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Don't Know Much About Africa: Ancient Kush/Nubia, Part 1 of 2

By Dr. Josef Ben Levi Presented by Omni-U Virtual University


Introduction The expose on Afrocentrism, published in Newsweek in September of 1978, was a difficult pill for the European intellectual community to swallow. The attack on the field of Africana Studies has intensified ever since: Were the former colonized and ostracized Black scholars now standing up for themselves and rewriting history -or what was being referred to as "revisionists" history)? Even worse, were they actually teaching Black people about the connections between Nile Valley societies and that of the ancient people on the rest of the African continent? Were they teaching that an area located in what has been called the North African Middle East -which is also known as one of the birthplaces of Western society- was now really the locus of ancient African societies? Our present narrative is seated squarely in those societies of the Nile Valley, in this case with a focus on ancient Kush and its Nubian environment.[1] (Ben Levi, 2012) Europeans have had a monopoly on the deconstruction and reconstruction of historiography relative to Africa/Kemet and Kush since the Napoleonic invasions of Egypt in 1798. From that point on, there was a conscious and systematic effort to remove Egypt from Africa and Africans from Egypt in order to replace them- in the minds of naïve observers from afar- with an Arab population that did not arrive until 639 C.E.(Christian Era). The first mention of Kush, in ancient Egyptian records, is from the Middle Kingdom and first intermediate periods, 2400-2500 B.C.E. ( Before the Christian Era). They were ALL Africans - in the classical sense that we use the word. There never was a time when Africans were not there. However, they would not have known who or what an "African" is/ was since that term did not show up until the Roman Era as a Roman province.[2] Because of Europe’s haste to whitewash classical African history- through the use of curricular and pedagogical planning- whole generations of African people were deprived of their rightful place in the history of humanity. The assertions of Europeans suggested that Africans fit firmly into the niceties of the Hegelian notion that we, Africans, had no history- (Hegel, 1956) as well as that we fit into G. Stanley Hall’s view was that we were part of the “great army of incapables” whose attempts to know ourselves were impossible since, as a people, we were savages and childlike with no ethical or moral compass to guide us. (Klibard, 2004) Much to the contrary, however, we have a long and storied tradition of African scholars who have fought to keep the importance of our link to Nile Valley civilizations alive. These include such Ancestors as Martin Robeson Delany, Antonir Firmin, William Wells Brown, David Walker, Edward Wilmot Blyden, Henry Highland Garnet, George Washington Williams, Drusilla Dunjee Huston, and Hosea Easton just to mention a few from the 19th century. In more contemporary times, we have had Ancestors William Leo Hansberry, John G. Jackson, Willis N. Huggins, Chancellor Williams, John Henrik Clarke, Cheikh Anta Diop, Yosef Ben Jochannan, Ivan Van Sertima, Asa Hilliard, Jacob H. Carruthers, Joel Augustus Rogers, Arthur Schomburg, Carter G. Woodson, Charles Wesley, W.E.B. DuBois, and J.C. DeGraft-Johnson, et al. These Scholar-Activists, of what has become known as "Africana Studies," served as forerunners to contemporary intellectual warriors such as Theophile Obenga, Molefe Asante, and Maulana Karenga. Most significant of these luminaries was Ancestor William Leo Hansberry who was the founder of the first African American Studies program in the United States at Howard University in 1922it has now been 100 years since that momentous event (Kamene, 2016). One of the most disruptive forces, in deconstructing the perception of Nubia and ancient Kush to the world, was American Egyptologist George Reisner (1867-1942), who was at Harvard University. Egyptology, itself, was struggling with its identity at the time of Reisner’s appointment to Harvard. Classical Studies and the 19th-century development of what the Germans called "Altertumswissenschaft," i.e., the science of antiquity, had ejected Egypt from the center of European civilization to the margins because of its "unacceptable African nature". In turn, Egyptology tried to establish itself as a legitimate discipline by recasting the ancient Egyptians as explicitly “white.” In order to do so, any “Black” aspect of Egyptian culture had to be rejected and Nubia, itself, had to be relegated to the backwaters of cultural borrowing, copying, and absence of any form of originality (Van Gerven Ori, 2022).

