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Cheikh Anta Diop

and the

New Light on African History


by John Henrik Clarke (197 !
Cheikh Anta Diop, one of the most able of present day scholars writing about Africa, is also one of the greatest living Black historians. His first major work, Nations Negres et Culture !"##$ is still disturbing the white historians who have make %uick reputations as authorities on African history and culture. &n this book Dr. Diop shows the interrelationships between African nations, north and south, and proves, because in this case proof is needed again and again, that ancient 'gypt was a distinct African nation and was not historically or culturally a part of Asia or 'urope. (ore myths about Africa are put to rest in another one of his books, The Cultural Unity of Negro Africa, !"#"$. )he publication of his first book in the *nited +tates, The African Origin of Civilization: Myth of Reality, is a cause for celebration. )his book and others of recent years, all by Black writers, have called for a total reconsideration of the role that African people have played in history and their impact on the development of early societies and institutions. Cheikh Anta Diop! was born in the town of Diourbel, in +enegal, on the ,est coast of Africa in !"-.. His birthplace has a long tradition of producing (uslim scholars and oral historians. )his is where his inspiration and interest in history, the humanities and social sciences from an African point of view began. After the publication of his first book Nations Negres et Culture, that had been rejected as a /h.D. thesis at the +orbonne in /aris, he became one of the most controversial of present day African historians. Nations Negres et Culture is both a reassessment of the African past and a challenge to ,estern scholarship on Africa. He refutes the myth of 'gypt as a white nation and shows its southern African origins. &t is his intention to prove that, through 'gyptian civili0ation, Africa had made the oldest and one of the most significant contributions to world culture. )his is not a new argument that started with Cheikh Anta Diop1s generation of Africans. )he 2hanaian historian, 3oseph B. Dan%uah, in his introduction to the book, United West Africa at the Bar of the Fa ily of Nations, by 4adipo +olanke, published in !"-5, four years after Cheikh Anta Diop was born, said e6actly the same thing. His statement reads7 8By the time Ale6ander the 2reat was sweeping the civili0ed world with con%uest after con%uest from Chaeronia to 2a0a, from Babylon to Cabul9 by the time the first Aryan con%uerors were learning the rudiments of war and government at the feet of the philosopher Aristotle9 and by the time Athens was laying down the foundations of 'uropean civili0ation, the earliest and greatest 'thiopian culture had already flourished and dominated the civili0ed world for over four centuries and a half. &mperial 'thiopia had con%uered 'gypt and founded the ::;th Dynasty, and for a

century and a half the central seat of civili0ation in the known world was held by the ancestors of the modern <egro, maintaining and defending it against the Assyrian and /ersian 'mpires of the 'ast. )hus, at the time when 'thiopia was leading the civili0ed world in culture and con%uest, 'ast was 'ast, but ,est was not, and the first 'uropean 2recian$ =lympiad was yet to be held. >ome was nowhere to be seen on the map, and si6teen centuries were to pass before Charlemagne would rule in 'urope and 'gbert became first ?ing of 'ngland. 'ven then, history was to drag on for another seven hundred weary years, before >oman Catholic 'urope could see fit to end the 2reat +chism, soon to be followed by the disturbing news of the discovery of America and the fateful rebirth of the youngest of world civili0ations.8Here Dr. Dan%uah is showing that African history is the foundation of world history. &n the present book by Cheikh Anta Diop, and in most of his other works, his objective is the same. &n his first major work on history, Dr. Diop has said7 8)he general problem confronting African history is this7 how to recogni0e effectively, through meaningful research, all of the fragments of the past into a single ancient epoch, a common origin which will reestablish African continuity. @ &f the ancients were not victims of a mirage, it should be easy enough to draw upon another series of arguments and proofs for the union of the history of 'thiopian and 'gyptian societies with the rest of Africa. )hus combined, these histories would lead to a properly patterned past in which it would be seen that ancient$ 2hana rose in the interior ,est Africa$ of the continent at the moment of 'gyptian decline, just as the ,estern 'uropean empires were born with the decline of >ome.8 ,hile using Africa as the vantage point and the basis for his thesis, Dr. Diop does not neglect the broader dimensions of history. He shows that history cannot be restricted by the limits of ethnic group, nation, or culture. >oman history is 2reek as well as >oman, and both the 2reek and the >oman histories are 'gyptian because the entire (editerranean was civili0ed 'gypt9 and 'gypt in turn borrowed from other parts of Africa, especially 'thiopia. Africa came into the (editerranean world mainly through 2reece, which had been under African influence. )he first 2reek invasion of Africa was peaceful and scholarly. )his invasion brought in Herodotus. 'gypt had lost its independence over a century before his visit. )his was the beginning of the period of foreign domination over 'gypt that would last, in different forms, for two thousand years. The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality is a oneAvolume translation of the major sections of the first and last of the books by Cheikh Anta Diop, i.e., Nations Negres et Culture and Anteriorite des Civilisations Negres. )hese two works have challenged and changed the direction of attitudes about the place of African people in

