Assumptions rob us of our sight. If I assume who you are before I have learnt who you are, I fail to see you. People of African descent have been assumed to be many things, many things which they are not. This project is to show you who we are; ours and your legacy.
“If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you’re going….” Maya Angelou
Throughout this project you will learn how the building blocks of the world we enjoy today are international. People from all corners of the earth have come together to produce greatness. This project will focus on the contribution of those individuals of recent African descent.
We should all be proud of our heritage and bare in mind that although we don’t inherit the sins of our fathers, we do inherit the world which has been left to us. And it is our duty to improve that world for ourselves and for others.
Listen carefully and contribute. You’ll be asked to explore, put forth arguments and debate. Let your views be heard and share this work.
Ancient Egypt: The First Pharaoh
In this lecture we will explore:
- Who were the Egyptians?
What did they look like? How did they live?
- How Egypt came to be
Who united the lands and under which circumstances?
- How our impression of Ancient Egypt may have been corrupted
How media can corrupt our perception of history and politics
Modern depictions of Ancient Egypt have been extremely varied for a multitude of reasons.
Hollywood depiction of Ancient Egyptians are far from the truth (img)
Task: Why might the actors above collectively all look the way they do?
Why have Hollywood chosen to do this?
When we see Egypt today, we are looking at Egypt after a number of invasions which led to interbreeding with the natives. (img)
These are invasions led by the:
- Persians (img)
Now, if we think of how one “successful” invasion of European forces changed the population of America, we can have some idea of what 9 successful invasions did to the population of Egypt from around 700BC onwards.
So this leaves the question as to what did the Ancient Egyptians looked like? Fortunately we have historical records, models, statues and biological samples. (img)
The ancient Greeks coined the term “Ethiopian” to describe the Ancient Egyptians (img). This translates to “burnt faced people”. The Egyptians also named themselves Kam / Kem which translates to “coal-coated” and their land Kemet which translates to “black land”. However the name “Kemet” may be in reference to the soil rather than their skin tone, leading to greater discussion.
The ancient greeks gave the first historical accounts of eye witness interactions with the ancient Egyptians. The historian, Herodotus (img) states in a few passages that the Egyptians were black/dark. According to most translations, Herodotus states that a Greek oracle was known to be from Egypt because she was “black”, that the natives of the Nile region are “black with heat”, and that Egyptians were “black skinned with woolly hair”.
Diodorus of Sicily writes: The Ethiopians say that the Egyptians are one of their colonies which was brought into Egypt by Osiris. They even allege that this country was originally under water, but that the Nile (img), dragging much mud as it flowed from Ethiopia, had finally filled it in and made it a part of the continent….
The first people of ancient Egyptian are recorded to have come from the south (Upper Egypt) (img) and migrated upwards into Egypt as the climate changed and the Sahara desert. This is modern day Sudan. The first kings of Egypt also came from the southern areas of Egypt. This includes Narmer who we will learn about later. We call southern Egypt, Upper Egypt because the Ancient Egyptians used the flow of the nile to dictate the positioning of each kingdom. The southern part of Egypt is upstream on the nile. It is therefore called “Upper Egypt”
Sudanese woman and child (img)
“Harmachis reigned in Nubia, upriver from Egypt. He left there with his son Horus, a warrior god, who conquered the whole country for him, (img)
Diop, Cheikh Anta. The African Origin of Civilization (p. 92). Chicago Review Press. Kindle Edition.”
The appearance of the ancient Egyptians has been depicted many times but has ultimately been ahistorical i.e. not historically accurate. The reasons for this we will explore later. But in discovering their true image, we can consider the below
Skeletal Structure (img)
The closer we get to the equator, the more “tropically adapted” people tend to become. This means longer arms and legs and a shorter torso (img). The longer and thinner an object, the higher its surface area. This means more heat can be dissipated to prevent over heating. These proportions are seen in the depictions of the ancient Egyptians and also throughout Africa.
