Reproduced from: http://thenewsnigeria.com.ng/2017/04/the-humanities-and-the-redemption-of-africa/
The Humanities And The Redemption Of Africa
Professor Godini G. Darah (of Department of English and Literary Studies, Delta State University, Abraka), delivered this Faculty of Arts Distinguished Lecture, University of Lagos, on 28 March, 2017. Tel. 234-803-608-8913; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The choice of the topic for this lecture was informed by the imperative need for the African intelligentsia to engage in self-evaluation about the relevance of academic studies to the processes of development and nation building. The year 1960 inaugurated what has been described as the “wind of change” in the political fortunes of Africa. This phrase refers to the terminal point of insurgent era of anti-colonial struggles that culminated in the granting of independent status to former African colonies of European powers. That final push for national independence was triggered by the resolution of the Fifth Pan-African Congress in the British city of Manchester in 1945. The congress was organised under the auspices of George Padmore of Trinidad and Tobago; the Congress secretariat was headed by Kwame Nkrumah who became Ghana’s first prime Minister in 1957. The Congress resolved, among other things, that all of Africa should be free of colonial rule; and this came to pass by 1960 when nearly all of the continent gained independence except sections of Southern Africa and North Africa where armed struggle was required to accomplish the anti-colonial revolution.
Fifty or more years on, the aspirations of sovereign nationhood that fired the African movements of independence have yet to be fulfilled. The trajectory of rapid socio-economic transformation envisioned in the anti-colonial campaigns has been derailed in many African countries. In nearly all the newly independent countries, the native bourgeoisie that inherited power from the colonial oppressors have gone on to institute regimes of repression and exploitation that are more vicious that those experienced under direct colonial rule. The promise of life more abundant chorused by the independence movements has been subverted by local predators and dictators. Each passing decade seems to prove right the prophetic statement made by the African-Caribbean revolutionary thinker, Frantz Fanon, that native bourgeoisie of the under-developed countries would betray their nations. In Fanon’s words, because “it is bereft of ideas, because it lives to itself and cuts itself off from the people, undermined by its hereditary incapacity to think in terms of all the problems of the nation as seen from the point of view of the whole of that nation, the national middle class will have nothing better to do than to take on the role of manager of Western enterprise, and it will in practice set up its country as the brothel of Europe.” (“Pitfalls of National Consciousness”, The Wretched of the Earth, 1967).
Nigeria, the most populous African nation, typifies the tragic failure of the political and intellectual elite to fulfil the great expectations of post-independence nation building in Africa. Nations of Asia were also colonised; however, their middle classes rallied around indigenous institutions and socialist ideas to break out of the cycle of underdevelopment. Unlike African and many South American former colonies which got bewitched by the suicidal economic prescriptions of the Euro-American path of growth, the Asian countries defied and challenged the paradigm of and prescriptions of the World Bank and Bretton Woods institutions to achieve self-reliant modernity. The handy examples are Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea, North Korea, Singapore, and China.
In this lecture, I argue that Nigeria, nay Africa, is in urgent need of redemption from neo-colonial peonage; Nigeria urgently needs to develop radical ideas that can facilitate the liberation of the minds of the people and material resources from subservience to foreign domination. This is the sense in which “redemption” is used in this lecture. What should be the role of humanities, the intelligentsia of the humanities and humanistic imagination in this programme of Africa’s redemption? The ordinary meaning of word “redeem” is applied in the lecture, namely, “to recover”, “to free oneself” “to rescue” or “to deliver”.
In order to appreciate the significant role the humanities must play in this programme of redemption, a section of the lecture deals with the Black African origin of the human species and humanistic thoughts and ideas. It is argued that humanity originated in Africa and later spread to other continents through migrations. It is further argued that most of the great ideas of philosophy, beliefs, ideology, science, technology, and systems of social organisation and governance were invented and practised by black African geniuses before they were borrowed, adopted, adapted, or stolen by peoples of other “races” in the world. There is, therefore, a puzzling paradox that needs to be explained, namely, how did Black Africa where humanity first evolved and where universities and scholarly inquiry were first developed come to occupy the bottom of the development ladder in current global ranking? The unravelling of this gigantic paradox is part of the reason why a study of the humanities is imperative in Africa.
What Are the Humanities?
I am indebted to the Wikipedia sources on the definition of “Humanities” as referring to academic disciplines that study human culture. The etymology of the term derives from the Latin language expression of “studiahumanitatis”, that is, studies devoted to culture, refinement, education, and specifically education befitting a civilized and refined person or manners. In the Middle Ages in Europe, the term was contrasted with divinity and referred to what is commonly known as the Classics or the study of ancient languages, literatures, philosophies, and civilizations. In that era of European history under reference, studiahumanitatis was a course of studies that consisted of grammar, poetry, rhetoric, history, and moral philosophy. In contemporary usage, the humanities are often contrasted with natural and sometimes social sciences. According to our source, the humanities use methods that are primarily critical or speculative as distinguished from the empirical approaches of the natural sciences. In Nigeria, the Humanities are used synonymously with the Arts.
In many universities, there are about a dozen main fields or disciplines of the humanities. They include Anthropology which is the science of humans or the totality of human existence and Classics which Western scholarship refers to studies of cultures of classical antiquity such as Greek and Roman civilizations. As I hope to show later in the lecture, this Eurocentric classification ignores the antiquity of Black Egyptian, Nubian, and Ethiopian civilizations which gave birth to the Greek and Roman ones celebrated by the Euro-American heritage of scholarship. History is one of pivotal courses of the humanities, being the study and interpretation of records of human societies and institutions. Geography was traditionally part of the humanities, especially aspects that investigate and explore the distribution of the arts, literature, and other expressive forms over space, territory, and time. In Nigeria, Geography is now commonly found in the Social Sciences.
Linguistics of the study of languages often straddles the Humanities and Social Sciences. Language studies are central to the development of the Humanities. There are associated fields of literary theory concerned with rhetorical, associative, and ordering features of language, as well historical linguistics that deals with the development of language across time. Linguistics is particularly relevant to the study of literatures because language is the primary medium in which literature is expressed. The University of Lagos had a head-start in the study of linguistics and literatures with the establishment in the 1960s of the Department of African Languages and Literatures under the leadership of Professor Adeboye Babalola, a doyen of Yoruba oral literature studies. The effort was extended to the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, where Professor ‘Wande Abimbola held sway. He started from the University of Lagos.
Law and Politics are subsumed under the Humanities in some Universities. Law straddles politics, economics, philosophy, and history. Literature occupies a premier position in the Humanities. It refers to the study of the aesthetic use of language to narrate events; there two basic categories, namely, fictional and non-fictional literature. Literature is distinguished by its features of refined language, rhetorical elegance, metaphorical, and allegorical references. Literature is the most protean of all the subjects in the humanities primarily because it embodies nearly all other subjects such as history, anthropology, geography, economics, law, philosophy, natural sciences, technology, visual arts and aesthetics. This multi-disciplinary quality is conveyed in the old Latin expression of “utile et dulce”, meaning, useful and delightful.
This is the sense in which it is said that anyone who reads or experiences a great work of literature remembers it all though life. Examples of such canonical works are Pharaoh Akheneton’s “Hymn to the Sun” composed about 3,500 years ago, King David’s “Psalms” and Solomon’s “Songs” of the Old Testament section of the Bible, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, great epics such as Gilgamesh of Sumeria, John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, Daniel Kunene’s Emperor Chaka the Great, The Mwindo Epic from the Bayanga of the Congo by Daniel Biebuyck and K.C. Mateene, D.T. Niane’sSundiata: An Epic of Old Mali, and J. P. Clark and Okabou Ojobolo’s The Ozidi Saga of the Ijaw of Nigeria. Other imperishable classics of literature are Nigeria’s Daniel Fagunwa’s Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irumole (Forest of A Thousand Daemons) Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God, Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman, Kenya’s Ngugi Wa Thiong’ O’s Petals of Blood, A Wreathe for Udomo by Peter Abrahams, and of South Africa, the English William Shakespeare’s Othello, King Lear, and Julius Caesar plays, and War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy and the poetry of Alexander Pushkin of Russia.
Closely allied to literature are the performing arts, music, theatre, and dance. The performing arts include acrobatics, comedy, film, magical arts, juggling, and opera. In Nigeria the fields of music and theatre have been well developed. As an academic discipline music covers music performance, music education, musicology, ethnomusicology, music theory and composition. In Nigeria theatre is, perhaps, the most developed sub-genre of the performing arts. In technical terms, theatre is concerned with acting out or presenting stories in front of an audience, using a combination of speech, gesture, music, dance, sound, and spectacle. Music and theatre and integral to the daily lives of Africans and the tangible and intangible folk expressions of the performance culture are limitless. Nigeria frontline position in African dramatic arts reflects the ubiquity and dynamism of the performance arts in the domain of culture. In some Universities in Asia, Europe, and the Americas, dance is treated as a distinct academic discipline, with emphasis on choreography and kinaesthesia or the science of the body movement. Although these elements of expressive culture are well developed in Africa, tertiary institutions have not exploited them sufficiently to produce an Afrocentric industry of a world-wide scale. In countries like Japan and South Korea, there are universities devoted to dance and performance.
