Egypt & Africa: the Bias in African Studies

In 1937 Willis N. Huggins wrote, “Few nations possess a more romantic history than Egypt. The valley of the Nile was for many centuries the storehouse of civilization. The most impressive thing about Egypt is its imposing grandeur; overwhelming even in ruin and desolation.”[1] These few sentences made me consider; after taking this course on African History and taking a look back at what was considered at the time a ‘normal’ public school education, the realization came forward that Egypt was always studied during the course of a Social Studies class, but Africa was discussed very little if it was even mentioned at all. In fact throughout my K-12 education, it almost feels as if Egypt was rarely ever associated with Africa. Does not the fact that Egypt is located on the African continent therein make it an African society? On the idea that Egyptian civilization has been kept separate from African civilization David Wengrow writes, “The claim that Ancient Egypt arose upon ‘African foundations’ constitutes a powerful but vague rhetorical statement, which implies a historical relationship between what are, in reality, two relatively modern categories (‘Africa’ and ‘Ancient Egypt’), both subject to a variety of possible understandings.”[2] Upon further investigation in to the study of Egypt, it seems as though this separation of Egypt from Africa has its roots in colonial scholarship. Before addressing that issue though, this paper will begin by taking a look at some of the history of Egypt and its role in African society.

The roots of the Ancient Egyptian culture began with the people from the south (Proto Afro-Asiatic) who moved northward and brought with them their language (Ancient Egyptian) which is a part of the Afro-Asiatic language family. Their livelihood was based on a particular way they had of gathering their crops; these were the first people to domesticate wheat and barley, they also used plows to cultivate the land. They also brought with them a new religion. The Ancient Egyptians practiced Henotheism which meant that they believed in a clan deity, they also accepted other gods they just did not worship them. Between the 6th & 5th millennium B.C. an important zone for cultural interactions between different African communities developed in the Northern Middle Nile Basin. By the 5th century B.C. the Ancient Egyptians were drawn closer and closer to their southern neighbors, the northern Sudanians (whose language was a part of the Nilo-Saharan language group). The Sudanians had a large influence on their northern neighbors, through them Ancient Egyptians acquired: gourds, watermelons, donkeys, and cattle. During the 5th century B.C. the climate in this region began to change. The land was drying up and people were moving closer to the Nile so that they could cultivate and farm in the banks of the river.[3]

Graham Connah writes:

“Overall, the hot, dry and often barren land of the middle Nile had few resources. Nevertheless, traditionally its agriculture could support the limited population of the region. Cultivation of seasonally inundated land or of land that could be irrigated by one means or another, in recent times produced sorghum, barley, beans, tobacco, lentils, peas, watermelons, maize and some wheat. Lucerne, dates, mangoes and citrus fruits were also grown. In addition, animal husbandry was important: involving cattle, sheep, goats, donkeys, and – rarely – camels and water buffalo. Chickens, pigeons, ducks and dogs were also kept but horses and pigs were very rare.”[4]

Connah goes on to say that very few of the plants that were native to the Nile region survived in to later times. The most vital native resource was the abundance of fish, more than 40 species overall, that lived in the Nile.[5]

The Nile then became a link between communities and civilizations. Ancient Egyptians learned from Sudanians to build cattle pens to protect their herds from wild animals. In fact, the Ancient Egyptian term for ‘cattle pen’ is the Nilo-Saharan (language of the Sudanians) term for ‘thorn bush fence’. This is evidence that these cultures were so closely linked that they even absorbed some of the other’s language. Another example of this is the Ancient Egyptian term for ‘bowl’ was the same as the Nilo-Saharan term for ‘wooden bowl’ or ‘trough’; this suggests that there was definite interaction between the two, if not some degree of trade.[6]

In Ancient Egypt there was the concept of divine kingship which delegated that a king could be counted among the gods. This came into existence following the unification of Egypt and developed from Sudanic sacral chiefship which gave chiefs a claim of having sacred status (upon their death the chief’s servants were then killed so he would be attended to in the afterlife). “The god-king was not merely a deity; his personal physical health and well-being were peculiarly and intimately associated with the land, the harvest, and especially with the supply of water by the Nile flood…these ideas about kingship were probably accepted at a time before the desiccation of the Sahara, when Egypt had more numerous neighbors where deserts now exist.”[7] Henotheism soon became polytheism, and kings could now claim to be gods.

