Introduction to Black History: Understanding the Role and Significance of Ancient Egypt in African American History

February 1, 2011

For us, the return to Egypt in all domains is the necessary condition for reconciling African civilization with history, in order to be able to construct a body of modern human sciences, in order to renovate African culture. Far from a reveling in the past, a look toward the Egypt of antiquity is the best way to conceive and build our cultural future. In reconceived and renewed African culture, Egypt will play the same role that Greco-Latin antiquity plays in Western culture.

- Cheikh Anta Diop

It is well documented by historians and scholars Cheikh Anta Diop, George James, Ivan Van Sertima, Yosef ben-Jochannan, John Clark, Maulana Karenga and others that human civilization- Philosophy and governance, science, mathematics, religion, and literature, originated in Africa or more specifically ancient Egypt. The contributions which the ancient Egyptians, who were black, made formed the basis for modern and post-modern civilization.

This historical fact is important not to boost or engage in racial supremacy, but rather to correct the lies and falsification of history which moved ancient Egypt out of Africa- cultural and historical. The falsification of history denied Africans their greatness and pride of place in the annals of human civilization while at the same time elevating Greece and Rome as to the status of the originators of civilization.

“The negation of the history and intellectual accomplishments of black Africans, Diop notes,” was cultural, mental murders, which preceded and paved the way for their genocide here and there in the world.” Moreover, Diop contends that the consequence of the negation of African history, namely ancient Egypt, resulted in Africans subordinating their history to Europe and “between the years 1946 and 1954-when our project for the restitution of the authentic history of Africa and the reconciliation of African civilization with history was elaborated-the distorted perspective caused by the blinders of colonialism had so profoundly warped intellectuals’’ views of the African past that we has the greatest difficulty among Africans in gaining acceptance for ideas that today are becoming commonplace. One can hardly imagine the degree of alienation of the Africans of the period.”

The celebration of African American History Month, thus, begins with in ancient Egypt. As Diop correctly states, “understanding the role of ancient Egypt in human civilization and African history allows African everywhere, beginning here in the Americas, to construct a body of modern human sciences, in order to renovate African [American] culture.” So that when blacks practice Christianity, they understand that the foundation and basis of Christianity originated out of ancient Egypt. The Books of Rising Like Ra, for example, are “singularly and together the oldest written record of the dawn of structured moral consciousness,” and theology- advancing the notion of resurrection, ascension and transformation.  As Karenga points out in his work the Husia, “we find…the historical source of so many other concepts central to Hebrew and Christian theology, i.e., resurrection, the Risen Savior, the Beloved Son, the Day and Hall of Judgment, and immortality of the soul.”

The Books of Rising and Transformation documents the first theological concept of an afterlife and a Risen Savior:

The Heavens declare: This royal vindicated one is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased…my first born upon the throne of earth and Ra has given him his heritage in the presence of the Great Powers of Heaven.

Ra has received me to himself, to the sky, t the eastern side of the sky, as Horus the avenger of his father, as Osiris the One Risen, as the star which lights up the sky.

In The Book of Coming Firth By Day we find the “Declaration of Innocence, the source of the Ten Commandments. In the below except from thirty-six and forty-two declarations made by a person in the Hall of Righteousness to establish his or her blamelessness to be vindicated by God- Ra, we can see the basis of the Ten Commandments.

I have not done evil against people. I have not mistreated my family and associates. I have not told lies in the court of law, the seat of Truth. I have not associated with evil or worthless persons. I have not brought forth my name for praise. I have not cursed God. I have not done what is hateful to God. I have not committed murder. I have not stolen. I have not committed adultery. I have not blasphemed against God. I have not coveted others’ property.

The Book of Knowing The Creations of Ra and of Striking Down Apophis (the serpent of evil and chaos) are the “earliest written text of the dawning of humanity’s structured consciousness concerning ontology and ethics.” These “scared text, Karenga writes in the Husia, “predate Hebrew, Christian and Muslim ontologies and ethics by thousands of years and apparently contributed to them. We thus find in these books for the first time in human history the concept Lagos- creation through thought and divine and utterance.  Thus The Book of Knowing The Creations states:

Thus said Ra, the Lord of All of the Utmost Limits, after he had come into being: I am the one who came into being as Kheper. He who comes into being and brings into being. When I came into being, being itself came into being. All beings came into being after I came into being.  Many were the beings that came forth from the commands of my mouth… I came forth from among the plants which I created and I created all things which creep and crawl and all that exists among them by the power and principle of light and air and the power and principle of moisture, heaven and earth were bought into being.

