Egypt-centrism and Diffusionism in west African historiography
Although Egyptian and African parallels had been noted for over two hundred years (De Brosses 176o; Bowdich 1821) it was only the present century that detected the hand of ancient Egypt behind every African ‘divine Kingship’, behind every African language with syllables superficially resembling ancient Egyptian ones, and behind every burial custom remotely paralleled in ancient Egypt.
This obsession came from those diffusionists who were so impressed by what they saw of ancient Egyptian civilization that they felt it must be the fount and origin of all civilizations; the ancient Egyptians were envisaged as explorers, missionaries, traders, colonists and rulers, bringing the enlightenment of ancient Egypt to a dark world (Smith 1915, 1933; Perry 1923). It is no coincidence that this particular theory of diffusionism emerged during the ascendancy of the French and British Empires in Africa, when western Europeans saw themselves as undertaking a ‘mission civilisatrice’ or what Kipling called ‘the white man’s burden’, of spreading enlightenment to what he called the ‘lesser breeds without the Law’ (Kipling 1940, 323, 329) rather as they pictured the ancient Egyptians having done; certain it is that this particular diffusionist theory greatly appealed to colonial administrators and others, who joined in the hunt for things Egyptian in the territories in which they worked (Delafosse 1900; Johnston 1913; Talbot 1926; Meek 1931; Seligman 1934; Palmer 1936; Wainwright 1949; Jeffreys 1949, 1950; Meyerowitz 1960).
In defence of the proponents of the theory of diffusion from Egypt one must remember that, when they were writing, archaeological knowledge about the other ancient civilizations of the Old World and about surrounding areas was scantier; chronology was much less securely based and it was not appreciated that the civilization of Sumer was older than that of Egypt.
It is somewhat ironic that the advocacy of Egyptian diffusionism on the part of colonial administrators was accompanied and followed by its enthusiastic espousal by African writers (Johnson 1921; Lucas 1948, 1970; Diop 1955, 1960, 1962; Biobaku 1955; Egharevba 1968, ɪ). These diffusionist arguments, however, have been pretty convincingly refuted (Westcott n.d.; Hodgkin n.d.; Parrinder 1956; Mauny 1960; Garnot 1961; Goody 1971, 19; Okediji 1972; Armstrong 1974). There are indeed a few stray pieces of evidence which suggest that sub-Saharan Africa was not completely cut off from Egypt and it behoves archaeologists to be aware of them and to evaluate them. But the emotional attraction of this idea has sometimes outweighed critical judgement and it dies hard (Diop 1973; Obenga 1973); ancient Egypt, which is part of Africa, had a great and glorious civilization, and it gives added lustre to African pride to trace cultural or even physical ancestry to that source.
What does not seem to have been noticed is that the desire to gain some reflected glory from the splendour that was ancient Egypt is almost a tacit admission that ancient Nigerian culture is lacking. But this is not the case; Nigeria has a great deal of ancient culture which arouses the interest and admiration of artists and scholars in all parts of the world. Nigeria possesses her own glories and needs no borrowed light from other cultures. Just as Britain no longer derives her cultural respectability and self-assurance from postulated connections with the Classical and Biblical worlds, so there is no need for Nigeria to try to do the same from supposed origins in ancient Egypt.
— Thurstan Shaw (1978). Nigeria: Its Archaeology and Early History. Introduction. Thames and Hudson. Quoted from Ụ́kpụ́rụ́
Slavery in Africa was part of a united caste system unlike any other in the world. It does not justify the Jewish-led Trans-Atlantic slave trade. On the other hand, denying it ignores a valuable model for democracy and peace.
Africans enslaved other Africans.
“White” nationalists and supremacists use the fact to try to excuse the genocidal horrors of west Asian enslavement of Africans.
Some “Black” nationalists and Afro-centrists deny it.
Both are wrong, for oversimplifying the issue. For example, both ignore the fact that for most of human history, most slaves have been “white”. In fact the very word slave comes from Slav, the name of a “white” west Asian (“European”) people. There were even “white” slaves in pre-colonial Sub-Saharan (“Black”) Africa. The first few minutes of this BBC Radio special on Mansa Musa, Emperor of Mali, quote Arab historians who saw them in his court: Mansa Musa BBC Documentary
The worldwide practice named “slavery” in English existed in many forms. In west Africa, slaves were part of a caste system, where all castes had rights and privileges over the others. Far from the horrors of the chattel slavery of the Americas, they formed a contented class that enjoyed power, wealth and freedom of movement. Slavery was basically a way to incorporate conquered foes into the victor’s society. It was a matter of mercy, forgiveness, tolerance and progress in the world’s most genetically, phenotypically and linguistically diverse continent.
This excerpt from Cheikh Anta Diop’s Pre-Colonial Black Africa shows that you can’t look at everything from the eyes of the west Asian. Too many African diasporans, even ‘conscious’ ones, fall into that trap, failing to see that you can’t produce arguments against the west Asian paradigm from within the west Asian point-of-view.
Analysis of the Concept of Caste
The originality of the [west African caste] system resides in the fact that the dynamic elements of society, whose discontent might have engendered revolution, are really satisfied with their social condition and do not seek to change it: a man of so-called “inferior caste” would categorically refuse to enter a so-called “superior” one. In Africa, it is not rare for members of the lower caste to refuse to enter in to conjugal relations with those of the higher caste, even though the reverse would seem more normal.