“The earliest pharaohs of the Old Kingdom were regarded as incarnations of the raven god, Horus. Without quite giving up this claim, later pharaohs were also recognized as god-descendants of Re, the sun god, or of Osiris, the god-ruler of the underworld. The accepted explanation is that the original pharaohs came to rule over a country with a great deal of religious diversity, with each of the small original kingdoms having its own gods and local priesthoods. One way to reconcile them all might have been to establish an authoritative account that would show them as members of a common pantheon, where on god was supreme but all found an honored place – and some Egyptian theologians tried this without long-term success. Another solution that worked better for the central authorities was not to worry about primacy among the gods, but to allow each group of priests to go its own was so long as all recognized that the pharaoh himself was a god-king incarnate on earth.”[8]


Between 3,500-1,000 B.C. is when there began to be an emergence of states and the formation of classes. More and more people from the eastern Sahara began moving to the Nile River Valley; the population became increasingly dense and the conflict over resources grew. The social political institutions that had been established in an earlier period lacked the customary laws which were at the time needed to deal with a larger population and the current strain over resources. New laws were needed to address the issues of the people in the Nile River Valley. The new social-political order that came into being allowed chiefs to create new rules which led to unequal access to resources i.e. those deemed important by the chief were allowed access first, the rest of the community followed in descending order; and since these sacral chiefships claimed sacred status, no one was very likely to challenge what was looked upon as the will of the gods.[9]

By 3,100 B.C. Egyptian civilization was full-blown, both north and south were united. The Kingdom of Ta-Seti was found in lower Nubia to the south of Egypt. During the period between 3,400-3,200 B.C. this kingdom dominated the Nile Valley. In the graves of its people imported objects have been found from as far away as Palestine and Lebanon. This evidence proves that the people of Ta-Seti either traded with these people themselves or acted as the middle men between the Palestinians, Lebanese, and other civilizations. Pottery dating from this time period has been found all along the Nile, showing how the Nile was a crucial component of trade in Africa at the time. As Egypt grew the population in southern Egypt became more highly concentrated than that of lower Nubia. By 3050 B.C. the second Egyptian king decided to send forces southwards with orders to destroy the kingdom of Ta-Seti and making Egypt even more powerful in the Nile Valley.[10]

From 3,500-3,100 B.C. Egypt was still pre-dynastic, but by 3,100 B.C. Egypt was divided into provinces. During the period of 3,100-2,300 B.C. the Old Kingdom contained six dynasties; the 3rd & 4th dynasties reigned from 2,900-2,500 B.C. It was during the 3rd dynasty that pyramids began to be built in Egypt; later on in the 4th dynasty the pyramids at Giza were built. Some believe that these were built with slave labor, and others believe that these were built as a form of tribute. “Tens of thousands of people must have been mobilized each year to create public works on the scale of those that remain, though they may not have worked in such terrible conditions as our mental pictures of ‘Egyptian bondage’ suggest…historians now believe that pyramids and irrigation works alike were built by mobilizing labor during the slack season, rather than by keeping thousands of slaves at work on a year-round basis.”[11] Also during this period long-distance trade was still under the control of the Pharaoh and the wealth began to be more widely distributed. [12] Toward the end of the Old Kingdom, “…Egyptian expeditions sailed down the Red Sea to southern Arabia, Ethiopia, and the horn of Africa. With the Middle Kingdom, they became more systematic and regular.”[13]

The Old Kingdom came to an end with the death of Pepi II in 2,300 B.C., and with his death also came the end of the 6th dynasty. Pepi II had come to power when he was six years old and reigned for 94 years. The 1st Intermediate Period lasted from 2280-2060 B.C. and was the first period of unity. Following this period was the Middle Kingdom which lasted from 2060-1780 B.C. During this time there was a great effort to control trade, “More intense trade by sea reached out to the Levant and across the Mediterranean, while overland contact brought systematic and regular relations with the fertile crescent.”[14] Forts began to be built, and a colonial rule set in over Lower Nubia. “Egypt’s increasing contact with the outer world shot forward decisively in the Second Intermediate Period (1640-1570 B.C.), bringing new rulers from Asia, called the Hyksos.”[15] This invasion introduced Egyptians to: horses, chariots, body armor, and bronze (metallurgy).[16] In addition they also brought new textiles, new musical instruments, new agriculture such as olive trees, and new breeds of cattle.[17]

