Read The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality by Cheikh Anta Diop Free Online
Book Title: The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality|
The author of the book: Cheikh Anta Diop
ISBN 13: 9781556520723
Edition: Chicago Review Press
Date of issue: July 1st 1989
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 29.57 MB
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Reader ratings: 7.8
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The Ancient Egyptians, the founders of the civilisation that built the pyramids and brought writing, geometry, religion and science to the Greeks (and others), were Black, as in 'Negro' as in, they looked more like the Yoruba or the Kikuyu or the Xhosa than any group of Semitic people.* They came from the interior, from Nubia (Sudan) or the drying Western Sahara. Their sacred sites were in Upper Egypt, their true homeland. Their gods were there, and the heads of those gods were painted coal black. The Egyptians made no distinction of colour between themselves and the Nubians or other Black Africans. Herodotus says they were black and had woolly hair. The Bible says it. And where Egyptians travelled North, they ruled: the earliest kings of Elam were Black, as their tomb paintings clearly show. The Canaanites, the Phoenicians, the Carthagianians were Black. Speaking of tomb paintings, statuary and so on, well, just take a look, the book has pictures = )
*Why am I struggling to make myself clear? Well, race isn't a thing is it? It's just junk in the mind of the racist, as one friend objected when I started talking about this book. The trouble is, we (as in everyone) are all racist, and the junk in racist minds is exactly what Cheikh Anta Diop (can I call him CAD? Thanks.) is writing back to here. In fact, Egyptology up to 1954 had been part and parcel of the ideology of scientific racism. While CAD is able to cite some 'scholars of good faith' going all the way back to de Volney circa 1785 who observes the (much lightened by mixing) Egyptians and recalls the words of Herodotus, concluding “the ancient Egyptians were true Negroes of the same type as all native-born Africans.”, the majority of the Egyptologists he cites are clearly so deeply sunk in their white-supremacy that they will allow themselves any amount of contradiction, denial and extravagant misinterpretation, and think up any crackpot theory, to avoid accepting the obvious conclusion that THE EGYPTIANS WERE BLACK.
Some of these theories propose that the Egyptians came from the North, which is ridiculous, and others create White races with dark skin. Hence such designations as 'Hamite' 'Nilotic' and so on, proliferate as the white Egyptologists scramble to avoid the belief that the despised and enslaved Negro could be the antecedent and teacher of European culture. CAD believes that there are only three 'races', 'white, black and yellow' and suspects that even the 'yellow' is really just a mix of black and white, like the Semites and other 'Mediterranean' people, and the Egyptians today. Egyptologists had suggested that Indo-Europeans civilized the Egyptians and lightened them, but Egyptian civilisation pre-dates anything in Europe and Mesopotamia, and mixing was very gradual due to the small numbers of whiter peoples coming to Africa, while all the elements of the Egyptian civilisation were in place in the undeniably Black Old Kingdom. The pale folks who came to Egypt before it fell were usually prisoners of war who became slaves (Egyptians could not be enslaved. The country was never a slave economy – numbers were small) or brought into the royal harem.
This isn't a theory of racial superiority of course; the Egyptians' social and cultural sophistication, asserts CAD, was nurtured by their environment and the need for cooperation imposed by the particular agricultural conditions around the Nile. Bounteous nature was unsurprisingly revered. Meanwhile, the Indo-Europeans struggling to survive on the hostile steppes developed the patriarchal family and aggressive, opportunistic lifeways, devoid of respect for nature, which treated them harshly. CAD suggests that the Egyptians persecuted the Jews because of their horror of nomads. I am generally wary of this kind of psychological explanation-by-climate, but in some aspects this speculative description approximates a historical approach. I would like to stand up for nomads against this sedentarist perspective, though not especially to defend the people who became the faithless extractivists of Western Europe (what about Native 'American' nomadic people, famously not faithless extractivists**) One of my problems with the text is the apparently uncritical use of the opposition between 'civilisation' and 'barbarism'. CAD accepts the idea that Black Africa has 'regressed' from the glory days of the pharaohs. I have to object that this is part of racist, colonial ideology.
