When the agents and produce of Western civilisation and
technological advancement pass by, Africa bows in awe. The levels
of logic used in making such systems, ranging from simple gizmos
such as digital watches and play stations to the epitomes of
military might - supersonic combat jets and missile systems, is
overwhelming. However, when asked about the origin of all this
knowledge, most Africans ironically point to the West rather than
The West, on its part, has not only accepted the misplaced praise with sort of a master's smirk, but has also added malice to it all by demeaning the value of Africa's intellectual contribution to world's civilisation. Thus writes Hegel in his famous book - The Philosophy of History: "...it [Africa] is no historical part of the world; it has no movement or development [civilisation] to exhibit." This sentiment, though an ancient one, is still evident in many modern arenas, ranging from political misrules, the continent's negligible control over global trade, as well as its depressing levels technological innovations, to mention but a few examples.
Unfortunately, many Africans, in their indifference to the circumstances around them and happenings at the international scene, have given credence to this ill-conceived impression. Most of them go about their lives ignorant of the fact that they are indeed the origins of the intelligence that went to form the pillars of Western civilisation, that the work of their brains and bodies still build the West, and that despite many past injustices committed on them by the West, they still hold the key to their salvation from poverty, illiteracy, armed conflicts and diseases that bedevil them.
Before we start kissing-and-telling the truth that world civilisation indeed started in Africa, let us attempt a simple definition of civilisation. This can be taken to mean advanced levels of development in society that are marked by complex social and political organisation, as well as material, scientific and artistic progress. Historians contend that the first forms of civilisation conforming to this definition grew up besides the Nile, a few years before those of Mesopotamia. History has it that ancient Egyptians lived on the banks of river Nile, and were protected from possible enemies by the hostile desert climate around them.
By the first time we encounter ancient Egyptians at the beginning of the First Dynasty (about 3200 B.C), they already had high levels of civilisation. They had already constructed great tombs for their kings and princes - proof they had knowledge of architecture, and had an organised political system headed by a king. Further, the tombs contained beautifully made stone vessels, copper objects and bronze - evidence that they had knowledge of mining and the art of jewellery making. Inscriptions on the tombs as well as on items found inside signify Egyptians already had a well developed writing system. All these attest to the existence of a long history of development prior to the 3200 B.C date.
What colour were ancient Egyptians?
Most of these vestiges of ancient Egyptian civilisation were found in the far south of the country. However, both history and science shows that these southerners were related ethnically to the ancestors of the modern Galla and Somali races of East Africa.
Herodotus (485 - 425 B.C), the father of history, has been quoted in the book Egyptte Ancienne on several occasions advocating that the ancient Egyptians were black. He writes "it is certain that the natives of the country are black with the heat..." In yet another instance, when describing the Padaean people of India - who are darker than the rest of Indians, he point out: "They all have the same tint of skin which approaches that of Ethiopians. Ethiop is the Greek word for black, and Ethiopians means blacks. In those days the known parts of Africa close to the Mediterranean Sea (Egypt included) were commonly referred to as Ethiopia.
Scientifically, melanin dosage tests conducted on the mummies in Egyptian tombs have shown that they were indeed black in colour. Further tests have shown that the mummies belonged to the blood group B as most Africans, as opposed to blood group 2A common amongst whites.
Having proved that the ancient Egyptians were indeed black, one cannot help but wonder what genius had triggered such high levels of creativity and civilisation. Nonetheless, a closer look at the people's living conditions offers a plausible explanation, especially the cloudless sky of the Egyptian deserts and the flooding of the Nile. From time to time, rainfall would be insufficient to drag enough fertile mud from the Abbysian Mountains, hence low crop yield. At other times, it would fall too heavily that the Nile would flood and destroy human settlements down stream.
Gradually, the people learnt how to predict the movement of the river. They observed that for instance, the rising of the water levels coincided with certain aspects of the stars. This led to invention of the solar calendar, which was later introduced in Rome (Europe) by Julius Caesar, before coming back to Africa as an aspect of Western civilisation.
The flooding of the Nile would also erase land boundaries that the people had marked, and cause land conflicts. With time, the people learnt that if they could mark the length and width of a piece of land, they could easily triangulate the area of the remaining piece once the floods ceased. This was the beginning of trigonometry, and played an important role in the advancement of engineering, mathematics and eventually, designing of the famous Egyptian pyramids, temples and tombs. When Pythagoras took this technique back home in Greece, it was named after him - Pythagoras Theorem. As Leonard C writes in his book The Anvil of Civilisation, it is clear that most of the so called Greek knowledge had more practical application in the Egyptian environmental conditions than it did in Greece.
Surprisingly, while Egyptian civilisation dates back far beyond 3200 B.C, Greek historical records begin only after Olympiad, or around 776 B.C. This shows that if there is a culture that stole from the other, then it was the Greek from the Egyptian.