The New Kingdom, also known as the Empire Period, lasted from 1,570-1,000 B.C. During this period the Hyksos either left Egypt or were assimilated into the Egyptian population.[18] One very important event from this period was the death of Tuthmosis I and the subsequent reign of his daughter, Queen Hatshepsut, the only woman to ever sit on the Egyptian throne. It was also during the New Kingdom that Amenhotep IV tried to convert Egypt from polytheism to monotheism along with trying to move the capital city to Thebes, but he did not succeed in either. “New Kingdom colonization of the middle Nile terminated towards the end of the second millennium B.C., probably because of growing political problems in Egypt itself but possibly also because the level of the Nile was falling. The colonial domination of Nubia by Egypt was over but its consequences for the people of Nubia were to be far-reaching and long-lasting.”[19] During the time after 1,000 B.C. Egypt’s power was no more and in time it was successfully ruled by a succession of foreign invaders including: Libyans, Nubians, Assyrians, Persians, Macedonians, Romans, and Arabs.[20]

The hot button topic seems to be what race were the Ancient Egyptians? Were they black, white, Mediterranean, or multi-racial? And most of all why does it matter? S.O.Y. Keita takes this question of great interest in the Ancient Egyptians race and breaks it into three reasons. “The first is that Egypt lies at a geographical crossroads and would have been subject to possible colonization or migration from all directions. The second is that Egypt is in Africa and there is no scientific reason to think that Egyptians would not share some biological origins with other Africans. The third reason is that previous discussions have been misguided in focusing on ‘race’ as opposed to biological affinity.”[21] It seems so simple when looking at the evidence today. Why would these Ancient Egyptians not have any sort of tie to other Africans, it just does not even seem possible to comprehend how they could reside on the continent and manage to keep their somehow separate race “pure”. This however is looking at it from a 21st century standpoint, and not having been brought up in a prejudiced and racist environment. The idea that historians could be so biased is incredibly disturbing. These are the men and women that we rely on to give us facts and knowledge of other cultures. It is a startling thought that we could be absorbing information that has been processed through a discriminatory mind; and yet it has happened in the case of African History, and no better historian to start with on this topic than C.G. Seligman, the man who is referenced the most when it comes to the discussion of the Hamitic Theory.[22]

C.G. Seligman was a professor at the University of London from 1913 until 1944. He supported the theory that Ancient Egypt influenced black Africa and that the Ancient Egyptians were Caucasians. Seligman writes:

“Apart from relatively late Semitic influence…the civilizations of Africa are the civilizations of the Hamites, its history the record of these peoples and of their interaction with the two other African stocks, the Negro and the Bushman, whether this influence was exerted by highly civilized Egyptians or by such wider pastoralists as are represented at the present day by the Beja and Somali…The incoming Hamites were pastoral ‘Europeans’ – arriving wave after wave – better armed as well as quicker witted than the dark agricultural negroes.”[23]

Evidence of Egypt’s influence can be found on the border of Ethiopia and Sudan, according to Seligman, where the Burun people practiced sun worship and mummified their dead. Seligman also points to the people of the Lacustrine Kingdom and their cultural practice of shooting arrows in different directions, also known as the ‘shooting of nations’, which was a practice also done by the Ancient Egyptians. Another practice he believes to be passed on by the Egyptians was that of divine kingship. Seligman’s ‘findings’ are the direct result of a Hamitic complex which assumes that the people of Africa were primitive and could not achieve greatness on their own. Since the Egyptians achieved so much they “must” have influenced the rest of Africa. Seligman’s findings are prejudiced to say the least. A point of interest to Seligman today would be the fact that the ruins of great Zimbabwe, which was a massive dry-stone building and enclosure built around the 12th century A.D. was always believed to be the work of Arabs, Phoenicians, or Jews, but never Africans. Just recently it was proven that it was indeed Africans who had built the great building. This goes to show that prejudice has plagued the study of African history for far too long.

C.G. Brown wrote a book claiming that the mummies were proof that the Ancient Egyptians were not black. He argued that the Egyptians knew that people may think they were a different race, so they left the mummies as proof that they were white. Brown also claimed that the Ancient Egyptians were descendants of Mizraim the brother of Canaan, who were both the sons of Ham. Brown insisted that Noah placed the curse solely on Canaan and his descendants, not on Mizraim’s. This view was established towards the end of the 19th century.

