Friday, February 20, 2009

Important~U.S. discussion on racism.

Spirit of Sankofa expresses........
Even after making history with the election of President Obama.This country yet shys away from the discusion of race. Even now in todays news of the racist cartoon that the New York Post allowed to be printed. I fimly believe the proof is in the pudding. Racism is yet around and until this Government has the gutts to discuss racism here at our homeland There is Nothing We can do to bring about change in relations anywhere else on a globle perspective.. I was most in awe about Holders remark about this nation......One can not truly get to the heart of this country...without evaluating it racist soul.
Attorney General seems in touch with Realty. In his speech about the significance of Black History Month. I was very pleased to read his exert on these two imperitive realities at this time. They are linked in connection as to why things are the same. I t shows we either choose to ignore or afraid of what we may have to admit. Cowardness. Wise words from a.......... Wise Thinker........ Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Attorney General Eric Holder at the Department of Justice African American History Month Program

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Every year, in February, we attempt to recognize and to appreciate black history. It is a worthwhile endeavor for the contributions of African Americans to this great nation are numerous and significant. Even as we fight a war against terrorism, deal with the reality of electing an African American as our President for the first time and deal with the other significant issues of the day, the need to confront our racial past, and our racial present, and to understand the history of African people in this country, endures. One cannot truly understand America without understanding the historical experience of black people in this nation. Simply put, to get to the heart of this country one must examine its racial soul.

Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards. Though race related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race. It is an issue we have never been at ease with and given our nation’s history this is in some ways understandable. And yet, if we are to make progress in this area we must feel comfortable enough with one another, and tolerant enough of each other, to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us. But we must do more- and we in this room bear a special responsibility. Through its work and through its example this Department of Justice, as long as I am here, must - and will - lead the nation to the "new birth of freedom" so long ago promised by our greatest President. This is our duty and our solemn obligation.

We commemorated five years ago, the 50th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. And though the world in which we now live is fundamentally different than that which existed then, this nation has still not come to grips with its racial past nor has it been willing to contemplate, in a truly meaningful way, the diverse future it is fated to have. To our detriment, this is typical of the way in which this nation deals with issues of race. And so I would suggest that we use February of every year to not only commemorate black history but also to foster a period of dialogue among the races. This is admittedly an artificial device to generate discussion that should come more naturally, but our history is such that we must find ways to force ourselves to confront that which we have become expert at avoiding.

As a nation we have done a pretty good job in melding the races in the workplace. We work with one another, lunch together and, when the event is at the workplace during work hours or shortly thereafter, we socialize with one another fairly well, irrespective of race. And yet even this interaction operates within certain limitations. We know, by "American instinct" and by learned behavior, that certain subjects are off limits and that to explore them risks, at best embarrassment, and, at worst, the questioning of one’s character. And outside the workplace the situation is even more bleak in that there is almost no significant interaction between us. On Saturdays and Sundays America in the year 2009 does not, in some ways, differ significantly from the country that existed some fifty years ago. This is truly sad. Given all that we as a nation went through during the civil rights struggle it is hard for me to accept that the result of those efforts was to create an America that is more prosperous, more positively race conscious and yet is voluntarily socially segregated.

As a nation we should use Black History month as a means to deal with this continuing problem. By creating what will admittedly be, at first, artificial opportunities to engage one another we can hasten the day when the dream of individual, character based, acceptance can actually be realized. To respect one another we must have a basic understanding of one another. And so we should use events such as this to not only learn more about the facts of black history but also to learn more about each other. This will be, at first, a process that is both awkward and painful but the rewards are potentially great. The alternative is to allow to continue the polite, restrained mixing that now passes as meaningful interaction but that accomplishes little. Imagine if you will situations where people- regardless of their skin color- could confront racial issues freely and without fear. The potential of this country, that is becoming increasingly diverse, would be greatly enhanced. I fear however, that we are taking steps that, rather than advancing us as a nation are actually dividing us even further. We still speak too much of "them" and not "us". There can, for instance, be very legitimate debate about the question of affirmative action. This debate can, and should, be nuanced, principled and spirited. But the conversation that we now engage in as a nation on this and other racial subjects is too often simplistic and left to those on the extremes who are not hesitant to use these issues to advance nothing more than their own, narrow self interest. Our history has demonstrated that the vast majority of Americans are uncomfortable with, and would like to not have to deal with, racial matters and that is why those, black or white, elected or self-appointed, who promise relief in easy, quick solutions, no matter how divisive, are embraced. We are then free to retreat to our race protected cocoons where much is comfortable and where progress is not really made. If we allow this attitude to persist in the face of the most significant demographic changes that this nation has ever confronted- and remember, there will be no majority race in America in about fifty years- the coming diversity that could be such a powerful, positive force will, instead, become a reason for stagnation and polarization. We cannot allow this to happen and one way to prevent such an unwelcome outcome is to engage one another more routinely- and to do so now.

As I indicated before, the artificial device that is Black History month is a perfect vehicle for the beginnings of such a dialogue. And so I urge all of you to use the opportunity of this month to talk with your friends and co-workers on the other side of the divide about racial matters. In this way we can hasten the day when we truly become one America.

It is also clear that if we are to better understand one another the study of black history is essential because the history of black America and the history of this nation are inextricably tied to each other. It is for this reason that the study of black history is important to everyone- black or white. For example, the history of the United States in the nineteenth century revolves around a resolution of the question of how America was going to deal with its black inhabitants. The great debates of that era and the war that was ultimately fought are all centered around the issue of, initially, slavery and then the reconstruction of the vanquished region. A dominant domestic issue throughout the twentieth century was, again, America's treatment of its black citizens. The civil rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's changed America in truly fundamental ways. Americans of all colors were forced to examine basic beliefs and long held views. Even so, most people, who are not conversant with history, still do not really comprehend the way in which that movement transformed America. In racial terms the country that existed before the civil rights struggle is almost unrecognizable to us today. Separate public facilities, separate entrances, poll taxes, legal discrimination, forced labor, in essence an American apartheid, all were part of an America that the movement destroyed. To attend her state’s taxpayer supported college in 1963 my late sister in law had to be escorted to class by United States Marshals and past the state’s governor, George Wallace. That frightening reality seems almost unthinkable to us now. The civil rights movement made America, if not perfect, better.

In addition, the other major social movements of the latter half of the twentieth century- feminism, the nation's treatment of other minority groups, even the anti-war effort- were all tied in some way to the spirit that was set free by the quest for African American equality. Those other movements may have occurred in the absence of the civil rights struggle but the fight for black equality came first and helped to shape the way in which other groups of people came to think of themselves and to raise their desire for equal treatment. Further, many of the tactics that were used by these other groups were developed in the civil rights movement.

And today the link between the black experience and this country is still evident. While the problems that continue to afflict the black community may be more severe, they are an indication of where the rest of the nation may be if corrective measures are not taken. Our inner cities are still too conversant with crime but the level of fear generated by that crime, now found in once quiet, and now electronically padlocked suburbs is alarming and further demonstrates that our past, present and future are linked. It is not safe for this nation to assume that the unaddressed social problems in the poorest parts of our country can be isolated and will not ultimately affect the larger society.