The subject of visual, fine, and applied arts falls under the domain of artistic and aesthetic education. The performance arts of music, songs, poetry, and narrative employ the media of words; the visual and design arts are expressed in non-verbal media of signs, drawing, painting, colour, wood, clay, and stone. This process of using images to express, relate, or narrative events or ideas is considered in some societies to be the most sublime of the humanities. As shall be shown in sections dealing with ancient Egypt and other civilizations of Africa, the visual arts are among the most enduring of the creative enterprises of humanity. The pyramids of ancient Egypt such as that of Khufu are estimated to be 4,600 years old. The artistic works of Nigeria’s Bruce Onobrakpeya remind us of the ingenuity of Africans in this field of creativity. Advancement in technological innovation has raised design art to a level where excellence in technical products and tools is now described in the image of “the state of the art” as applied to automobile vehicles, crafts, and household utensils.
Philosophy contends with literature for a pre-eminent status in the humanities. Philosophy is derived from the idea of the “love of wisdom” and it a study of the problems concerning matters such as existence, salvation, knowledge, justification, truth, justice, right and wrong, beauty, validity, mind, and languages. Philosophy is distinguished by its method that is critical, systematic, and based on reasoned argument, rather than experiments as in the natural and social sciences. As will be shown in the sections dealing with education and scholarship in ancient African civilizations of the Nile Valley, philosophy is the foundation of intellectual quest. For nearly 5,000 years, philosophy has enjoyed the premier academic limelight of the being the queen of the humanities. As a method of inquiry and academic discipline, philosophy was originated by priest-professors of the temples of the Egyptian Mystery System or universities in ancient times. For several millennia, philosophy was an all-encompassing field of studies that included physics. For example, Isaac Newton (1642–1727), the English mathematical genius presented his formulae in philosophical language. His 1687 book on the matter was titled Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. In many academic institutions today, the branches of philosophy treated are logic, ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology. Regrettably, the discipline of philosophy is largely marginalised in Nigerian universities. In the few institutions where it is taught as a degree course, the proprietorship of the discipline is wrongly attributed to Greek scholars who were students of ancient Egyptian institutions. We have more to say on this later in the lecture.
Religious studies are often treated as the companion of philosophy. In ancient times, this separation was not necessary as religious discourse was an extension of philosophical inquiry. The major world religions and faiths are those of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. There are also Taoism and Confucianism in Asia. Owing to Nigeria’s ideological subservience to Western European intellectual traditions, the academic study of religion in our institutions is narrowed to only the Abrahamic religions which trace their origins from the common ancient roots associated with Abraham (circa 1900 B.C.). Abraham is the patriarch of the Jews whose life is narrated in the Old Testament section of the Bible and in the Koran. The Abrahamic religions emphasise monotheism or the worship of a single god; the chief religious orders are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and they constitute about 50% of the adherents of the so-called revealed religions of the world. The indebtedness of the Abrahamic religions to Black African philosophy will be examined at an appropriate section of the lecture.
Black African Origin of Humanity:
There is now incontrovertible evidence that the human species first evolved in Africa. I would like to skip the details of the long evolutionary history of the universe or cosmos in order to explain how the human species came into being on Planet Earth. “Cosmos” is a Greek word for “the order or balance of the universe”. There are copious studies on the planets that make up the cosmos or universe. A handy book on this is that by the American physicist, Carl Segan, Cosmos: The Story of Cosmic Evolution, Science, and Civilization (Abacus, 1995). According to Segan the blue planet known as Earth “…condensed out of interstellar gas and dust some 4-6 billion years ago. We know from fossil record that the origin of life happened soon after, perhaps around 4.0 billion years ago in the ponds and oceans of the primitive Earth” (p. 44). The processes summed up in this brief description were said to have been triggered by what scientists refer to as the Big Bang, an automatic, primordial explosion that brought stars, planets, and asteroids into existence.
According to our sources, life forms evolved about three billion years ago through the process of the joining of cells. Every life form is composed of cells; there are 100 billion cells in a single human body. Segan adds that the “…cells outlive the human carrier and when a human dies, the cells migrate and float away, some as far as the stars. Over time, some of the cells can come down to inhabit or produce other animals or plants; this cycle goes on and on without break” (p. 47).There are creatures or life forms that are older than humans in the evolutionary calendar. Examples are reptiles, crocodiles, shrimps, and crabs that are about 400 million years old. The giant animal species known as dinosaurs were wiped out about 65 million years on account of traumatic climate change on Planet Earth.
Evolutionists estimate that the first human-like beings appeared about 4.5 million years ago. Anthropologists and geologists have confirmed that the first site where this miraculous transformation occurred was the Olduvai Gorge in Northern Tanzania in East Africa. The initial discoveries were made by the British scientist, L. S. B. Leakey in the 1930s; his wonderful work was continued by his wife, Mary, and son, Richard. Following the Olduvai excavations, further hominid finds were made in Kenya and the Oromo river valley in Ethiopia, also in Eastern Africa. The accounts of these breakthrough researches are well documented in Martin Meredith’s book, Born in Africa: The Quest for the Origins of Human Life (Simon & Schuster, 2011). The Australian historian, Professor Geoffrey Blainey has a helpful description under the “From Africa” chapter of his book, A Very Short History of the World (Penguin Books, 2004) thus:
They lived in Africa, and two million years ago, they were few. They were almost human beings, though they tended to be smaller than their descendants who now inhabit the world. They walked upright; they were also skilled climbers…
Two million years ago these human beings – known as hominids – lived mainly in the lands now called Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia. If Africa is divided into three horizontal zones, the human race occupied the middle or tropical zone…
They already had a long history, though they had no memory or record of it. We talk today of the vast span of time since the building of the pyramids in Egypt, but that span was merely a wink compared to the long history which the human race had already experienced. One early record has been uncovered in Tanzania. Two adults and a child were walking on top of volcanic ash softened by recent rain. Their footprints then were baked by the sun and slowly covered by layers of earth. The footprints, definitely human, are at least 3,600,000 years old. Even that is young in the history of the living world. The last of the dinosaurs were extinguished about 64,000,000 years ago (pp. 3 – 4)
For our purposes in this section we shall also refer to the ground-breaking research done by Africa’s distinguished Egyptologist, Professor Cheikh Anta Diop of Senegal (1922 – 1986). Diop published two seminal books on the subject of the African origin of humanity; namely, The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality (1974) and Civilization or Barbarism: An Authentic Anthropology (1991). In the second book Diop sets out the facts in the opening paragraph of Chapter!, with the title: “Race and History: Origin of Humanity and Racial Differentiation”. This is how Diop states the matter:
The research conducted in humanistic paleontology, particularly by Dr Louis Leakey, has helped to place the birthplace of humanity in east Africa’s Great Lakes region, around the Omo Valley.
Two ramifications that have not been sufficiently emphasized until now have come to light as a result of this research. Humankind born around the Great Lakes region, almost on the Equator, is necessarily pigmented and Black; the Gloger Law calls for warm-blooded animals to be pigmented in hot and humid climate.
All the other races derive from the Black race by a more or less direct filiation, and the other continents were populated from Africa at the Homo erectus and Homo sapiens stages, 150,000 years ago. The old theories that used to state that Blacks came from somewhere else are now invalid (p. 11)
Professor Diop explains further how the human race spread from Africa to other parts of the world:
The first Black who went out to populate the rest of the world exited Africa through the Strait of Gibraltar, the Isthmus of Suez, and maybe through Sicily and Southern Italy. The existence of a cave and parietal African art of the Upper Paleolithic period has confirmed this point of view” (p. 11).
Diop adds that “…the first inhabitant of Europe was a migrating Black: the Grimaldi Man…” (p. 13).
Further, Diop explains that
“If one bases one’s judgement on morphology, the first White appeared only around 20,000 years ago: the Cro-Magnon Man. He is probably the result of a mutation from the Grimaldi Negroid due to an existence of 20,000 years in the excessively cold climate of Europe at the end of the last glaciation…(pp. 15 – 16).
Thus humanity was born in Africa and differentiated itself into several races in Europe, where the climate was sufficiently cold at the end of the Wurmian glaciation” (p. 16).