|Maasai People, Kenya||Ancient Egyptian Dance|
This is where the jaw protrudes from the face. This feature is more common in ethnically African populations. We can also see this mirrored in the paintings of Ancient Egyptians
Ancient Egypt was an extremely hygiene focused Civilisation. Soaps and perfumes were household items. Because hair makes us hotter and can be a breeding ground for lice, most Egyptians shaved their entire bodies. However there are some studies to show that their hair curled very tightly. We can also see the protective hairstyles they wore which are very commonly used today by individuals with Afro-hair to preserve hair health and to reduce knotting. Also note the combs they used resemble afro picks (img)
Skin Tone (img)
This has provided some confusion as the Egyptians commonly used a colour code for men and women. Men were depicted as red and women as a yellowish colour. However when this code isn’t used, the ancient egyptians are commonly pictured with dark complections and African features. (img)
Eye Witness Accounts (ref)
Fortunately, we also have eye witness accounts from Greek historians who travelled Egypt at the time of their lives (img)
Herodotus “they have black skin and frizzy hair” (when writing of how the Egyptians resemble the Colchians; the first settlers of Rome)
Aristotle “those who are too black are cowards… this applies to the Egyptians and Ethiopians” i.e. other Africans
Aeschylus (Greek poet) “I notice the crew with its black members bringing out the white tunics” speaking of Egyptian sailors
Ammian Marcellin of Rome “the men of Egypt are for the most, black and brown”
As Egypt and surrounding areas developed, many people migrated from the middle east, mediteranean and other areas of Africa (img). This led to a change in the population of Egypt which was compounded by recurrent invasions. But as we see, Egypt was very much an ethnically African civilisation (img) which went on to influence and be influenced by other African and Mediteranean civilisations. Wollof, a language spoke in west Africa, for example, is believed to have close connections with Ancient Egyptian language to this day.
Task A: Why white Egyptians? (img)
- Why might the actors above collectively all look the way they do?
- Why have Hollywood chosen to portray the Egyptians as non-black?
- Might this be an example of subconscious bias? (might need defining – and film producers wanting to market at people most likely to view it …
The Unification of Egypt
In this lecture we shall cover:
- the coming of Egypt as a unified Empire (the snake and the hawk)
- Ancient mythology and how it inspired later religions and western psychotherapy
King Narmer (img)
Geographically, Egypt was divided into two; upper and lower egypt. Each had its own capital city and deity. The hawk God, Horus represented upper Egypt. Horus represented consciousness, good and the sky. You can see his eye on today’s American Dollar Bills (img)
Upper Egypt’s deity was Wadjet, the snake goddess who represented their lands. Each area had its own culture, symbolism and religious sects which would later be united. If you look closely at Egyptian leaders, you can detect as to whether they come from upper or lower egypt and whether this was before the unification of ancient Egypt.
|Feature||Upper Egypt||Lower Egypt|
|God||Horus (hawk) / Nekhbet (vulture)||Wadjet (snake)|
|Crown||The Hedjet (white crown, originating from Ta-Sei i.e. modern day Sudan)||Deshret (red crown with snake symbol at the front)|
Task A: Can you tell where the following leaders came from? Upper or Lower Egypt? (img)
(img)It’s 5660BC according to Africanus. A young King named Narmer (or Menes) has come of age to rule in Upper Egypt (southern Egypt). Cities such as Hierakonpolis, the capital of Upper Egypt which was dedicated to the Hawk God, Horus; boasted great feats. Hierakonpolis (img) was over 2 miles long, containing many neighbourhoods. Hierakonpolis boasted a huge population of skilled workers including craftsmen, farmers, officials and priests. (img)
Fragments of over 300,000 pots were found in the area. A brewery was found which could have catered to up to 200 people per day.
5600 years ago, the land around the Nile was partly uninhabitable due to the Nile’s deltas. This is where the Nile would dump earth on its surrounding banks, making it swamp land. However, King Narmer of Thinis, saw an opportunity. Herodotus, the Greek historian collected information on his visit to the country. (img)
“The Egyptian priests said that Mena was the first king of Egypt and that it was he who raised the dyke which protects Memphis from the indunations of the Nile. Before his time, the river flowed entirely through the sandy range of hills which skirts Egypt on the side of Libya. By banking up the river at the bend which forms about a hundred furlongs south of Memphis, laid the ancient channel dry, while he dug a new course for the stream halfway between two lines of hills. Besides these works, the priest said he also build the temple of Vulcan (Ptah) which stands within the city” (img) (img)
(img) Essentially, Narmer saw that the flooding of the lands, if controlled or harnessed, could create fertile land for farming and living. He built the banks of the river to enable the water levels to drop and then diverted the river to avoid unwanted flooding. This was achieved over 7000 years ago and set the foundations for the Ancient Egyptian Civilisation to thrive.
