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UNDERSTANDING ASE AND ITS RELATION TO ESU AMONG THE YORÙBÁ AND ASE.T IN ANCIENT EGYPT

UNDERSTANDING ASE AND ITS RELATION TO ESU AMONG THE YORÙBÁ AND ASE.T IN ANCIENT EGYPT

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Published by Asar Imhotep
This is a preliminary article to discuss the possible origins, meaning(s) and applications for the concept in the Yorùbá Ifá tradition called àṣẹ. We will also take a look at possible connections between the Yorùbá deity èṣú, and the goddess of ciKam-ciKulu (ancient Egypt) js.t (Isis). Throughout this discourse we hope to expand our understanding of this term and its earliest conceptualizations using the analytic tool of comparative linguistics. This project will be broken up into two essays. The first essay will be concerned with the defining of àṣẹ and its relationship to other African deities. The second essay expands on this research and seeks to discover the most ancient linguistic root of the word àṣẹ. We will argue that the word àṣẹ derives from an old Kongo-Saharan word for “hand” and it is the action of the hand by which àṣẹ derives its popular meaning. Before we begin our analysis for our first essay, we must properly define àṣẹ as well as present examples of its usage in Yorùbá tradition.
This is a preliminary article to discuss the possible origins, meaning(s) and applications for the concept in the Yorùbá Ifá tradition called àṣẹ. We will also take a look at possible connections between the Yorùbá deity èṣú, and the goddess of ciKam-ciKulu (ancient Egypt) js.t (Isis). Throughout this discourse we hope to expand our understanding of this term and its earliest conceptualizations using the analytic tool of comparative linguistics. This project will be broken up into two essays. The first essay will be concerned with the defining of àṣẹ and its relationship to other African deities. The second essay expands on this research and seeks to discover the most ancient linguistic root of the word àṣẹ. We will argue that the word àṣẹ derives from an old Kongo-Saharan word for “hand” and it is the action of the hand by which àṣẹ derives its popular meaning. Before we begin our analysis for our first essay, we must properly define àṣẹ as well as present examples of its usage in Yorùbá tradition.

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1|
Understanding Àṣẹ
and i
ts Relation To Èṣú Among The Yoruba
and Ase.t in Ancient Egypt 
 – 
Asar Imhotep 
UNDERSTANDING
 ASE 
AND ITSRELATION TO
ES
AMONG THE YORÙBÁAND
 ASE.T 
IN ANCIENT EGYPT
Part I
By Asar Imhotep (January 4, 2012)
The MOCHA-Versity Institute of Philosophy and Research
 
luntu/lumtu/muntu
 
2|
Understanding Àṣẹ
and i
ts Relation To Èṣú Among The Yoruba
and Ase.t in Ancient Egypt 
 – 
Asar Imhotep 
Introduction
This is a preliminary article to discuss the possible origins, meaning(s) and applications for the concept inthe Yorùbá
 Ifá
tradition called
àṣẹ
. We will also take a look at possible connections between the Yorùbádeity
 
èṣú
, and the goddess of 
ciKam-ciKulu
(ancient Egypt)
 js.t 
(Isis). Throughout this discourse we hopeto expand our understanding of this term and its earliest conceptualizations using the analytic tool of comparative linguistics. This project will be broken up into two essays. The first essay will be concernedwith the defining of 
àṣẹ
and its relationship to other African deities. The second essay expands on thisresearch and seeks to discover the most ancient linguistic root of the word
àṣẹ
. We will argue that theword
àṣẹ
derives from an old Kongo-
Saharan word for “hand” and it is the action of the hand by which
àṣẹ
derives its popular meaning. Before we begin our analysis for our first essay, we must properly define
àṣẹ
 
as well as present examples of its usage in Yorùbá tradition.
Definition
John Pemberton, III in his article “The Dreadful God and the Divine King” (in Barnes 1997: 123) notesthat the “meaning of 
àṣẹ
is extraor
dinarily complex.” I will argue later on that the reason this term is so
complex, and is highly polysemic, is because it is the result of the merging of two different linguisticroots which share a common theme (to be explained in essay two). Each term, over time, begins to buildup derivative and alternative meanings
 — 
mainly by way of metaphor
 — 
thus expanding the term and itspossible usages within the language. One dictionary entry defines
àṣẹ
as:
 Àṣẹ
:
a coming to pass; law; command; authority; commandment; enjoinment; imposition; power;precept; discipline; instruction; cannon; biding; document; virtue; effect; consequence;imprecation.
1
 