On the accident of skin colour, Diop argues thus:
If the human being had been born in Europe, it would have been first white and then it would have negrified (darkened) under the Equator, with the appearance of the formation of melanin at the level of the epidermis, protecting the organism against ultraviolet rays.
Therefore, this is not a value judgement: there is no particular glory about the cradle of humanity being in Africa, because it is just an accident. If the physical conditions of the planet had been otherwise, the origin of humanity would have been different (p. 16).
In view of the fact that the Jewish and Arab stories of the creation of the world and humanity are pervasive in Africa now, it is important to know what Professor Diop says about Jews and Arabs. According to Diop,
All Semites (Arabs and Jews) as well as the quasi-totality of Latin Americans are mixed breeds of Blacks and Whites. All prejudice aside, this interbreeding can still be detected in the eyes, lips, nails, and hair of most Jews.
The Yellows, the Japanese in particular, are also crossbreeds, and their own specialists today are acknowledging this important fact (p. 65).
Black African Origin and Cradle of the Humanities and Sciences:
Perhaps, the best introduction to the primacy and antiquity of the Black African civilization of Egypt is the statement by the radical African American historian, Hendrik John Clarke that the “..civlization of Egypt lasted longer than any other civilization known to man – about 10,000 years. The civilization reached its height and was in decline before Europe was born”. “Introduction” J. A. Rogers, World’s Great Men of Color, Vol.I, 1996, (p. xii).
Clarke’s assessment is shared by all important scholars of the world who have done extensive work on Egypt and the Nile Valley civilizations. Other studies consulted for our purpose are Stolen Legacy by George G. M. James (1954), John Wilson’s The Culture of Ancient Egypt (1951), Cheikh Anta Diop’s Civilization or Barbarism: An Authentic Anthropology (1991), and Innocent Onyewuenyi’s The African Origin of Greek Philosophy: An Exercise in Afrocentrism (1993).
Black African scientists and astronomers of the Nile Valley civilizations inaugurated the systematic study of the planets, stars, and other heavenly bodies in the universe or cosmos. These inquiries and the deductions made therefrom formed the foundation of philosophical speculation and exegesis. These Africans of antiquity were able to determine the natural laws that govern the existence and movement of planetary bodies and animate life. For example, the ancient Egyptians knew that the star we know as the sun was at the epicentre of the universe. This is now referred to as the solar system of which the Earth is a member. This explains why the early cosmogonies religion in Egypt made the sun the central object of veneration and worship. The Sun-god was called Ra.
The details of the Egyptian cosmogony and how it gave birth to other religious thoughts and systems such as Judeo-Christian faith and Islam are set out in great detail in Chapter 17 of Diop’s Civilization or Barbarism, with the heading “Does An African Philosophy Exist?” It is a comprehensive 67-page chapter which is difficult to summarise. Only a few highlights are necessary here.
As Diop observes, the Egyptian cosmogony is based on pyramid texts dated about 2,600 B.C. “…the epoch when even the Greeks did not exist in history yet, and when the Chinese and the Hindu philosophies were meaningless” (p.310). Diop explains that,
“Ra is the first God, the first demiurge of history who created through the word. All other gods in history came after him, and there exists a demonstrable historical relation between Ra’s word, the Ka-or the universal reason that is present everywhere in the universe, and in everything – and the logos of Greek philosophy or the Word of the revealed religions…(p. 311)
The study of the humanities started in the Egyptian Mystery System, a body of academic institutions that were the forerunners of modern universities. Astronomy, Mathematics, and Geometry were among the core courses taught in the Egyptian Mystery System. The details of the development of these sciences are available in Chapter 16 of Diop’s Civilization or Barbarism under the title “Africa’s Contribution: Sciences”. Papyrus records of the early mathematical formulae, figures, and diagrams are included in the chapter to illustrate the various stages of intellectual development. As shall be shown in respect of many Greek scholars to whom some of the works are erroneously attributed, these sciences were invented and perfected several thousand years before those Greeks went to Egypt to learn them. Two notorious cases are those of Archimedes and Pythagoras; the latter spent 22 years in Egypt as a student of Black Egyptian professor of Mathematics. The rigorous mathematical calculations of the Egyptians enabled them to design and construct the great pyramids, some of which are over 4000 years old. Records show that there are 118 pyramids still surviving in Egypt and Nubia (Sudan). The greatest in structure is the Pyramid of Khufu which is about 4,600 years old. The structure includes 2.3 million limestone blocks and weighs 5.9 million tonnes. The science of mathematics was combined with that of architecture in the construction of the pyramids.
The views of the American historian, Professor Will Durant attest to the accounts given above as expressed in his monumental book, The Story of Civilization Part I: Our Oriental Heritage (Simon and Schuster, 1954). On Egyptian science, Durant writes that
The scholars of Egypt were mostly priests, enjoying far from the turmoil of life, the comfort and security of the temples, and it was these priests who, despite all their superstitions, laid the foundation of Egyptian science…
At the very outset of recorded Egyptian history we find mathematics highly developed; the design and construction of the Pyramids involved a precision of measurement impossible without considerable mathematical lore. The dependence of Egyptian life upon the fluctuations of the Nile led to careful records and calculations of the rise and recession of the river; surveyors and scribes were continuously remeasuring the land whose boundaries had been obliterated by the inundation, and the measuring of the land was evidently the origin of geometry. Nearly all the ancients agreed in ascribing the invention of this science to the Egyptians…(p.179)
Professor Durant pays tribute to the genius of Imhotep, the greatest architect and physician of ancient Egypt. In the portrait, Durant says
The first real person in known history was not a conqueror or a king but an artist and a scientist – Imhotep, physician, architect and chief adviser of King Zoser (ca. 3150 B.C.). He did so much for Egyptian medicine that later generations worshipped him as a god of knowledge, author of their sciences and their arts; and at the same time he appears to have founded the school of architecture which provided the next dynasty with the first great builders in history. It was under his administration…that the first stone house was built; it was he who planned the oldest Egyptian structure extant – the Step-Pyramid of Sakkara, a terraced structure of stone which for centuries set the style in tombs; and apparently it was he who designed the funerary temple of Zoser, with its lovely lotus columns and its limestone panelled walls…(p. 147)
Medicine is another field in which Imhotep excelled. Professor Innocent Onyewuenyi provides a good summary of some of the great heights of Egyptian medical science. In his The African Origin of Greek Philosophy: An Exercise in Afrocentrism (1993), Onyewuenyi comments that the “Mystery System Schools also produced medical doctors of repute. He quotes the views of the historian, Mary Motley thus: “The first physician of antiquity of any fame was the black Egyptian Imhotep, who lived about 2980 B.C. during the Third Dynasty…and he was so highly thought of in his day that he was worshipped as a kind of god centuries after his death. He cured physical and mental sickness. In later years people slept in the shrine at his temple, dreamed of him and went away cured” (p. 51). Onyewuenyi adds that:
Imhotep lived two thousand years before the Greek doctor Hippocrates who is called the father of medicine. It is an irony of history that African medical doctors are ignorant of the existence and contributions of Imhotep while swearing the oath of Hippocrates and displaying it in their private offices (p. 51).
In his “Commentaries and Notes to References” to J. A. Rogers’ World’s Great Men of Color, Vol. I, (1996) the African American historian, Hendrik John Clark describes Imhotep thus: “Among the great personalities of the ancient world Imhotep is particularly outstanding. His life is especially important to the Africans and Afro-Americans of today for he was one of the many wise Africans who at the dawn of history gave the world those ideas of enlightenment and wisdom that made what we now call civilization possible. Imhotep was the world’s first multigenius” (p. 29).
A more fulsome portrait of Imhotep is done J. A. Rogers himself who describes Imhotep as the “God of Medicine, Prince of Peace, and the first Christ”:
No individual of the ancient world has left a deeper impression on history than Imhotep…he established such a reputation as a healer that he was worshipped as a god for about 3,000 years, not only in Egypt but also in Greece and Rome. Even early Christians worshipped him as the Prince of Peace…In addition to being the chief physician to the King, he was sage and scribe, chief lector priest, architect, astronomer, and magician. At that time magic and science were allied, as in native Africa and the East today. (p. 38)
Rogers’s account shows that Imhotep was a poet and philosopher as well. “He preached cheerfulness and urged content. His proverbs, embodying a philosophy of life, caught popular fancy and were handed down from generation to generation. One of his best known sayings is: ‘Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we shall die’. Imhotep diagnosed and treated more than 200 diseases, among them 15 diseases of the abdomen, 11 of bladder, 10 of the rectum, 29 of the eyes, and 18 of the skin. In the words of Rogers, the physicians associated with Imhotep
“…knew how to detect disease by the shape, color, or condition of the visible parts of the body, as the skin, hair, nails, tongue. They treated tuberculosis, gall stones, appendicitis, gout, rheumatoid arthritis, mastoid diseases, and dental caries. They practiced surgery…and extracted medicine from plants…Imhotep, it is said, knew of the circulation of the blood, which is 4,000 years before it was known in Europe” (World’s Great Men of Color, p. 39).