Professor Edith R. Sanders examined the history of the Hamitic hypothesis and suggested an earlier Hamitic theory, that prior to the 16th century Hamites were Caucasian, but by 1500 Hamites were then seen as being black. Sanders opens her article The Hamitic Hypothesis: Its Origin and Functions in Time Perspective with this statement, “The Hamitic hypothesis is well-known to students of Africa. It states that everything of value ever found in Africa was brought there by the Hamites, allegedly a branch of the Caucasian race”.[24] Sanders argued that this came from the Book of Genesis when Noah curses Ham’s son Canaan; but nowhere in the Bible does it mention racial differences in human kind. Sanders claims that 6th century Jewish oral traditions suggest Ham’s descendents were cursed by being black, and by being degenerates. This theory persisted until 1700 since existing interests wanted the belief that blacks were inferior to continue without any moral concern. As long as the majority of people believed this then the slave trade could continue on unopposed; but during the 18th century this theory ran in to a problem sparked by the Enlightenment thinkers who rejected the idea of blacks as Hamites.

The key issues of this 18th century debate were the unity of humankind, otherwise known as monogenism, versus the separate creation of human beings, otherwise known as polygenism. The clergy were in support of the theory that the Hamites were black while the Enlightenment thinkers were in stark contrast. Polygenism soon led to the belief that blacks were sub-human.

Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt provided scholars at the time with the motive to turn the Hamite in to a Caucasian. With his army, Napoleon brought scientists and archaeologists who then went on to discover the Rosetta Stone, thereby drawing the conclusion that Egypt was the cradle of civilization. This began to make all prior beliefs impossible; if Ham was cursed then how could the Hamites achieve the civilization that was present in Egypt? Sanders states that the people who were leaving Egypt were multi-racial and it was probable that the people who founded the Ancient Egyptian civilization were black. Theologians have had to revisit the Bible and its interpretations.

David Wengrow looks at the Hamitic hypothesis in his work and insists, “Its main contention was that dynastic civilization in Egypt had emerged out of a larger, ‘Hamitic’ cultural entity in North East Africa, remnants of which could still be observed among the living, cattle-keeping peoples of the Upper Nile region in southern Sudan. Although often characterized as part of an ‘African substratum’, the Hamites were in fact considered on what now appear entirely spurious grounds, to be linguistically and racially affiliated to ‘Mediterranean’ rather than ‘Negroid’ peoples, and scholars…even considered possible a distant relationship with ‘Indo-European- pastoralists of the inner Asiatic steppes.”[25] Wengrow sees no solid foundation in Seligman’s work and attests that “in more or less attenuated forms, the ‘Hamitic Hypothesis’ remains a marginal feature of modern scholarship on the prehistoric and ancient Nile Valley…”[26]

Cheik Anta Diop was an African from Senegal. While studying in Paris in 1955 he was a product of the French Assimilation Policy which meant he was forced to reject his African culture. Diop then developed a movement known as Negritude: a movement meant to encourage all people of African descent to make a return journey back to their roots and culture. Diop referred to the writings of the classical writers, in particular Herodotus. Herodotus wrote of the people in East Africa and Ethiopia, Diop took this to mean the people of Ancient Egypt. During the 5th century B.C. when Herodotus visited Egypt the Egyptian civilization was thousands of years old and the people he encountered, he noted, were of a different race. By the time Alexander the Great and his Macedonians came during the 3rd or 4th century intermarriage had become more prominent in Egyptian civilization. Since Herodotus found them to be black when he had visited a century earlier Diop drew the conclusion that the civilization was founded by black people to begin with.

In 1966 Wyatt MacGaffey reflected on the work of Cheik Anta Diop. “On his part he is confident that the ancient Egyptians were Negroes; even if, as the centuries passed, they grew steadily lighter in color, they remained none the less Negroes.”[27] He goes on to quote Diop, “La seule conclusion scientifique conforme aux faites est que la première humanité, c’est-à-dire les touts premiers Homo sapiens, étaient des ‘négroïdes’.”[28] Roughly translated, ‘the only conclusion that science has confirmed is that the first humans to speak were black’. MacGaffey argues that although Diop’s purpose is to exalt African culture, and his findings are the opposite of European historians, the methods that he uses of drawing conclusions are the same as his European counterparts.[29]

Isidore Okpewho wrote “Cheikh Anta Diop: The Search for a Philosophy of African Culture” in 1981. Her opinions of Diop are much along the same lines as MacGaffey in the respect that she believes Diop has so much he is trying to prove in favor of the black culture and is so passionate on the topic, “It is amazing how far back in scholarly tradition Diop is moved to go in search of supporting evidence…”[30], that it calls the credibility of some of his findings into question. Okpewho brings to light the fact that any historian who wants to make the history of black culture as comprehensive as the history of white culture has an enormous task before them, and that most African historian (at the time she was writing) had not even gone further back than the medieval kingdoms. In regards to the question of Egypt’s link to black culture Okpewho writes:

