did Coon in his history of mankind; Hegel took Egypt out of Africa. In fact taking Egypt out of Africa was one of the tricks of denying the African nature of the civilization. This ultimately led to Martin Bernal undertaking a massive study refuting this denial, although long before him Africanist scholars had furnished more than enough evidence to the contrary. Anybody by merely looking at the figures of the Pharaohs can know that they are distinctly African in nature. Charles Darwin on seeing the giant statues of Memnon (a Greek name) said that they looked “Negroid”.
The question of who the ancient Egyptians were never arose until the rise of Western colonialism, imperialism and racism. European colonialism tried to portray the African people as a people without any civilization in order to justify its colonialism as one bringing civilization to African people. As Martin Bernal points out in his voluminous work Black Athena (the name is symbolic in that it means that Greek civilization owes everything to Egypt), the “Ancient Model” which recognized the supremacy of Egyptian civilization was replaced by an “Aryan Model”. This Aryan Model also created the fiction that an Aryan race invaded India and was responsible for the civilization there. The “Aryan Model” is synonymous with the rise of European colonialism, imperialism and its accompanying racism. More famously known as the Indo-European model it attempted to see history from the viewpoint of Eurocentric superiority, and Greek civilisation as the foundation of that superiority.
Yet the truth is that the Greeks themselves acknowledged the superiority of the African Egyptian civilization, and also frequently described the Egyptians as Black: Noted amongst them was great Greek historian, Herodotus who clearly described the ancient Egyptians as a black people together with other famous Greeks like Diodorus of Sicily and Strabo. The Greeks themselves recognised the superiority of the African Egyptian civilization. The Greeks admitted that all their gods were derived from Egypt, although given Greek names. Herodotus writes: “The names of nearly all the gods came to Greece from Egypt…for the names of all the gods have been known in Egypt from the beginning of time”. The Ethiopians themselves regarded themselves and their religion as the first among the races of the world.
African Egypt’s superiority in philosophy was also recognized. Indeed African Egypt had colonized Greece. Other Asiatic and white tribes had come under its heel. The famous Oracle of Delphi in Greece was founded by African Egyptians. The influence of African Egyptian religion can be seen up to this day in the current Hermetic texts (together with other Egyptian writings) and in Freemasonry. Bernal writes: “Thus the Masons, who included almost every significant figure in the Enlightenment, saw their religion as Egyptian; their signs as hieroglyphics; their lodges as Egyptian temples; and themselves as an Egyptian priesthood”. Masonry’s admiration for Egypt remains up to this day. A little known fact is that the Hermetic texts based on African Egyptian philosophy was brought to the court of the great philanthropist of the European Renaissance, di Medici, by his leading scholar Marsilio Ficino. These would play a crucial role in the stimulation of the European Renaissance. Indeed Giordano Bruno was so disgusted with Christian intolerance that he advocated a return to the original and natural religion of African Egypt, for which he was burnt at the stake in 1600. The Rosicrucians, too saw African Egypt as the fount of religion and philosophy. (Bernal). The Greeks so much admired Imhotep, the great father of medicine and architect of Egypt that they linked him with their healing god, Asclepios. Imhotep anticipated the Greek father of medicine, Galen, by thousands of years, and his achievements in the field of medicine was extraordinary. Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras, Strabo, Erasthenes all studied in Egypt. Greek scholars streamed into Egypt to gain knowledge.
In trying to discredit the African nature of Egyptian civilization it is attributed to Atlantis, or some “Elder Race” that came to Egypt. If so where are their pyramids or the grandeur of the civilization that they brought to Egypt, Diop asks. As for Atlantis it has yet to be found, if it ever will. When the Greeks came to Egypt the structures they put up imitated the Egyptians with the assistance of Egyptian artisans. Why slavishly imitate the Egyptians. Up to the time of the invasion by Cambyses of Persia who were the non-Africans in Egypt? There was none.
Where did the Invaded Egyptians go to?
The destruction of the African Egyptian civilization by the Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arab and Western invaders led to the hybridization of the original African population in Egypt to the extent that they are non-existent in the country today, even though the Copts claim to represent them. But the Copts, Diop points out, are a mulatto race. Moustafa Gadalla tells us in his Exiled Egyptians that progressively the exiled Egyptians went further south where they assisted in the development of the civilizations of countries in the interior of Africa and introduced religious and philosophical belief systems similar to that of the African Egyptians. Ancient Egypt always related to interior Africa. Gadalla cites the role of the Sonikes in the establishment of the Kingdom of Ghana, for example. All this would change under the Arab colonial onslaught. The indigenous beliefs and religious systems would vanish.
The Egyptians themselves prophesied the dark future that did overtake them. “There will come a time when the neteru (gods) will return from earth to heaven; Egypt will be forsaken, and the land which was once the home of religion will be left desolate, bereft of the presence of its deities…..” But it also foretold a brighter future “But when all this has befallen, then the Master and Father, God, the first before all, will look on that which has come to pass, and will stay the disorder by the counterworking of his will, which is the good…he will cleanse the world of evil….”
The African Renaissance that Cheikh Anton Diop spoke of and which the former South African President, Thabo Mbek, took up must start from the reconstruction of the great truths of the African Egyptian civilization to re-vitalise, not only the long suffering Africa but also the peoples of the world.
Myths and Reality – Cheikh Anton Diop
Civilisation or Barbarism – Cheikh Anton Diop
Martin Bernal – Black Athena
The World and Africa – W.E.B.Du Bois
The African Background to Medical Science – Charles Finch
Ethiopia and the Origin of Civilisation - George Jackson
Before the Pharoahs – Edward F. Malkowski
The Destruction of Black Civilisation – Chancellor Williams
Exiled Egyptians – Moustafa Gadalla
Wonderful Ethiopians of the Ancient Cushite Empire – Drusilla
Africa in History – Basil Davidson