Philosophy provided the foundation for the sciences and other practical aspects of life. It was probably the first field of expertise developed by the ancient Egyptians. In his book, Stolen Legacy (1954) Professor George G. M. James of British Guyana describes how other traditions of philosophy were conducted in the Egyptian schools:
The schools of philosophy, Chaldean, Greek and Persian, were part of the Ancient Mystery System of Egypt. They were conducted in secrecy according to the demands of the Osiriaca, whose teachings became common to all the schools. In keeping with the demands for secrecy, the writing and publication of teachings were strictly forbidden and consequently, Initiates who had developed satisfactorily in their training, and had been advanced to the rank of Master or Teacher, refrained from publishing the teachings of the Mysteries or philosophy (Stolen Legacy, p. 13).
George James argues that the study of philosophy was meant for the salvation of the soul, adding that the “…earliest theory of salvation is the Egyptian theory”. He explains that
The Egyptian Mystery System had as its most important object, the deification of man, and taught that soul of man if liberated from its bodily fetters, could enable him to become godlike as see the Gods in this life and attain the beatific vision and hold communion with the Immortals…(p. 27)
Professor James explains the salvation idea further thus:
Plotinus defines this experience as the liberation of the mind from its finite consciousness, when it becomes one and is identified with the Infinite. This liberation was not only freedom of the soul from bodily impediments, but also from the wheel of reincarnation or rebirth. It involved a process of disciplines or purification both for the body and the soul. Since the Mystery System offered the salvation of the soul it also placed great emphasis upon its immortality. The Egyptian Mystery System, like the modern University, was the centre of organized culture, and candidates entered it as the leading source of ancient culture. According to Pietschmann, the Egyptian Mysteries had three grades of students (1) The Mortals, i.e., probationary students who were being instructed, but who had not yet experienced the inner vision. (2) The Intelligences, i.e., those who had attained the inner vision and had received mind or nous and (3) The Creators or Sons of Light, who had become identified with or united with the Light (i.e. true spiritual consciousness). W. Marsham Adams, in the “Book of the Master”, has described those grades as the equivalents of Initiation, Illumination, and Perfection. For years they underwent disciplinary intellectual exercises, and bodily asceticism with intervals of tests and ordeals to determine their fitness to proceed to the more serious, solemn and awful process of actual Initiation (pp. 27 – 28).
This section of Professor James’s thesis is so profound and illuminating that I must resist the temptation to summarise or abbreviate it. Let us follow the details on the Liberal Arts/Humanities aspects:
Their education consisted not only in the cultivation of the ten virtues, which were made a condition to eternal happiness, but also of the seven Liberal Arts which were intended to liberate the soul. There was also admission to the Greater Mysteries, where an esoteric philosophy was taught to those who had demonstrated their proficiency…Grammar, Rhetoric, and Logic were disciplines of moral nature by means of which the irrational tendencies of a human being were purged away, and he was trained to become a living witness of the Divine Logos. Geometry and Arithmetic were sciences of transcendental space and numeration, the comprehension of which provided the key not only to the problems of one’s being; but also to those physical ones, which are so baffling today, owing to our use of the inductive methods. Astronomy dealt with the knowledge and distribution of latent forces in man, and destiny of individuals, races, and nations. Music (or Harmony) meant the living practice of philosophy, i.e., the adjustment of human life into harmony with God, until the personal soul became identified with God, when it would hear and participate in the music of the spheres. It was therapeutic, and was used by the Egyptian Priests in the cure of diseases. Such was the Egyptian theory of salvation, through which the individual was trained to become godlike while on earth, and at the same time qualified for everlasting happiness. This was accomplished through the efforts of the individual, through the cultivation of the Arts and Sciences on the one hand, and a life of virtue on the other. There was no mediator between man and his salvation, as we find in the Christian theory…(p. 28).
From the detailed description provided by Professor James, we can identify the seven compulsory disciplines that featured in the programme of the Humanities in the ancient Egyptian Mystery System or University. These are Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Geometry, Arithmetic, Astronomy, and Music. The courses were not studied just for the promotion of personal credentials; the student underwent the intellectual experience in order to become a more wholesome, purified, and virtuous human being. As Professor James elucidates further, the four cardinal virtues gained through education are Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, and Justice:
The virtues were not mere abstractions or ethical sentiments, but were positive valours and virility of the soul. Temperance meant complete control of the passional nature. Fortitude meant such courage as would not allow adversity to turn us away from our goal. Prudence meant the deep insight that befits the faculty of Seership. Justice meant the unwavering righteousness of thought and action (p. 30).
It is pertinent to add that all the branches or temples of the Egyptian Mystery System were coordinated from a central Grand Lodge in Egypt. It was known as the Osiriaca Great Lodge, named after Osiris, the god of salvation. James says that in “…addition to the control of the mysteries, the Grand Lodge permitted an exchange of visits between the various lodges in order to ensure the progress of the brethren in the secret science (p. 31).
The construction of the temple or campus of the Mystery School reflected the divinity and sacredness of the process, thus “…each temple was supposed to be a microcosm or symbol of the temple of the Universe or of the starry vault called temple (p. 32). As Professor James observes,
Wide roads led to the temples for the convenience of processions, while the immediate entrance was lined with statues, consisting of sphinxes and other animals. The front wall formed two tower- like buildings called pylons, before which stood two granite obelisks. Immediately behind the pylons came a large court where the congregation assembled and watched the sacrifices. Immediately next to the hall of the congregation, came the hall of priests, and immediately following the hall of the priests came the final chamber, called the Adytum, i.e., the Holy of Holies, which was entered only by the high Priest. This was the place of the shrine and abode of God. Each temple was a reproduction of the world. The ceilings were painted to represent the sky and the stars, while the floor was green and blue like the meadows. Ceremonial cleanliness was at all times imperative, and the people before entering the temple must care- fully purify themselves in a nearby stream. In later times, this became a ceremony of sprinkling with holy water before entrance into the temple (pp. 32 – 33).
The Grand Temples in ancient Egypt were those of Luxor, the Temple of Carnak, and the Temple of Delphi. “As mighty as the Temple of Luxor was” says James, “it was exceeded in magnitude and grandeur by that of Carnak. The distance between these two great structures was a mile and a half. Along this avenue was a double row of Sphinxes, placed twelve feet apart, and the width of the avenue was sixty feet. When in perfect state this avenue represented the most extraordinary entrance that the world has even seen. If we had the power to picture from the field of imagination the grand processions of Neophytes constantly passing through and taking part in the ceremonies of Initiation, we would be powerless to produce the grandeur of the surroundings, and the imposing sight of colour and magnificent trappings of those who took part. Neither can we produce the music that kept the vast number of people in steady marching order. Crude it might have been to the cultivated ear of the 20th century. But could not the palpitating strain sung by the massed voices on the lapse of time, whose history launches the profoundest aspirations of the human heart, like the trend of mighty river, because the grand currents of Universal Law, imparting the desire to the Shadowy Past, as it steps forth from the pages of history, dim with age?…(p. 34).
The African moral values encompassed by the academic disciplines and physical infrastructure described above have survived into modern times all over the world. As Professor Onyewuenyi remarks,
These values were adopted by the Greek scholars who were educated in Egypt under the priests of the Mystery System. This is evidenced by Plato’s recommendations for the education of the philosopher-king; his ‘Divided Line’ and Allegory of the Cave. Today higher institutions of learning in Europe and America cling to these African values in drawing up their curriculum. The three levels of man’s experience towards perfection are adopted as fundamental principles in practically all the religions and secret societies such as the Knights of Columbus of the Roman Catholic Church, the Freemasons, Elks, and others in Europe and America. It is interesting to note that the pyramid and the eye, ancient Egyptian symbols, are still to be seen on the Great Seal of the United States of America and the dollar bill (pp. 55 – 56).
Relying on Professor James’ work, Onyewuenyi concludes the Black Egyptian origin of all the traditions of learning and scholarship in the ancient world. This assertion was necessary because of attempts by Eurocentric racists to deny the black African sources of the vast fields of knowledge examined so far. According to Onyewuenyi,
The written testimony of Greek philosophers, scientists, and historians all support the claim that philosophy and other disciplines originated in Egypt. The great role – intellectual, theoretical, practical and material – that Egypt played in shaping the glory that was Greek has been revealed. The very words of the so-called pillars of Greek philosophy, Thales, Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras, and Hippocrates make it clear that they sought instruction at the feet of Egyptian philosopher-priests. The stamp of historical confirmation has been put on these claims by respected ancient Greek and Western historians such as Herodotus, the father of history, Isocrates, Plutarch, and Diogenes Laertius. They have recorded that philosophy – king of subjects considered an intellectual field for the ‘better’ minds of the Caucasoid race, but not one blacks were considered capable of mastering – originated in Egypt after all. George G. M. James’ words are appropriate here, “The Greeks were not the authors of Greek Philosophy but the people of North Africa commonly called the Egyptians (p.56).