Here too we find a morality which indicates definite social judgments on that which is loved and that which is hated; and the belief that God would grant life for the righteous and punishment and death for the evil.”

Indeed every word of God came into being through that which the heart and mind thought and the tongue commanded. Thus, by means of the Word, all faculties and qualities were fashioned.

And thus, Justice is given to one who does what is loved and punishment is given to one who does what is hated.

Thus, also, is life given to the peaceful and death given to one who violates the Law.

In The Four Good Deeds Of The Creator we find the concept of free will and human equality in Ra’s statement on His Four Deeds; and

I created the four winds so that every person might breathe in his or her own time and place.

I created the great fold for irrigation so that the humble might benefit form it like the great.

I made every person like his and her fellow; and I did not command them to do evil.

I made the hearts of men and women so that they would not forget the day of death.

Philosophy and Governance

The ancient Egyptians created a body of philosophical thought informed by their sacred texts and used for governance and by all citizens as a measure of a righteous life. These philosophical treaties were captured in writings of Ptah-Hotep, Kagemni, Kheti, Ani, Amenomope, Ankhsheshonqi, and Phebhor. Excerpts from some of the text reveal their depth and profundity of their philosophical thought.

Ptah-Hotep writes “if you are a leader and command many, strive for excellence in all you do so that no fault can be found in your character. For Maat- Truth, Justice, and Righteousness- is great; its value is lasting and it has remained unequalled and unchanged since the time of the Creator.” Kheti counsels leaders in government to “Follow in the footsteps of your ancestors, for the mind is trained through knowledge. Behold their words endure in books. Open and read them and follow their wise counsel.Ani, an official in the King’s Court admonishes all to “Walk reach day in the way of righteousness and you will reach the place to where you are going…If you are righteous you will be recognized and respected.” Amenomope reinforces this emphasis on morality, in particular in dealing with wrongdoers or enemies: “Let us steer a righteous course so that we may carry the wicked across without becoming like them. Raise them up, give them your hand, and then leave them in the hands of God.”

Ankhsheshonqi admonishes leaders “Do not send a wise man in a small matter when an important matter is waiting.” And, he weighs in on male/female relationships: May the heart of a wife be the heart of her husband so that they may be free of contention. A woman lets herself be loved according to the character of her man.” Kagemni tells the leaders of ancient Egypt, “Those who are blameless in matters of conduct, not word can prevail against them. And those who are self-mastered, the harsh are kinder to them than their own mothers, and all people become their servants.” And, finally, Phebhor warns those in power and everyday people: “Do not be greedy lest your name send forth an offensive odor. Greed brings conflict and fighting in the house [and nation]. There is no end to the wrong done when money and greed are together.”

Science and Mathematics

The discovery and invention of science by the ancient Egyptians is now indisputable. Diop states that it is “edifying to underscore …the undeniable connections that exit between Egyptian mathematics and the so-called discoveries that made celebrities out of Greek scholars, such as Archimedes and Pythagoras.” Besides this, The Papyrus of Moscow and the Rhind Papyrus shows that the ancient Egyptians,  two thousand years before the Greeks, studied mathematics of the pyramid and the cone, and that they even the different trigonometric lines, the tangent, the sine, the cotangent, in order to calculate their slopes. The Egyptians knew how to rigorously extract the square root of the most complicated whole or fractional numbers. They not only knew the problem of the circle’s quadrature, as Struve observes, but they were the first to have posed it in history of mathematics.

Medicine

History records that the ancient Egyptians were the first of practice and introduce clinical and scientific medicine.  Documents translated by J.H. Breasted, the Medical Papyrus, show that scientific medicine practiced and introduced by Imhotep, the “Father of Medicine”, antedates Hippocrates and the Greek by over 2,500 years. Besides physicians, the ancient Egyptians had doctors who practiced surgery, being the first to practice suturing.

We celebrate African American History Month and honor those, known and unknown who have advanced human civilization through moral and scientific knowledge and practice. Placing ancient Egyptians at the center and beginning of our studies is essential to a “reconceived and renewed African culture.” and the construction of a “body of modern human sciences, in order to renovate African culture.”

Hotep

References

Diop Cheikh Anta, Civilization or Barbarism

James George, Stolen Legacy

Karenga, Maulana, Husia

Van Sertima, Great Black Leaders: Ancient and Modern

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