This term is comparable to Egyptian
 ṣ
3
 
“to read,
to authorize, to determine, to decree, to allot, to design,
to ordain, to commission;”
 ṣ
3.t 
 
“something decreed, ordained by God
; dues, revenues, taxes, impost.
Pemberton (Barnes 1997: 123) notes that one of the contexts for
àṣẹ
 
is “kingship.” As we can s
eefrom the dictionary entry above that this association is derived from the meanings:
“law, command,authority and power.”
Verger (1966:35) defines
àṣẹ
 
as “the vital power, the energy, the great strength of all things.” It is also the “divine energy manif 
es
t in the process of procreation” (Egyptian
 saA
“the sourceof life, to begin;”
 ṣ
3.t 
 
“the goddess of primeval matter”
).As noted by Pemberton,
àṣẹ
does not signify anything particular, yet it invests all things, existseverywhere and as the warrant for all creative activity, opposes chaos and the loss of meaning in humanexperience (Barnes, 1997:124). Kamalu (1998: 142) recognizes
àṣẹ
 
as “vital force.”
This vital force isknown as
se
among the Fon of Benin. This
se
is a part of 
 Mawu
(the feminine aspect of the Divine
 Mawu- Lisa
) that permeates through each person and the divine
word 
.The linguistic root of this term in African languages is
-s-
and we will see later on that this canalso be
s-r 
. This root is present in Tshiluba
asa
 
“to begin”;
Hebrew
swh
and Yorùbá
se
 
“to come to
pass
; Yorùbá
àṣẹ
and Tiv
tsav
 
“the power to cause to happen;” Hebrew
siwwah
, Amarigna
ez
, Yorùbá
se
 
“to command,” Egyptian
 sA
 
“ordain, order.” We also have Yorùbá
 ṣ
e
 
“do”;
isé 
 
“work” and Hebrew
asah
 
“to do, to make” (
Yorùbá
sëse
).In Tshiluba we also have
esa/enza
 
“to
make, act, behave, take the appearance of 
;
dy-enza
 
“action, treatment”
;
enji
 
“legislative” (
bukalenga bw-enji
(
 j
<>
 z/s
) “legislative power”);
enze-ka
 
“cause,happen, occur;”
 Ngenzi
(<
enza
) “officer, manufacturer.” The underlying spirit of this root is “th
e power tocause to happen, the authority to make changes
.” People in legislative office are the ones with the
1
 Dictionary of Yoruba Language
.(1913). Church Missionary Society Bookshop. Lagos, Nigeria.
 
 
3|
Understanding Àṣẹ
and i
ts Relation To Èṣú Among The Yoruba
and Ase.t in Ancient Egypt 
 – 
Asar Imhotep 
authority to make things happen in the nation.
2
This is reflected in the personification of 
wsr 
(Osiris) and
As.t/js.t 
(Isis): for not only are they officers/administrators of the state (the first king and queen), they arealso progenitors of man and creation according to the ancient Egyptian myths. We will explore this morea little later on in our discourse.The underlying theme for
àṣẹ
 
is “power” and this power is manifested in two primary forms: 1)
biological power
 
which shapes one’s physical existence for good or ill, and 2)
political power
whichshapes people as moral and social beings (Barnes, 1997:124).It is in its latter branch of meanin
g by which “kingship” becomes a euphemism for 
àṣẹ
. In theIgbo language, this root is reflected as
ọzō
 
