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Popenguine, Senegal: Per Ankh, 2004. Translated from French by Ayi Kwei Armah. Introduction Even for the comparatively short time African Philosophy the Pharaonic Period: 2780 - 330 BC has been in existence, this work has had an interesting history. First published in 1990, it remained inaccessible to the English speaking audience until Ayi Kwei Armah translated it from French. It was then published in 2004 by Per Ankh, a collective of African writers based in Popenguine, Senegal. African Philosophy is a culmination of Theophile Obenga’s research that he started as a student of Cheikh Anta Diop. Most of the comments he makes in the text about the silencing of African history are a product of his own observations and personal experience, especially after the 1974 Colloquium in Cairo which located publicly and unequivocally the achievements of the ancient Egyptian civilization in black Africa. Significantly, African Philosophy is dedicated to Osiris Diop. The focus of Obenga’s research is on laying the foundation of African knowledge through a demonstration of how to retrieve knowledge from the past by exploring the Pharaonic period covered between 2780 and 330 BC. It is Obenga’s concern that we move the debate about the origins of African knowledge beyond the achievements of the Cairo Colloquium in order to lay the foundation for legitimate research in African universities and research institutions. African Philosophy sets out to demonstrate that “the retrieval of the Egyptian heritage in all disciplines is a first, necessary step on the way to the reconciliation of Africa’s civilizations with history.” The value of this publication is, therefore, not in just linking indigenous and authentic African scholarship to its roots in ancient Egypt, but more importantly, it is to help provide a direction for present-day African research which seems to be trapped in knee-jerk reflexive actions determined by non-African interests. Of that much maligned indigenous African knowledge, the author provides contemporary examples: …[T]he ways in which traditional Africa, in its furthest reaches reveals direct linkages ancient Egypt, in vocabulary, customary practices, rites, ideas, and, in this case, in the multimillenial corpus of burial rites. The heritage of pharaonic Egypt lives on in black Africa in a variety of ways, in societies that have not yet lost their ancestral soul, that quality sometimes referred to as cultural identity and historical consciousness (p. 238).
it is in this section that Obenga begins to demonstrate with convincing examples the existence of the links between the ancient Egyptian language and the various African languages today. by situating the beginning of the discussion of African philosophy in ancient 289 . The first cluster of five chapters consists of: Introduction. they form the analytical section where Obenga meticulously gleans evidence from the past by use of judiciously selected tools and languages so as to restate the arguments for the African origin of ancient Egyptian civilization. and Hippo. In presenting and discussing the philosophy of the Pharaonic period. with a valuable outline of the major time periods of African philosophy for approximately the last five thousand years: (1) The Ancient Egyptian Philosophy. how this continues to make itself apparent in various disciplines. (5) Modern Contemporary African Philosophy. in the introduction. Gao. (University of Sankore). (3) The Philosophy of the Maghreb.Organization of the Work: As a starting point in this task of restoration. Obenga divides his ideas into thirteen sections whose headings are worth reproducing here for they give an insight into his intentions. A close reading of this section also denotes how Obenga. with examples from numerous African communities. It is a starting point that will allow us to examine more familiar terrain with the purpose of locating it within the larger frame of African knowledge. The Cosmos Before the Present Universe. Ontology and Cosmogenesis. The rest of African Philosophy is divided into two major parts: The first part is a presentation and analysis of the philosophy of the Pharaonic period (2780-330 BC) demonstrating. This outline is not the final say on how the history of philosophy in Africa can be or should be organized. and Djenne. Cyrene. This cluster addresses issues of language and its shaping of philosophical thought in ancient Egypt. The first thirteen chapters of African Philosophy are the major section of this work. I have divided them into three clusters. This timeline makes coherent sense out of the many bits and pieces of African achievement/ civilization that have been pointed out by scholars in various disciplines. Obenga first presents us. Ancient Egyptian Grammar: An Overview. “Supplement.” consists of significant original texts and their sources that African scholars need for further exploration of ideas outlined in the first part of this valuable work. (2) The Philosophers and Thinkers of Alexandria. Carthage. Egyptian Language and Writing. Purely for purposes of this review. More significantly. The second part. (4) The Medieval Philosophical Schools of Timbuktu. and On Time and the Heavens.