Black history is extremely important because it is American history. Given this, it is in some ways sad that there is a need for a black history month. Though we are all enlarged by our study and knowledge of the roles played by blacks in American history, and though there is a crying need for all of us to know and acknowledge the contributions of black America, a black history month is a testament to the problem that has afflicted blacks throughout our stay in this country. Black history is given a separate, and clearly not equal, treatment by our society in general and by our educational institutions in particular. As a former American history major I am struck by the fact that such a major part of our national story has been divorced from the whole. In law, culture, science, athletics, industry and other fields, knowledge of the roles played by blacks is critical to an understanding of the American experiment. For too long we have been too willing to segregate the study of black history. There is clearly a need at present for a device that focuses the attention of the country on the study of the history of its black citizens. But we must endeavor to integrate black history into our culture and into our curriculums in ways in which it has never occurred before so that the study of black history, and a recognition of the contributions of black Americans, become commonplace. Until that time, Black History Month must remain an important, vital concept. But we have to recognize that until black history is included in the standard curriculum in our schools and becomes a regular part of all our lives, it will be viewed as a novelty, relatively unimportant and not as weighty as so called "real" American history.

I, like many in my generation, have been fortunate in my life and have had a great number of wonderful opportunities. Some may consider me to be a part of black history. But we do a great disservice to the concept of black history recognition if we fail to understand that any success that I have had, cannot be viewed in isolation. I stood, and stand, on the shoulders of many other black Americans. Admittedly, the identities of some of these people, through the passage of time, have become lost to us- the men, and women, who labored long in fields, who were later legally and systemically discriminated against, who were lynched by the hundreds in the century just past and those others who have been too long denied the fruits of our great American culture. The names of too many of these people, these heroes and heroines, are lost to us. But the names of others of these people should strike a resonant chord in the historical ear of all in our nation: Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Walter White, Langston Hughes, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, Charles Drew, Paul Robeson, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Vivian Malone, Rosa Parks, Marion Anderson, Emmit Till. These are just some of the people who should be generally recognized and are just some of the people to whom all of us, black and white, owe such a debt of gratitude. It is on their broad shoulders that I stand as I hope that others will some day stand on my more narrow ones.

Black history is a subject worthy of study by all our nation's people. Blacks have played a unique, productive role in the development of America. Perhaps the greatest strength of the United States is the diversity of its people and to truly understand this country one must have knowledge of its constituent parts. But an unstudied, not discussed and ultimately misunderstood diversity can become a divisive force. An appreciation of the unique black past, acquired through the study of black history, will help lead to understanding and true compassion in the present, where it is still so sorely needed, and to a future where all of our people are truly valued.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The role of Women in Nubia

Date: September 4, 1993

Subject: Women in Nubia

Tara L. Kneller

Neither Goddesses Nor Doormats: THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN NUBIA

Why Such an Undertaking?

The Kingdom is Possible Because of the Queen... The King is the Sign...While the Queen is the Symbol.... - Warren Blakely

Nubia is an area of scholarship that was largely overlooked in favor of its splendid neighbor, Egypt. Past finds in the area were attributed to Egypt; current excavation of the area is impossible because of Egypt's construction of the High Aswan Dam . However, renewed interest in Africa- brought on largely by Afrocentric scholars such as Cheikn Anta Diop - has resulted in a proliferation of scholarly work on ancient Nubia .

Much of the scholarly work up to this point is dealing with the massive archeological digs that occurred just prior to the building of the High Aswan Dam. As a result of this work, the amount of available information on Nubia has increased immeasurably. Evidence has emerged that shows a people who, after decades of colonization by the Egyptians, rose above and established themselves as a force to be dealt with in Africa. Nubians developed a culture and people distinctly different from the Egyptians.

After preliminary investigation into the area of ancient Nubia, a striking contrast emerged. The Nubians has an unusually high number of ruling queens, especially during the golden age of the Meroitic Kingdom (1). Although ruling queens, in themselves, may not be unusual, the portrayal of Nubian queen is exceptional. A panel on display at the exhibit "Nubia: Egypt's Rival in Africa" showed the queen smiting her enemies. This type of representation has no equivalent in either Egyptian or Western Art (2). This unusual find has led to research in the role of the women in Nubian society, both past and present. The result has been a surprising contrast between the docile Nubian woman of today and the warrior queen of ancient times.

A History of Nubia*

In modern day Africa, Nubia would be a five-hundred mile long stretch of land along the Nile river that is one-third in modern day Egypt and two- thirds in the modern day Sudan (3). The kingdom of Ancient Nubia began a bit before the first cataract and extended past the sixth cataract to Khartoum (4). As with the Egyptians, the fertile Nile valley gave rise to the civilization of Nubia.

The first Nubian age spanned from 3100 to 1000 B.C. This Bronze Age contained three cultures:

A-Group, C-Group, and the Kerma culture (5). The latter of the three, Kerma, existed in the Upper Nile. These people developed a strong trading culture that traded to both Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean (6). During this period, the Egyptians called this area " Kush ." Kush was the general term for Upper Nubia and was considered to be a province of Nubia (7). The A-Group and C-Group cultures are those that existed in the Lower Nile. For most of the early part of their history, these cultures were dominated by Egypt.

The period of 1550 B.C. to 1100 B.C. marked the colonization of Nubia by Egypt. By the Eighteenth Dynasty, Egypt had control over Lower and Upper Nubia, while Southern Nubia remained independent (8). The Egyptians began to call "Lower Nubia the land of Wawat and Upper

*Note: For the purposes of this paper, Nubia refers to the entire region between the first and fifth cataracts. Therefore, any reference to Kush, considered to be a Nubian province, would be considered part of Nubia in general. Nubia the land of Kush" (9). This colonization resulted in the disappearance of a particular Nubian C-Group; these peoples began to adopt Egyptian culture in favor of their own (10). This colonization was especially bitter as it occurred during the reign of Tutankhamen who was the son of a Nubian woman (11).

Soon after the Twentieth Dynasty in Egypt, the Egyptians lost control over Nubia and the land was plunged into a dark age. Around 900 B.C., evidence of a Nubian monarchy begins to emerge. Since this monarchy begins in Upper Nubia, it was often known as the Kingdom of Kush (12). These early rulers were buried in tumulus - a distinctly Nubian tradition. This ceremony has led many to believe that the Kushite Kings were of Nubian ancestry (13). By 770 B.C., these kings were extending their rule to the North. In Nubian history, the period is commonly called the Napatan Period (named for the royal capital of the time). Soon, Nubians "paid back the insult by subjugating the 'all powerful' nation" of Egypt to Nubian control. (14). The Kings now wore the crown of the double cobra - signifying the unity of both Egypt and Nubia (15).

After 295 B.C., a shift in royal capitals from Napatan to Meroe is made for unknown reasons. Some scholars hypothesize that the Kingdom of Kush wished to gain control over Egyptian trade. The problem of determining the reason for the move is made all the more difficult by the beginning of the use of a distinctly Nubian language. This language is based upon the heiroglyphs of the Egyptians, but since no version of it is spoken today and there has not been an effective translation of the language, much of what is written in this Meroitic language remains a mystery. During this time (around 23 B.C.) Egypt fell into Roman control. The Romans attempted to make Nubia pay tribute to them. This led to the first confrontation between Nubia and the Romans. The Meroitic Period proved to be one of tremendous resistance to the forces acting on Africa at the time. Much of this resistance came at the hands of the number of ruling queens during the period. However, by the middle of the fourth century A.D., the Meroitic Period collapsed (16). Two reasons are generally attributed to this: First, that Nomads of the desert made travel overland difficult, and Second, that the rise of the Axumite Kingdom of Abyssinia cause a collapse of the Kushite economy. In any case, the Meroitic empire was no longer in existence by A.D. 320 (17).

