Home Masthead Cheikh Anta Diop: The African Origin of Civilization Myth and Reality

Cheikh Anta Diop: The African Origin of Civilization Myth and Reality

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Chapter 1: What were the Egyptians?

The Greeks and Jews saw the ancient Egyptians first-hand before they became mixed with Greek and Arab blood. They never thought of them as looking like the people in the Middle East or Europe. They saw them as cousins of the Ethiopians and used the word “black” when talking about them.

For example, when Herodotus argues that the people on the island of Colchis came from Egypt, he says:

The Egyptians said they believed the Colchians to be descended from the army of Sesostris. My own conjectures were founded, first, on the fact that they are black-skinned and have woolly hair…

Amenhotep III grandfather of King Tut ruled Egypt from 1386 to 1349
Amenhotep III grandfather of King Tut ruled Egypt from 1386 to 1349
One of the reasons he gives for why the rising of the Nile is not caused by melting snow is that, “It is certain that the natives of the country are black with the heat…”

When talking about an oracle he uses the blackness of a dove to argue that it stands for an Egyptian woman.

Some say Herodotus was simply a teller of tales, yet he was careful to point out what he saw with his own eyes, what he heard and what made sense. Egypt is something he saw with his own eyes. Archaeology continues to back up his eyewitness accounts.

Herodotus said that Egypt was the cradle of civilization, that the Greeks got all the elements of their civilization from Egypt – even their gods. The Greeks Herodotus, Diodorus of Sicily and Strabo all believed that the Egyptians and Ethiopians were of the same race: that either the Egyptians came from the Ethiopians or the Ethiopians came from the Egyptians – depending on whether they saw the Nile as being settled upstream or downstream.

It was not just the Greeks. The Jews who wrote the Bible saw it pretty much the same way too. For example, they said that after the Flood Egypt and Ethiopia were both settled by the sons of Ham. Whence came this name Ham (Cham, Kam)? Where could Moses have found it? Right in Egypt where Moses was born, grew up and lived until the Exodus. In fact, we know the Egyptians called their country Kemit, which means “black” in their language.

Queen Tiye wife of Amenhotep III
Queen Tiye wife of Amenhotep III
The interpretation according to which Kemit designates the black soil of Egypt, rather than the black man and, by extension, the black race of the country of the Blacks, stems from a gratuitous distortion by minds aware of what an exact interpretation of this word would imply. Hence it is natural to find Kam in Hebrew, meaning heat, black, burned.

Diop says that the Jews got most of the elements of their civilization from Egypt too: they came to Egypt as a small band of shepherds in the time of Joseph and lived there for 400 years. Their belief in one God, for example, goes back to that of Akhenaten, who ruled Egypt about a hundred years before Moses.

Chapter 2: Birth of the Negro Myth

The Negro Myth is the belief that black people are not as good as whites. And not just in this period of history in certain particular ways, like in weapons or wealth, but in most ways throughout all of history. Because, the myth says, blacks lack brains, morals, reason, civilization, working constitutional government and all the rest.

The myth is so firmly believed that when whites do admit that blacks can equal or pass them in something, like music or art, it is strangely twisted into proof that blacks are less than fully human, and that they have more of an animal-like nature.

The myth is so firmly believed that the idea of ancient Egypt being a black civilization seems highly improbable if not laughable. So much so that when archaeologists find the remains of blacks in Egypt or the Middle East they are assumed – without the trouble of a proof – to be slaves.

The myth is so firmly believed that whites saw it as their duty to civilize blacks for their own good – the white man’s burden.

The myth is so firmly believed that that even top black thinkers sometimes believe in it.

Léopold Sédar Senghor, for example, once said:
Emotion is Negro and reason Greek.

While Aimé Césaire pictured blacks as:
Those who invented neither gunpowder nor compass
Those who tamed neither steam nor electricity
Those who explored neither the sea nor the sky…

The birth of the myth:
When Egypt fell under foreign rule from about –500 onwards, most of Africa became cut off from the rest of the world for 2000 years. Since people there could make a comfortable living with just a hoe, they fell behind in terms of material progress, though they continued to progress in other ways. Constitutional government, for example, was common in West Africa before it was common in Europe.

When Europeans arrived in West Africa in the 1400s they had far better weapons and ships than anyone in that part of the world. They used this advantage to rob Africa of its riches and make its people into slaves.

Waldesmuller World Map 1508
Waldseemuller World Map 1508
Europeans assumed that their material advantage extended to morals, society, government and everything else. They also assumed this advantage extended to all of history.

This caused them to misread history in certain ways. So, for example, when the French scholar Count Constantin de Volney arrived in Egypt in the 1780s he was shocked to find that the people there appeared to be part black – even though he knew his Herodotus.

The myth started out as an understandable misunderstanding of Portuguese sailors of the 1400s. But it proved so useful an excuse for the slave trade and colonization that it got written about and in time flowered into revealed truth, part of the European mindset.

14 COMMENTS

  1. The genius of Diop amazes me, just as the bigotry of his critics shocks me. It is also shocking that the truth of African origins, both in terms of our species and our human civilization, is still denied in American schools.

  2. With the most recent discoveries in genetics, anthropology. Archaeology and linguistics Diop has been proven to be Correct. And the areas in which he was wrong was due to the same racist indoctrination which even affected him.