and Latins how hieroglyphics were the source of not just momentous Middle Eastern writings but more significantly. The Bible of Sanchoniathon. from its ancient origins to the present. and was later handed down to the Phoenicians. 290 . Equally well known is the fact that the Phoenician alphabet was the source of the Greek alphabet… Rome gave world civilization the Italic alphabet we use now. 20-8)” describes this ancient language for purposes of later demonstrating through textual evidence that this language belongs to the African language groups. is a Phoenician book. the Western writing systems. first articulated clearly by Cheikh Anta Diop in his oeuvre. receives further treatment from Obenga by his examples. the objective facts are as (sic?) follows: The cuneiform (nail-shaped) writings of Mesopotamia left no historical progeny. Concerning this indebtedness of Europe to African genius. There is a striking passage in this section that is worth repeating for the way it impacts linguistic studies in Africa today: Without ancient Egyptian. Not only did writing give permanent form to human speech. in its most ancient chronological aspect. the history of writing is identified with the narrative of human intellectual progress. luckily for us. demonstrates that African philosophy has an ancient lineage. This idea. The “Introduction (p. remains impossible (p. and on the precise issue of human civilization. the restoration of the authentic tradition of black African philosophy. for today. we can assess the full measure of the important role played by black African people of ancient Egypt (p. Writing is the basic social and intellectual process subtending our entire modern civilization. it also opened up the way to the universe of ideas across time and space. Obenga maintains: The fact is that writing was an extraordinary human invention. he shows by use of original documentation from the Phoenicians. but that alphabet was itself derived from Greek (p. which. 257-8). 16) This section also briefly touches on the ancient Egyptian writing system.Egypt. On the history of writing. its most fundamental manifestation. ancient Greeks. For that reason. Against that background. Obenga asserts: “Scientifically speaking. concluding with an overview of its grammar. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics have had an entirely different history. being the source of the Phoenician alphabet. explicitly acknowledges the fact that writing was invented by ancient Egyptians. “The Egyptian Language and Culture (p. coherently placing it within the intellectual tradition of the African continent. 258). At the same time. 9-19)” outlines of the history of African philosophy.
born already before the birth of the universe (p. is presented as a synonym of truth. 32-3). What is unique and fresh about Obenga’s treatment of these works that are well known to Egyptologists is the way he locates them within an African cultural and intellectual matrix. Some of these stories are “The Myth of the Destruction of Humanity.This is a statement that will have far-reaching consequences for many disciplines in any African university or research institution. The difference between the Egyptian myth of creation and others such as the Indian. must obey. as the Goddess Maat. The part on ethical values (p. Ideas in “Ethical Values” are presented as ancient Egyptian religion. justice. Indeed.” the “Maxims of the Prime Minister Ptahotep.” Obenga’s lucid presentation of this idea helps the reader situate the discussion in contemporary explorations of different cultures’ ideas about creation and their impact on the way these societies organize themselves socially and politically today. The second cluster of three chapters is concerned more with the application knowledge on social issues: Ethical values. where Ra and Hathor are fallible and the rectification of their mistakes depends on how we. and it is salutary to note that these institutions of power are not automatically assumed to be sources of justice. He suggests that the democratic inclinations to be found in many African communities arise out of their understanding of justice as the universal law that everyone. hold them to the divine definition of justice. Power and authority are interrogated. Divine justice is a democratic institution presided over by Ra (p.” and “The Maxims of Kagemni. 164-226) explores how ancient Egyptians use literary works to highlight socially accepted values that help to maintain standards of civilization. These two values are not separated as in present day practice 291 . as humans. or Greek ones is that whereas “the mythic creators in these other cultures are said to be born or to appear independently of their creation. on Death and Mortality. Comparisons with Yahweh’s isolationist stance highlight how Ra could only have been conceivable in a democratic system that believed in social peace maintained by a strong belief in the voluntary participation of everyone in decision-making. no Demiurge standing over and apart from Creation. human and god.” in the Egyptian one. Mayan. 178). a religion. however. “[t]here is no independent Creator.” We also find similar ideas encapsulated in the concept of Maat as an icon of justice and truth. making sense of what at times are treated as incoherent statements about the nature of a civilized society.