Soon after, the X-Group Period began in Nubia. This period was brusquely ended in 540 A.D. with the onslaught of Christianity. Missionary activities continued in the area until approximately A.D. 1550. After this time, the Nubian empire was completely dismantled. The Nubian people were left scattered throughout the fertile Nile valley; two-thirds within Egypt, one-third within the Sudan. With the construction of the High Dam at Aswan in the early 1960's, these peoples were displaced and moved elsewhere in Egypt (18). Although a systematic archeological investigation of the area was conducted, some of the questions that swirl around the kingdom of Nubia are forever lost as Nubia again becomes subject to Egyptian control.

Goddesses, Queens, and Commoners

Upon close examination of the history and culture of Nubia, it becomes apparent that women played an important role. Unlike the rest of the world at the time, women in Nubia exercised significant control. In the Nubian valley, worship of the queen of all goddesses, Isis , was paramount. From the capital of Meroe, warrior queens fought for the interests of the Nubian/Kushite empire. Throughout history, women were portrayed in Nubian art as the bearers of the offspring of the gods. Today, Nubian women have a much different experience. Nevertheless, Nubian women fulfill a demanding and unique series of roles.

Throughout Egypt and Nubia, the cult of Isis had a tremendous and devoted following. Isis was not only the Egyptian goddess of magical powers; she was the representation of the queen mother. In the most famous fable of the period, Isis roams the world in search of the corpse of her husband Osiris . She returns Osiris to his rightful resting place, only to have Osiris' evil brother Seth cut him to pieces and scatter him throughout the land. Isis then takes her son Horus and sets out to find every piece of the corpse so she may tenderly bury it in the hopes that she can resurrect him again. She is successful, and Osiris becomes the god of the underworld.

Although Isis, Osiris, and Horus are then established as a trinity, Isis immediately became the most popular of the three (19). This can be partially attributed to her role as the devoted, untiring, nurturer of the land and culture of Egypt and Nubia.

The Cult of Isis was the strongest religion in Nubia (20). In contrast, the Egyptians worshipped Ra (Re) in larger numbers. Ra was the god of the sun, and distinctly male at that. The worship of Isis began with the Meroitic period and extended into X-Group. Many Nubian rulers of the time were pictured with Isis on their crowns. This was considered a homage to her role as the "Queen of All Gods, Goddesses and Women" (21). Since the ruler was considered to be born of the gods, it was only natural that the mother should be paid such a tribute. Another example of this type of tribute is the amulet of Isis suckling a Queen. With the exception of the Nubian/Kushite Empire, Isis was never shown with a queen (22). This tribute was always given to a male ruler, never a female. However, since both Isis and the Queens played such important roles in Nubia, the exception was made.

Another example of the reverence of Isis was the "co-sponsorship" by Egypt and Nubia of her temple at Philae (23). Here her cult continued, populated largely by Nubians, until the sixth century A.D. (24).

Perhaps as a result of the strong influence of women figures in religion, Nubia and its Kushite rulers gave way to a number of strong queens during its history. Ten sovereign ruling queens are recognized from the period. Additionally, six other queens who ruled with their husbands were considered significant to the history of Nubia (25). Many of these rulers were immortalized in statuary; it was unheard of for non-ruling queens or princesses to be immortalized in art (26). These queens were often portrayed as being very rounded; this portrayal was all part of the queen-mother model (27). These queens were called both gore, meaning ruler, and kandake, meaning queen mother (28). This last term has been corrupted to the English form Candace. Subsequently, there has been much confusion; some Western scholars muddle the actions of queens together under the general name.

The emergence of the queen as a viable player in the politics of the day has its roots in the earliest Kushite tradition. Kushite rulers married and then passed more royal power into the hands of the queen (29). The perfect example of the expanded powers of the queen is Kushite Queen Amanirenas. In 24 B.C., she was threatened by the Roman Empire. Egypt was under the subjugation of Rome and the frontier of the Kushite/Nubian empire was seventy miles south of Syene (Assuan) (30). The Nubians were constantly raiding their Egyptian neighbors. On one of these journeys, the Kandace Amanirenas went along. When confronted, she led her armies into battle and defeated three Roman cohorts. In addition, the Kandace defaced a statue of Emperor Augustus Ceasar; bringing the head back to Nubia as a prize. This head was buried in the doorway of an important building as a final act of disrespect (31).

During battle, the Kandace lost an eye; but this only made her more courageous (32). "One Eyed Candace," as then Roman governor Gaius Petronius referred to her, was chased by the Romans far into her own territory to Pselkis (Dakka) (33). After a three day truce, the Romans struck back. The Kandace and her armies made another stand at Primis (Kasr/Brim), but there were soundly defeated. Although Rome destroyed the religious capital of Napata, there was still the danger of retaliation by the Kandace's armies. At this point, the leaders negotiated a treaty that she was to break in a few years (34). A historian of the period remarked "This Queen had courage above her sex" (35). On a broader level, this is a telling example of a European civilization unprepared for the "fierce, unyielding resistance of a queen whose determined struggle symbolized the national pride of a people who, until then, had commanded others" (36).

Furthermore, these queens of the Nubian/Kushite Empire were given the special distinction of assuming a priestly role in the divine succession of kings (37). In other societies of the period, the divine right of the king passed from god to ruler, there was no room for a maternal figure. However, Nubian queens are often portrayed at the event of the divine birth. A fine example of this is the representation of Queen Amanishakheto appearing before Amun. The Queen is pictured with a goddess (possibly Hathor - a goddess of fertility) and is wearing a panther skin. This signifies her priestly role in the birth of the successor to the throne (38). This piece is one of a series. In the first, the Queen is elected by god - this establishes her position as rightful ruler. Soon after, the divine child is conceived out of a meeting between the god and the Queen. Finally, the child, and heir to the empire, is delivered to the Queen by the god (39). This complex and important role does not seem to have an equivalent in other cultures (40).

Additionally, by the beginning of the twenty-fifth dynasty - the Egyptian dynasty governed by Nubian rulers - the Queen was given the additional role of being a priestess of Nut (Nuit) (41). This would place the Queen in the role of trusted servant to the goddess known as the eternal mother (42). Nut is also the mother of Isis, Osiris, Nephthys, and Set (43). The close association of the Queen with this figure is significant. Nut is, in the Nubian and Egyptian religions, the mother from which all the current gods and goddesses came. She plays the role of female initiator; the Queen is her trusted confidant on earth.

Also at this time, the Queen is beginning to be represented in royal art with the cowrie shell (44). This shell was often used for currency and trade. In art, the shell was thought to symbolize the vulva and, by extension, verbal communication (45). The use of the cowrie shell, either real or representative, was reserved only for women and their ornaments (46). A possible explanation for this could be that women were allowed to speak freely (and often). In any case, it shows that the artisans of the period connected the art of verbal communication with the ruling Queens and other influential women of the period.

Conclusion: Nubian Women of Today

Much has changed since the warrior queens of the Meroitic period struck fear into the cold hearts of the Romans. The Nubian civilization has become less defined and separate. The Nubians of today have been dispersed throughout Egypt and the Sudan because of the flooding of their homeland. Outside influences have made the impact of their past seem a bit more distant. It is difficult to determine what to make of the Nubian woman of today.

Nubians have a largely agricultural society. This fact, coupled with the largely disproportionate number of women to men, has led to the continuation of the matrilineal society. Relations are strongest on the side of the mother; some families go so far as to have the son take on the name of his mother (47).

