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Hamitic is an obsolete ethno-linguistic classification of some ethnic groups within the Afroasiatic (previously termed "Semito-Hamitic") language family. The term Hamitic originally referred to peoples believed to have been descended from Ham, one of the Sons of Noah. Over history, there have been several separate, but interrelated, interpretations of the term. In the Bible, the sons of Ham include peoples who were traditionally enemies of the Jews, notably the Egyptians, and the Canaanites. While the Canaanites competed with the Israelites for the same territory, typically Ham's sons were said to have fathered the peoples of Africa. Of Ham's four sons, Canaan fathered the Canaanites; Mizraim the Egyptians; Cush the Cushites and Phut the "Libyans". During the Middle Ages and up until the early 19th century the term Hamitic was used by Europeans to refer indiscriminately to Africans. In the 19th century, a "Hamitic language group" was proposed, uniting various, mainly North-African, languages. A "Hamitic race" was also identified, referring to those Africans whom Europeans considered "advanced", or most similar to themselves and to Semitic peoples. Today the Hamitic concepts have been widely discredited, and are often referred to as the Hamitic Myth. The Hamitic language group is no longer considered a useful concept, though the phrase Semito-Hamitic is a dated term for the Afro-Asiatic group. The notion of a Hamitic race is similarly widely abandoned. The Hamitic Myth was used as a justification for European colonial policy in Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as the slave trade in earlier times.
Earlier uses of the term
Early interpretations of the Bible led many Western scholars to believe that all of humanity was descended from Noah. Chapters 9 and 10 of the Book of Genesis deal with the branching off and splitting up of Noah's sons into the world. The name of Cush, Ham's eldest son, means 'black' in Hebrew. Noah curses Canaan, Cush's youngest brother, saying that he and his descendants would be a "servant of servants". Hebrew scholars have used this passage to justify the Israelite subjugation of Canaan. In 5th Century AD Jewish Midrashim Noah says to Ham: "You have prevented me from doing something in the dark (cohabitation), therefore your seed will be ugly and darkskinned." The 6th Century AD Babylonian Talmud states that "the descendants of Ham are cursed by being Black and are sinful with a degenerate progeny." Ths would have major repercussions on the history of Blacks in Africa and America. In the middle ages, some European Christians picked up on the idea. Again, the depiction of the "sons of Ham" as cursed, "blackened" by their sins, suited the ideological interests
of the European elite; especially as the principal enemy of Christendom was Islam, which dominated North Africa. Despite the fact that Islam originated with the Semitic Arabs, European imagery often stressed the blackness of the Islamic Moors and associated them with the 'cursed' sons of Ham. Later, with the emergence of the slave trade, it justified the exploitation of a ready supply of black African labour.
After Napoleon's invasion of Egypt, European interest in that country increased dramatically. With the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphics and the rapid increase in knowledge of Ancient Egyptian civilization, European academics became increasingly interested in the origin of the Egyptians and their connection to other groups nearby. The traditional Biblical genealogy associated the Egyptians with other descendants of Ham, notably the black-skinned Cushites in Ethiopia. Non-religious and Darwinian writers also theorised that the Biblical stories contained an element of truth about the ancestry of some black African populations, who may have migrated into Central Africa from the North. These peoples were assumed to be racially superior to other Africans.
Hamitic theory as an ideology within colonialism
As a result of this reevaluation, Hamitic took on a new, more positive connotation for Europeans. During the 19th century Europeans explored more and more of Africa. In their travels, they found many different physical types, and they valued those that appeared most like themselves or had a redeeming cultural characteristic. These types were declared "Hamitic", e.g. the Tutsis of Rwanda (see below). Soon the Hamitic theory became an important ideological instrument of colonialism, especially in German politics. The term "Hamitic" is used for the first time in connection with languages by the German missionary Johann Ludwig Krapf (1810-1881), but with regard to all languages of Africa spoken by black people. It was the Berlin Egyptologist Karl Friedrich Lepsius (18101877), who restricted it to the non-Semitic languages in Africa which are characterized by a grammatical gender system. As racial theories became increasingly complex and convoluted, the term Hamitic was used in different ways by different writers, and was applied to many different groups Ethiopians, Eritreans, Berbers, Nubians, Somalis and many others. Racial theory was very hierarchical; Europeans saw these peoples as leaders within Africa, "teaching" lesser peoples the ways of civilization, just as they saw themselves teaching the Hamitic peoples.