The present territory of Senegal will be used here as a model for study: nevertheless, the conclusions which are drawn from it hold true for the whole of detribalized Sudanese Africa. In Senegal, society is divided into slaves and freemen, the latter being gor, including both gér and ñéño.
The ñéño comprise all artisans: shoemakers, blacksmiths, goldsmiths, etc. These are hereditary professions.
The djam, or slaves, include the djam-bur, who are slaves of the king’ the djam neg nday, slaves of one’s mother’ and the djam neg bây, slaves of one’s father.
African Caste System: Know Justice, Know Peace
The gér formed the superior caste. But-and herein lay the real originality of the system-unlike the attitude of the nobles toward the bourgeoisie, the lords toward the serfs, or the Brahmans toward the other Indian castes the gér could not materially exploit the lower castes without losing face in the eyes of others, as well as their own. On the contrary, they were obliged to assist lower caste members in every way possible: even if less wealthy, they had to “give” to a man of lower caste if so requested. In exchange the latter had to allow them social precedence.
The specific feature of this system therefore consisted in the fact that the manual laborer, instead of being deprived of the fruits of his labor, as was the artisan or the serf of the Middle Ages, could, on the contrary, add to it wealth given him by the “lord”.
Consequently, if a revolution were to occur, it would be initiated from above and not from below. But that is not all, as we shall see: members of all castes including slaves were closely associated to power, as de facto ministers; which resulted in constitutional monarchies governed by councils of ministers, made up of authentic representatives of all the people. We can understand from this why there were no revolutions in Africa against the regime, but only against those who administered it poorly, i.e., unworthy princes.
For every caste, advantages and disadvantages, deprivations of rights and compensations balanced out… it can be understood why Africa’s societies remained relatively stable.
Conditions of the Slaves
Djam-bur: Slaves of the King- Slaves in Name Only
In this aristocratic regime, the nobles formed the cavalry of the army (the chivalry). The infantry was composed of slaves, former prisoners of war taken from outside the national territory. The slaves of the king formed the greater part of his forces and in consequence their condition was greatly improved. They were now slaves in name only… they shared in the booty after an expedition; under protection of the king, during periods of unrest, they could even indulge in discreet pillage within the national territory, against the bâ-dolo [“those without power”, the poor peasants]-but never against the artisans who [could]… go directly to the prince… The slaves were commanded by one of their own, the infantry general, who was a pseudo-prince in that he might rule over a fief inhabited by freemen. Such was the case, in the monarchy of Cayor (Senegal), of the djarâf Bunt Keur, the representative of the slaves within the government and commander-in-chief of the army. His power and authority were so great that the day of his betrayal brought an end to the kingdom of Cayor.
Djam neg Nday: Slaves of the Mother- Beloved Family Member
The slave of the mother’s household was the captive of our mother, as opposed to the slave of our father. He might have been bought on the open market, come from an inheritance, or be a gift. Once established in the family he became almost an integral part of it; he was the loyal domestic, respected, feared, and consulted by the children. Due to the matriarchal and polygamous regime, we feel him closer to us, because he belongs to our mother, than the slave of the father, who is at an equal distance, socially speaking, from all the children of the same father and different mothers. As can easily be seen, the slave of the father would become the scapegoat for the society. Therefore, the slave of the mother could not be a revolutionary.
Djam neg Bây: Slaves of the Father- No Man’s Slave
The slaves of the father’s household, by contrast, considering his anonymous position (our father is everyone’s, so to speak, while our mother is truly our own), will be of no interest to anyone and have no special protection in society. He may be disposed of without compensation. However, his condition is not comparable to that of the plebeian of ancient Rome, the thete of Athens, or the sudra of India. The condition of the sudra was based on a religious significance. Contact with them was considered impure; society had been structured without taking their existence into account; they could not even live in the cities nor participate in religious ceremonies, nor at the outset have a religion of their own… However, the alienation of the slaves of the father’s household in Africa was great enough, on the moral and material plane, that their minds could be truly revolutionary. But for reasons connected to the preindustrial nature of Africa, such as the dispersion of the population into villages, for example, they could not effect a revolution. We must also add that they were really intruders in a hostile society which watched them day and night, and would never have allowed them time to plot a rebellion with their peers. It made it even less possible for them to acquire economic position and moral and intellectual education, in short, any social strength comparable to that of the bourgeoisie of the West when it overthrew the aristocracy.
For blacks to deny the existence of slavery in Africa is reactionary Afro-centrism that in reality just parrots the arguments of “white” nationalists: whatever they say, we say the opposite. This isn’t an ideology- it’s “defensive racism”: Adopting the enemy’s values in order to compete against the enemy ie. conceding to play the enemy’s game.
To try to conflate African caste slavery with “New World” chattel slavery is a ploy by “white” nationalists to justify their claim that “everybody’s evil but us, and that’s why they want to destroy us”, a word-for-word repeat of the Zionist argument, the same “Jews”/Zionists they claim to oppose.
Quality, not Ethnicity- Unity through Nobility
No one is going to get anywhere with either of the three groups. Common sense and real-life experience make it clear that there are good people and bad people of all ethnic backgrounds.
“Even today, a significant number of mainstream Egyptologists, anthropologists, historians and Hollywood moviemakers continue to deny African people’s role in humankind’s first and greatest civilization in ancient Egypt.” –Andre Moore
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