Since the sex ratio is so great, women tend to dominate the culture of present day Nubian life due to sheer numbers alone (48). The importance of women in culture is just as great; but the roles have changed. Today's Nubian woman has no great Queen to look to; nor do they have a religion based on the worship of the all-knowing mother figure. But, what Nubian women do have is a chance that there ancestors never had. With the last period of resettlement, some Nubian women have decided to move to the cities of Egypt and the Sudan (49). Of course, their standard of living may not increase, but this shows an independence unheard of among the common women of the ancient period.

Expecting all Nubian women to live up to the strong Queens of their past is a bit much. Nevertheless, there must be an impact on the lives of the descendants of these Queens. Perhaps the small steps toward independence by the Nubian woman of today shows a courage beyond their sex. In any case, the unique roles of the women of ancient Nubia revel a unique and startling strength in both the women and the culture.

See also:




1. Wenig, S. Africa In Antiquity: The Essays. New York: The Brooklyn Museum, 1978. Volume I, Page 98.

2. Olson, Stacie and Josef Wegner. Educational Guide: Ancient Nubia. Philadelphia: University Museum Education Department, 1992. Page 14.

3. Simon, V. Spottswood. "African King in Confederate Capital." Negro History Bulletin. Volume 46, Number 1: January, February, March 1983, 9-10. Page 9.

4. Olson, Page 1.

5. Olson, Page 6.

6. Olson, Page 6.

7. Budge, Kt., Sir E.A. Wallis. A History of Ethiopia, Nubia & Abyssinia. Oosterhout N.B., The Netherlands: Anthropological Publications, 1970. Page 16.

8. Olson, Page 7.

9. Olson, Page 7.

10. Adams, William Y. "Doubts About the 'Lost Pharaohs'." Journal of Near Eastern Studies. Volume 4: July 1985, 185-192. Page 190.

11. Simon, Page 9.

12. Olson, Page 7.

13. Olson, Page 8.

14. Simon, Page 9.

15. Simon, Page 9.

16. Olson, Page 13.

17. Olson, Page 13.

18. Begley, Sharon, Farai Chideya, and Valerie Minor. "Of Pygmies and Princes." Newsweek. Volume 120, Number 16: 19 October 1992. Page 60.

19. Fairservis, Jr., Walter A. The Ancient Kingdoms of the Nile. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1962. Page 171.

20. Fairservis, Page 171.

21. Fairservis, Page 172.

22. Wenig, Volume II, Page 181.

23. Adams, William Y. Nubia. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1977. Page 337.

24. Fairservis, Page 174.

25. Wenig, Volume II, Page 16.

26. Wenig, Volume II, Page 83.

27. Wenig, Volume II, Page 70.

28. Wenig, Volume I, Page 98.

29. Keating, Rex. Nubian Twilight. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1963. Page 70.

30. Keating, Page 71.

31.Keating, Page 70.

32. Diop, Cheikh Anta. The African Origin of Civilization. Chicago, Illinois: Lawrence Hill Books, 1974. Page 143.

33. Keating, Page 71.

34. Simon, Page 10.

35. Strabo, qtd in Diop, Page 143.

36. Diop, Page 143.

37. Wenig, Volume II, Page 249.

38. Wenig, Volume II, Page 249.

39. Wenig, Volume II, Page 251.

40. Wenig, Volume II, Page 251.

41. Wenig, Volume II, Page 55.

42. Schueler, Gerald & Betty. Coming Into the Light. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1989. Page 22.

43. Schueler, Page 22.

44. Wenig, Volume II, Page 237.

45. Wenig, Volume II, Page 237.

46. Wenig, Volume II, Page 237.

47. Fernea, Robert A. and Georg Gerster. Nubians in Egypt. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1973. Page 121.

48. Kennedy, John G. Nubian Ceremonial Life. New York: The University of California Press, 1978. Page 4 .

49. Kennedy, Page 4.

The Role of Women in Nubia

Ancient Africa

Additional Reading:

Nubian Queens in the Nile Valley and Afro-Asiatic Cultural History; by Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban; Professor Anthropology, Rhode Island College, Providence, RI

(Ninth International Conference for Nubian Studies, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston USA;

August 20-26, 1998)

The Queenmother, Matriarchy, and the Question of Female Political Authority in Precolonial West African Monarchy; by Tarikhu Farrar; Journal of Black Studies, Volume 27, Issue 5 (March, 1997); pp. 579-597. (Sage Publications)

Modern Nubian Villiage Snaphots

Ethiopian Queens (Egypt & Nubia)

Ahmos Nefertari Nubian Queen of Egypt

Queen of Sheba

Queen Candake of Meroe

The Treasures of Nubian Queen Amanishaketo

Ancient Africa

Queen Tiye

African Continent Royal Kingdoms

African Mythology~Legends Beliefs

Myths, legends, beliefs and tradional stories from Africa

Jok - concept of the devine
Destiny (Yoruba)
The queen of Ethiopia
to be continued ...
Africa - for us still the unknown continent possesses a several thousands of years old culture. Expressed particularly in myths, legends, fables, in songs and proverbs.
On this page you will find traditional African stories woven around a pantheon of gods and mythical figures but also legends, fables and more general subjects that played a part in African mythology and African life.


Many African peoples regard the earth as a female deity, a mother-goddess who rules all people and is the mother of all creatures. The earth lives and gives birth to ever new generations of beings. She will make the grass grow when heaven gives her rain and if there is no rain, she withdraws into her own depths, waiting for better times to come. Many regions of Africa have to endure a dry season when nothing grows and death reigns. As soon as the new rains, life begins miraculously. Grass sprouts, flowers open and the frogs croak, creeping out of the earth who hid them. Thus the earth conceals life, protects it against desiccation and revives it as soon as better times arrive. Without the gifts of the earth no one lives. Many African peoples believe that the ancestors live in the earth, in houses very similar to the ones they had here, on the surface of the earth. They also own cattle and goats there. Indeed there is a Zulu myth in which people go in search of the milk-lake under the earth, from where the milk is absorbed by the grassroots so that the cows and goats have milk from the earth. Where else could the milk come from? Our own flesh is earth; even the name Adam means 'earth'. All creatures are earth. Fire too, lives in the earth, which sometimes spits it out when in anger. Fire comes out of wood, so it, too, must come from the earth. Wind too, it is believed, comes out of caves in the earth. Thus all four elements come out of the earth. Yet, the earth is seldom worshipped; the libations which are poured down during numerous ceremonies are more addressed to the ancestors than to the earth as a whole. Nevertheless, the earth has a very powerful spirit which rules over our life and death. Sometimes, when she is perturbed, she moves, forests and mountains and all. Unlike man, the animals understand their mother and obey her, although sometimes she will have to punish a disobedient creature.

Jok - concept of the devine

Jok (Nilotic: Kenya, Uganda, Sudan). Jok is one of the most truly African concepts of the divine. It is a word, found with variations in all the Nilotic languages, as Jwok, Juok, Joagh, Joghi or Joogi. lt is not always translated with the same English word, because the dictionary writers had different philosophical ideas themselves, which demonstrates the power of the spirit that we call Jok. Jok is God and the spirits, the gods, the holy ghost, the beings from the other world. It can be vague and precise, good or frightening, beneficent or dangerous, one or a multitude, legion.
If a missionary had chosen the word Jok to denote God in his Bible translation, he would defend the notion that the Nilotes knew the One God. If he had taken another word to mean God, then he might use Jok to mean the 'spirits', or 'gods', or 'devils', thereby embarrassing those missionaries of another denomination who had used Jok to mean 'God'. This might be the origin of the confusion over Jok. This word incorporates all the contradictory ideas of the spiritual beings which in the minds of Europeans must be kept carefully separated. Jok is the unified spirit of God and the gods, personal and impersonal, local and omnipresent.