However, the allegedly Hamitic peoples themselves were often deemed to have 'failed' as rulers, a failing that was sometimes explained by interbreeding with non-Hamites. So, in the mid-20th century the German scholar Carl Meinhof (1857-1944) claimed that the Bantu race was formed by a merger of Hamitic and Negro races. The 'Hottentots' (Nama or Khoi) were formed by the merger of Hamitic and Bushmen (San) races (both being termed nowadays as Khoisan peoples). Such theories are now completely outmoded.
Hamitic League of the World
In 1917 George Wells Parker founded the Hamitic League of the World. Its aims were: "To inspire the Negro with new hopes; to make him openly proud of his race and of its great contributions to the religious development and civilization of mankind and to place in the hands of every race man and woman and child the facts which support the League's claim that the Negro Race is the greatest race the world has ever known."
Hamitic theory in Rwanda
In Rwanda, the Hamitic hypothesis was a racialist hypothesis created by John Hanning Speke (Gourevitch 1999) which stated that the "Hamitic" Tutsi people were superior to the "Bantu" Hutus because they were more Caucasian in appearance, and thus destined to rule over the Hutus. In the movie Hotel Rwanda, a native Rwandan explains to caucasian reporters that people were determined by the Belgians to be either Hutu or Tutsi in a very subjective way, such as the width of the nose or other physical characteristics. One of the reporters asks two girls if they are Hutu or Tutsi, and they respond that one is Hutu and the other is Tutsi. The reporter notes that they look so much alike that they could be twins. Although the actual origin of the Tutsis is disputed, if they had once been a ruling-class of invaders, they had long since lost that social position. This hypothesis was a significant factor in the Rwandan genocide. Because of the widespread racism in the area, and the belief among Tutsis that they were superior to the Hutus, the Hutus began to see the Tutsis as an outside invader to their land. One Hutu political activist suggested that the Tutsis be floated down the river to Ethiopia, which Speke claimed was the ancestral home of the Tutsis. Although this hypothesis is often compared to the ideology of Nazi Germany, it should be noted that in Rwanda, the genocide was conducted against those the hypothesis described as superior, whereas the victims of the Holocaust were seen as the inferiors by the Nazis.
Hamitic theory today
In this way Europeans again justified their own exploitation of the African continent. These ideas were still in wide circulation until the mid 20th century. The Hamitic hypothesis is widely rejected today on a multitude of grounds. Most "scientific" observations of the time were heavily culturally biased and generally returned results that suited European prejudices. Many observations of the time have been corrected since then to reveal a much more complex picture of ethnic groups than was initially thought. Nonetheless, the term Hamitic is still used in some anthropological nomenclature. The term's linguistic use was effectively terminated by Joseph Greenberg (The Languages of Africa) in the 1950s, who introduced the use of geographical rather than racial terms for Africa's language families.
In linguistics and ethnology, Semitic (from the Biblical "Shem", Hebrew: ,שםtranslated as "name", arabic: )سامwas first used to refer to a language family of largely Middle Eastern origin, now called the Semitic languages. This family includes the ancient and modern forms of Amharic, Arabic, Aramaic, Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Akkadian, Ge'ez, Hebrew, Maltese, Syriac, Tigrinya, etc. As language studies are interwoven with cultural studies, the term also came to describe the extended cultures and ethnicities, as well as the history of these varied peoples as associated by close geographic and linguistic distribution. The late 19th century term "anti-Semitism" came to be used in reference specifically to anti-Jewish sentiment, further complicating the understood meaning and boundaries of the term.
