Why We (Should) Talk about Kemet

Think of Egypt this way. Imagine that Africa is a mother and Egypt is one of her children. One day, a white man, let’s call him Europe, is walking by Africa’s house and sees Egypt playing with her siblings. He immediately takes a liking to Egypt because he believes she’s beautiful. He insists she looks nothing like her siblings, so he attempts to lure her from her home, and when her mother attempts to stop him, he argues that Egypt looks more like him, and doesn’t belong to her, so she should back off.

This is why there’s so much issue with Egypt. The other African civilizations are not being pulled away from Africa, but Egypt is. Now they’re trying to push the bi-continental theory, because the others haven’t worked. I am tired of hearing nonsense such as: “Egypt is in Africa but it’s not African”–Zahi Hawass.


~ commenter Mel, on Abagond's "Diop: Birth of a Negro Myth"
Before I begin, understand that this is not a post about the usual evidence of how the Kemites (or Ancient Egyptians) were a black-skinned African people. This is strictly about why Black people wind up talking about Kemet more often than we do other African civilizations.

Reason #1: Historical Accuracy

Part of being a modern African is to be told (by almost everyone else) you don't have a history, and then have what little history you're "allowed" to have be reported to you inaccurately.  And before people start chanting "so long ago" keep in mind this practice is being formally continued until now, in the 21st Century.

Granted, it was much worse before.  I have stated here and elsewhere about how both of my parents were born under colonial rule in the Cameroons of West Africa.  In fact, imperialism didn't end (on paper, anyway) until my father was about thirteen years old.  Now, during the colonial era, it was policy to teach African children that all the great kingdoms and empires in Africa were all built by their "white ancestors".  So every realm from the Empires of Ghana, Songhai, Mali, the Mandara Kingdom, Bimbia, Kush, Axum, Great Zimbabwe - in addition to Kemet - were all claimed by white imperialists.  This was to push the idea that Africans were inferior, without history and accomplishment.

Needless to say, this policy failed miserably, in no small part to insurrection, the unyielding oral tradition, and the like.  However, the white claim to Kemet remains stubborn until today.

Now, the reason for whites' fascination with Kemet is ultimately irrelevant to this post; besides, the opening quoted comment at the top pretty much captures it.  Basically, Kemet was a black civilization which existed while the vaunted Europeans were still illiterate barbarians living in huts.  Naturally, this doesn't sit well with Eurocentrists who believe the world begins and ends with the infallible greatness of white people.  Ergo, in their minds, the Kemites just had to be white.

The African attitude towards Kemet, however, needs to be discussed because it's usually not.

1) Kemet is not that big a deal to your average modern African.  Understand that Kemet is literally thousands of years old.  It is but one of several black African civilizations, contrary to popular white belief.  And just as it influenced the civilizations which followed, other black civilizations influenced it, namely Nubia.  In other words, Africans don't worship and fetishize Kemet the way white people do.  If you tell a modern, educated black African that Kemet was black, it's like telling them rain is wet or that the wind blows.  There is so much "duh" in a statement like, "The Kemites were black" that talking about the blackness of Kemet seems is like giving a whole sermon on how the sky is blue or that the earth rotates - um...no shit.

2) African scholars, on the other hand, tend to pay a little more attention to Kemet.  When our scholars study Kemet - in addition to other African civilizations - it's for two main reasons. The first is for fairly obvious academic reasons; they are interested in how Kemet influenced civilizations which followed in specific ways (e.g., language, customs, etc).  It's their job to investigate these sort of things.

The second reason is a slightly more African one, and it's simply out of the respect and deference due to all our ancestors.  This is principle is particularly important because any African can abide by it, regardless of their religion.  In a vast, diverse continent, it's practically a universal concept.  Therefore, it's considered appropriate to at least know who came before and what they did.

3) Modern Africans tend to get annoyed with the (White) Kemetic Obsession.  Let me explain: I was studying African history - in depth - by the age of eight.  I was in primary school in the Northwest Province of the Cameroons.  I wasn't in any special classes or receiving extra tutoring when I first learned about Kemet; it was just a standard part of our curriculum.  In fact, I recall my teacher treating it like it was no different from Kush or the Empire of Ghana.  He didn't gush over it or treat it as though it were superior to any other civilization in Africa.  We didn't study it longer than any other civilization.  In his eyes, and the eyes of my fellow students, Kemet was just one of many topics to tackle.

What we did dwell on for extended periods, however,  was us - modern Africans.  We talked a lot about geography, our politics, our economies, etc.  Because I lived in a town and not my tribal village, I went to school with kids from several other tribes who spoke several other dialects, and both in class and during lunch we talked about us.  Granted, we mostly spoke to one another in either English or Pidgin, but we talked.

