The book “Negro Nation and Cultures” is the fruit of phenomenal research, carried out by Cheikh Anta Diop, to restore the history of black Africa, which has long been obscured.
At that time, scientific racism, carried by eminent figures, was rooted in Western society, and had attributed to white the Cartesian being par excellence, the father of all civilizations, and defined black as a primitive, emotional being, incapable of the slightest logic.
The ancient Egyptians were black
It is in this torrent of racist certainties that Cheikh Anta Diop, a young man 27 years of age, is going to take the dominant ideology to the task, by asserting that the ancient Egyptians, precursors of civilization and science, were black. He not only asserts it, but he also proves it.
This thesis had the effect of an earthquake, and since it was bothersome, he had to be silenced.
You can’t hide the sun with a finger, as the African proverb says. Even if the Sorbonne University rejected his thesis in 1951, Présence Africaine published the book in 1954.
Notwithstanding the evidence that is not lacking in his book, prejudiced scientists will try by all means to bring his work into disrepute.
Deemed too revolutionary, some African intellectuals found it difficult to adhere to the ideas conveyed in the book. Aimé Césaire was one of the few to support it. In “Discourse Against Colonialism”, he will describe Cheikh Anta Diop’s book as “the most audacious book a Negro has ever written”.
It was only until the 1974 Unesco colloquium that most of his theses were finally recognized “in its way of writing, its culture and its way of thinking, Egypt was African”; these were the conclusions of this summit.
Evidence of the negritude of ancient Egypt
The fight was a long one, and yet long before it, the fatherhood of Egyptian civilization had been attributed to the black race.
In the testimonies of Greek scholars such as Herodotus, Aristotle, who were eyewitnesses, the black skin and frizzy hair of the Egyptians were mentioned.
Aristotle called them “agan malane” to describe their skin, which meant excessively black.
In the 18th Century, the Count of Volney, a French historian, faced with overwhelming evidence, drew the same conclusions:
“The Copts are therefore properly the representatives of the Egyptians, and there is a singular fact that makes this acceptation even more probable. Looking at the faces of many individuals of this race, I found a peculiar character that caught my attention: all of them have a yellowish and smoky skin tone, which is neither Greek nor Arabic; all of them have puffy faces, swollen eyes, crushed noses, big lips; in a word, a real Mulatto figure.
“I was tempted to attribute it to the climate when, having visited the Sphinx, its appearance gave me the key to the riddle. On seeing that head, typically Negro in all its features, I remembered the remarkable passage where Herodotus says, “As for me, I judge the Colchians to be a colony of the Egyptians because, like them, they are black with woolly hair” In other words, the ancient Egyptians were true Negroes of the same type as all native-born Africans.”
One of the other irrefutable proofs of the Negro character of the ancient Egyptians was the color of their gods. Osiris and Thoth, to name but a few were black.
The dark representations of the pharaohs and the hairstyles they wore also support the negritude of ancient Egypt. (See MENTOUHOTEP II and NEFERTARI).
The analogy goes beyond the physical and capillary features.
Ancient Egyptian values such as totemism are still present in Black Africa.
A comparative linguistic study highlights the similarity between Egyptian and African languages such as Valaf and Serere (non-exhaustive list).
In light of these arguments, the conclusion is final: The invention of writing, of science, we owe it to blacks. The Greek culture which inspired the Roman culture draws its sources from Negro Africa. “Pythagoras spent 22 years in Egypt, from 558 to 536 BC. Plato stayed there from 399 to 387 B.C… It was therefore there, at the feet of the Egyptian priests, that they drew the knowledge that made their glory. Pharaonic Egypt which was their teacher for so long is part of the heritage of the Black World. It is itself a daughter of Ethiopia. And “in its way of writing, its culture and its way of thinking, Egypt was African”.
Giving the black man his rightful place in the history of mankind
The fact that this part of the history of mankind was brushed aside was linked to the need to justify colonization. The barbarian negro was then invented and culture was brought to him.
This propaganda found it difficult to accept that African society was structured and advanced before the arrival of the settlers. That the emancipation of women was not a problem. As African society is matriarchal, women held positions of responsibility long before this was the case in Europe.
The goal that Cheikh Anta Diop had in restoring this truth, was to give back to the forgotten continent its letters of nobility. It was not a question of awakening underlying hints of a superiority complex that could lead to forms of Nazism. […] the civilization he [the Negro] claims to have created could have been created by any other human race – as far as one can speak of a race – which would have been placed in such a favorable and unique cradle” [Cheikh Anta Diop, Negro Nations, and Culture, op. cit. 4th edition, p. 401].
Far from being a racist as his detractors wanted to describe him, Cheikh Anta Diop was a great humanist, who was recognized as such.
His work aimed to combat scientific racism and to prove that intelligence is in no way linked to skin color. He challenged the conception of the dominant race, which can be considered a significant contribution to the history of mankind.
The Legacy of Cheikh Anta Diop
Years later, how do we contribute to the propagation of the colossal legacy left by Cheikh Anta Diop?
He advocated for a united Africa, gathered together, after having forged a strong identity, which would serve as a solid foundation.
Where are we with pan-Africanism? With the adaption of our languages to the realities and sciences as he experienced with the Valaf in the book? With the decolonization of mentalities?
It must be said that these subjects remain topical.
It is our duty to contribute to the emergence of our continent, which will first and foremost be cultural.
In the field of education, we must implement textbooks adapted to our realities.
Let us adapt our languages to modern realities. It is not a question of banishing the colonial languages acquired, but of revaluing our own and adapting them to modern science.
It is with feet firmly anchored in its roots, free from alienation, detached from the yoke of the colonial, and from the alienation of the colonized, that Africa will know its true value, and that it will be able to take its place on the world chessboard.
This re-foundation, which should not be done in a belligerent manner, will generate Africans proud of their origins, who will take their destiny into their own hands.