“There is no doubt that, for those Africans who are inclined to embrace Egypt as the fountainhead of Black culture, the ethnic and political realities of the Egypt of today do constitute a bit on an impediment if not embarrassment. Diop himself is at pains to justify his enthusiasm, and so pre-empts the objections of his readers by posing the question himself: if it was indeed Black people who created Egyptian civilization, how does one account for their regression? But he quickly dismisses the question as irrelevant…Having taken care of that problem Diop then goes on to trace the roots of dispersal of the Negro race from the Nile country throughout the continent of Africa.”[31]

Okpewho understands that Diop is making a valiant effort to bring dignity back to the black cultures which deserve it, but ultimately Egypt proves to be a stumbling block along the way, in the same manner which it is for the historians who are attempting to prove that the Egyptians were a race all on their own.

Kevin MacDonald has done more recent work on this matter. MacDonald is an archaeologist and also an instructor at the Institute of Archaeology in London. Recently MacDonald has commented on the works of Cheikh Anta Diop, he writes, “Whatever position one chooses to take on the question of a ‘white’, ‘black’, or ‘multiracial’ Egypt, one cannot deny the considerable impact of Diop on the literature of the African diaspora. Some have even seen fit to use Diop’s ideas as a launch-pad for a hyper-diffusionistic Black Egypt…It is thus surprising that so little has been written on a subject that Diop often dwelt upon – the connections of Egypt with a land far less distant than Peru – the impact of Egypt on ‘Inner’ Africa.”[32] Diop had argued that blacks were indigenous to Egypt, but due to environmental factors and foreign invasions, black people began to leave Ancient Egypt and moved into inner Africa. Diop writes that based on oral traditions, in 12,000 B.C. the black people in Egypt were said to be quite tall; surrounding their land other black people were said to be “little people”, Diop believed these people to be Pygmies. From these oral traditions Diop believed that the people of West Africa originated from Egypt. MacDonald took this information from Diop and decided to turn to historical linguistics as a way to study this question. He looked at five language families: Afro-Asiatic, Nilo-Saharan, Niger-Congo, Khoisan, and one lost language family. MacDonald’s research states that some of what Diop says is true; however the ancestors of the people of West Africa were not Afro-Asiatic people. “With all their flaws the works of Cheikh Anta Diop still raise some questions which are worthy of consideration concerning the peopling of Africa. These questions, which require utilization of data from historical linguistics and ethnography, have been conveniently ignored by past synthesizers of West African and Saharan prehistory.”[33] According to MacDonald no compelling material or linguistic evidence of cultural contact between West Africa and ancient Egypt can be found. To MacDonald the Nile serves as a barrier not a corridor. For MacDonald, “…the works of Diop and other Afrocentrists have amply demonstrated the contemporary ideological importance of issues surrounding ‘origins’ and ‘identities’. It would be foolish for academics to abdicate responsibility for these issues on the African continent.”[34]

It is sad to say but there is a definite portion of African studies that is just riddled with racism and arrogant ideas. It is bad enough that we have limited records available that date before the colonial period; but even when the colonial governments did begin to keep records they were biased to say the least. David Edwards writes:

“It is equally apparent that the history of African political development has had its own dynamics and that there are many trajectories followed by early African states which do not need to look at Egypt or beyond for their inspiration. The Eurocentric prescriptions of what constitutes ‘civilization’, produced by an earlier generation, are simply not sustainable and indeed we need to be far more self-critical in our deployment of the term and the oppositions between the ‘civilized’ and the ‘uncivilized’ which it constructs. That the ancient cultures and civilizations of sub-Saharan Africa are effectively ignored in prioritizing claims on an ‘African’ Egypt could well be seen to be doing African history a great disservice.