Where is Nubia? Geographically, Nubia extends from the sixth to the first Nile cataracts.[3] Internally, Nubia consists of Southern Nubia; central or Upper Nubia; and northern, or Lower Nubia. While the name "Egypt," from the Greek "Aigyptos" had been known since the time of the first Greeks visiting of the lower Nile valley. Nubia- as a country name- does not occur before the third century B.C. However, while Christian Nubians (C.E. 540-1500) spoke Nubian- in probably either the Fadducia or Mahas vernaculars- most “Nubians” spoke different but, perhaps, similar languages. Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans wrote about the Nubians and depicted them in art, The Nubians left us their own written records some in Egyptian, most in Meroitic-the written, but largely untranslatable language of Nubia form 180 B.C. to C.E. 400. For most Europeans studying Nubian societies, the general impression they gave was that Nubia was something of a cul-de-sac set off to the side of the vastly greater, (in their opinions) Egypt. Nubia was a mere child of Egypt. This was a very faulty perception. (O’Connor, 1993) In fact, the Greeks and Romans praised the nobility of Nubian society by criticizing aspects of their own cultures that they found distasteful. In fact, both Greek and Roman writers stated that Nubian culture was the origin of Egyptian culture. Some Greeks thought that their arts, sciences, and religion derived largely from Egypt. Therefore, it can be argued that Greek and ultimately Western civilization, had Nubian as well as Egyptian roots. (Diop, 1974) In the 19th century, a debate raged between two close friends: Thomas Carlyle and John Stewart Mill. Thomas Carlyle was serving in the British West Indies at this time, (circa 1830). This was a brutal period of British enslavement of Africans on those islands. While stationed there, he wrote an excoriating treatise about the nature of the Blacks on those islands and entitled it “The Nigger Question”. In his rebuttal to his friend, John Stewart Mill, who is considered the founder of the European philosophical notion of Utilitarianism, i.e., “the doctrine that an action is right insofar as it promotes happiness, and that the greatest happiness of the greatest number should be the guiding principle of conduct.” John Stuart Mill responded to his friend ten years later (1849). In Fraser’s magazine with a counter-response entitled “The Negro Question”. In it Mill informs Carlyle of the following: It is curious withal, that the earliest known civilization was, we have the strongest reason to believe, a negro civilization. The original Egyptians are inferred, from the evidence of their sculptures, to have been a negro race: it was from negroes, therefore, that the Greeks learned their first lessons in civilization; and to the records and traditions of these negroes did the Greek philosophers to the very end of their career resort…as a treasury of mysterious wisdom.” (August 1849/1971)

Continued in Part 2...

BlogNotes [1] Kush and Cush are terms that may be confusing. Cush is the King James Version (KJV) and other translations of the Bible.

Nubia is a term that did not appear until the 3rd century. [2] However, they did have unique nationalities and states. The site of Dukki Gel in ancient Sudan is probably the oldest known African society with state formation. [3] A cataract is a barrier that has been created by the erosion of small mountains and boulders. In ancient times, travelers would have to disembark from their boats and use oxen to navigate them around the cataracts after which they would board their boats again and continue on their journey(s). The numbering of cataracts is just a European academic exercise that meant nothing in ancient times. It is the same with setting dates to the various dynasties. References 1. Ben Levi, J. (2012). The Intellectual Warfare: Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers and the Battle for Ancient Nubia as a Foundational Paradigm in Africana Studies. Journal of Pan-African Studies, 5 (5), June 2012, 178-195. 2. Hegel, G.W.F. (1956). The Philosophy of History and the Philosophy of Right. New York: Dover. 3. Kliebard, H.M. (2004). The struggle for the American curriculum 1893-1958. New York" RoutledgeFalmer. 4. Kamene, K.H. (2016). Honoring Professor William Leo Hansberry: An Intellectual libation for the architect of America’s African Studies Department. New York: Kaba Hiawatha Kamene. 5. Van Gerven Ori, V.W.J.(2022). No more miracles: On the origins of future of Nubian Studies; Keynote Address: International Nubian Studies Conference, Warsaw, Poland, Nov. 22, 2022. 6. O’Connor, D. (1993). Ancient Nubia: Egypt’s rival in Africa. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania. 7. Diop, C.A. (1974). The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality. Westport : Lawrence Hill and Company. 8. August, E.R. (Ed). (1849/1971). Thomas Carlyle: The Nigger Question. John Stuart Mill: The Negro Question. New York: Appleton-Century-Croft. 9. Wright, B.E. (1981). Black suicide: Lynching by any other name is still lynching. Chicago: Black Books Bulletin Institute of Positive Education, 7 (2), 15-17. 10. Friedman, R. (2002). Egypt and Nubia: Gifts of the desert. London: British Museum Press. 11. Redford, D.B. (2004). From Slave to Pharaoh: The Black experience of ancient Egypt. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.


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