The humanities and sciences originated, developed, and refined by ancient Black Africans have been spread through the agencies of human migration and adaptation to all continents of the world in the past 5,000 years. From their native sources of the Nile Valley civilizations, the ideas, ideals, and structure of the humanities have fertilized creativity and innovation across the millennia. The Nile Valley civilizations associated with Egypt lasted tor about 3,000 years under black thinkers, philosophers, engineers, and administrators. History records that from the initial united Kingdom of Egypt under Menes in 3020 B.C. there were 26 Dynasties. For most of the era, black kings were in charge except after the conquest by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C. when the Greek General, Ptolemy established his regime. The Greek rulers after him had to marry black Egyptian women in order to be able to govern. When the Roman rule started, several decades before the birth of Jesus, Emperors, Generals Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony could not resist marrying Queen Cleopatra, the last African Pharaoh of Egypt.
That long history of Egyptian greatness and dominance in the ancient world was hallmarked by the emergence of geniuses and innovators to whom the world is indebted for the civilizations that humanity has enjoyed. We have already given the example of Imhotep during the Fourth Dynasty about 5,000 years ago who excelled in the sciences of medicine, architecture, philosophy, and literary arts. The regimes of the Thutmoses from the Eighteenth Dynasty saw Egypt spread, through conquest, to all the then known ancient world of what is now the Middle East. Thutmose III is described by J.A. Rogers as the first nation builder and internationalist in history. At the height of its glory, Egypt had about 100 external colonies in the Middle East and Europe.
The geniuses in political engineering and administration included King Akhenaton who became Pharaoh at 17. He so abominated the material corruption of the Temple priests exhibited through the worship of multiple gods during his father’s reign that his first royal ordinance on coming to power was to decree the worship of one god (monotheism). When Akhenaton made this law about 1,350 B.C. the Jewish immigrants were resident in Egypt. Contrary to the folklore in the Bible, the Jewish exiles were not held in captivity. They voluntarily migrated to Egypt to enjoy the privileges of education and security of life afforded by the regimes of the Pharaohs. The land of the Jews was impoverished and famished and they lived on it as herdsmen and nomads. By that time civilization had flourished in Egypt for about 2,000 years. It was therefore the desire of the impoverished Jews to seek to be connected with Black Egypt and they sold slaves to merchants from there.
As the biblical account shows, Joseph the dreamer was one of the first to be sold into slavery by his envious brothers. Joseph was beloved of his Egyptian masters and he received good education that earned him the prestigious position of Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, even advancing to the halcyon position almost equivalent to that of a deputy Pharaoh. Following Joseph’s good fortunes, more Jewish migrants went to Egypt. The Jewish immigrants stayed for 400 years in Egypt. They were not captives of war and they were not tortured or deliberately exploited as the Old Testament account misinforms us. In fact, by the time the Jewish communities settled in Egypt about 1600 B.C., the building of the pyramids and other gargantuan public structures had been completed. As Professor Diop has pointed out, about 12 Jewish immigrants first settled in Egypt; they lived and multiplied there for four centuries and by the time of their Exodus under the leadership of Moses, the population was 675,000. Note that the Egyptian government had capacity to enumerate all the foreigners who left the kingdom.
As already pointed out, the Jewish immigrants were in Egypt when Pharaoh Akhenaton initiated the theology of monotheism. It would appear that the immigrants admired the idea of serving a single god and monotheism was one of the enduring ideas they took from the land of Egypt. The Jewish returnees also copied the Egyptian monarchical system of government; soon after they got back to Judah they asked God to give them a king like the Egyptian pharaoh. Saul was the first, followed by David and his son, Solomon. Like the scholar-pharaohs of Egypt, David and Solomon were famous for composing psalms and songs (poetry).
Egyptian education also produced Moses. He was an Initiate of the Egyptian Mystery System at the age of seven. Professor James has a helpful account of this process:
All the great religious leaders from Moses to Christ were Initiates of the Egyptian Mysteries.
This is an inference from the nature of the Egyptian Mysteries and prevailing custom:
(a) The Egyptian Mystery System was the one Holy catholic Religion of the remotest antiquity.
(b) It was one and only Masonic Order of Antiquity, and as such,
(c) It built the Grand Lodge of Luxor in Egypt and encompassed the ancient world with its branch lodges.
(d) It was the first University of history and it made knowledge a secret, so that all who desired to become Priests and Teachers had to obtain their training from the Mystery System, either locally at the branch lodge or by travelling to Egypt.
We know that Moses became an Egyptian Priest, a Hierogrammat, and that Christ after attending the lodge at Mount Camel (Palestine) went to Egypt for Final Initiation, which took place in the Great Pyramid of Cheops (Khuffu). Other religious leaders obtained their preparation from lodges most convenient to them (Stolen Legacy, p. 178).
Nigeria’s Benin-born Egyptologist, Naiwu Osahon adds more details about Moses in his book, The Cradle: The Ultimate Cosmology – Healing the Mind, Body and Soul (Lagos: Heritage Books, 1998). Osahon argues that Moses was a prince of Pharaoh Seti born out of wedlock, adding that “Pharaoh Seti and his daughter contrived the abandoned baby in a basket scenario to have the opportunity to look after Moses in the palace without moral stigma” (p. 63). Continuing Osahon observes that,
Moses went into the Lodge (the Mystery System) at age 7 and could not have come out until aged 47 because it required 40 years to train as a priest in all the disciplines. Moses then spent a few years in Ethiopia…
Moses became the spokesman for the Hebrews and introduced them to a monotheistic type of religion which he had learned as an Egyptian priest from the teachings of Akhenaton. Moses appears to have first preached his religious adaptation to the Egyptians who considered him a fake and largely ignored him. He then turned to the Hebrews who were more receptive. Moses skilfully modified Akhenaton’s monotheism to fit his Hebrew followers. Moses pledged the Hebrews to one God… (pp. 64 – 65).
The intellectual rigour of multidisciplinary training undergone by Moses is confirmed by the editors of Modern World History: Patterns of Interaction (Boston: McDougal Little Inc., 2001):
Moses is considered by many to be the greatest figure in Jewish history. He was a diplomat, a law maker, a political organiser, and a military leader, as well as a judge and religious leader. The Hebrew Scriptures record that Moses led the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt, perhaps between 1300 and 1200 B.C.
It is known that Moses produced the 10 Commandments that constitute the moral anchor of the religion of Judaism. It is logical to say that Moses derived his ideas about the 10 Commandments from the virtues and moral mandates he learned as an Initiate of the Egyptian Mystery System. The theology of Judaism was developed by the Hebrew people about 700 years after the return of their exiles from Egypt. Judaism benefited from the knowledge the Hebrew got from Egypt. The influence of Black Egyptian philosophy on Judaism and Christianity is attested to by Diop, especially in the relation to the concept of post-mortem trial and residence in paradise:
The religion of Osiris is the first, in the history of humanity, to invent the notions of paradise and hell. Two thousand years before Moses and three thousand years before Christ, Osiris, the personification of the Good, was already residing over the judgement of the dead in the world beyond the grave, wearing on his head the Atew or Atef. If the dead person during his terrestrial life satisfied the sufficient moral criteria that are too many to enumerate here, he gained the Aaru or Aar, a garden protected with an iron wall with several gates and a river running through it (Civilization or Barbarism, p. 331).
Judaism is an adaptation of ancient Egyptian philosophy and myths. The creation story in the book of Genesis is a recreation of Egyptian myths of creation. The biblical story of Cain and Abel is a variety of the Egyptian story of Osiris and Seth known more two thousand years before the Bible was composed. Seth is sterile and kills Osiris, the god of plenty and agriculture. Osiris rises to the status of a saviour god or god of salvation. The notion of death and resurrection is central to the theology of Christianity. Diop’s description throws some light on the similarities:
Osiris is the god who three thousand years before Christ dies and rises from the dead to save men. He is humanity’s god of redemption; He ascends to heaven to sit at the right hand of his father, the great god Ra. He is the son of God. In The Book of the Dead, it is said fifteen hundred years before Christ: “This is the flesh of Osiris”. Dionysus, Osiris’s replica in the northern Mediterranean will say five hundred years before Christ: “Drink, this is my blood, eat this is my flesh” (p. 312).