If political and ideological agendas are not hard to identify in such debates, the extent to which archaeological perspectives have made a contribution is not always apparent. Relatively few comparative studies exist which attempt to address questions surrounding the relationship of Egyptian cultural forms with those of other parts of this continent. One obvious focus for such studies is the Middle Nile, in modern Sudan, Egypt’s southern neighbor in sub-Saharan Africa. It is only through the Lower Nubian corridor that Egypt has historically had access to Sudanic Africa, access which distinguished it from other parts of Africa north of the Sahara until the first millennium A.D. Historically this is the region through which Egypt’s relations with Africa have been mediated, and again, in recent years, it is especially through ‘Nubian’ evidence that many debates concerning Ancient Egypt in Africa have also been argued.”[35]

Though perhaps Philip Curtain, Steven Feierman, Leonard Thompson, and Jan Vansina have said it the best in African History: From Earliest Times to Independence,

“ ‘Hamitic Myth’ is the term writers have used for a racist set of historical ideas, which attribute the great achievements of Africa to light-skinned outsiders who came down from the north. In the words of C.G. Seligman, a major proponent of the idea, ‘the incoming Hamites were pastoral Caucasians – arriving wave after wave – better armed as well as quicker-witted than the dark agricultural Negroes.’ This is maddening; it breaks a basic rule of method by mixing race (Caucasian), language (‘Hamitic’), and culture (weapons, economy), and further makes the assumption that lighter skinned is quicker witted. Joseph Greenberg was among the first to point out the one-hundred per cent negative correlation between ‘Hamitic’ languages and pastoralism in West Africa. He succeeded in having the word ‘Hamitic’ dropped from respectable use by discrediting the linguistic analysis on which the grouping was based.”[36]

One would think that the fact that African History was becoming an observed discipline at the beginning of the 20th century would be considered a huge step forward, unfortunately during this time historians such as Seligman were twisting facts the best they could just to push a racist agenda that black people were inferior to white people. The worst part of this was that they were using ‘evidence’ they found so that at the time of their research people were actual giving their findings credence.

A glimmer of hope came in 1964 when H.W. Fairman published his article “Ancient Egypt and Africa” in African Affairs. Fairman begins his article by stating that the Ancient Egyptians did see themselves as a race apart from all other races. He goes on to say that that same feeling was still very much alive in 1964, and that there were many in the field that still saw the Egyptians as a race all their own that could not have had an association with the rest of Africa in terms of genetics. As Fairman goes on for about a page or so describing Egypt geographically and culturally he arrives at the crux of his point when he attests clearly that:

“The moral of this is, I think, quite simple and obvious. Ancient Egypt was a part of Africa. The earliest communities we can trace in Egypt were African communities, of African origin, and it was early African social customs and religious beliefs that were the root and foundation of the Egyptian way of life. Much was added to the early beliefs and customs; in the course of the millennia they changed and received accretions, but the inherent conservatism of the race and the invincible folk memory meant that, in spite of time and all external influences, fundamentally and essentially Egyptian culture was African, and those African foundations endured.”[37]

Fairman hits the nail on the head; Egypt is in Africa, it has African roots, and there is no possible way to claim that it is not an African culture.

In 2007 Joseph C. Miller, Professor of History at the University of Virginia, wrote an article titled “Life Begins at Fifty: African Studies Enters Its Age of Awareness” in which he discusses his views on how African studies has evolved since its beginnings over a half-century ago. “Our elders of the founding generation of students of Africa faced the challenge of creating a new field of disciplined academic study all but ab initio. Fifty years later, their heirs and successors have created the rich ‘rainbow’ of disciplinary hues in which we now portray Africans and their continent.”[38] Miller reflects that when it came to Africans, “…Europeans saw only difference, not people. From afar they abstracted what they could observe as generalized, stable “customs,” barely contaminated by the varying behaviors or understandings of individual human beings, but thereby reduced to intelligibility for malcomprehending outsiders.”[39] He goes on to say how hard it has been for Africanists to move beyond the practices of the earlier African historians. However, Miller does not believe that we should overlook or discredit those “early selectivities”, but rather learn from them; “…we can understand them as necessarily incremental, arising from and hence rooted in precisely the ideas they were straining to overcome.”[40]