The term Semite was proposed at first to refer to the languages related to Hebrew by Ludwig Schlözer, in Eichhorn's "Repertorium", vol. VIII (Leipzig, 1781), p. 161. Through Eichhorn the name then came into general usage (cf. his "Einleitung in das Alte Testament" (Leipzig, 1787), I, p. 45. In his "Gesch. der neuen Sprachenkunde", pt. I (Göttingen, 1807) it had already become a fixed technical term. (The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIII) The word "Semitic" is an adjective derived from Shem, one of the three sons of Noah in the Bible (Genesis 5.32, 6.10, 10.21), or more precisely from the Greek form of that name, namely Σημ (Sēm); the noun form referring to a person is Semite. The negative form of the adjective, anti-Semitic, is almost always used as a misnomer to mean "antiJewish" specifically. The concept of a "Semitic" peoples is derived from Biblical accounts of the origins of the cultures known to the ancient Hebrews. Those closest to them in culture and language were generally deemed to be descended from their forefather Shem. Enemies were often
said to be descendants of his cursed brother Ham. In Genesis 10:21-31 Shem is described as the father of Aram, Asshur, and others: the Biblical ancestors of the Aramaeans, Assyrians, Babylonians, Chaldeans, Sabaeans, and Hebrews, etc., all of whose languages are closely related; the language family containing them was therefore named Semitic by linguists. However, the Canaanites and Amorites also spoke a language belonging to this family, and are therefore also termed Semitic in linguistics despite being described in Genesis as sons of Ham. Shem is also described in Genesis as the father of the Elamites and the descendants of Lud, whose languages were not Semitic. The hypothetical Proto-Semitic people, ancestral to the speakers of the historical Semitic languages in the Middle East are thought to have been originally from either the Arabian Peninsula (particularly around Yemen) or the Ethiopian Highlands, but its homeland is still much debated and uncertain.
Ancient Semitic peoples
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Akkadians — appear ca. 2500 BC and amalgamate with Mesopotamian populations into the Assyrians of the late Bronze Age Eblaites — 23rd century BC Aramaeans — from the 14th century BC, evolve into the Syriacs of the early centuries AD Ugarites, 14th to 12th centuries BC Canaanite nations of the early Iron Age: o Amorites o Ammonites o Edomites o Hebrews — founded the kingdom of Israel and Judah, the remnants of which became the Jews of Late Antiquity. o Moabites o Phoenicians Sabaeans of Yemen and Ethiopia, from ca. the 9th century BC, evolving into Semitic Ethiopian peoples from the 5th century BC Arabs — appearing from the 5th century BC as Nabataeans
The modern linguistic meaning of "Semitic" is therefore derived from (though not identical to) Biblical usage. In a linguistic context the Semitic languages are a subgroup of the larger Afro-Asiatic language family (according to Joseph Greenberg's widely accepted classification) and include, among others: Akkadian, the ancient language of Babylon; Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia; Tigrinya, a language spoken in Eritrea and in northern Ethiopia; Arabic, the newest in the family of Semitic languages; Aramaic, the mother-tongue of Jesus; Canaanite; Ge'ez, the ancient language of the Ethiopian Orthodox scriptures; Hebrew; Phoenician or Punic; and South Arabian, the
ancient language of Sheba/Saba, which today includes Mehri, spoken by only tiny minorities on the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula. Wildly successful as second languages far beyond their numbers of contemporary firstlanguage speakers, a few Semitic languages today are the base of the sacred literature of some of the world's great religions, including Islam (Arabic), Judaism (Hebrew and Aramaic), and Orthodox Christianity (Aramaic and Ge'ez). Millions learn these as a second language (or an archaic version of their modern tongues): many Muslims learn to read and recite Classical Arabic, the language of the Qur'an, and Jews all over the world outside of Israel with other first languages speak and study Hebrew, the language of the Torah, Midrash, and other Jewish scriptures. It should be noted that Berber, Egyptian (including Coptic), Hausa, Somali, and many other related languages within the wider area of Northern Africa and the Middle East do not belong to the Semitic group, but to the larger Afro-Asiatic language family of which the Semitic languages are also a subgroup. Other ancient and modern Middle Eastern languages — Armenian, Kurdish, Persian, Turkish, ancient Sumerian, and Nubian — do not belong to the larger Afro-Asiatic language family. For a complete list of Semitic and Afro-Asiatic languages, see the Ethnologue's list.