history in scholarly circles around the world. &t was largely due to these works that Cheikh Anta Diop, with ,.'.B. Du Bois, was honored as 8the writer who had e6erted the greatest influence on African people in the -Bth century8 at the ,orld Cestival of Arts held in Dakar, +enegal, in !"DD. )he main thesis of the present work is a redefinition of the place of 'gypt in African history in particular and in world history in general. Dr. Diop calls attention to the historical, archeological and anthropological evidence that supports his thesis. )he civili0ation of 'gypt, he maintains, is African in origin and in early development. &n his book Dr. Diop says7 8)he history of Africa will remain suspended in air and cannot be written correctly until African historians connect it with the history of 'gypt.8 He further states7 8)he African historian who evades the problem of 'gypt is neither modest or objective, nor unruffled, he is ignorant, cowardly, and neurotic.8 Dr. Diop approaches the history of Africa frontally, headAon with e6planations, but no apologies. &n locating 'gypt on the map of human geography he asks and answers the %uestion7 who were the 'gyptians of the ancient worldE )he 'thiopians say that the 'gyptians were one of their colonies which was brought into 'gypt by the deity =siris. )he 2reek writer Herodotus repeatedly referred to the 'gyptians as being darkAskinned people with woolly hair. 8)hey,8 he says, 8have the same tint of skin which approaches that of the 'thiopians.8 )he opinion of the ancient writers on the 'gyptians is more or less summed up by 2aston (aspero !FGDH!"!D$ when he says, 8By the almost unanimous testimony of ancient historians, they Ithe 'gyptiansJ belong to an African race which first settled in 'thiopia on the (iddle <ile7 following the course of the river they gradually reached the sea.8

8)he 2reek writer, Herodotus, may be mistaken,8 Cheikh Anta Diop tells us, 8when he reports the customs of a people. But one must grant that he was at least capable of recogni0ing the skin color of the inhabitants of countries he visited.8 His descriptions of the 'gyptians were the descriptions of a Black people. At this point the reader needs to be reminded of the fact that at the time of Herodotus1s visit to 'gypt and other parts of Africa between GFB and G-# B.C.$ 'gypt1s 2olden Age was over. 'gypt had suffered from several invasions, mainly the ?ushite invasions, coming from within Africa, and starting in 5#! B.C., and the Assyrians1 invasions from ,estern Asia called the (iddle 'ast$, starting in D5! B.C. &f 'gypt, after years of invasions by other people and nations was a distinct Black African nation at the time of Herodotus, shouldn1t we at least assume that it was more so before these invasions occurredE