It is clear from these references that the rites of death and resurrection celebrated in the Christian Easter season are re-enactments of traditional festivals already known in ancient Egypt and other Nile Valley cultures.
Sunset for the Egyptian Mystery System:
Through the millennia of the dominance in world history and culture of the Nile Valley civilizations, there were no peoples or nations known as Europeans.
After about 3,000 years the Egyptian system was overwhelmed through conquest by better organised nations. First were the Assyrians, followed by the Persians. In 333 B.C. Alexander the Great for Macedonia invaded and conquered Egypt. He established the Greek or Hellenic regime. Aristotle of Greece had been the tutor of the young Alexander and he accompanied his pupil to the conquest in the hope to loot libraries and temples. As Onyewuenyi reports, “the temples and libraries of the great cities of Thebes, Memphis, and Heliopolis were looted and sacred books and manuscripts carried off to Macedonia and Athens…Hence, Aristotle possessed thousands of papyri dealing with philosophy and other subjects which were to appear in the Aristotelian corpus” (p.157). Professor Diop shows that Aristotle was made the rector of the Royal Library in Alexandria which they turned into a research centre and later a university. Aristotle closed down his school in Athens and asked the students to join him in the copying of Egyptian books. This act of intellectual piracy accounts for the “miracle” of about 400 books being ascribed to Aristotle who lived for only 62 years!
The Roman empire succeeded that of the Greeks. The Romans inherited the knowledge systems of Africa and the Greeks. The General Julius Caesar who conquered Egypt was so enamoured of the high culture and grandeur of the Africans that he had to marry Queen Cleopatra, the last Pharaoh of Egypt. The marriage produced one son, Caeserius. Jesus of the Jews was born when the Romans were ruling Egypt and the Middle East nations. Judea was a colony of Rome. Anthropological research has shown that the family of Jesus had black African roots in Egypt. When the Roman governor, Herod, ordered all babies to be killed Mary had to take infant Jesus to Egypt for safety.
As we have shown in earlier section, Jesus was enrolled as an Initiate in the Egyptian Mystery System in order to prepare him for his evangelical mission. He was trained in all the ten African virtues and the Seven Liberal Arts specified by Professor James for the Initiates, namely, Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Geometry, Arithmetic, Astronomy, and Music. The content and idiom of the teachings attributed to Jesus in the New Testament show that he was indebted to the Egyptian Mystery System. His commitment to morality, to justice, and defence of the poor and oppressed is evidence that he was a faithful pupil of the ancient black African university system. Jesus’ method of recruiting his apostles and the oral medium of instruction are features of the secrecy of the Egyptian Mystery System. No less important is that point that Jesus never said anything negative or derisive about Africans throughout his career. He never abused Africans as idle worshippers or pagans as is common with black African pastors of today.
Black African Humanism in Christianity:
The humanistic ideology of Christianity helped it to take firm roots in Africa soon after the death of Jesus. It is known that Peter, the son of Jonah from Bethseada, Galilee, declared himself Pope of the Church in 42 A.D. and set up the papacy in Rome. But the Roman emperors ruthlessly persecuted early Christians, killing them and feeding them live to carnivorous beasts at the amphitheatres in the city. Owing to the violence against Christians, the church did not fare well in Europe at the early stage. The persecuted Christians fled to North Africa nations of Egypt and Tunisia to have respite. The first North African church was in Carthage, now Tunis. At the time all of North Africa was peopled by blacks; the Arab invaders of Islam came about 500 years later. Africans welcomed the church because it was reincarnation of the ancient systems of morality and justice associated with the Nile Valley civilizations. But they also supported the church because it was connected with Jesus, their grandson. The African American Professor Henrik John Clarke explains the connection thus:
….among the first to hear and embrace the Christian religion were those living in North Africa. Jesus had spent some of his early years in Egypt to escape the murderous design of Herod, the Roman governor. This event was well remembered and later helped to gain acceptance for the church in Africa (“Introduction” World’s Great Men of Color).
The hospitality offered to the church by Africa was one reason why black Africans featured in its early leadership. There were three Black African Popes in the first 500 years of Christendom: Pope Victor I (189 – 199 A.D.), Pope Miltiades (311 – 314), and Pope Gelasius (492 – 496). For more than 1,500 years since Pope Gelasius, no black African has been made pope of the Catholic Church. African scholars and activists of humanistic causes contributed to the foundational ethics and principles of the church. The best known was Aurelius Augustinus, or St. Augustine. He was a black African born in Tagate, Tunisia, in 354 A.D. being a black genius he attained the position of a professor at 27 at the University of Milan, Italy. He was ordained the Bishop of Hippo, North Africa, in 395. He is the author of the principal books of theology used by the Church, including The City of God, which defines the aesthetics of paradise, and Confessions, a pioneer work of autobiography in the Christian era. St. Augustine died in 430 A.D.
The humanistic tenets of Africa permeated the Catholic Church from inception. However, the church became an instrument of conquest and oppression when the Roman Emperor, Constantine got converted to Christianity in A.D. 312. He proclaimed Christianity the official religion of the empire and used the instrumentality of the church to expand the imperial rule of Rome. With his edict Constantine declared all other religions pagan and unworthy of the attention of the subjects of the empire. Emperor Constantine was the one who convened Nicene Bishops Conference in 329 at which the history of the Church was revised to disinherit Africa of its claims. Henceforth, the church became a solely European institution for political domination and exploitation. The skin colours of Jesus and his mother, Mary, were also altered to suit the racist theory. J. A. Rogers cites a passage from page 113 of Professor J.H. Breasted’s 1911 History of Egypt, which reveals the original blackamoor colour of Mary and Jesus:
The child-Christ remained starrily bejewelled blackamoor as the typical healer in Rome. Jesus, the divine healer, does not retain the black complexion Iu-emhotep (Imhotep) in the canonical gospels but he does in the Church of Rome when represented as a little black bambino. A jewelled image of the child-Christ as a blackamoor is sacredly preserved at the headquarters of the Franciscan order, and true to its typical character as a symbolical likeness of Iusa, the healer, the little black figure is taken out in with its replica on to visit the sick and demonstrate the supposed healing power of this Egyptian Esculapius, thus Christianized. The virgin mother, who was also black, survived in Italy as in Egypt. At Oropa, near Bietta the Madona and her child-Christ are not white as they so often were in Italy of old and not as the child is yet conditioned in the little black Jesus of the Eternal City (World’s Great Men of Color, pp. 40 – 41; the emphasis is mine).
Further proof of the distortion of the original black colour of Jesus comes from the painting of him done by the Italian artist, Michelangelo, in 1,609, that is, over 1,500 after the death of Jesus. The Benin-born Egyptologist, Naiwu Oshaon, is categorical in his condemnation of Michelangelo’s mischief. In his opinion, it “was the European artist, Michelangelo who used family and friends to paint his image of Jesus in the Gisen Temple in 1609 A.D. He was commissioned to do the painting by Pope Julius II and he became famous with his blue-eyed, blond man, flowing hair and bearded image of Jesus Christ. This image was replicated by European Christian organizations all over the world” (The Cradle: The Ultimate Cosmology, 1998, p. 69).
Europe, Not Africa Was the “Dark Continent”:
As has been noted, the Roman Empire completed the destruction of the Egyptian Mystery System. As the career of General Julius Caesar showed, Europeans and Romans were envious of the extraordinary achievements of Black Africans as epitomised by the grandeur of ancient Egypt, Nubia, and Ethiopia. For more than 3000 years when the African civilizations ruled the world, there were no nations and intellectual traditions in Europe. The Greeks who were the first European people to know civilization were students of Egyptians. The Romans took over from the Greeks and copied and adapted what the Greeks had learned from Egypt. Thus, every European military power that arose was determined to possess Egypt. The African American professor of history, Henrik John Clarke explains how the glories of Africa dazzled and awed Europe:
European have always been in contact with Africa, that is, Northern Africa. The names of Esop, Memnon of Terence and Cleopatra are the names of Africans who have featured in the legend and literature, the arts and history of Greece and Rome. Indeed, the land of Africa was a land of wonders for ancient Greeks and Romans; and this is to such an extent that among them it was a proverb that out of Africa is always something new. The concept of “darkest Africa” refers to the comparative ignorance of Europeans over the last four centuries… (“Introduction” to J.A. Rogers, World’s Great Men of Color, p. x).