Semitic peoples and their languages in modern and ancient historic times have covered a broad area bridging Africa, Western Asia and the Arabian Peninsula. The earliest historic (written) evidences of them are found in the Fertile Crescent, an area encompassing the Babylonian and Assyrian civilizations along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, extending northwest into southern Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and the Levant along the eastern Mediterranean. (Today this same region is populated by Arabic speakers except for Israel, where modern Hebrew was reintroduced in the 20th century as the national language.) Early traces of Semitic speakers are found, too, in South Arabian inscriptions in Yemen, Eritrea, Northern Ethiopia and later, in Roman times, in Nabataean inscriptions from Petra (modern Jordan) south into Arabia. (Here, too, Arabic has largely won out over the original Semitic tongues.) Semitic languages and peoples are also found in the Horn of Africa, especially Eritrea and Ethiopia, the last great holdout of South Semitic languages. Later expansions of Semitic languages also spread into North Africa at two widely separated periods. The first expansion occurred with the ancient Phoenicians, the name given by the Greeks to the Canaanites, along the southern Mediterranean Sea all the way to the Atlantic Ocean (colonies which included ancient Rome's nemesis Carthage). The second, a millennium later, occurred with the expansion of the Muslim armies and Arabic in the 7th-8th centuries AD, which, at their height, controlled the Hispanic Peninsula and Sicily. Arab Muslim expansion is also responsible for modern Arabic's presence from Mauretania, on the Atlantic coast of West Africa, to the Red Sea in the northeastern corner of Africa, and its reach south along the Nile River through traditionally non-Semitic territory, as far as the northern half of Sudan, where, as the national language, non-Arab Sudanese even farther south must learn it. Semitic
languages today are also spoken in Malta (where an Italian-influenced dialect of North African Arabic is spoken) and on the island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean between Yemen and Somalia, where a dying vestige of South Arabian is spoken in the form of Soqotri.
In a religious context, the term Semitic can refer to the religions associated with the speakers of these languages: thus Judaism, Christianity and Islam are often described as "Semitic religions," though the term Abrahamic religions is more commonly used today. A truly comprehensive account of "Semitic" religions would include the polytheistic Ancient Semitic religions (such as the religions of Adad, Hadad) that flourished in the Middle East before the Abrahamic religions.
Ethnicity and race
A stylised T and O map, depicting Asia as the home of the descendents of Shem (Sem). Africa is ascribed to Ham and Europe to Japheth In Medieval Europe, all Asian peoples were thought of as descendents of Shem. By the nineteenth century, the term Semitic was confined to the ethnic groups who have historically spoken Semitic languages. These peoples were often considered to be a distinct race. However, some anti-Semitic racial theorists of the time argued that the Semitic peoples arose from the blurring of distinctions between previously separate races. This supposed process was referred to as Semiticization by the race-theorist Arthur de Gobineau. The notion that Semitic identity was a product of racial "confusion" was later taken up by the Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg. Modern science, in contrast, identifies an ethnic group's common physical descent through genetic research, and analysis of the Semitic peoples suggests that they share a significant common ancestry. Though no significant common mitochondrial results have been yielded, Y-chromosomal links between Near-Eastern peoples like the Arabs, Syrians and Jews have proved fruitful, despite differences contributed from other groups. Although population genetics is still a young science, it seems to indicate that a significant proportion of these peoples' ancestry comes from a common Near Eastern population to which (despite the differences with the Biblical genealogy) the term Semitic has been applied.
