The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality

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The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality
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The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality

By Cheikh Anta Diop

A book review by Femi Akomolafe

[Dedicated to all the Comrades who keep on toiling to help Africa reclaim her past.]


If there is any purpose behind my reviewing books and writing polemics, it is to urge Africans to say a big NO to SELF-HATE, SELF-PITY and SELF- CONTEMPT.

African cosmogony thrives on optimism; it is sad when Africans start referring to their race as ‘CURSED.’

That is exactly what Euro-Americans want to hear.

I do not write out of an atavistic nature. I am not romantic about Africa’s glorious past. What is important is that we try and connect our pre- colonial past to our present, and see how we can start to reconstruct our lives which was devastated by Europeans.

We have to reclaim our history and our culture. The Asians have successfully done this; I believe that Africans can do the same.

Racism used to be a tri-polar thing. Europeans put themselves at the top, from where they look down on the Asians and the Africans. The Asians have successfully rescued themselves.

No European today look down upon the Asians.

Racism has all but become a bi-polar affair; Africans remain the only race being humiliated by Euro-Americans.


In all history, nothing is so surprising or so difficult to account for as the sudden rise of civilization in Greece. Much of what makes civilization had already existed for thousands of years in Egypt and Mesopotamia, and had spread thence to neighboring countries. But certain elements had been lacking until the Greeks supplied them. What they achieved in art and literature is familiar to everybody, but what they did in the purely intellectual realm is even more exceptional. They invented mathematics and science and philosophy; they first wrote history as opposed to mere annals; they speculated freely about the nature of the World and the ends of life, without being bound in the fetters of any inherited orthodoxy. What occurred was so astonishing that, until very recent times, men were content to gape and talk mystically about the Greek genius. It is possible, however, to understand the development of Greece in scientific terms, and it is well worth while to do so.”

Thus began Bertrand Russell his book, ‘A History of Western Civilization,’ published by Counterpoint.

By such clever semantic acrobatics, Bertrand Russell, like many Western scholars, think they have succeeded in ascribing an ingenuity to the ancient Greek, which the Greeks neither claim nor deserve.

Only buffoons, untutored in history, could gape at the so-called genius of the Greeks.

Greek civilization, however impressive and astonishing, cannot, and should, never be situated outside the civilizations (Egypt and Phoenician) that preceded it.

Greek Civilization didn’t spring up, suddenly, mythically, as Bertrand Russell and other western scholars would like us to believe.

The Greeks borrowed, stole, plagiarized ideas from those ancient civilizations.

And why is it often forgotten that the Ionians who later became Greeks were former vassals of Egypt and later Persians?

They invented mathematics and science.” Surely, Bertrand Russell could not have expected to be taken seriously.

The Egyptian invented mathematics, which Mr. Russell decided to denigrate as, ‘form of rule of thumbs.’

Pythagoras, whom the White people like to credit with the mathematical theorem that bore his name, was a student in Egypt.

So much for the so-called ‘Father of mathematics!’

This fact alone, which could not have escaped Bertrand Russell, demolished the argument that the Greek invented mathematics.

Aristotle and Plato borrowed their ideas from the Egyptian – although without giving any credit.

No less a personage than Herodotus affirmed that Greece borrowed from Egypt all the elements of her civilization, even the cults of her gods.

We have to ask Bertrand Russell how a people could build something as imposing as the pyramids without a working knowledge of trigonometry and geometry!

The Papyrus of Moscow and the Rhind Papyrus greatly enrich our knowledge of these facts.

When it is not sufficient to ascribe any notion of ingenuity on the ancient Greeks, Western scholars fall back on an old-trick, looking for a mythical White origin of the Egyptian civilization – the most impressive of all ancient civilizations.

Anthropology was the ‘scientific’ discipline they spawned to spread their falsehoods.

Egypt has to be painted White.

That was until Cheikh Anta Diop, an African born in Senegal, appeared on the scene.


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So jaundiced is the West that this man, who almost single-handedly rewrote the history of the World (at least the Black world) remain relatively unknown to the world.