The determination to subjugate Egypt was the reason why two Roman emperors – Theodosius in the 4th century and Justinian in the 6th – issued imperial edicts to impose the Christianity on all the Roman Empire which did not want a rival moral and intellectual order to challenge its supremacy. The imperials edicts also proscribed and abominated the existence of the Egyptian Mystery System which had prevailed globally for nearly 4,000 years. Consequently, all Egyptian Temples, Universities, and centres of learning and research were shut down. Their priests-professors and scholars were hounded and driven into exile and eventual extinction. Professor George James has a more graphic narrative of the demolition process:
…Ancient Rome,…through the edicts of her Emperors Theodosius in 4th century A.D. and Justinian in the 6th century A.D. abolished the Mysteries of the African Continent; that is the ancient culture system of the world. The higher metaphysical doctrines of those Mysteries could not be comprehended; the spiritual powers of the priests were unsurpassed; the magic of the rites and ceremonies filled the people with awe; Egypt was the holy land of the ancient world and the Mysteries were the one, ancient and holy Catholic religion, whose power was supreme. This lofty culture system of the Black people filled Rome with envy, and consequently she legalized Christianity which she had persecuted for five long centuries, and set up as a state religion and as a rival of Mysteries, its own mother. This is why the Mysteries have been despised; this is why other ancient religions of the Black people are despised; because they are all offspring of the African Mysteries, which have never been clearly understood by Europeans, and consequently have provoked their prejudice and condemnation. In keeping with the plan of Emperors Theodosius and Justinian to exterminate and forever suppress the culture system of the African continent, the Christian church established its missionary enterprise to fight against what it has called paganism. Consequently, missionaries and educators have gone to the mission field with a superiority complex, born of miseducation and disrespect: a prejudice which has made it impossible for them to accomplish the blessings which missionary might otherwise have accomplished. For this reason Missionary enterprise has been responsible for a positive injury against the African people; which consists of the perpetual caricature of African culture in literature and exhibitions which provoke laughter and disrespect…(Stolen Legacy, pp. 154 – 155)
The Advent and Spread of Islam in Africa:
Cultural life in Europe was still in absolute darkness in the 8th century A.D. when Islam spread to Africa through Egypt and North Africa. Islam had been founded by Prophet Mohammed in 622 A.D. in Saudi Arabia. He claimed that the divine call to establish the faith was delivered by Angel Gabriel who also features in the Abrahamic religions of Judaism and Christianity. The vision of equality of peoples and races that informs Islam shows that it shares roots with the ancient Egyptian Mysteries and the ideology of humanism in Black Africa. Prophet Mohammed devoted his religious movement to the emancipation of the oppressed and exploited masses of Arabia. This focus on the humanitarian issue of salvation from the yoke of oppression and servitude helped Islam to grow and expand in the Arabian peninsula. Like early Christianity, Islam employed the means of warfare and conquest to grow. This partly explains why the new religion was swiftly embraced in many places where the masses of the people yearned for liberation from poverty and class discrimination. As the Australian professor of history, Professor Blainey reports warfare was employed to take the Islamic religion within ten years of Mohammed’s leadership. By 632 when Mohammed died, Islam had spread to lands covering over 5,000 km from its place of nativity, adding that “after the death of Mohammed, his religion and his sword ruled from the fringes of Afghanistan in the east to Tripoli in the west.”
But in its formative years, the fortunes of the Islam were helped tremendously by the ingenuity of a black African Ethiopian, Bilal Ibn Rahab. Of all the early converts of Islam who were tortured by the Arabian authorities to recount and denounce Mohammed, Bilal was the only one who remained steadfast. He provided the early intellectual and artistic resources for the mobilisation of new converts to defend their faith against Arabian state terrorism. Described by J. A. Rogers as “a tall, gaunt, bushy-haired Ethiopian slave” Bilal was Islam’s high priest, poet laureate, and first Muezzin (Treasurer of Minister of Finance) of the world-wide religious empire. It was Bilal who composed the Islamic call to morning prayers (Allah, Akubah, “Allah is Great”) which is listened to every day by about one billion believers. He also composed the Islamic image of paradise, making it more alluring and tantalizing than that of Judaism and Christianity from which it is derived. The Islamic paradise does not only flow with milk and honey, it has, according to Rogers, “sumptuous palaces of pure gold, with great banquet tables to which thousands of attendants bore the choicest food on golden plates. Each (dead convert) was entitled to 300 dishes put before him at once, and he could eat of all of them without becoming sated or being subject to the usual demands of nature. In Rogers’ account Bilal used his poetic skills to create enchanting verses, adding that whenever Bilal “prayed, the crowds sobbed aloud. After listening to him the soldiers of Mohammed, whipped to frenzy, were ready to hurl themselves against any foe” (World’s Great Men of Color, p. 144). Before his death, Prophet Mohammed chose Bilal to be his successor, but he deftly declined and yielded place to Mohammed’s brother, Abubakar. Islam so valued the contribution of Africans to the growth and development of the religion that one of the books of the Holy Koran is named after Lokman, a black African genius of Ethiopian origin. His works of wisdom and proverbial lore numbered over 10,000 and they were copied, adapted, and plagiarized by European scholars such as Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, and Shakespeare for centuries
As already noted Islam made rapid progress in Africa, because like early Christianity, it emphasized the equality of all people. Mohammed himself from a humble beginning promoted the dignity of all human beings and trans-class brotherhood. As the editors of Modern World History (2001) observe, the “…belief in the bond of community and the unity of all people led to a tolerance of different groups within the community. Muslims were required by their religion to offer charity and help to those in need. Under Muslim law, rulers had to obey the dame laws as those they ruled (p. 14).
In Africa, the armies of the Islam encouraged inter-marriage between Africans and Arabs. This process produced people of mixed race or colour known as Moors in history. These Africans dominated the intellectual and military history of North Africa and the Mediterranean world for centuries. The English playwright, William Shakespeare wrote the play Othello: The Moor of Venice on the career of one of these black generals. The Moors took Islam across the Mediterranean to Western Europe from the seventh century A.D. These African-Arabs were in charge of religion, government and intellectual development of Western Europe; they established cities and the first universities in Europe in places such as Servlle in present-day Spain. They controlled much of what are now Spain, Portugal, and southern France. Through the agency of these African-Arabs Egyptian knowledge systems and Arabic scholarship was spread in Western Europe up till the 16th century when the Christian war of Crusades pushed them back to Africa. The original aim of the Crusades was to liberate Jerusalem from Muslim control. There were six Crusades declared by Christendom and they lasted for 400 years. During those centuries of warfare and political turbulence, all of Europe remained largely a “dark continent”.
Islam in Africa did not only absorb African traditional systems such as polygamy in order to gain roots; Islam also developed intellectual centres as it did in Western Europe. The Alhazah University in Cairo, Egypt, and the University of Fez in Morocco are about 1000 years and are Africa’s oldest in the Christian era. By the 13th century Islam established centres of learning and universities in West African Kingdoms of Kanuri near Lake Chad, Mali and Songhai. The best known Islamic universities were those of Sankore and Timbuktu along the River Niger.
European Christianity, Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade & Colonization:
From the 9th century A.D. Arab-Africans returned to their mother continent to enslave and plunder. The Trans-Indian Ocean slave trade lasted for several centuries. The inter-racial mingling arising from this tragic encounter has left its marks on the East African coastline, especially with the development of Swahili, a hybrid language from Arabic and Bantu languages. Genres of poetry and written literature in Swahili grew from this cultural exchange. About 50 million Swahili speakers are to be found in the countries of Somalia, Tanzania, Kenya, and the island nations in the area.
Europe awoke from its dark ages in the 15th century with the cultural movement known as Renaissance. This became possible only after the bloodshed and instability occasioned by the Crusades. Historians refer to the era of the Renaissance as the age of “Discovery” and “Enlightenment”. Through the Greeks, Romans, and Arab-Moors the excellent traditions of African scholarship and science had reached Europe. With the Renaissance, these ancient scientific and philosophical theories invented and perfected by Egyptian civilizations 4000 years earlier were plagiarized and revived. The thaw in conservative Christian superstition enabled scholars to question old orthodoxies, leading to the emergence of scientists like Galileo of Italy who invented the telescope. He reproduced the theory of the revolution of the earth around the sun. He was detained by the Pope and compelled to recount; but his ideas survived to guide trans-ocean travels of “discovery” such as that by Christopher Columbus to the Americas in 1492.
The European “discovery” of the Americas transformed the economic and political fortunes of European sea-faring nations like Spain, Portugal, England, France, and Holland. The wealth derived from the plunder of the American colonies swelled the economies of these nations, enabling them to invest in more education, scholarship, and industrial development. This was the age of European capitalism and it led to the holocaust of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade that lasted for 400 years, 1450 – 1850. The African victims of the barbaric trade numbered 12.5 million. The church was fully involved in the slave trade and capitalist plunder of Africa, the Americas and the Caribbean. One of the Catholic Popes proclaimed the Papal Bull of Demarcation to divide the new worlds between rival Portugal and Spain. The law empowered the two nations to enslave anyone who refused to be converted to Christianity. For Europeans, the lure of profit overshadowed the moral injunctions Christianity and the ideology of humanism and equality of all preached by Jesus Christ. The slave trade horror dovetailed into the brutalities of colonization and massacre of indigenous peoples in Africa, the Americas, the Caribbean, and Asia. The accounts of these disasters are fairly well known. The African-Caribbean historian, Walter Rodney has a brilliant documentation in his book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.