The Kikuyus are a large tribe. The speak a beautiful Bantu language and have lived on the slopes of Mount Kenya and surrounding districts for a vew long time. The first Kikuyu was called Kikuyu and lived in a village called Kikuyu, which is still there. The word kuyu means 'a fig', and kikuyu is a fig-tree, a fertility symbol in Africa as well as in Asia. Kikuyu had nine daughters, who became the ancestral mothers of the nine major clans of the Kikuyu nation. The Kikuyu word for God is Ngai , which means the Apportioner. Thus during creation, God apportioned his gifts to all the nations of the earth. To the Kikuyus he gave the knowledge of, and the tools for, agriculture, at which the Kikuyus have always excelled. God controls the rain and the thunder, with which he punishes evildoers when necessary. Every person has a spirit, ngoma , which after death becomes a ghost. The ngoma of a murdered man will pursue his murderer until the latter has to come out of hiding and give himself up to the police, which is better than being haunted by a vengeful, persistent spirit. Burial rituals for the elders are executed meticulously, because their spirits are feared; the spirits of lesser members of society are less dangerous. Certain trees are inhabited by spirits which may have to be propitiated with food offerings.
Like Jupiter, Ngai punishes those who do not keep their oath sworn in his name, by striking them with lightning. It seems that the people also believed that a man's character was decided by God, so that his life, too, was predestined. The Kikuyus have a strong feeling of propriety; they will abstain from whatever they feel is untoward. During the 1920s there was a prophet, Thiga wa Wairumbi , who received direct messages from God for his people.


Numerous myths are told in Africa about its biggest animal, the elephant, whose very size makes it unassailable in nature, except by man, who has weapons and magic to kill it. In the African fables the elephant is always the wise chief who impartially settles disputes among the forest creatures. A hunter in Chad found an elephant skin near Lake Chad and hid it. Soon he saw a lovely big girl crying, because she had lost her good 'clothes'. The hunter promised her new clothes and married her. They had many big children, for the son of an elephant cannot be a dwarf. One bad day when the grainstore was empty, his wife found the elephant skin at the bottom, where the hunter had hidden it. She put it on and went back to the bush to live as an elephant again. Her sons became the ancestors of the clan whose totem was the elephant. They do not have to fear elephants.
A myth of the Kamba in Kenya tells us how elephants originated. A very poor man heard of lvonya-Ngia, 'He that feeds the Poor'. He decided to go and find Ivonya-Ngia but it was a long journey. When he finally arrived, he saw uncounted cattle and sheep, and there, amidst green pastures, was the mansion of Ivonya-Ngia, who received the poor man kindly, perceived his need and ordered his men to give him a hundred sheep and a hundred cows. 'No', said the poor man, 'I want no charity, I want the secret of how to become rich.' Ivonya-Ngia reflected for a while, then took a flask of ointment and gave it to the poor man, saying: 'Rub this on your wife's pointed teeth in her upper jaw, wait until they have grown, then sell them.' The poor man carried out the strange instructions, promising his wife that they would become very rich. After some weeks, the canine teeth began to grow and when they had grown into tusks as long as his arm the man persuaded his wife to let him pull them out. He took them to the market and sold them for a flock of goats. After a few weeks the wife's canine teeth had grown again, becoming even longer than the previous pair, but she would not let her husband touch them. Not only her teeth, but her whole body became bigger and heavier, her skin thick and grey. At last she burst out of the door and walked into the forest, where she lived from then on. She gave birth to her son there, who was also an elephant. From time to time her husband visited her in the forest, but she would not be persuaded to come back, although she did have more healthy children, all elephants. It was the origin of elephants and it explains why elephants are as intelligent as people.
In Southern Africa there is told the tale of the girl who grew up so tall and fat that no man wanted her as a wife because she was accused of witchcraft. She was exiled from her village and wandered into the wilderness on her own. There she met an elephant who began speaking to her politely in good Zulu. She agreed to stay with him and he helped her to find wild cucumbers and other fruits of the forest. She gave birth to four human sons, all very tall and strong, who became the ancestors of the Indhlovu clan of paramount chiefs.
In the African fables, the elephant is usually described as too kind and noble, so that he feels pity even for a wicked character and is badly deceived. The Wachaga in Tanzania relate that the elephant was once a human being but was cheated out of all his limbs except his right arm, which now serves as his trunk. He paid for nobility!
The Ashanti of Ghana relate that an elephant is a human chief from the past. When they find a dead elephant in the forest, they give him a proper chief's burial.


In July 1905, rebellion broke out in the area south of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), against the newly instituted recruitment for compulsory work on the German cotton and sisal plantations . The senior German officer in command, Major Johannes, set out from Dar es Salaam and on 5 August captured Mohoro, where he arrested the two men who were locally regarded as the instigators of the rebellion. They were Zauberer, sorcerers, of the Ikemba tribe and one of them who was known as Bokero, had been selling to his fellow Africans a maji (this word can mean water, sap, juice, any body liquid or vegetable extract) which, he claimed, had been given him by the Snake God to whom he referred as Koleo. (The word koleo literally means 'a pair of tongs', suggesting that this serpent was a python, well known for squeezing its victims to death; the worship of the python is widespread in Africa). Bokero, whose real name was Kinjikitire Ngwale, came from Ngarambi Ruhingo in the Rufiji Valley. He was well known for his magic powers, particularly for his ability to raise the spirits of the dead so that a man could see his own ancestors. Bokero and his colleague were hanged by the Germans. Bokero's last words were that it did not matter, for his dawa had already spread to other parts of the country and with it the spirit of independence. This dawa, the famous maji, was composed of water, matama (sorghum) and perhaps other millet as well as roots and various secret ingredients. It could be sprinkled over a man, or carried on his chest on a string round his neck, in a bottle made from bamboo, or it could be drunk as medicine. In whatever way it was taken, the man who had taken it was supposedly immune to German bullets: they would become muddy, majimaji ( Matschi Matschi ) , before hitting his body, and be harmless. Some women also took it, notably the Jumbess Mkomanira. The rebellion affected almost a quarter of the country and lasted for two years, until the summer of 1907, when the Jumbess Mkomanira was captured and hanged. Over a hundred thousand people died in the war, most of them from starvation. A Swahili poet, Abdul Karim Bin Jamaliddini, wrote an epic on the Majimaji rebellion in Lindi, in which we see the rebellion as a justified rising against the oppressors. It was published in Berlin in 1933, with a translation.

Destiny (Yoruba)

The Yoruba (Nigeria) believe that the success or failure of a man in live depends on the choices he made in heaven before he was born. If a person suddenly becomes rich, they will say that he chose the right future for himself, therefore poor people must be patient because even if they have chosen the right life, it may not have arrived yet. We all need patience. The word ayanmo means 'choice', and kadara means 'divine share for a man'; ipin means 'predestined lot'.
The Yoruba believe that there is a god, Ori, who supervises people's choices in heaven. Literally, ori means 'head' or 'mind', because that is what one chooses before birth. If someone chooses a wise head, i.e. intelligence, wisdom, he will walk easily through life, but if someone chooses a fool's head, he will never succeed anywhere. Ori could be considered as a personal god, a sort of guardian angel who will accompany each of us for life, once chosen. Even the gods have their Ori which directs their personal lives. Both men and gods must consult their sacred divination palm-nuts daily in order to learn what their Ori wishes. In this way, Ori is both an individual and a collective concept, a personal spirit directing each individual's life, and also a god in heaven, who is feared even by Orunmila.
In heaven, there is a curious character called Ajala, a very fallible man whose daily work is fashioning faces (ori) from clay. Sometimes he forgets to bake them properly, so they cannot withstand the long journey to earth prior to the beginning of life; especially in the rainy season the clay might be washed away and there would be a total loss of face!