Regrettably not many Africans know anything about this brilliant scholar, who did so much to debunk the lies of a White Egypt and re-trace the antiquity of Black history, distorted by colonialists and imperialist ideologists masquerading as scholars.

Born on December 29, 1923, at Diourbel, Senegal, Anta Diop was a scholar’s scholar. He was a nuclear physicist, anthropologist, historian and, until his death, Director of the Radio-carbon laboratory he founded.

The world of history, anthropology and Egyptology has never been the same again since Anta Diop published his great work, ‘The African Origin of Civilization, Myth or Reality?’

Ancient Egypt was a Negro Civilization. The history of Black Africa will remain suspended in air and cannot be written correctly until African historians dare to connect it with the history of Egypt.”

The world was astounded when Cheikh Anta Diop made those bold declaration. The whole world has been fed on the fallacy of an Egyptian civilization, built by a White race. Anta Diop was called all sorts of names, not at all pleasant ones. He was accused of being a romantic African – the usual staple.

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Our investigations have convinced us that the West has not been calm enough and objective enough to teach us our history correctly, without crude falsifications. Today, what interests me most is to see the formation of teams, not of passive readers, but of honest, bold research workers, allergic to complacency and busy substantiating and exploring ideas expressed in our work, such as:

In particular, the study of languages, institutions, and so forth, cannot be treated properly; in a word, it will be impossible to build Africa humanities, a body of African human sciences, so long as that relationship does not appear legitimate. The African historian who evades the problems of Egypt is neither modest nor objective, nor unruffled; he is ignorant, cowardly, and neurotic. Imagine, if you can, the uncomfortable position of a western historian who wants to write the history of Europe without referring to Greco-Latin Antiquity and try to pass that off as a scientific approach.

“The ancient Egyptians were Negroes. The moral fruit of their civilization is to be counted among the assets of the Black world. Instead of presenting itself to history as an insolvent debtor, that Black world is the very initiator of ‘western’ civilization flaunted before our eyes today. Pythagorean mathematics, the theory of the four elements of Thales of Miletus, Epicurean materialism, Platonic idealism, Judaism, Islam, and modern science are rooted in Egyptian cosmogony and science. One needs only to mediate on Osiris, the redeemer- god, who sacrifice himself, dies, and is resurrected to save mankind, a figure essentially identifiable with Christ.

A visitor to Thebes in the Valley of the Kings can view the Moslem inferno in detail (in the tomb of Seti I, of the Nineteenth Dynasty), 1700 years before the Koran. Osiris at the tribunal of the dead is indeed the ‘lord’ of revealed religions, sitting enthroned on Judgement Day, and we know that certain Biblical passages are practically copies of Egyptian moral texts. Far be it from me to confuse this brief reminder with a demonstration. It is simply a matter of providing a few landmarks to persuade the incredulous Black African reader to bring himself to verify this. To his great surprise and satisfaction, he will discover that most of the ideas used today to domesticate, atrophy, dissolve, or steal his “soul,” were conceived by his own ancestors. To become conscious of that fact is perhaps the first step toward a genuine retrieval of himself; without it, intellectual sterility is the general rule, or else the creations bear I know not what imprint of the subhuman.

In a word, we must restore the historical consciousness of the African people and reconquer a Promethean consciousness.

2. Anthropologically and culturally speaking, the Semitic world was born during protohistoric times from the mixture of white-skinned and black- skinned people in Western Asia. This is why an understanding of the Mesopotamian Semitic world, Judaic or Arabic, requires constant reference to the underlying Black reality. If certain Biblical passages, especially in the Old Testament, seem absurd, this is because specialists puffed up with prejudices, are unable to accept documentary evidence.

3. The triumph of the monogenetic thesis of humanity (Leakey), even at the stages of “Homo sapiens-sapiens,” compels one to admit that all races descended from the Black race, according to a filiation process that science will one day explain.”(pp.xiv-xv)

‘What were the Egyptians?’ was the first chapter in this excellently researched work. To answer this mother of all questions, Anta Diop didn’t rely on conjectures. He went straight to quote ancient sources. He quoted Herodotus, the Greek historian whom Western scholars love to call the ‘father of history’ who informed us that: “It is certain that the natives of the country are black with the heat.