Japhetic is a term that refers to the supposed descendants of Japheth, one of the three sons of Noah in the Bible. It corresponds to Semitic (descendants of Shem) and Hamitic (descendants of Ham). Variations of the term include Japhetite and Japhethitic.
Japhetic as a geographical and racial concept
A stylised T and O map, depicting Europe as the home of the descendents of Japheth (bottom left). Africa is ascribed to Ham and Asia to Shem Traditionally, Japheth was understood to have been the progenitor of the peoples of Europe. Thus "Japhetic" came to be used as a synonym for Europeans. In Medieval Europe the world was understood to have been divided into three large-scale racial groupings. In addition to the Japhetic peoples of Europe, the Semitic peoples were equated with all Asians, and Hamitic peoples with Africans. The link between Japheth and the Europeans stems from Genesis 10:5, which states that the sons of Japheth moved to the "isles of the Gentiles," commonly believed to be the Greek isles. In the Bible, Japheth is ascribed seven sons: Gomer, Magog, Tiras, Javan, Meshech, Tubal, and Madai. The intended ethnic identity of these 'descendants of Japheth' is not known for certain. However, over history they have been identified by Biblical scholars with historical nations who were deemed to be descendants of Japheth and his sons—a practice dating back at least to the classical encounters of Jew with Hellene, for example in Josephus's Antiquities of the Jews, I.VI.122 (Whiston). Josephus wrote: Japhet, the son of Noah, had seven sons: they inhabited so, that, beginning at the mountains Taurus and Amanus, they proceeded along Asia, as far as the river Tanais (Don), and along Europe to Cadiz; and settling themselves on the lands which they light upon, which none had inhabited before, they called the nations by their own names. Josephus subsequently detailed the nations supposed to have descended from the seven sons of Japheth. Among the nations various later writers have attempted to assign to them are as follows:
• • • • • • •
Javan: Ionians (and hence Greeks) Magog: Scythians, Slavs, Irish, Magyars (and hence Hungarians) Madai: Mitanni, Mannai, Medes (and hence Kurds), more generally Persians, or even more generally Indo-Aryans Tubal: Tabali, Georgians, Italics, Illyrians, Iberians, Basques Tiras: Thracians, Goths, Jutes, Teutons (Germans) Meshech: Phrygians, Meskheti, Moschoi Gomer: Scythians, Armenians, Welsh, Picts, Irish, Germans (Teutons), Turks,.
Japhetic and Caucasian
The term "Caucasian" as a racial label for Europeans derives in part from the assumption that the tribe of Japheth developed its distinctive racial characteristics in the Caucasus area, having migrated there from Mount Ararat before populating Europe. In the same vein, Georgian nationalist histories associated Japheth's sons with certain ancient tribes of the Caucasus area, called Tubals (Tabals, Tibarenoi in Greek) and Meshechs (Meshekhs/Mosokhs, Moschoi in Greek), who they claimed represented ancient pre-IndoEuropean and non-Semitic, possibly "Proto-Iberian", tribes of Asia Minor of the 3rd-1st millennias BC. This theory influenced the use of the term Japhetic in the linguistic theories of Nikolai Marr (see below). During the eighteenth and nineteenth century the Biblical statement that "God shall enlarge Japheth" (Genesis 9:27) was used by some Christians as a justification for the "enlargement" of European territories through Imperialism, which was interpreted as part of God's plan for the world. The subjugation of Africans was likewise justified by the curse of Ham.
The term Japhetic was also applied by William Jones, Rasmus C. Rask and other preDarwinian linguists to what later became known as the Indo-European language group, on the assumption that the principal languages of Europe would have originated with the tribe of Japheth. In a conflicting sense, it was also used by the Soviet linguist Nikolai Marr in his Japhetic theory, which was intended to demonstrate that the languages of the Caucasus formed part of a once-widespread pre-Indo-European language group.
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