On the topic of racism in African Studies, Miller writes, “But in politically charged contexts like the racist one that motivated contemporary African studies since its inception, this openness to novelty is often discomforting. U.S. Africanists have been embarked on a rescue operation, at times pulling back to strategies of damage control.”[41] In other words, today’s scholars have had to spend time not just on their own studies, but also on correcting the biased/racist views of their predecessors. Miller confesses that when he was first starting out in the field, when it came to speaking with African intellectuals he was taught by his advisors, “…to approach them, respectfully of course, as ‘informants’ rather than sitting respectfully before them as the ‘collaborators’ or ‘authorities’ they in fact were. It should therefore not surprise us that African intellectuals during the years between the World Wars began to express themselves, for themselves, and as themselves – with some acceptance in Western intellectual circles – first through literary and artistic strategies.”[42] This is how the bias had been spread throughout the field of African Studies, from teacher to student. It is for this reason that Miller declares, “We, as Africanists in America, thus have a special obligation to keep on teaching, as we have always done, but what we teach will be less what we derive from our modern academic disciplines than it will be the distinctive values and strategies we learn from Africa.”[43] Miller goes on to say that following the academic discourses of the 1960’s and 1970’s, “African studies in and from Africa proceeded then through a generation of ‘reconciliation’; that is, it came to terms with and mastered the intellectual games of the modern West. That accomplishment in turn provided the self-confidence that allows the current generation of intellectuals to resuscitate and articulate in Western modes what was suspended in modern Africa, but not lost.”[44]

There is nothing any historian can do to amend for the biased interpretations of African History that have been portrayed over the past century. All we can do is continue on our path of restoration and unbiased interpretation in regard to African Studies. The extent to which the colonial governments influenced the way African History was studied is vast, and the damage it has caused immeasurable. These governments had to make sure that their power would not be challenged or condemned, so they set out to use the history of Africa against its own people. By twisting and contorting facts and evidence colonialists painted the picture of a continent that was full of people who were born to be conquered and led by supreme races. While it does not even make much sense as to why some of these Eurocentric minds decided to study Africa in the first place since they already had decided what the ending should be; we must learn anything we can from their research and most of all their mistakes. This paper was a challenge to write since this is not familiar subject matter, but at the same time it was incredibly eye-opening and enriching. The history of the United States has been so well documented that we often take it for granted that we can simply go to the library to research any questions we may have about our nation’s history, but for the people of Africa there is so much more to be researched and explored; and after nearly a century of African studies we have finally reached a time in our history when we can feel more confident that what scholars are finding is based on evidence and not bias.


[1] Willis N. Huggins, An Introduction to African Civilizations (New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969), 28.

[2] David Wengrow, Encounters with Ancient Egypt: Ancient Egypt in Africa, ed. David O’Connor and Andrew Reid (London, UCL Press, 2003), 134.

[3] Kenneth Okeny. 2010. Egypt & Nubia. Lecture, Salem State University, Salem, MA. February 1 & February 8.

[4] Graham E. Connah, African Civilizations: Precolonial Cities and States in Tropical Africa: An Archaeological Perspective, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 29.

[5] Graham E. Connah, African Civilizations: Precolonial Cities and States in Tropical Africa: An Archaeological Perspective, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 30.

[6] Kenneth Okeny. 2010. Egypt & Nubia. Lecture, Salem State University, Salem, MA. February 1 & February 8.

[7] Philip Curtain et al, African History: From Early Times to Independence, 2nd Ed. (London and New York: Longman, 1995) 40.

[8] Philip Curtain et al, African History: From Early Times to Independence, 2nd Ed. (London and New York: Longman, 1995) 40.

[9] Kenneth Okeny. 2010. Egypt & Nubia. Lecture, Salem State University, Salem, MA. February 1 & February 8.

[10] Kenneth Okeny. 2010. Egypt & Nubia. Lecture, Salem State University, Salem, MA. February 1 & February 8.

[11] Philip Curtain et al, African History: From Early Times to Independence, 2nd Ed. (London and New York: Longman, 1995) 41.

[12] Kenneth Okeny. 2010. Egypt & Nubia. Lecture, Salem State University, Salem, MA. February 1 & February 8.

[13] Philip Curtain et al, African History: From Early Times to Independence, 2nd Ed. (London and New York: Longman, 1995) 41.

[14] Philip Curtain et al, African History: From Early Times to Independence, 2nd Ed. (London and New York: Longman, 1995) 41.

[15] Philip Curtain et al, African History: From Early Times to Independence, 2nd Ed. (London and New York: Longman, 1995) 42.

[16] Kenneth Okeny. 2010. Egypt & Nubia. Lecture, Salem State University, Salem, MA. February 1 & February 8.

[17] Philip Curtain et al, African History: From Early Times to Independence, 2nd Ed. (London and New York: Longman, 1995) 42.

[18] Philip Curtain et al, African History: From Early Times to Independence, 2nd Ed. (London and New York: Longman, 1995) 42.

[19] Graham E. Connah, African Civilizations: Precolonial Cities and States in Tropical Africa: An Archaeological Perspective, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 36.