Why would Herodotus, whom the Western scholars like to roll out like an oracle, whenever it suits them, affirmed the Egyptians Blacks if they weren’t?

Western scholars also like to use the Bible to support their arguments, again whenever it serves their purposes. And Anta Diop reminded us that, according to the Bible, Egypt was peopled by the offspring of Ham, ancestors of the Blacks! The Egyptian called their country Kemit, which means ‘black’ in their language.” The Hebrew rendered this Ham, also meaning black or burned. That was the origin of the word, Ham.

If Old Egypt was indeed established by the Whites, there should be, at least, some surviving elements to connect them to the Western world. Is this the case? In contrast to the Western scholars who had searched in vain for a shred of evidence to support a white origin of the Egyptian civilization, Anta Diop presented eight cogent argument to support his thesis of a Black origin:

1. Totemism (totem – ‘an object that has a ritual association’): No part of the Western world, as far as we know, used totem. Ancient Egypt was a totemic society, as is most of Africa, up until today.

2. Circumcision: “The Egyptians practiced circumcision as early as prehistoric times; they transmitted this practice to the Semitic world in general (Jews and Arabs)” p.135. To counter the argument of a Semitic origin of circumcision, Anta Diop reminded us that, according to the Bible, Abraham was circumcised when he was already ninety years old; and that was after he married a Black woman, Hagar, the mother of Ishmael, the Biblical ancestor of the second Semitic branch, the Arabs. Moses was not circumcised until he wed his Madianite wife. So much for the Semitic origin of circumcision. “Only among Blacks does circumcision find an interpretation integrated in a general explanation of the universe, in other words, a cosmogony.” p.135

3. Kingship: “The concept of kingship is one of the most impressive indications of the similarity in thinking between Egypt and the rest of Black Africa.” – p.138. The institutions of kingship, down to the ritualistic killing of monarchs, was practiced by the Egyptians, as is still the case in some African societies today.

4. Cosmogony: ‘Negro cosmogonies, African and Egyptian, resemble each other so closely that they are often complementary. To understand certain Egyptian concepts, one must refer to the Black world, as is attested by what we have said about kingship… The similarity of mores, customs, traditions, and thinking has already been sufficiently stressed by various authorities. Perhaps it would take more than a lifetime to report all the analogies between Egypt and the black world, so true is it that they are one and the same.’ – p.139

Anta Diop cited several authorities to support his contention that the mental structure of the Black world is the basis of the ancient Egyptian philosophy.

5. Social Organization: This is among the most remarkable traits of ancient Egypt that could still be found in Africa today. Ancient Egypt was stratified as follows: peasants, skilled workers, priests, warriors, and government officials, the king. In Africa today, we have a social order which is as follows: peasants, artisans or skilled workers, warriors, priests, the king.

We should contrast this with the western society, where the institution of monarchy was a recent invention.

6. Matriarchy: This is perhaps the most telling trait shared by Old Egypt and Modern Africa. Egypt was a matriarchal society, so is most of Africa today – Islam and Christianity had withered the practice away in some part of the continent. Astigmatized western scholars have not been able to reconcile their contention that white people build the civilization in Egypt, and the simple fact that the society these whites were supposed to have built was organized on matriarchal line, in sharp contrast to much of the western world which remain, until today, rigidly patriarchal.

7. Kinship of the Meroitic Sudan and Egypt: There are some evidence to suggest a Sudanese (Nubia) origin of the Egyptian civilization. Nubia is undoubtedly older than Egypt, and the migration was south-north. This argument is supported by the fact that all the objects of worship in Egypt are Nubian. Among others, the oldest pyramids are located in present day Sudan, a fact that western scholars are glossing over, since it will require their looking for a White origin. Also glossed over is the fact that Nubian writing is more evolved than Egyptian writing – this does not conform with the ‘experts’ jaundiced view that African didn’t have written language! Egypt and Nubia are the Biblical children of Ham – Mesraim and Kush. ‘Until the close of the Egyptian Empire, the kings of Nubia (Sudan) were to bear the same titles as the Egyptian Pharaoh, that of the Hawk of Nubia. ‘ p. 147

There should exist no contestation of this if white scholars are prepared to believe the records the Egyptian left of their Nubian origin. So long as there was no mention of a white ancestry, neither Herodotus, nor the Egyptian are qualified, in the eyes of the white scholars, to write their own history.