To counter this argument, some scholars say that Sir Arthur Evans, an European historian, later discovered at Knossos, in Crete, evidence of a civilisation which had a clear affinity with the "Myceneans". This has led some to believe in the existence of a "pre-historic" civilisation in Greece before the days of classical Greece (circa 600 - 300 B.C). It is alleged that this civilisation later died after 1100 B.C, giving way to a 'Dark Age', which was characterized by illiteracy. However, Professor Wace, an authority in Mycenaen history and archeology rules this out. He writes: 'We can no longer speak of pre-hellensic Greece, because from 2000 B.C onwards the Greeks were in Greece, and Mycenean art is the first great manifestation of Greek art.' If archaeological evidence is anything to go by, well, then it is clear that Greek civilisation came long after that of Egypt.
Did Greeks know of Egypt?
Then comes the question of whether the Greeks had any access to the Egyptian form of civilisation whatsoever. To this, we find an answer from the writings of Isocrates, one of ancient Greek philosophers, as quoted in Jonathan Barnes' book - Early Greek Philosophers:
"I am not the only man or the first to have observed (the piety of the Egyptians). Many, both now and in the past, have done so, including Pythagoras of Samos, who went to Egypt and studied with the Egyptians. He was the first to bring philosophy to Greece".
From this, we learn that the Greeks not only admit to having studied in Egypt, but also to taking the knowledge back home with them. Henry Olela in From Ancient Africa to Ancient Greece writes that there indeed existed an elaborate system of education in Egypt that was known as the Mystery System. This consisted of seven stages, at the end of which one sat for an exam that determined his progress to the next level. The highest level in the Mystery System was known as propheta, and at this level one was equated to a prophet. The only folly of this system, at least according to our standards, is that it prohibited authors from appending their names to their works.
This system of education existed long before the birth of Plato, Aristotle or any known Greek philosopher. Evidently, the system greatly influenced Plato's thoughts and writings, especially in his book The Republic. The kind of education that he elaborates has a philosopher king at the epitome, whose values are: fortitude, temperance, wisdom and justice. Incidentally, these are the qualities of the propheta in the Egyptian Mystery System. Plato also gives three social classes in the book: the philosopher king, the soldiers and the artisans. Incidentally, these classes were clearly identifiable in Egypt, where the kings and priests served as rulers; soldiers protected the state from internal and external disorders, while the artisans worked on farms, tombs and at the temples.
There is also enough circumstantial evidence that Socrates might have been an initiate of the mystery system. One of his favourite sayings 'man know thyself' had a clear Egyptian origin, where it was inscribed at the entrance of some temples. Back in Greece, his teachings were regarded as suspicious, foreign, anti-social and disloyal to the state. As a result, the poor guy was executed. His social life however remains anonymous - a characteristic of the Egyptian Mystery System.
George James, in his text The Stolen Legacy, argues that for various reasons, it is impossible for the Greeks to have produced the philosophies they claim to have. For once, the conditions that surrounded the Greek city states at the time when these works were produced were too hostile for such intellectual works. History shows that the Greeks had many inter-state conflicts, and their main enemies included France, Spain and Italy. George James argues that production of a philosophy requires proper reasoning, and such reasoning requires much time and peace of mind, which lacked in Greece at that time.
Judging from the reactions of the Greeks to the ideas of these great philosophers, it becomes certain that the ideas were not indigenous. Plato, for instance, advocated for a philosopher king who is learned, yet there existed no known education system in Greece. Owing to the incompatibility of their theories with the existing circumstances, Plato and Aristotle were exiled, while Socrates was executed.
Plagiarism most foul
It is well known that Aristotle became Alexander the Great's tutor when the latter was only thirteen years old. He accompanied Alexander on several military expeditions too. When Alexander finally invaded and captured Egypt in 332 B.C, he seized the Royal Egyptian library and made Aristotle custodian of all the Egyptian intellectual wealth therein. Given that the books in the library had been produced through the Mystery System, they did not bear the names of their respective authors. In this twist of fate, most of these books came to be associated with Aristotle - the chief librarian. This explains how and why Aristotle came to be an authority in almost all disciplines of knowledge, ranging from medicine, architecture and mathematics, to philosophy and politics.
With such overwhelming evidence that black Africans were indeed the founders of world civilisation, it is time we stood up and reclaimed our rightful position in the world intellectual arena. It has been proved that there is no genetic factor amongst us that predisposes us to technological backwardness, poverty, political misrule, hunger or any of the many avoidable evils that strangle our continent.
If the harsh environmental conditions that existed in Egypt triggered the modern civilisation process, then current problems on the continent are enough to stimulate genius amongst us. And I believe it has - there are many creative individuals out there who wake up each day only to be denied a chance to show case their brilliance by unfavourable government policies, lack of funds for research, and poor fellows who have sold their brains for little or no pay at all. If truth must be told, African problems differ significantly from those in the West, and the West is not the best place to run for help. Most of Africa's issues can be solved using our own intelligence and resources - but only if we really want to.
First Published in The Masterpiece Magazine, Nairobi, Kenya 2006.