    • What are you talking about? The complete opposite is true. As advances in DNA sequencing have evolved, Diop has been shown to be mostly wrong

      • Name one peer reviewed study that proves any of Diop’s main conclusions of the Black African origins of Homo Sapiens and Ancient Nile Valley civilizations to be false. Name one. The Abusir genetic study of 2017 has been soundly denounced by peer reviewed geneticists, btw. In other words, all of Diop’s critics have been resoundingly crushed to silence.

  3. Merci à cheick Anta ,notre Pharaon,merci à Théophile Obenga ,du Congo,Coovi Gomez Kalala omotunde,et tout les savants africains.Nous defenderons avec courage et sagacité notre histoire

    • Dr Diop presents a strikingly compelling argument to debunk the revisionistic and spurious research presented by Western investigators. His work is by far, of the most objective of all scientists involved with human evolution. His findings must live on.

  4. This is still extremely contested. This idea that all these greeks learned in egypt, and that egypt was black, are not settled. Most of this attribution to greeks studying in egypt came from later writers wrting about them, a point that is totally glossed over in this article. They “travelled”, then afrocentrists just assume.

    And the whole black egypt thing is not settled. There is dna evidence that shows sub saharan dna, and dna evidence that doesnt. Egyptians males were always red in their art, and nubians were always black. Egyptian females were yellow. They always made a distinction.

    Everything Diop researched on was about race. He was highly motivates to prove egypt was black. Hardly unbiased. Afrocentrists talks about archaeologists white washing, but where is the evidence for that, especially recently. The same conference in 1974 that most egyptologist disagreed egyptians were black also disagreed egyptians were white. It is part of the conspiracy message though.

    • You obviously have never read what Ancient Greeks said in their own contemporaneous words about not only travelling to Ancient Egypt but studying directly under the tutelage of their BLACK master teachers. They directly attribute all of their learning to the BLACK Ancient Egyptians who these Greek scholars claimed, IN THEIR OWN WORDS, were the first to develop the sciences millennia before the first Greek arrivals in Africa. You need to actually read what the Ancient Greeks say before commenting garbage that you do not know.

    • Echoing Afriaspora Films, I did all the research not even a debate that ancient Kemetic were indigenous black Africans from the Nile and East/West Africa.

      The black figurines that show Kemet/Egyptian lifestyle are a sight to behold, have you seen them?
      In those scenes, I did not see any white or olive skinned characters.
      Also, this was the beginning of all civilization, and there were no white or olive people there.
      At 4000 or 3000 years ago, the sun was 90 to 120 degrees, and walking or building pyramids without shirts would have resulted in your skin frying.

      Did you know that every type of African Egyptian culture can be found throughout Africa? This is why they were able to build one of the greatest civilizations in the world.
      Africa is the most genetically diverse continent on Earth, with a wide range of physical and cognitive traits.

      This diversity was a key factor in the success of African Egyptian culture, as it allowed them to adapt to a variety of environments and challenges.

      In other words, they represent the extremes: the smartest and dumbest, the tallest and shortest, and the fastest and slowest.
      And, the most creative and non creative.
      That group of indigenous black African came together at the same-time in a perfect storm .i.e. NBA Dream Team 1992 in Kemet.

      This is the only thing that makes sense!!!!
      Mic drop time, the ancient Kemetic were spirit people that believe the earth, wind, animal and people are all collected in spiritual cosmic order.

  5. 𓋹𓍑𓋴 Furthermore, you need to travel.

    I studied in Egypt as a student at the American University in Cairo. I have spent a lot of time in the Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Aswan, Giza, Saqqara, Tel Al Amarna, Alexandria, Sinai and various museums and exhibits all over the world. So, my knowledge comes from direct experience NOT images on the internet.

    I can tell you this, Ancient Egyptians used brown, black, reddish brown, yellowish brown and yellow pigments to depict themselves and Ancient Nubians at various periods of time over a three thousand year history. The color used the most to depict both male and female skin tones was the exact same medium brown. See the art of the 18th Dynasty (King Tut and his wife are the same medium brown; Queen Tiye, Tut’s grandmother, and her husband Amenhoptep III are the same medium brown; Amarna depictions of Akhenaton and his entire family are the same medium brown. And theses are just a handful of famous examples which show your statement to be false out of thousands of other images that are not famous.)

    Nevertheless, all skin tones used by Ancient Egyptians to depict themselves regardless of time period are the same skin tones found in all of Africa typically described as BLACK Africa today. Black Africans are NOT black in color. We come in every shade of brown imaginable from the darkest, so dark that you see black to the palest of yellowish, pinkish white (see “black African” albinos like famous Malian kora player Suleiman Keita, who has blonde hair and blue eyes, btw). That is the full range of UNMIXED (with Europeans or Asians) so called BLACK African people. African DNA is the oldest and most diverse in the world. All human phenotypes can be found in indigenous African people without Eurasian and Neanderthal admixture. When and if you actually travel in the continent you will discover this.

    The images on the internet are truly a carefully selected set of images to promote an extremely Eurocentric myopia of the world. Read more and travel more if your cherished notions guarding your fragility can handle it. If you do, however, and you can heal from your engrained cognitive dissonance, I guarantee your world view will change for the better of everyone.

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