Narmer led a campaign (img) to conquer lower Egypt (Northern Egypt) however it is debated whether or not this was a peaceful or aggressive take over. The most well used evidence around this time is Narmer’s Palette which we can see above.
Can you interpret what is occurring in this Palette? I’ll give you some hints
Task B: What did King Narmer do? (img)
Focus on the following points:
- The crown he is wearing in the left and the right image
- The animals featuring
- Is Narmer posing as an aggressor? A leader?
- Which animal combinations can you see? Are they symbolic?
- Is Narmer uniting or disbanding Lower Egypt?
Exploration of the Narmer Palette: https://youtu.be/NjYhTIoPdkY?t=34
The king is presented as being larger than his co-features (img). You can also see Horus to the top right of the first palette. Horus is the all seeing God of the sky and consciousness. All-seeing and all-knowing is also a feature of the Abrahamic God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
We can also see him wearing the white crown of upper Egypt, the Hedjet. We also see the feature of swamp plants which are present in lower Egypt by the Nile Delta. Horus is dominating these plants as he pulls the nose of a lower Egyptian.
We can then see Narmer lead a victory parade on the right hand side (img). If you look, you can see his crown has changed. He now wears the crown of Lower Egypt, the Deshret. When these two crowns are combined, we have the Pschent. Another symbol which is also often used is the unification of Wadjet and Nekhbet (the snake and the vulture) seen on Tutankhamun’s mask to symbolise his rule of lower and upper egypt. (img)
We can also see similar symbology in the half lion / half serpent animals intertwining.
(img) Pharaoh is the name anointed to the leader of the combined lands of upper and lower Egypt. This is why we speak of Narmer as the first Pharaoh. He united Egypt giving rise to the first civilisation the world has known and set the capital in Memphis. He ruled with his wife, Queen Neithotep and their successor Mer-Neith became the first female to rule a civilisation in her own right, in history. (img)
The Old Kingdom – 5717BC (Julius Aficanus) (img)
The period from Mena to the end of the sixth dynasty is called the Old Kingdom. During this period, the Egyptians built the Great Pyramids and wrote the Pyramid Texts. (img) The Pyramid texts are the oldest known religious texts in the world and provide an beautifully elaborate depiction of Ancient Egyptian Ethics. There are also striking similarities between Abrahamic religious texts (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) and the Ancient Egyptian religions. (img)
The Old Kingdom also saw the origin of the Solar Calendar, which we still use today, and writing on Papyrus.
(img)Remember that we saw the development of civilisation very closely follow the development of agriculture because it enabled people to settle and use their time for more specialist tasks? We can view writing on papyrus as creating the same pivotal change.
Before written language, spoken language relied on being passed down vocally. This also meant that many different languages and dialects could emerge independently, making communication more difficult. With the invention of written language, and changing from writing with a chisel and palette to ink and papyrus, communication could become more uniform, faster and literacy rates could increase. (img)
Throughout the Old Kingdom, Egypt became increasingly engaged in international trade. Pharaoh Hor-Ha succeeded Narmer and extended trade links to Lebanon (north of Israel, 1200km away) and Syria (1500km away).
Pharaoh Djer who succeeded Hor-Ha promoted scientific exploration (img). Dr Charles Finch, a medical doctor who has studied the medical papers from the old kingdom noted
“At present some of these conditions are impossible to detect or describe without x-ray studies. The question arises as to how did our ancient surgeon, living and practicing thousands of years ago managed to diagnose and describe these problems without the benefit of x-rays”
His daughter Pharaoh Mer-Neith (img) was the first woman in history to own a country in her own right. This didn’t happen in England until 1516 when Mary I took the throne 7000 years later.
Task C: Evolution of Communication:
Thanks to the Ancient Egyptians, we have the first known case of written language. Think about how communication has developed over the past 6000 years. List the stages and the benefits of each stage.
|Spoken word||Fast, Instruction, co-ordination||Short reaching and long lasting|
|Written word on palettes||Long lasting, travel||Slow, specialist tools are needed|
|Written word on papyrus|
|Morse code etc.|
Religion- the shaping of modern ethics
Much of what we understand and experience today, we do so through the lens of our philosophy. Much of this is a Judea-Christian Philosophy which we have inherited from the Bible. Even if we’re areligious, the British or on a larger scale, westernised culture shapes our perspective. It teaches us the difference between right and wrong; faith in marriage; the consequence of wrong doing etc.
