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

By Dr. Josef Ben Levi

Presented by Omni-U Virtual University

"Come back to Kemet

Come back to the Black Community

See the Cradle City

It's the place where you came into existence

Kiss the ground at the great gate

And mingle with friends"

The Pharoah Seostris to Sinuhe[1]

Why is this concern with Nubia and Kush so important?

Why is this issue important for African people in the Americas- especially in the United States and in the field of Africana Studies- as well as those on the continent of Africa?

Why is the study of this phase of the Nile Valley important from the standpoint of establishing an African worldview?

First, we must connect, intellectually, with the cultures of the Nile Valley to see the cultural continuity of classical African societies to the rest of African history. (Diop, 1974). To do this requires a major paradigm- shift in our thinking. It requires new ways of looking at old ideas. It demands of us a move inclusive of- but not exclusive to what Ancestor Dr. Anderson Thompson loved to refer to as “ 'I love America' Negro History”. It also requires an African frame of reference and an African- Centered worldview which should serve as a foundation in the field of Africana Studies. Only then can we begin to mount a challenge and alternative to European hegemony in the field of Nubian and, by extension, Kemetic studies. In fact, there are several Black scholars who are devoting their time and interests to righting this academic wrong.

We cannot continue to rely on others- namely European academicians interested in Nubia- to appraise this heritage and define it from the standpoint of their worldview. We cannot continue to allow the European academic consensus at a table at which we have neither a seat nor an invitation to the discourse- to validate the classical world of Nubia- simply because they possess hegemony over its research and antiquities. We must realize that they are not always in agreement concerning substantive issues relative to Nubian antiquity- contrary to the united front they often appear to have.

This is evidenced by the fact that there are three different conferences held on Nubian Studies by three divergent groups of European scholars. There is one on Nubian Studies, one on Meroitic Studies, and one on Sudanese Studies. While there is some cross-fertilization of membership, these conferences exist in mutually exclusive formats because of the failure of European scholars to form a consensus on the nature and scope of classical Nubian societies in the Nile Valley. Most significant is their failure to allow scholars of Nubian heritage- who have not been psychologically engulfed by Arabization and Islamization- to use their own voices to challenge the frequently faulty assumptions of European and American scholars studying Nubian societies.

Those of us who are engaged in the field of Nubian Studies can start by dismissing the "alphabet soup" approach to defining ancient Nubian cultures as A-Group, C-Group, and X-Group. What ancient European groups are known by a letter of the alphabet? No matter how steeped in savagery they may have been, they were given dignity and humanity by European historiographers. By assigning letters to these various Nubian cultures- rather than names respecting their various communities such as Yamm, Wawat, and Irem, names which properly identify their regional organizations, as well as national names such as Sha’at, Iryshek, Tua, Webet-Sepat, Miu, Karoy, etc. (O’Connor, 1993); these ancient Africans have been relegated to the sphere of nothingness. They have been downgraded to the periphery of civilization when they were originally at the center of civilization in the Nile Valley. The subtle implications of these alphabetical definitions are that Africans had no land, language, or culture of any worth and, subsequently, no history. (Hegel, 1956)

This alphabet soup of European academic consensus about ancient Nubia and Kush has stood since George Reisner, of Harvard University, established these definitions after his 1907 archaeological survey of Nubia preceding the heightening of the Aswan High Dam in the years 1908-1910 (Shinnie, 1996). This serves as another example supporting the reality that the people who live in the Nile Valley today- those descendants of the Arab invaders of 639 C.E.- have absolutely no affinity with the antiquities of the past. What people who value their history would have it destroyed by creating a lake to drown its past? For the Arabs, this is a no-brainer. In the psychology of Islamic Arabs, the period prior to the Hegira, 622 C.E.; is viewed as the Period of Ignorance. In Arabic, it is called Jahaliyat جهالة) –-Ignorance). Anything that was of historical importance before this time is considered of little or no importance. That includes peoples whom they have ‘Otherized’ and marked for genocide and mentacide. Mentacide is a term coined by the late Dr. Bobby E. Wright to define “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a group’s mind with the ultimate objective being the extirpation of that group” (Wright, 1981). Essentially, the destruction of the minds of African people.

For some time now, Ancient Nubia has been slowly gaining significance among European academic sages interested in that portion of the Nile Valley known as Upper Egypt and the Sudan. (Friedman, 2002;). Part of their argument, for a very long time, has centered on the idea that the ancient Nubians were borrowers of ancient Egyptian civilization. Fortunately, those concepts are crumbling to the ground with each deepening

thrust of the archaeological spade- and recent publications- are proving with every new digging season. The notion that the Nubians were a population of uncivilized Southern "others" waiting for the superior Northerners- who are viewed as white and/or, at best, near eastern Asians- to impart the blessings of civilization upon them [ the Ancient Nubians] is both an intellectual and a historical travesty. These blessings included spirituality, language, architecture, customs, and traditions (Redford, 2004).

This sort of hijacking, of classical African civilizations by European scholars and their Arab minions, must stop. It would seem to me that a part of our obligation as dedicated Africana scholars interested in classical Nile Valley civilizations is to stop being defined by others and resume defining ourselves. Isn’t that the meaning of "Kujichagulia"(self-determination)

,i.e.," to define ourselves, name ourselves, and speak for ourselves instead of being defined, named, created, and spoken for by others."(2)


[1] Ancestor Dr. Jacob H. Carruthers. Intellectual Warfare, p.272.( Translation from Erman,1909, by Dr.Carruthers)

[2] From "The Nguzo Saba/The Black Value System" Created in conjunction with the celebration of "Kwanzaa" by Dr.Maulana Ron Karenga


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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