8. Geography: Let’s imagined an antique civilization at the northern part of Europe, how would one react to some Black scholars laying claim that that civilization was created by their ancestors?

This is what white scholars want Africans to accept. With all seriousness, they have been pouring resources into discovering a mythical White origin of the Egyptian civilization.

Egypt thus remain the only country in the world that has to justify its geography.

The question provoked by all the vain attempt to paint Egypt white is: Why would white people leave their heartland to go and found a civilization in Africa, and withdrew as miraculously as they came?

As Anta Diop wondered, ‘No less paradoxical is the fact that the Indo-Europeans never created a civilization in their own native lands: the Eurasian plains. The civilization attributed to them are invariably located in the heart of Negro countries in the Southern part of the Northern Hemisphere: Egypt, Arabia, Phoenicia, Mesopotamia, Elam, India.

In all those lands, there were already Negro civilizations when the Indo- Europeans arrived as rough nomads during the second millennium. The standard procedure consists of demonstrating that those savage populations brought all the elements of civilization with them wherever they went. The question which then comes into mind is: Why did so many creative aptitudes appear only when there was contact with Blacks, never in the original cradle of the Eurasian steppes? Why did those populations not create civilization at home before migrating?’ p. 152

As to scholars like Bertrand Russell who like to credit the Greek with mythical ingenuity, Anta Diop reminded them about all the great Greek intellectuals and philosophers were trained in Egypt. On page 232, we read ‘ Solon, Thales Plato, Lycurgus, Pythagoras encountered difficulty before being accepted as students by the Egyptians.’ He then quoted from one authority to buttress his argument, ‘ I then realized, and realized clearly, that the most famous Greek systems, notably those of Plato and Aristotle, had originated in Egypt. I also realized that the lofty genius of the Greeks had been able to present Egyptian ideas incomparably, especially in Plato; but I thought that what we loved in the Greeks, we should not scorn or simply disdain in the Egyptians. Today, when two authors collaborate, the credit for their work in common is shared equally by each. I fail to see why ancient Greece should reap all the honor for ideas she borrowed from Egypt.’ p.232.

To those who asked how the Black people happened to sank to their lowly status, Anta Diop said we could ask the same of the Greeks, who were the ancestors of western civilization, and of the Italians.

If one accept the African origin of humanity, which no serious scholar, black or white, contest today, why the reluctance to accept that the parents of the human race were also the pioneers of human civilization?

It is true that the Black race lay weakened and prostrated today, but this was not always the case. We tend to forget that Africa was there at the beginning, and that more than half of human history has passed before anyone knew of a European. We also forget that Anglo-Saxons were just waking up from their savage state, Ghana Empire was already at the peak of its glory? We also no longer remember that while plagues and famine killed off a third of Europe’s population, an African Emperor, Mansa Musa, dazzled the ancient world with his wealth.

Anta Diop wrote more than an history book. He blazed a trail. He was a pioneer who courageously took up the prejudiced white scholars, who have been promoting racial arrogance in the name of scholarship.

Anta Diop was a pioneer who, more than any other person, confronted the western scholars, challenged them and made them retreat from peddling the lies they have been promoting about Africa.

Since the publication of his book, western scholars has ceased to take it for granted that Africans will remain silent when they tell their lies.

It was to this great scholar that Africa owed so much of her historical redemption. No wonder he is called the Pharaoh of African history; it is a richly deserved accolade.

Every African owed it to himself to read this book, it more than set the records straight – it is a journey in self-discovery.


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Plug for Femi Akomolafe books

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