The end of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in the 19th century ushered in the third coming of Christianity to Africa that cleared the way for European colonialism to take root. Starting with the Germans in the 19th century, the European intelligentsia designed fantastic theories of racial inferiority for Africans, their erstwhile teachers and master 5000 years before. Through these inhuman and unscientific postulations, Europeans dismissed Africa as a “dark continent” whose inhabitants were only good for enslaving, colonizing, and plunder. Leading European thinkers and church clerics laboured to justify the slave trade and the exploitation of African and peoples of other lands. Even Karl Mark (1818-1883) whose mother was from Algeria was victim of this ideology. He and his followers developed a theory of revolution of socialist overthrow of capitalism by the working and oppressed people. But they did not acknowledge Africa’s heritage in revolutionary reconstruction of oppressed and exploited peoples such as the Amarna socialist revolution in the second millennium B.C. led by Pharaoh Akhenaton of Egypt. That radical change in governance transformed social relations in ancient Egypt, spread welfare to the masses, and abolished the system of wars of conquest and plunder of victim nations. That revolutionary regime made Egyptian war generals and the exploiter priest castes idle and jobless; and they combined forces to defeat Akhenaton and his institutions of justice and welfare.
It should be understood that the racist ideology developed in Europe reached their most bizarre levels in the slave societies of the Americas. The long struggles of Africans against racial discrimination in Europe, the United States of America and South America produced excellent traditions of Afrocentric scholarship and thinkers such as Olaudah Equinao, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, Claude McKay, Martin Luther King Jr, Malcom X, Elijah Mohammed, Toni Morrison, and Jesse Jackson. The emergence of Barrack Obama as the first elected African American President of the United States in 2008 marks an epoch in the ceaseless struggle for ultimate redemption of the African heiritage.
Nigeria’s Samuel Ajayi Crowther played a pivotal role in the ideological conquest of Africa through the weapon of Christianity. Ajayi Crowther had been sold to slavery in the Iseyin area of the Old Oyo Empire after the slave trade had been officially abolished in England in 1807. British naval ships patrolling the West African coast to stop slave trafficking freed Ajayi Crowther. He was trained in Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone, as an evangelist and linguist/interpreter. He was sent to Nigeria to head the Niger Mission of the Church Missionary Society (C.M.S.) now the Anglican Communion. The Church brainwashed the returnee African slaves to believe that it was the paganism of their ancestors that made them to sell their children into slavery. Ajayi Crowther and his peers came back, therefore, for vengeance against their “inhuman ancestors”. This explains why he was such a zealot in evangelisation. According to the British Marxist historian, Basil Davidson, Ajayi carried his task to excessive levels by entering temples and shrines of traditional places of worship and veneration to break and burn symbols and insignia. All new converts were required to denounce and denigrate whatever was indigenous African belief, idea, philosophy, tradition, mode of dressing, marriage, education, science, technology etc. in favour of European and Christian ones. This was how indigenous culture and traditions of knowledge of Africa were further marginalised and suppressed. The education system completed what the church could not destroy.
This anti-Africa hysteria still holds sway today, several decades after nominal independence by African nations. It should be noted that the Arabs brought Islam to Africa and encouraged the establishment of scholarship and universities. Christianity, in contrast, did not engender similar developments in science and higher education. For example, the first secondary school in Nigeria, C.M.S. Grammar School, Bariga, Lagos, was opened in 1859. But the church did not invest in university education until the 21st century in Nigeria. The first European-type University in Africa would appear to be the University of Cape Town in South Africa established in 1856. The Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone, was later developed into a campus of the British University of Durham. But during the European colonial era, higher education was not encouraged. When they were set up after the Second World War in the late 1940s, the Universities were poor replicas of Western European ones. Thus the University of Ibadan opened in 1948 was a campus of the University of London. For decades the University of Ibadan gave premium attention to the pursuit of irrelevant degree courses such as Classics where only Greek and Roman languages and ideas were taught. The Department of Classics at Ibadan still runs these courses 67 years after Nigeria gained independence in 1960. The idea of classical studies does not accommodate ancient African religions and philosophies that were the mother of European classical traditions! The academic colonization of minds started at Ibadan spread to other Nigerian universities from the 1960s.
The discipline of philosophy exhibits the disease of disorientation more tellingly. The great names featured as philosophers are the Greeks who were undergraduates of Egyptian priest-professors over 3000 years ago. In literary studies, Homer the Greek narrator of the Iliad and Odyssey is treated as a deity of epics but it is not indicated that Homer attended institutions in ancient Egypt. Many courses in drama and theatre erroneously assign the origin of written dramaturgy to Greeks like Sophocles and Aristophanes, yet written drama, poetry, and fiction were developed to high degree in ancient Egypt 2,000 years before these Greek dramatists were born. In literary discourse the book Poetics by Aristotle is the theoretical foundation of aesthetic knowledge. But as shown by Professor George James in the sources cited in previous sections of the lecture, Aristotle could not have been the original author of this aesthetic theory; he was involved in the looting of Egyptian intellectual property and he plagiarized many of them now published in his name. The course on General Studies in Nigerian universities is a blatant insult against the heritage of African people. The history of science treated in the course assumes wrongly that Europeans of the post-Renaissance era originated scientific inquiry.
The Imperative of African Redemption:
Let me attempt to conclude the lecture by invoking the immortal words of Cheikh Anta Diop and George James on the imperative need to undertake a revolutionary programme of African redemption from 5,000 years of European intellectual imperialism. In his 1991 book, Civilization or Barbarism, Professor Diop urges us to note that,
Insofar as Egypt is the distant mother of Western culture and sciences… most of the ideas that we call foreign are sometimes nothing but mixed up, reversed, modified, elaborated images of creations of our African ancestors, such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, dialectics, the theory of being, the exact sciences, arithmetic, geometry, mechanical engineering, astronomy, medicine, literature (novel, poetry, drama), architecture, the arts, etc…
Consequently, no thought, no ideology is, in essence, foreign to Africa, which was their birthplace. It is therefore with total liberty that Africans can draw from the common intellectual heritage of humanity, letting themselves be guided only by the common notions of utility and efficiency (p. 4).
Professor George James wrote in a lyrical and evocative style in defining the redemptive purpose of the knowledge of Africa’s contribution to world civilizations. He urged that the African must “be given the special training in language, customs, and ideals of Africans, in order to make him cultivate an attitude of respect for the culture of the African Continent, seemingly the oldest specimen to have been developed by mankind;”
…because that continent is the birthplace and the cradle of Ancient Mysteries. With a world enlightened as to the real truth about the place of the African Continent in the history of civilization, false tradition and belief should cease to be effective, disrespect and prejudice should tend to disappear, and race relations should tend to be normal and peaceful. This brings us to the final problem of African redemption…
…our philosophy of redemption is a psychological process, involving a change of belief or mentality to be followed by a corresponding change of behaviour. It really signifies a mental emancipation in which the Black people will be liberated from the chain of traditional falsehood, which for centuries has incarcerated them in the prison of inferiority complex and world humiliation and insult…
Being liberated from inferiority complex by their New Philosophy of Redemption…Black people must face and interpret the world according to their new vision and philosophy… (pp. 154 – 155)
Professor James urged that education should be the instrument to achieve the mental emancipation he advocated. He also called on Africans to boycott missionary literature and exhibitions that disrespect and humiliate Africans. But James was emphatic that Africans must mobilise the Church in this struggle, adding that
“…the entire church of Christ on earth should be united in this racial reformation, and carry to the mission field a practical gospel of happiness; that is happiness that must begin while we are here on earth; a gospel that is interested in the total welfare of the people. A gospel which ignores the social and economic rights of the natives and emphasizes only happiness in an unknown world is one-sided, misleading, and contrary to Christian tenets and practice….
It is evident that the benefits of religion are intended to be coextensive with human needs and unless the Christian religion changes its missionary policy with respect to the Culture of the Black people, it would be difficult for them to obtain complete emancipation from the social injuries created by Ancient Rome (p. 162).
Professor Godini G. Darah (of Department of English and Literary Studies, Delta State University, Abraka), delivered this Faculty of Arts Distinguished Lecture, University of Lagos, on 28 March, 2017. Tel. 234-803-608-8913; Email: email@example.com
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