&f 'gypt is a dilemma in ,estern historiography, it is a created dilemma. )he ,estern historians, in most cases, have rested the foundation of what is called 8,estern Civili0ation8 on the false assumptions, or claim, that the ancient 'gyptians were white people. )o do this they had to ignore great masterpieces on 'gyptian history written by other white historians who did not support this point of view, such as 2erald (assey1s great classic, Ancient !gy"t# The $ight of the World, !"B5$ and his other works, A Boo% of the Beginnings and The Natural &enesis. =ther neglected works by white writers are 'olitics# (ntercourse# and Trade of the Carthaginians# !thio"ians# !gy"tians, by A.H.4. Heeren !F..$, and Ruins of ! "ires, by Count ;olney !5F5$. &n the first chapter of his book, Dr. Diop refers to the +outhern African origins of the people later known as 'gyptians. Here he is on sound ground with a lot of support coming from another group of neglected white writers. &n his book !gy"t, +ir '.A. ,allis Budge says7 8)he prehistoric native of 'gypt, both in the old and in the new +tone Ages, was African and there is every reason for saying that the earliest settlers came from the +outh.8 He further states7 8)here are many things in the manners and customs and religions of the historic 'gyptians that suggests that the original home of their prehistoric ancestors was in a country in the neighborhood of *ganda and /unt.8 +ome historians believe that the biblical land of /unt was in the area known on modern maps as +omalia.$ 'uropean interest in 8'thiopia and the =rigin of Civili0ation8 dates from the early part of the nineteenth century and is best reflected in a little known, though important, paper in ?arl >ichard 4epsius1 (nco "ara)le *urvey of the Monu ental Ruins in the !thio"ian Nile +alley in ,-./0,-... )he records found by 4epsius tend to show how 'thiopia was once able to sustain an ancient population that was numerous and powerful enough not only to challenge but, on a number of occasions, to con%uer completely the populous land of 'gypt. Curther, these records show that the anti%uity of 'thiopian civili0ation had a direct link with civili0ation of ancient 'gypt. (any of the leading anti%uarians of the time, based largely on the strength of what the classical authors, particularly Diodorus +iculus and +tephanus of By0antium, had to say on the matter, were e6ponents of the view that the ancient 'thiopians, or at any rate, the Black people of remote anti%uity were the earliest of all civili0ed peoples and that the first civili0ed inhabitants of ancient 'gypt were members of what is refereed to as the Black race who entered the country as emigrants from 'thiopia. A number of 'urope1s leading writers on the civili0ations of remote anti%uity have written brilliant defenses of this point of view. +ome of these writers are Brice, Count ;olney, Cabre, d1=liver, and Heeren. &n spite of the fact that these writers defended this thesis with all the learning at their command and documented their defense, most of the presentAday writers of African history continue to ignore their findings. &n !F-#, 2erman backwardness in this respect came definitely to an end. &n that year, Arnold Hermann Heeren !5DBH!FG-$, /rofessor of History and /olitics in the *niversity of 2ottengen and one of the ablest of the early e6ponents of the economic interpretation of history, published, in the fourth and revised edition of his great work (deen U)er 1ie 'oliti%# 1en +er%ehr Und 1en 2andel 1er +orneh sten +ol%er 1er Alten Weld, a