We didn't sit and wax nostalgic about the great ancient days.  Like most normal people, we talked about the now - our different villages, our cuisines, our funeral rites, our bloodlines (i.e., who was descended from tribal royalty, and who wasn't).  In addition to practicing our French, we discussed the different words which were similar in the dialects (e.g., we learned that many tribes in the Northwest say wah to mean "mat", and beri to mean "thanks", ai as a very informal way to say "no" [never to be used with an elder], and Chai! or Ha-ah! as general exclamations).  We talked about our market days, and wondered what fashions the nomadic Hausa and Fulani tribes would be bringing to the next market day.  We sang the latest makossa and bikutsi tracks, and taught one another songs from our different villages.

My point?  Just like white people disrespect us by coming onto our continent to see animals and/or ruins instead of meeting and learning about the people, they disrespect us by being blind not only to who we we were, but who we are.

Which reminds me....

4) The glories of Kemet are sometimes overstated.  Hear me out: let's say Kemet was a fandom, which in many ways, it is.  It's understandable; Kemet has excited the imaginations of people around the world for several thousand years.  It's made its way into poems, operas, paintings, novels, films, television shows, and music videos.  We've seen Blacks, Asians, whites, and Latinos of varying shades and origins portray Kemites in media for the past several decades.  And this is precisely where we run into trouble, because just like with any fandom, some fans of Kemet have trouble separating fanon...from canon

There's the issue of what they want Kemet to be and what it represents to them, versus what Kemet actually was.  They want to pile on the white European factor, the aliens/29th Century-technology factor, the anything-but-black "multiracial" society factor, while ignoring a couple of major facts:
  1. Kemet was a black civilization, neither white nor Asian.
  2. Kemet was not a happy, multicultural, pre-racial melting pot of a society either.  Like many pre-colonial (and some post-colonial) African peoples, the Kemites were xenophobic as hell.  According to their mythology, marrying a non-black foreign wife was considered "a loser's prize".  In Civilisation ou barbarie, Cheikh Anta Diop reports that this was a society which, ironically, looked down on whites in particular.  Whites in Kemet were often slaves, and could be killed in broad daylight with neither provocation nor repercussion.
While its monuments, temples, astronomy, religion, and mathematics were great, there were many other African civilizations which rose after Kemet.  Their wealth, women, and exquisite cultures were also great, which whites in the West conveniently keep forgetting was precisely what drew their ancestors to Africa in the 1500s...just like Kemet's wealth, women, and exquisite culture drew their ancestors to Africa many centuries before.  Whites brought about the destruction of many post-Kemetic African societies...just like they brought about the destruction of Kemet itself.

It's a classic case of a people not knowing (or caring) about their history, and thus repeating it.

Up next...

Reason #2: Identity

See Also

(Concerning Cultures as Fandoms) Why Didn't They Just Marry Asian Guys?

From Abagond

Comments

  1. Ankhesen,

    This is superb! The truth of the white obsession with Kemet is so infrequently addressed and has everything to do with white obsession with the idea that they are/were the beginning and end of everything that they consider to be great! The lie of the white mind. Their innate ability to completely look past the people is enormous.

    Looking forward to next part!

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  2. @ Black Butterfly

    Thanks. Abagond's exploration of Diop's work raised a few issues for me on his blog. I've been ready for a "new" discussion for some time now on this subject, and considering the drapto/drone infestation on his blog....

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  3. I don't know much but about a few Ancient African civilizations, but I do get the fact that Africans don't lament for the old times. I was wondering if you could provide some info on the kingdoms that you learned. Also since my folks are African, I am trying to get books that they read in school back at home because its hard to find material on the founders and such in America.

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  4. @ Amanda O
    Tell me about it. I hate the fact that even at college level you have to learn about your country from White people, rather than gathering the info and learning your own opinion.

    I've been having a difficult time of it too.

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  5. I'm looking forward to this series Ankh. I love how you are breaking history down here by dispelling the lies and presenting the facts about Africa both ancient and modern.

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  6. I absolutely adore this post! Seriously, points 3 and 4 are the truth. I can especially identify with the 3rd point as an African :D

    While the state of education in Nigeria is really nothing to write home about and we were hardly taught history in school, the few classes I took on African history did not even focus on Kemet. We studied kingdoms of Nigeria (Oyo, Kanem-Bornu), the jihads of West Africa (Usman dan Fodio and other names I can't remember now), kingdoms of East Africa (Buganda, Abyssinia)...we also looked at Zanzibar and South African history from Shaka Zulu to Nelson Mandela. As for North Africa, we only studied relatively modern North African history so when it came to Egypt we learnt about the Mamluks and Mohammed Ali. I can't see Nigerians or other Africans making such a huge fuss about Kemet.