Ancient Egypt also had a guiding philosophy in their religion. This religion is called Maat. We will learn how Maat also potentially laid the foundations for later Abrahamic religions. For example, Amen, which many religions commonly use to end their prayers, may come from Amun, the name of the God on the sun in Ancient Egyptian Religion. (img)
We previously covered Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Because the Ancient Egyptians had organised themselves into a civilisation of great wealth and stability, they had the leisure of exploring their meaning for existence. In exploring this existence, we not only see the foundations for many religions, but also the foundations for modern psychotherapy. Ancient Egypt inspired Carl Jung (img)and Sigmund Freud due to the Egyptians use of Myths to explore the human experience.
This chapter draws reference from the following books
1. Maat, the moral ideal in ancient Egypt by Maulana Karenga
2. When We Ruled, Robin Walker
3. Maps of Meaning, Jordan Peterson
4. Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Carl Jung
5. The origins and history of consciousness, Erich Neumann
6. Steve Peters, the Chimp Paradox
There is a deep need to understand our human nature. Psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters created a fantastic metaphor for this; the Chimp Paradox. As human beings we have the unique ability to see the workings of our own minds. Much like a captain of a ship can see the coordinated efforts of the crew and the ship, we can see our emotions, thought processes, decisions, predict alternate outcomes in intricate detail etc.
Because of the primitive urges we have inherited from our primate relatives (img) such as chimpanzees, gorillas etc. we are faced with a dilemma. We see these primitive urges to hurt, steal, love, help, dominate, manipulate etc but these are chaotic. The ancient Egyptians created an ethical code and associated myths to organise this chaos.
To the ancient Egyptians, Maat (img) was the good which brought order to chaos and it was every Egyptian’s responsibility to bring order (Maat) and to banish evil (Isfet). But this balance was the responsibility of one person more than any other…. The Pharaoh (img). This philosophy led Ancient Egyptians to having a very protective approach to the poor, the vulnerable and weak. It was the responsibility for Egyptians to create Heaven on Earth. It was a proactive religion, inspiring action. Much like Christians, Egyptians believed they were made in the image of the creator and they therefore must create, become knowledgeable (all knowing) and powerful. This may be contrasted to other religious practices which encourage passivity, i.e. pray and be good and you will be rewarded in the afterlife.
Author Maulana Karenga quotes “do not touch those who are with the Gods”. He interprets this as warning followers of Maat against bothering those with mental health issues. Cheikh Anta Diop also mentions Ancient Egyptians considering land, shelter and enough food as their birthright.
“The strength of one who resembles God saves the weak from oppression” Amenomope
The ancient Egyptians displayed this chaos in their origin story which describes the origin of the universe. Many similarities can be seen between the Ancient Egyptian creative myth and others such as in the Abrahamic religion
For example, the power of spoken word is a theme. Spoken word organises the chaos.
- Ancient Egyptian mythology sees Atum (first God) spat or spoke Shu and Tefnut into the world after emerging himself from the primordial ocean
- The Abramic God on Judaism, Christianity and Islam said “let there be light” (img)
- In Sikhi; “By His Command, souls come into being; by His Command, glory and greatness are obtained”
Task: In the Pyramid Texts of the ancient Egyptian religions, Atum speaks life into the primordial waters, creating Gods which separate the earth from the sky. In the Bible, Torah and Quaran, God does the same by creating a void between them.
Why do you think creationist stories are so similar to each other despite coming from different religions?
The Hero story
The ancient Egyptians used Myths to explain not just their origin, but their inner conflict. One story which explores this so well is the hawk God, Horus’ triumph over his evil uncle, Seth. This story has been told many times since as it connects to human experience on so many level. You may see parallels of the story of Horus in
- Jesus’ triumph over evil (Satan)
- Simba’s triumph over Scar in the Lion King
- Hercules’ fighting Hades in the underworld
This African story of good triumphing over evil has travelled in different forms around the world, likely because it connects to our nature as human beings and our need to organise and bring to good what is chaotic and evil.