All traditional African peoples agree that the soul of an individual lives on after death. Some people distinguish more than one spiritual essence living within one person, the life-soul or biospirit which disappears at the moment of definitive death, and the thought-soul which keeps his individual identity even after it is separated from the body. The life-soul can, according to some peoples in Africa and Asia, be separated during a person's life, in times of danger, and be kept hidden in a safe place, so that its owner can be harmed, mortally wounded even, but not killed, as long as his life-soul is safe. When the danger is past, the life-soul can be restored to the body and the person is hale and hearty again. The thought-soul lives on after death, but not for ever, it may gradually die and be forgotten. Souls of little children who died young, those of weak minds and insignificant persons will fade away after some years lingering.
If, however, an individual had a strong personality, a rich and famous man, a mother of many children, a chief, someone who was loved or admired, that soul will live on for many generations. Evil souls, too, may have a long afterlife: witches, sorcerers, the souls with a grudge, who have a score to settle, will wait for their revenge and haunt the living for years.
The oldest concept of the place where the dead continue their existence is the forest. The impenetrable depth of the great forests of Africa is the heartland of the spirits and of all magical beings. Where there are steep rocks, the dead reside in deep, dark caves, where their souls flutter about disguised as bats. Below the surface of rivers and lakes is the habitat of many souls. Many others linger on near the graveyards where they were buried. The good souls of the loved ones who have died, the wise parents' souls still accompany their living children and grandchildren.
The Yoruba (Nigeria) believe that each person has at least three spiritual beings. Firstly there is the spirit, emi, literally 'breath', which resides in the lungs and heart and is fed by the wind through the nostrils, just as the fire is fed through the twin openings in the blacksmith's bellows. This emi is the vital force which makes a man live, that is, breathe, rise up, walk, be aware, be active, work, speak, see, hear and make love. There is also the shadow or shade, ojiji, which follows its owner like a dog. When he dies, it awaits his return in heaven. The third is the eleda 'spirit' or ori 'head', also translated as 'guardian soul'; from time to time it has to be 'fed' by sacrifices. At death these spiritual aspects of a person leave the body and wait for him or her in heaven. An individual is expected to return to his clan as a newborn baby. Babatunde, 'Father returns' is a name which is given to a child when it resembles his father's father; Yetunde 'Mother returns' for a girl. Physical resemblances determine the identity of the baby. Before death, the emi-spirit may visit relatives, clan-members who will thus learn in a dream that their kinsman or -woman is going to die soon. Even in daytime, the cold presence of a dying relative may be felt from far away, as if he were close by. The ghosts of those who died in mid-life may go and live in distant towns and assume a quasi-physical existence there. A man who died early in life might even marry, his wife would not even know that her husband was dead already, a mere ghost. When the final hour arrives, the man dies a second time. After death the guardian soul arrives in heaven and confesses to the Supreme God Olorun what it has done on earth. The good souls will then be sent to the Good Heaven, Orun Rere. The souls of the wicked, those who are guilty of theft, murder or cruelty, poisoning, witchcraft or slander, will be sent to Orun Buburu, the Bad Heaven, as punishment.

The Queen of Ethiopia

In the days of King Solomon, three thousand years ago, there lived in Ethiopia a dynasty of queens, who reigned with great wisdom. One queen, the Malika Habashiya or Abyssinian Queen of old legends, had a dream in which she held a kid in her lap. On waking up she found herself pregnant and in due course she gave birth to a baby daughter. But alas! The child had one goat's foot. When the queen died, Princess Goat's Foot succeeded her, since she had no other children. One day she heard of King Solomon and his great wisdom, so she wrote him a letter announcing her arrival at his court. She was hoping that his great knowledge might enable him to cure her foot but she did not mention that. The King, however, always knew in advance what was going to happen, so, in front of his new palace he had a large pool dug, so that all his visitors had to rinse their feet before arriving. When the Queen of Abyssinia arrived, she had to raise her skirt before wading through the pond, so that the King could see her legs, one normal and one caprine. In the pond was a piece of ironwood which was placed there on the King's orders. When the Queen's cloven foot hit it, she was cured. When she stepped out of the water, she noticed that she had two human feet. She was now a very attractive woman and Solomon fell in love with her. She wanted to go home, having achieved her purpose, but Solomon persuaded her to stay. He proposed marriage, but she refused. However, Solomon knew the answer to that too. He gave some orders to his servants and an hour later the cook served a very spicy meal. That night the Queen felt very thirsty but there was no water in the palace. The pond had been drained and the servants told her that only the King had water, so she had to go and beg Solomon for water in his bedroom.
There is a version of the tale which says that she had agreed to marry King Solomon only if she took something vital from him. She therefore stole into his bedroom like a thief, hoping to find water without waking him. However, Solomon was wide awake like every man in love. As she was drinking from his water jar, she felt his hand holding hers in the dark, while the King's voice asked: 'Is water not vital, my dear Queen?' She had to agree to marry him there and then, but the next day she insisted on going home. Solomon gave her a ring, saying: 'When you have a son, send him to me when he is grown up, and I will give him half my kingdom.' The Queen of Ethiopia took the ring and travelled back by boat along the Red Sea.
In due course she gave birth to a son whom she called David, after his father's father. When he came of age, his mother sent him to King Solomon, with numerous presents. When David entered Solomon's court, he noticed an empty chair next to the King's and sat down on it. Solomon asked him: 'What have you come for, handsome young man?' He replied: 'I am David of Ethiopia I have come to ask you for half of your kingdom, and here is the ring which you gave my mother.' Solomon embraced him when he recognized his ring, and spoke: 'So be it. I will give you Africa, which is half my kingdom.' According to the legend, the King was in his right to do so for God had given him the whole world as his realm. No one knew at that time how big Africa really was.


Mythical hero of the Swahili and Pokomo peoples of eastern Kenya. Historians have endeavoured to place Liongo in the chronology of the history of the Kenya Coast, as early as 1200 or as late as 1600. A large number of Swahili poems are attributed to Liongo, many of them popular wedding songs which are still performed at weddings, accompanied by special dancing, the so-called gungu dances, after the rhythm. Even the myth of Liongo is fragmentary and not a coherent story. Liongo was born in one of seven towns on the Kenya Coast which all claim the honour of being the great poet's cradle. He was exceptionally strong and as tall as a giant. He could not be wounded by any weapon, but when a needle was thrust into his navel, he would die; fortunately only he and his mother, whose name was Mbwasho, knew this. Liongo was King of Ozi and Ungwana in the Tana Delta, and of Shanga on Faza (Pate Island). He was passed over for the succession to the throne of Pate, which went to his cousin Ahmad (Hemedi), probably its first Islamic ruler. It seems that the advent of Islam caused the changeover from matrilinear to patrilinear succession. King (Sultan) Ahmad tried to get rid of Liongo and had him chained and gaoled. By means of a long and self-laudatory song, the refrain of which was sung by the crowds outside the prison, Liongo caused enough noise to file through his shackles without being heard by the guards. As soon as they saw him unchained, they fled, for he was a formidable man. He escaped to the mainland, where he lived with the Watwa, the forest-dwellers. Each episode of this saga is marked with a song, which has been preserved. He learned to perfect his sureness of hand with bow and arrow, so that he later won an archery contest organised by the king to entrap him, and escaped again. Little is known about Liongo's successful battles against the Galla (Wagala), whose king decided to offer him his own daughter in marriage so as to tie the hero to his own family. With her Liongo had a son who later betrayed and killed his father.