lengthy essay on the history, culture, and commerce of the ancient 'thiopians, which had profound influence on contemporary writers in the conclusion that it was among these ancient Black people of Africa and Asia that international trade was first developed. He thinks that as a byAproduct of these international contacts there was an e6change of ideas and cultural practices that laid the foundations of the earliest civili0ations of the ancient world. )he Crench writer Count C. C. ;olney, in his important work, The Ruins of ! "ires, e6tends this point of view by saying that the 'gyptians were the first people to 8attain the physical and moral sciences necessary to civili0ed life.8 &n referring to the basis of this achievement he states further that, 8&t was, then, on the borders of the *pper <ile, among a Black race of men, that was organi0ed the complicated system of worship of the stars, considered in relation to the productions of the earth and the labors of agriculture9 and this first worship, characteri0ed by their adoration under their own forms and national attributes, was a simple proceeding of the human mind.8. =ver a generation ago African American historians such as Carter 2. ,oodson, ,.'.B. Du Bois, ,illis <. Huggins, 3. A. >ogers, and Charles C. +eifort read the works of these radical writerAhistorians and began to e6pand on their findings. )his tradition continued and is reflected in the works of present day Black historians such as 3ohn 2. 3ackson1s (ntroduction to African Civilizations !"5B$, Kosef benA3ochannan1s Blac% Man of the Nile !"5-$, and Chancellor ,illiams1s The 1estruction of Blac% Civilization: &reat (ssues of a Race Fro .344 B5C5 to /444 A515 !"5!$. *ntil the publication of 3ames 2. +pady1s article, 8<egritude, /anABenegritude and the Diopian /hilsophy of African History,8 in A Current Bi)liogra"hy on African Affairs, volume #, number !, 3anuary, !"5-, and the recent interview by Harun ?ofi ,angara, published in Blac% World maga0ine, Cebruary, !"5G, Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop was known to only a small group of Black writers and teachers in the *nited +tates. Cor over seven years his books were offered to American publishers with no show of interest. <ow two of his books will be published in the *nited +tates within one year. )he )hird ,orld /ress in Chicago is preparing to publish his book, The Cultural Unity of Negro Africa. All of his books were originally published by 'resence Africaine, the /arisAbased publication arm of the &nternational +ociety of African Culture. 'gyptology developed in concurrence with the development of the slave trade and the colonial system. &t was during this period that 'gypt was literally taken out of Africa, academically, and made an e6tension of 'urope. &n many ways 'gypt is the key to ancient African history. African history is out of kilter until ancient 'gypt is looked upon as a distinct African nation. )he <ile >iver played a major role in the relationship to 'gypt to the nations in +outheast Africa. During the early history of Africa, the <ile was a great cultural highway on which elements of civili0ation came into and out of inner Africa. 'gypt1s relationship with the people in the +outh was both good and bad, depending on the period and the dynasty in power.

&n his chapter called, 8,hat were the 'gyptiansE,8 Dr. Diop e6plains the rise and fall of 'gypt1s 2olden Age and the beginnings of the invasions, first from ,estern Asia, that turned this nation1s first age of greatness into a nightmare. )his was the period of the Hyksos, or +hepherd ?ings. During this time seventy 3ews, grouped in twelve patriarchal families, nomads without industry or culture, entered 'gypt. )hese 3ews left 'gypt four hundred years later DBB,BBB strong, after ac%uiring from African people all of the elements of their future religion, tradition, and culture, including monotheism. ,hosoever the 3ews were when they entered Africa, when they left, four hundreds later, they were ethnically, culturally, and religiously an African people. &n this part of his book, Cheikh Anta Diop leaves no room for argument. &n the chapter called, 8Birth of the <egro (yth,8 Dr. Diop shows how African people, whose civili0ations were old before 'urope was born, were systematically read out of the respectful commentary of human history. )his e6amination is continued in the chapter called, 8(odern Calsification of History.8 Here, Cheikh Anta Diop deals with how ,estern historians, for the last five hundred years wrote or rewrote history glorifying the people of 'uropean e6traction and distorted the history of the rest of the world. )hose who read this book seriously are in for a shock and rewarding e6perience in learning. )his is a major work by a major Black historian. At last, the renaissance of African historiography from an African point of view has begun, and none too soon. & will say again, the publication of Cheikh Anta Diop1s book The African Origin of Civilization6: Myth or Reality is a cause for celebration. Cootnotes (issing John Henrik Clarke "irt#al $#se#% & 'he "irt#al $asters of the $#se#%s ()*N'al "iew+ An ,lectronic Jo#rnal of African Centered 'ho#ght N-.( Ho%epage & D#-ois Learning Center Ho%epage