title of high degree conferring on the owner privileges andhonour as a sacrosanct (sacred, holy, revered, untouchable) being
(s > z). The Igbo word
Ezè
means
“king.”
Eze
 
can also mean “to honor, to participate, and to assume a role of privilege.”
3
 This association of kingship with
àṣẹ
is also reflected in another meaning for
àṣẹ
as given by E.B
 
lájí Ìdòwú in his classic work
Olódùmarè
(1994: 72):
àṣẹ
 
= “scepter.” A scepter is a classical African
emblem of power. This same
àṣẹ
 
“scepter”
in Yorùbá I equate, linguistically, to
wAs
 
scepter, staff, rod
 in ancient Egyptian [ ]. Words that begin with an
h-
or a
w-
in ancient Egyptian and Semitic often yieldzero for cognate terms in Yorùbá [i.e., Eg.
wab
 
“cleanse,”
Yorùbá
b
 
 
“wash”; Arabic
wady
 
“lowland,”
Yorùbá
òdo
 
“lowland, river valley, valley”;
Eg.
wab
 
“priest,”
Yorùbá
oba
 
“king, priest”; Eg.
wab
 
“freewoman,”
Yorùbá
obí 
 
“the female of cattle”;
òbò
 / 
abẹ
 
“vagina”
; Eg.
wD.t 
 
“eye of Ra”;
Yorùbá
oju
 
“eye”
;Egyptian
HD.t 
 
“white crown,”
Yorùbá
ade
 
“crown”
; Egyptian
wAb
"be distinguished, be honored, bestrong"; Yorùbá
oba
 
“king”].
Table 1 below provides further evidence for this correspondence.
Table 1
:
Egyptian Yorùbá
wAs
 
“scepter”
 
àṣẹ
 
“scepter”
wAs
 
“dominion, have dominion
, power
 
àṣẹ
 
“law, command, authority,
power
 
wAs
 
“honor (due to a god or king), prestige”
 
  ṣọ 
"elegance, finery, neatness, jewels"
ọzō
(
Igbo
) “honor, title of high degree”
[Pulaar
wasu
 
“glorification” (Lam, 1994: 44)]
 
wAs
 
fortunate, prosperous, well-
 being, prosperity”
 
ajé 
“money, the goddess of money”
4
(s>j)
àṣẹ
 
“the force to ma
ke all things happen andmultiply
(Thompson, 1984:18)[Pulaar
waas
 
“riches” (Lam,
ibid.)]
wAs
 
“to batter, to strike, to break, to bruise, to lay”
 
wAs
 
“ruin”
 
wsi
 
“to saw, cut up, trim”
 
ọṣẹ 
 
“hurt, injury”;
 
ẹṣẹ 
 
“blow with the fist”;
 
 ṣ
á
(
 ṣ
alogbe
)
to cut, to wound with a knife
;
a
 ṣ
á
 
“aheavy spear or javelin used to kill elephants”(with
noun forming prefix
a-
);
o
 ṣ
e
 
“club of god of thunder 
[
Ṣ 
ango
]
(a strikinginstrument);
The
wAs
(
power, dominion
) scepter [] is a symbol that appeared often in relics, art andhieroglyphics associated with the ancient Egyptian religion. They appear as long, straight staves, witha stylized animal head on top and a forked end. These are old pastoral emblems that came tosymbolize royalty in the Egyptian culture. It may be a predynastic symbol, but is definitely attested inthe first dynasty (Wilkinson, 2001: 189). It was associated with the
nsw bity
 
“king” as well
as the
2
In a modern sense this -s- root would signify, for example, someone like a manager at a retail store. For if you havea dispute with a product or service, one usually ask
to speak to a “manager” because it is she who has the authority
to make changes to the normal milieu to rectify the situation.
3
Kay Williamson. (1972).
 Dictionary of Onitcha Igbo
, 2
nd
Edition.Ethiope press.
4
There is also
 àjé
 
“the spirit of a bird” used by women (
 Ìyáàmi
) to invoke powers used for
abundance
and justice.

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