Suk (Western Kenya)

The Suk once had a great reputation as fierce warriors, beating even the dreaded Maasai-Samburu in c. 1850. The Suk are the first branch of the Kalenjin family of tribes to leave their original homeland of Mount Elgon's slopes. Originally only hunters, the Suk now herd cattle in Kerio Valley, living in peace with their neighbours if they can.
They believe in God, whom they call Tororut, offering him animal sacrifices. God's son is called Ilat; he has to fetch water for his father in Heaven. When he spills it, it rains on earth (ilat means 'rain'). Tororut's blessing must be invoked at least once a year for the crops and the cattle. An ox is selected by the priest, tusin, to be slaughtered; he rubs its blood on the chests of the participants, all men. In times of drought, famine or epidemic, similar rituals are necessary, to propitiate God. Personal illness is blamed on Oi, the spirit of disease, who may be expelled by emptying the sick man's house, after which the priest casts the evil spirit out, since it has nothing left to lurk behind inside. Tororut has a wife, the Pleiades, and a brother, Asis, the Sun-god. Tororut's wife Seta has three children, Ilat, 'Rai', Arawa, 'Moon', and Topoh, the 'Evening Star'. The appearance of the Pleiades marks the beginning of the planting season.
After death, a man's spirit may travel in the shape of a snake. In the bush, snakes may be killed, but if a snake enters a house, it must be given milk and meat since it is the spirit of an ancestor who can intercede with God on behalf of the living, in order to avert disease and other disasters. After death an old man or woman would be buried in his or her own hut, after which the descendants would move house; this was no hardship, since they were nomads anyway. Death 'infects' a house. The bereaved shave their heads, but when the New Moon appears, mourning ceases.


Africans know they depend on trees for firewood, without which their wives cannot cook their food. In some areas the goats can climb trees to eat the green leaves. The leopard lurks in a leafy tree to fall upon the Lonely traveller at night, and vipers do the same in Uganda. In some trees the bees make their nest where they store honey. Every big tree has a spirit. Some trees house many spirits. Whether a tree is a spirit or is inhabited by a spirit is not an easy question. The people will say: The tree has a spirit, or: in the tree there is a spirit. The spirit has a voice which the careful listener can hear and even understand if he knows the language of the spirits. This voice has to be preserved carefully by the drum maker. The boat-maker too, wants to keep the spirit of the tree in the wood so that it will protect the boatman against drowning in the treacherous rivers, when the tree has become a boat. The appearance changes, the spirit remains. Together in a forest, the trees have a collective spirit, powerful enough to be revered as a god.
Trees can be tricky. With their roots they can trip up the unsuspecting traveller, who will often believe that his enemy bewitched the root to do that. Thorny branches have the same function. In Namibia there is a tree that is believed to eat people: it catches them with its branches, opens its bark and swallows them up. Inside the tree, the victim can be heard singing a goodbye song to their relatives and friends. Only the Woodpecker can save them, for it possesses magic powers. For a fee, it will open the tree with its sharp bill. A man in Zaire was married to a tree. It gave birth to his children, a healthy boy and a girl who were human but knew the spirits of the forest and so became famous herbalists, for it is the doctors who need the trees for their medicines.

Sunbirds (Zimbabwe)

The sunbirds are two golden birds, which were found among the ruins of Zimbabwe about a century ago by one of the first explorers. They were probably discovered in the remains of a building which may have been the sun-temple of the ancient Bantu religion of the Shona people of Zimbabwe. These birds which form a pair, represent, it appears, two swallows, whose high and swift flight is praised by many poets of the old Bantu tradition, and about which the story-tellers relate that they can fly better even than the eagle.
The swallows, as is well known, are migrating birds. They arrive in southern Africa from Europe around the beginning of October, when spring is at its most beautiful and thousands of flowers are blooming. The sun is on its way up. The myth of the Shona people relates that the sunbirds belonged originally to the goddess Dzivaguru, the goddess of the earth, of the darkness of night, and of the rain clouds, of the pools and streams. The rainy season begins usually also in October, or later, when the gods are displeased.
We cannot live without sunshine, nor can we live without rain, yet we cannot have them at the same time, for rain and sunshine do not normally descend together. The great goddess Dzivaguru, whose name seems to mean Great Sun, ruled both heaven and earth in what may have been the oldest form of the Bantu religion, i.e. the religion of the peoples who speak Bantu languages. They have many myths in which the first man and woman on earth lived in darkness because the sun had not yet been discovered. The sun, the primal source of light, has to be captured so that people may have light to live by. The secret of the sun is that its light penetrates even in the darkest room, just as a swallow can fly through a house before anyone can catch it. Nosenga caught the sunbirds in his trap, and so day broke.

Malaika (East Africa)

A good spirit sent from heaven to help people. It can assume human form. The Malaika love people and will work for their benefit. God created them specially so that they might keep people on the straight path by sitting on their right shoulders and whispering in their ears what they should do or not do. The Malaika receive no food, because praying to God is their food. They have been created from the Light, Gods first creation, so they are entirely transparent and cannot even think evil, let alone do it. They always obey God, who will send an angel whenever he wishes to help a human being in distress. Normally angels are invisible, but once God sent the Angel Mikail to defeat a very powerful evil spirit. Mikail appeared in his full heavenly glory which was so dazzling that Karina was defeated by merely seeing him. She looked like an old woman after that encounter. Once Jiburili showed himself in his real form: standing astride the earth, his feet suspended above opposite horizons, he towered above the clouds. The angels are constantly guarding heaven against the attacks of the shaitani by throwing rockets (shihabu) at them, which we see as falling stars. Death too, is a malaika, who serves God by taking the souls of those God has decided must die now. He may also send angels to do battle against his enemies the unbelievers. The malaika wa vita, the Fighting Angels, will drop burning stones on the enemies.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