Nor is this the only aspect of the text which needs further decolonisation. Unforgivably, CAD collaborates in antiblackness as it constructs black female gender. Comments about hair in particular (I would like to know what 'frizzy' is translated from) are entirely misogynoiristic*** and when CAD uses the phrase 'feminine elegance' he is explicitly distinguishing white women from black women
**I don't mean to imply that Native 'Americans' all have nomadic traditions or were all nomadic before the invasion of colonising Europeans – despite my ignorance about the topic I am well aware that the continent had many cities before the white invasion. CAD thinks that Black Africans who crossed the Atlantic had a hand in this urbanising (step pyramids!) but he is only speculating and I need to do further research into the exciting topic of these Atlantic crossings
***the term misogynoir was coined by Moya Bailey
The depth of some Egyptologists' investment in white supremacy provokes some enjoyable dry humour from CAD. In 'Reply to a Critic', he addresses the remarks of one denier, Raymond Mauny on the ethnic mix of later periods “M Mauny knows that if this mix of people were transported to New York City, they would be found in Harlem”
This snark not only indicates the accessibility of this readable and absorbing book, but also points to the reality that racialisation is contextual. As Leena Abiballa (a Sudanese writer) explains in this article Too Black to be Arab, too Arab to be Black "race is a Western fantasy maintained by a daily, violent socio-political choreography.” So, why do I disagree with my friend's comment that "we shouldn't assign racial identities to historic civilizations"? Why am I greeting CAD's project as near-heroic? Context! In, say, Paris, 1954, or London, 2016, a time-travelling group of ancient Egyptians would be called BLACK, and that fact turns the foundation of scientific racism, which is the foundation of this 'Western fantasy' of race, UPSIDE DOWN, which (as Fanon tells us) is what has to be done before it can dissipate into nothingness. So while I find the occasional descent into skull-measuring tedious, I recognise its necessity. What happens now is that nobody talks of the Egyptians as White or Asian, but the conception is not challenged, so people continue to picture them as such and reproduce the idea - it has its own self-sustaining life. That's why whites are cast as Egyptians in movies etc. Now I'm on the lookout for books and other art that presents ancient Egypt as Black. Hollywood antidotes please...
update: it has been suggested to me that Cheikh Anta Diop's theory is 'trapped inside a racist conception'
I would like to avoid facilitating obfuscation, so I want to reply here. Firstly, this is insulting. CAD has replied to the racism of Egyptology, implicit and explicit, ON ITS OWN TERMS. Even on the grounds of the essentialist concept of race it propounds, it is incorrect. I think this is the most effective refutation. CAD has used white man epistemology and essentialism strategically.
I know that in a way, a meaningful way, the objector is right, because in this volume CAD concludes with touching optimism that accurate or authentic objective anthropology will triumph, racism will be over! But yes, a different epistemology is needed. To repeat a much abused revelation:
"The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house" - Audre Lorde
But knowing that 'race' is not real has not helped much, has it? White supremacy has been making out like a bandit on the back of this valid deconstruction for some time, pretending that since race does not exist, racism (the white concept of racism is one of the master's tools) does not exist either, since Lincoln freed the slaves or whatever, now there's a full meritocracy, level playing field etc:
'that was all in the past, can't we just move on?'
'stop playing the race card!'
Racialisation is contextual, but it does not follow that a person can take off the helmet of their language and culture at a stroke, and end racism thus. History is important, emotionally. Stories have real power.
While I was reading this, I asked some folks this question:
What do you think the ancient Egyptians looked like?
The first answer I got was about their clothes
This is avoidance of the uncomfortable. I clarified
The second reply (from a knowledgeable person) was that they had 'Asian skin, almond eyes, long hair'
That is racist Egyptology at work.
I said the Egyptians were Black, as in, you know, like Oprah.
The next reply was 'I don't think we should assign race to them, I never thought about it'
That is 'colourblindness' or raceblindness, which is really racism-blindness, isn't it? The last person is quite enlightened, he knows race is not a thing, but it seems to me that it is another way of avoiding an uncomfortable topic.
White Supremacy: "The Egyptians were White, because only Whites could create this advanced civilisation"
Cheikh Anta Diop: "Actually, the Egyptians were Black"
Pomo Covert White Supremacy: "Oh, race isn't a thing anyway"
What happened? The water got hot, so somebody jumped out.
Person 2 also said 'Surely the Egyptologists were not all racist' which is related to the objection 'some old racist books claimed the Egyptians were white'
But this is not over, as person #2's first response indicates. They had 'Asian skin', so they were Asian?
Go to the British Museum's lovely Ancient Egypt website, and see all the gods drawn as pale as I am
As Sara Ahmed says:
This is not over. We should not get over it.
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Read information about the authorCheikh Anta Diop was an Afrocentric historian, anthropologist, physicist and politician who studied the human race's origins and pre-colonial African culture.
Diop's first work translated into English, The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality, was published in 1974. It gained a much wider audience for his work. He proved that archaeological and anthropological evidence supported his view that Pharaohs were of Negroid origin. Some scholars draw heavily from Diop's groundbreaking work, , while others in the Western academic world do not accept all of Diop's theories. Diop's work has posed important questions about the cultural bias inherent in scientific research.
Diop showed above all that European archaeologists before and after the decolonization had understated and continued to understate the extent and possibility of Black civilizations.
The Swiss archaeologist Charles Bonnet's discoveries at the site of Kerma shed some light on the theories of Diop. They show close cultural links between Nubia and Ancient Egypt, though the relationship had been acknowledged for years. This does not necessarily imply a genetic relationship, however. Mainstream Egyptologists such as F. Yurco note that among peoples outside Egypt, the Nubians were closest ethnically to the Egyptians, shared the same culture in the predynastic period, and used the same pharaonoic political structure. He suggests that the peoples of the Nile Valley were one regionalized population, sharing a number of genetic and cultural traits.
Diop argued that there was a shared cultural continuity across African peoples that was more important than the varied development of different ethnic groups shown by differences among languages and cultures over time.
His books were largely responsible for, at least, the partial re-orientation of attitudes about the place of African people in history, in scholarly circles around the world.
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