among Western influenced jurisprudence.” From this culture came discoveries in the sciences and the arts that continue to impact modern-day society. 300).com) provides a legitimizing to Obenga’s ideas on ancient Egypt that clearly demonstrate what has been there all along: African women have been “the essential building blocks” of their societies in a time when we had a better control over our destiny. Navigation. These are familiar ideas that are traceable in classical African literature of indigenous linguistic self-expression. “is far better than all other professions (p. 272-8). whether personal or social. comprising of four chapters. and textile chemistry (p. Modern-day racism passing for scholarship contributes to the distortion of African history: The fact is that Egypt has played an immense part in the advancement of civilization. self-mastery. Mapmaking. all verifiable from genuine written documents.243) for them to advance socially. The young are encouraged by their parents to cherish study (p. applied to problem-solving conditions. 244). as if the Western consciousness would be damaged by the simple recognition of historical realities. Obenga notes that all these ideas can be found in present-day African society. as Obenga demonstrates in “Egypt’s Civilizing Role (p.” This cluster produces clear evidence of ancient Egyptian achievements in mapmaking. Justice is the maintenance of truth in all our practice.” whenever they fly off from the 292 . Medicine. This chapter consists of: The Intellectual Vocation. Obenga indicts Western scholarship: Western historiography buries such facts under a lethal haze. is a demonstration of the existence of an intellectual tradition whose ideas. So “Orientalists. Also. helped lay a foundation whose impact is still felt in all African cultures. The African woman’s modern contribution to scholarship in this area (cf. In an explanation of why this would seem to be new in our age. 165-78). paintings and sculpture (p. courage. The third cluster. and Mathematics.253-70). Textile Chemistry. This section illustrates how intellectual aspirations were accepted as part and parcel of ordinary ancient Egyptian life. navigation. defining civilization as the salvation of humanity by highlighting peace and feminine beauty as its essential components (p. this ancient philosophy postulates order as both a moral and social ideal. jendajournal. and Astronomy. “Writing.” continues the advice. and self-effacement is also a familiar line of thinking in what can be termed as traditional African thinking. An understanding of traditional African women’s institutions will help retrieve the very routes of regeneration that Obenga is striving for in this work. Kagemni’s insistence on prudence. Other issues concern gender values.
entitled “Medicine. So we thought it both useful and necessary to provide. Obenga does not lose sight of the purpose of his research: to illustrate that there is an intellectual tradition in Africa that is founded on analytical thinking. become manipulators of a technique of violence in the service of a destructive enterprise. 383-91) and some of the problems they wrote about. maybe not with guns.” “A Lesion Of The Spinal Column (p.” “Dissection: An Ancient Egyptian Practice (p.” we are given evidence from ancient texts of Egyptian medical advances by looking at their medical terms (p. but with equally deadly effect. 421-421-98 – is this a mistake?) should lay to rest all the doubts about ancient Egyptian mathematical achievements.). 499-671). In Chapter IX. This cluster of chapters forms a very sound basis for any researcher who is interested in studying the history of sciences and mathematics on the continent. Examples of these are: “Concussion And Bleeding In The Petrosal Bone (p.” “animist religions” and “prelogical thought” (ibid.” and “Impaired Comprehension And Speech Due To Brain Damage (p. Similarly.498. This is a matter of some resentment among detractors of Egyptian mathematics.accurate study of archeological artifacts into highly tendentious. 293 . as a supplement to the texts provided in this book.” Chapter X on Mathematics (p. In explaining the need for the supplement (p. This manipulation of history is deadly violence directed at the African. 323-70). he notes: We see then the concept of proof as well as the practice thereof. 499).418-20). 412-14).” “Afro-Asiatic languages.415-17). 407-11). a further set of miscellaneous passages ranging from philosophy to the arts and crafts … all original internal sources providing information on ancient Egyptian civilization (p. proffering instead their hypotheses of “Hamito-Semitic peoples. “Africanists” have never made any worthwhile contributions to the study of black Africa. a dying breed these days. it must be said (p.). on ancient Egyptian mathematics. existed in mathematical systems of Africans in ancient Egypt. For example. Obenga goes to the core of his motivation for this research: Libraries at our African universities and research centers contain practically no scholarly works in the field of Egyptology. African Philosophy also brings out evidence of achievements in astronomy and how this is not accidental but part of an intellectual tradition that pervades the whole continent (p.