    Interestingly my mother took more history classes in school than I did. I know she was taught by British missionaries, and she has told me of excursions to see historical sites across Nigeria. It boggles my mind that Nigeria had more history classes back then. Today most students go through secondary school without a class in African history. If they choose to study history, they get at most 3 years and that's if they don't go on to study history in university. I believe this may be unique to Nigeria though.

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  7. A lot of sites like Abagond, the Blasian Narrative and Ankh's are differently always needed!Like many of us on here, I was fascinated about Kemet,although I didn't always know the truth about him until I came on here.

    A couple of years ago, there was a dispute in Philly about the guy( I forget his name, I thought that he was an Egyptian professor or something)with some Black students at a university and I couldn't blamethem. The only thing these students wanted the man to do was to acknowledge the African role in that African had with things like Kemet and Egyptian History as a whole,but the man denied it..as always.

    I think about what S.O.T. W said. We have to learn history from a White person's perspective. Unfortunately, it is very rare that a White professor understands or moreso, want to get deep into history. On here, the history of Kemet is being deeply and carefully examined and no short cuts are being made in it. Too often, I have seen this with many of them. They were teaching at the surface level,but they didn't want to get deep into it so that it made sense..or in this case, talk about the dealings of Kemet and White people.

    I guess that is why I really couldn't get into history. It seemed fragmented..like there was A and C,but no B. It never seemed to make sense to me and people just wanted to teach history from a limited and too often biased perspective. If my professors knew the truth behind Kemet, I would, like so many on us on here ,would never hear about it.

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  8. @ Eccentric Yoruba

    While the state of education in Nigeria is really nothing to write home about and we were hardly taught history in school, the few classes I took on African history did not even focus on Kemet. We studied kingdoms of Nigeria (Oyo, Kanem-Bornu), the jihads of West Africa (Usman dan Fodio and other names I can't remember now), kingdoms of East Africa (Buganda, Abyssinia)...we also looked at Zanzibar and South African history from Shaka Zulu to Nelson Mandela.

    I left Cameroon before we could get to those! I'm so jealous!!!

    When I got to America, I noticed these were never mentioned. Not in elementary, middle, or high school. Not even in college, where I minored in history. In fact, African history wasn't even touched upon until I took a modern African history course - for fun - in graduate school.

    @ Amanda O.

    I don't know much but about a few Ancient African civilizations, but I do get the fact that Africans don't lament for the old times.

    No, we don't. We respect and appreciate our ancestors. We understand that progress flows in one direction. Each civilization has its role to play.

    But when you live on continent where the people speak 1,000 different languages, have hundreds of different religious beliefs, have so many different fashion, musical, and architectural styles, there's no reason to wax nostalgic. We're not like the Celts, Romans, or Vikings - our languages, religions, and overall cultures aren't gone. They haven't been lost or forgotten. They merely evolved and survived over time, and we still enjoy them until today.

    In other words, it's pointless to mourn something when it's still there.

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  9. I'm glad there are blogs like this one that tell it like it really is and not from a white perspective.

    Great job, Ankhesen.

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  10. I'm thinking about going to Ghana to study/work abroad. Well more like planning, I just have to figure out cost and visa details. I've already applied for the program. I really want to learn more about Africa so I figure I should just go there. I'm worried I might not want to some back though.

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  11. I'm worried I might not want to some back though.

    If you can get situated, you won't come back.

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  12. I look forward to this series

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  13. This reminds me of a macro I saw the other day. The top half featured a picture of ancient Rome. It said something like "Ancient Rome." Then below it was a picture of a hut. The caption for that was "Africa today." It was so asinine on every level possible. I know knowledge of ancient African civilizations is limited in general history classes that aren't in Africa, but damn. At least know your common knowledge. So irritating.

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  14. I just found the macro I was talking about (without even searching for it).

    http://macromeme.com/dog/rome-vs-africa.html

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  15. Oh yeah, I had to look at this website three times over and Abagond's website before I realized that it was Zahi Hawass. That was the idiot who refuse to accept anything African being in the Egyptian civilization.

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  16. @ M - He sounds like a real prince.

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  17. Hey, Ankh! Where's Benin on your list of African Kingdoms? HATER!

    No, I'm just kidding. I only mention it, because I'm writing guest post on the history and indepth culture of the Benin Empire (outside of the Bronze work) on Abagond's site. As Edo culture and history is one African culture I have studied for years now.

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