[20] Kenneth Okeny. 2010. Egypt & Nubia. Lecture, Salem State University, Salem, MA. February 1 & February 8.

[21] S.O.Y. Keita, “Studies and Comments on Ancient Egyptian Biological Relationships,” History in Africa, Vol. 20 (1993), 129.

[22] Kenneth Okeny. 2010. Egypt & Nubia. Lecture, Salem State University, Salem, MA. February 1 & February 8.

[23] Edith R. Sanders, “The Hamitic Hypothesis: Its Origin and Function in Time Perspective,” Journal of African History, Vol. 10 (1969), 1.

[24] Edith R. Sanders, “The Hamitic Hypothesis: Its Origin and Function in Time Perspective,” Journal of African History, Vol. 10 (1969), 1.

[25] David Wengrow, Encounters with Ancient Egypt: Ancient Egypt in Africa, ed. David O’Connor and Andrew Reid (London, UCL Press, 2003), 123.

[26] David Wengrow, Encounters with Ancient Egypt: Ancient Egypt in Africa, ed. David O’Connor and Andrew Reid (London, UCL Press, 2003), 124.

[27] Wyatt MacGaffey, “Concepts of Race in the Historiography of Northeast Africa,” The Journal of African History, Vol. 7, No. 1 (1966), 5.

[28] Wyatt MacGaffey, “Concepts of Race in the Historiography of Northeast Africa,” The Journal of African History, Vol. 7, No. 1 (1966), 5.

[29] Wyatt MacGaffey, “Concepts of Race in the Historiography of Northeast Africa,” The Journal of African History, Vol. 7, No. 1 (1966), 4.

[30] Isidore Okpewho, “Cheikh Anta Diop: The Search for a Philosophy of African Culture,” Cahiers d’Études Africaines, Vol. 21, No. 84 (1981), 589.

[31] Isidore Okpewho, “Cheikh Anta Diop: The Search for a Philosophy of African Culture,” Cahiers d’Études Africaines, Vol. 21, No. 84 (1981), 589.

[32] Kevin C. MacDonald, Encounters with Ancient Egypt: Ancient Egypt in Africa, ed. David O’Connor and Andrew Reid (London, UCL Press, 2003), 94.

[33] Kevin C. MacDonald, Encounters with Ancient Egypt: Ancient Egypt in Africa, ed. David O’Connor and Andrew Reid (London, UCL Press, 2003), 104.

[34] Kevin C. MacDonald, Encounters with Ancient Egypt: Ancient Egypt in Africa, ed. David O’Connor and Andrew Reid (London, UCL Press, 2003), 104-105.

[35] David N. Edwards, Encounters with Ancient Egypt: Ancient Egypt in Africa, ed. David O’Connor and Andrew Reid (London, UCL Press, 2003), 138.

[36] Philip Curtain et al, African History: From Early Times to Independence, 2nd Ed. (London and New York: Longman, 1995) 105.

[37] H.W. Fairman, “Ancient Egypt and Africa,” African Affairs, Vol. 64 (1965) 71.

[38] Joseph Miller, “Life Begins at Fifty: African Studies Enters Its Age of Awareness,” African Studies Review, Vol. 50, No. 2 (2007), 2.

[39] Joseph Miller, “Life Begins at Fifty: African Studies Enters Its Age of Awareness,” African Studies Review, Vol. 50, No. 2 (2007), 5.

[40] Joseph Miller, “Life Begins at Fifty: African Studies Enters Its Age of Awareness,” African Studies Review, Vol. 50, No. 2 (2007), 7.

[41] Joseph Miller, “Life Begins at Fifty: African Studies Enters Its Age of Awareness,” African Studies Review, Vol. 50, No. 2 (2007), 7.

[42] Joseph Miller, “Life Begins at Fifty: African Studies Enters Its Age of Awareness,” African Studies Review, Vol. 50, No. 2 (2007), 12.

[43] Joseph Miller, “Life Begins at Fifty: African Studies Enters Its Age of Awareness,” African Studies Review, Vol. 50, No. 2 (2007), 21.

[44] Joseph Miller, “Life Begins at Fifty: African Studies Enters Its Age of Awareness,” African Studies Review, Vol. 50, No. 2 (2007), 26.

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Emmanuel Kariuki 24 months ago from Nairobi, Kenya

Excellent research. I have always felt that Africa's history has been distorted and your article shows this to be true in very meticulous detail. I am sure it will be an eye opener to every individual that reads it to the last word. This is the kind of writing that puts Hub pages at the very top!

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