Dismissing as irrelevant the false dichotomy of tradition vs. Apart from demonstrating this competence. Translation across several languages seems to be a standard requirement. ancient Egypt is the legitimate foundation for African scholarship in all its dimensions. not by raising it theoretically.). 611-64). The section also includes Obenga’s own translations of Herodotus. how valid is our research that continues to ignore this fact and perpetuates the fragmentation of the continent? The most important role this work plays is to place at the center of our research concerns of the African people. if. but by demonstrating how it should be done. the author returns to the debate of language in African scholarship. Obenga seems to go back again to the old maxim of the need for the African scholar to know himself/herself and his/her audience so as to refine the tools of investigation. as demonstrated in this work. modern as a distraction. Diodorus Siculus among others. The bibliography clarifies just how necessary it is to look for African sources to some of the questions we may raise during our research on the African intellectual tradition. suggesting a guide into its prioritization and decision-making.This section is made of original texts from ancient Egypt which are to assist scholars who may not be familiar with research in Egyptology. There is an urgent need to relocate our people’s intellectual achievements at the center of our research concerns by reexamining seriously what they have retained in time and how it links up with other knowledge from different parts of the Continent. “because they provide reliable information on Egyptian antiquity” (ibid. It also provides us with an organizational framework within which we can begin to comparatively 294 . Obenga’s methodology demonstrates required linguistic competence in several languages for effective research. Not to be overlooked is the bibliography Obenga compiles (p. African Philosophy suggest that the African past located in the achievements of ancient Egypt is the rightful starting place or the reorganization of the investigation of knowledge systems of the African continent. African Philosophy contributes to the continuing discussion of what the focus of African education should be. This work lays the foundation for making sense of the African history of knowledge by creating a rational history of African knowledge for approximately the last five thousand years. It is instructive to learn reading through it just how many African scholars have contributed to the field of philosophy. Also.
the ancient Egyptians were in a position to say to the Greeks: “Solon.16). cannot engage in the luxury of racism. Not a single Greek is an elder. Obenga’s quotes note: Here. Obenga’s multilingual analytical technique is only accessible to researchers with a command over relevant languages. the work frequently uses ancient Greek and Latin writings as sources on this ancient African society. human history. Perhaps we can then begin to address the perennial question: what happened? The author’s adopted methodology provides an insight into what Obenga’s research concerns are and the audience that he targets. Latin and (Arabic). Solon. in addition to the mastery of the techniques and methods associated with the history of philosophy (p. no knowledge hallowed by time (Plato. Obenga utilizes all available African and non-African sources in his research. as the author points out in the introduction. Herodotus. no ancient tradition. The people most likely to benefit from this methodology are the many African scholars for who mastery of several languages is a normal part of their growing up experience. on the precise issue of knowledge of the universe. 22b in Obenga p. Ancient Greek works are indeed legitimate sources of the history of African philosophy.” What the ancient Egyptian priest meant was that the Greeks of that age. African 295 . was settled once and for all in the Cairo Colloquium in 1974 (p. Expounding on this he further states: [I]t requires nothing less than a fluent knowledge of ancient Egyptian. Timmaus.investigate the temporal and spatial generation and dispersal of ideas on the African Continent. Plato. The results. you Greeks are perennial infants. In this connection. This. unlike their modernday counterparts. 144). 164)” whereby ancient they meant a recognized lineage in establishing human knowledge and civilization. Greek. are surprising: many of the well known ancient Greek and Latin sources.15). had no body of thought bequeathed by antiquity. He avoids the fruitless debate of whether or not ancient Egyptian achievements are African. were comfortable in acknowledging their intellectual indebtedness to their black neighbors. Socrates are brought in through their writings to remind us that the Egyptians were the “most ancient people (p. These concerns of retrieving and reconstructing African. and indeed. unlike the Egyptians. as he time and again demonstrates. Currently debates on this issue are a sad waste of valuable research time and skills for the African scholar.
Arabic. as he has done before. for their philosophy is only accessible in their language. the Cameroonian Jesuit E. We need to undertake similar collections of Indian. Obenga’s challenge goes further: he demonstrates competence in his mastery of the various scripts including the Middle Egyptian. these are not stolen. Mveng published an excellent volume on Greek sources of African history. Amazing! Ramenga Mtaali Osotsi James Madison University 1 296 . borrowed or purloined: they are incredibly and rightfully ours. This is a valuable serve that will save a lot of time for many a scholar. Historians need such primary. Back in 1972. what is more. authentic documentation if they are to produce solid analytical works based on verifiable texts (p. In this text. 499) The ancient door opens and reveals riches far grander than we imagined. Latin. More importantly.Philosophy is one of the very few texts that demonstrate unequivocally that firsthand knowledge of a people’s language is the correct place to begin if meaning is to be made of their knowledge systems. and other sources of African history.) One of the most valuable sections of this work is the sources and translations of hitherto unavailable texts. this text returns to the center the primacy of African languages in exploring systems of thought created by African people from ancient times to the present. Obenga urges the serious study of comparative linguistics when working on African research as per the urgings of the Cairo Colloquium of 1974. and ancient Greek necessary for his research.
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