The God, Osiris (img), who represents the cultural foundation of Egypt marries Isis. Isis’ brother, Set who represents evil intention and chaos, challenges Osiris. Set (img) defeats him and cuts Osiris into little pieces and scatters him throughout Egypt. Isis takes the penis of Osiris and inseminates herself. She later gives birth to Horus.
Horus, who represents consciousness, good and foresight wants to avenge his father. (img) Horus is often theorised to have inspired the story of Jesus. Horus does battle with Set and defeats him, however Set removes Horus’ eye in battle. The eye of Horus represents consciousness and foresight. It is the “all seeing eye”.
Horus takes his eye and ventures to the underworld to visit the soul of his father, Osiris. Horus gifts his eye to Osiris to restore him and provide him with consciousness to protect him from evil.
Every night Horus does battle with Set, because evil never dies.
The story of Horus has potentially not only inspired many other stories since; but it guided the ancient Egyptians to an ethical ideal. The deity, Horus, inspired them to do good, and fight evil through Maat to create balance.
The Heavy Heart (img)
The earliest concept of “judgement day” where we meet a judge in the afterlife who passes judgement on whether we have been good enough to enter heaven or not is also seen in the Book of the Dead and the Pyramid texts.
Here we can see an individual being led by Anubis (the dog guardian of the Duat) to have his heart weighed. If the heart is heavy with what we might call sin (sin translates to being led astray) then it will weigh more than the feather of Maat. But remember Maat means balance, so this may mean that the individual’s life was lived out of balance in the favour of bad i.e. their life had a net negative consequence. If their heart does weigh more than the feather, their Ka (soul) will be devoured by Ammit (the crocodile dog creature). (img)
There are two features to draw attention to (img)
- The notion of balance. As in the New Testament, sin (being led astray) is forgivable to some extent. One can commit sin but if life is lived so out of balance that the individual does more harm than good, they will be devoured
- “There will be gnashing of teeth” is a verse found in Matthew 8:12 where Jesus speaks of the fait of those who enter hell after they receive poor judgement. Has the myth of Ammit been translated somewhat into Christianity?
In summary, we can see how after the unification of Egypt by Pharaoh Narmer, a 5600 (img) year Empire flourished. A need to order chaos saw the development of religion from which ethical ideals followed. These ethical ideals may have formed the foundation of more recent religions, providing a frame work of understanding the afterlife and the consequences of living a good or an immoral life.
Inscriptions have been found in which Isis is associated with the city of Noreia; Noreia today is Neumarkt in Styria (Austria). Isis, Osiris, Serapis, Anubis have altars in Fréjus, Nîmes, Aries, Riez (Basses-Alpes), Parizet (Isère), Manduel (Gard), Boulogne (Haute-Garonne), Lyons, Besançon, Langres, Soissons. Isis was honored at Melun… at York and Brougham Castle, and also in Pannonia and Noricum.27
These ethical ideals were upheld by the Pharaohs themselves. It was their duty to maintain balance throughout the empire by ensuring production of food and provision of shelter
“The State was responsible for organizing production and achieving the optimum yield from the soil.”
Diop, Cheikh Anta. The African Origin of Civilization (p. 211). Chicago Review Press. Kindle Edition.
By our standards, Egypt was comparatively socialist as were many pre-colonial African countries.
From early Egypt we see the growth and retraction of the Empire (img) as it interacted with foregin peoples. We also see the formation of the first Monotheist (belief in one God) (img) religion under Akhenaton (1501-1474BC MacNaughton) which is theorised to inspire the later monotheist Abrahamic religions. The Torah states that Moses received the 10 commandments from God less than 200 years after the reign of Akhenaton. We see further interesting parallels in the Abrahamic texts such as when the Israelites lost faith in God. They worshipped a bull Exodus 32:4 (img) whilst Moses was atop Mount Sinai, speaking with God. In ancient Egypt the bull was the symbol of Ptah, the creator God in Ancient Egypt. Moses begged God not to harm the Israelites who had been led astray in idol worship.
What we may be seeing here, is a story of a new monotheist religion forming and breaking from the traditions of Ancient Egypt. But the main focus is on the connections between what is still practiced today and what was practiced thousands of years ago.
We have all been affected and propelled by the amazing advancements of Ancient Egypt (img). Through ethics, science, legend and sheer organisation; both Africans and non-Africans are indebted to the advancements of Ancient Egypt.
Task: Why might some old and new myths have similarities? (img)