History of Black Hospitals

June 8

St. Lukes (Martin,TX) On this date we celebrate Black Hospitals. Black hospitals have existed in three broad types: segregated, black-controlled, and demographically determined.
Segregated Black hospitals included facilities created by Whites to serve African-Americans exclusively and they operated predominantly in the South. Black physicians, fraternal organizations, and churches founded Black- controlled facilities. Changes in population led to the development of demographically determined hospitals, as was the case with Harlem Hospital. This facility evolved into institutional status because of the rise in Black population surrounding the hospital.
Until the rise of the Civil Rights Movement, hospitals in the South and in the North either denied African-Americans admission, or accommodated them exclusively in segregated wards, usually in undesirable locations such as unheated attics and damp basements. The Georgia Infirmary, 1832, was the first segregated Black hospital. By the end of the nineteenth century, others had been founded, including Raleigh’s St. Agnes Hospital in 1896 and Atlanta’s MacVicar Infirmary in 1900. Some of their White founders expressed genuine if paternalistic desire and interest to supply health care to Black people.
White self-interest was at work too. The germ theory of disease widely accepted at the time acknowledged, “germs have no color line.” This theory required attention to the medical problems of African-Americans, especially those who were close to Whites in proximity. Soon Blacks founded hospitals to meet the specific needs of the African-American communities. Provident Hospital in Chicago, the first Black-controlled hospital in America, opened in 1891. Racism in Chicago had prevented Black nurses and doctors from practicing thus eliminating health care for any Black patients.
Other facilities opened up, including Tuskegee Institute and Nurse Training School in Alabama, 1892, Provident Hospital at Baltimore, 1894, and Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training School at Philadelphia in 1895. These hubs of medical assistance for African-Americans represented in part the institutionalization of Booker T. Washington’s political ideology, advancing racial uplift by improving the health status of Black people and by contributing to the Black professional class.
By 1919, roughly 118 segregated and Black controlled hospitals existed, three-fourths of them in the South. Most of them were small and not full-service units, and were not prepared to survive sweeping changes in scientific medicine, hospital technology, and standardization that had begun to take place at the time. This was the most critical coniditon of survival of historically Black hospitals between 1920 and 1945. In the early 1920s, a group of physicians associated with the National Medical Association (NMA), a Black medical society, and the National Hospital Association (NHA), a Black hospital organization, launched a reform movement to ensure the survival of these hospitals and the maintenance of professions for Blacks. Their activities, with added financial help from White philanthropists, produced some improvements and preservations by World War II. However this “Negro Hospital Renaissance” showed that by 1923, out of 200 Black hospitals, only six provided internships and none of them had residency programs. In 1944 the number of hospitals increased to 124. The American Medical Association (AMA) approved nine of the facilities for internships and seven for residencies with the quality of some being suspect. The AMA admitted that their decision was based in part on the need to have some internship opportunities for Black doctors.
This attitude spotlights the then-accepted practice of treating Black people in separate but not equal facilities. During the Civil Rights Movement, the energies of the NMA, the NHA, and the NAACP focused on dismantling the “Negro medical ghetto” of which Black hospitals were a component. The protest between 1945 and 1965, poised toward integration in medicine, challenged the existence of the historically Black hospital. Legal action was a key weapon in desegregation of hospitals. With the Brown v Kansas Board of Education precedent, Simkins v. Moses H. Cone Hospital proved to be the pivotal case in 1963. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 further prohibited racial discrimination in any program receiving federal assistance

Hospital (1891)
Because of these changes in health care considerations, Black hospitalS now faced an ironic dilemma. They now competed with hospitals that had once discriminated against Black patients and staff. Since 1965, African-American physicians have gained access to the mainstream medical profession and Black hospitals have become less and less important to their careers; this has also affected their importance to the Black middle-class patient. Consequently, the vulnerability of the Black hospital has increased dramatically.
Historically Black hospitals have had a significant impact on the lives of African-Americans. They evolved not only out of critical need but as a symbol of pride and achievement within the Black community. They supplied medical care and professional opportunities for countless African-Americans. They have now become non-essential to the lives of most Americans and are on the verge of extinction.
The Encyclopedia of African-American Heritage

Friday, February 13, 2009

Our Common Ancestors

Our ancestors have inhabited this planet for many millions of years, probably originating from Africa and more specifically perhaps the Great Rift Valley in Kenya (also known as the "Cradle of Mankind").
One theory is that the African landscape and climate (for example the formation of the Great Rift Valley and a gradual change from rain-forest to savannah) encouraged the evolution towards modern humans. The clearing of forests drove a need to descend from the trees and walk upright (bipedal) - offering the advantages of faster speed over ground and a better vantage point to survey the surroundings whilst freeing the hands to carry objects or forage for food.
Fossil remnants have been found in Africa dating back many millions of years, however the best remains and knowledge of our ancestors extends back only around four to five million years. Scientific opinions vary but it seems there were at least two distinct genera; the early Australopithecus which eventually died out and the later larger-brained Homo which are our true ancestors (perhaps the intelligence and adaptability of early Homo habilis led to its success).
The Australopithecus genus has been dated back at least four million years with Australopithecus anamensis , Australopithecus afarensis and then Australopithecus africanus . The Homo genus has been dated back at least 2.5 million years with Homo habilis , Homo erectus , archaic Homo sapiens , Neandertals and finally modern Homo Sapiens .
"Lucy" is a famous three million year old substantially complete example of Australopithecus afarensis discovered at Hadar in Ethiopia. The "Taung child" is a 2.5 million year old example of the later species Australopithecus africanus discovered at the Taung caves in South Africa; this was a significant find at the time since the skull indicated a spinal cord entering from below rather than behind - a good sign that the owner walked upright. "Turkana boy" is a 1.6 million-year old example of Homo erectus found at Nariokotome by Lake Turkana in Kenya.
A fossilised skull of Homo habilis dating back around 2.5 million years was discovered by the eastern shore of Lake Turkana (then called Lake Rudolf during British Colonial rule) by a group led by the famous paleoanthropologist Dr Richard Leakey. Many believe that Homo habilis ("handy man") is one of the earliest examples of modern humans which developed the skills to make and use basic tools; this probably led to their success.
Other famous discoveries, some by Dr. Richard Leakey's parents Louis and Mary, include the 3.5 million year old bipedal footprints preserved by volcanic ash at Laetoli in Tanzania and various fossils around the Olduvai Gorge in the Serengeti Plains of north-west Tanzania.
Our species Homo sapiens gradually developed through different ages in Kenya (for example the Stone Age and Iron Age), becoming hunter-gatherers and then (with increased use of iron) moving to agriculture and pastoralism (perhaps around 3000-1000 BC). The increased dependence on fertile land (for growing crops and grazing cattle) led tribes to migrate south in search of better pastures as their own lands became more arid. Some hunter-gatherers can still be found in the Boni and Dorobo people of Kenya.

Tribal Migration into Kenya

A number of different peoples headed into Kenya; these can be grouped by language: the Cushitics, Nilotes and Bantu. Some Cushitics (a group which includes Somali, Rendille and Boni) left Ethiopia towards north-east Kenya around 2000-1000 BC. Then some Nilotes (a group which includes Maasai, Luo, Turkana, Samburu, Pokot and Kalenjin) left the Nile valley in southern Sudan around 500 BC. Finally some Bantu tribes (a group which includes Kikuyu, Embu, Meru, Akamba, Luyia, Gusii, Taita and Taveta) headed into Kenya from west Africa over the next few centuries.
The Maasai are sometimes called Nilo-Hamitic (the Hamites came from north Africa) and all Maasai tribes share the Maa language (hence their name Maasai; they share the Maa language with the Samburu tribe from whom they split some time ago). They have been proposed as the "Lost Tribe of Israel" because of their history.

Coastal Development

Civilisation developed quickly along the coast of Kenya with Roman inhabitation in the first few centuries AD; this led to increased commerce with Arabs, Persians, Indians and Chinese over the following centuries. Muslims came from Arabia and Shirazis from Persia, leading to a strong Arab influence along the coast line between the 8th and 13th centuries AD - and the creation of trading posts at Mombasa, Lamu, Malindi and Zanzibar. The Swahili language (or more correctly Kiswahili language) started developing from the Arabic/Bantu mix.

The Maasai Arrive

It is difficult to be confident of Kenya's early development, especially when much information was only passed orally between generations (as happened in the less developed regions of inner Kenya) rather than by written records (as happened in the more civilised regions developing along the coast).
It is thought that the Maasai left their home in the Nile valley around the fifteenth or sixteenth century, reaching the Great Rift Valley and down into Tanzania between the seventeenth and late eighteenth century. This was around the same time of great Portuguese influence on the coast with the great explorer Vasco de Gama arriving in 1498; the Portuguese were finally driven out after the siege of Fort Jesus at Mombasa in 1698 (and failed their renewed attack in 1728).

The Maasai are divided into a number of clans and sections, some of which occupy the Mara region.

Their Reputation and Appearance

The Maasai are one of the best known African tribes although not as politically powerful as the Luo or Kikuyu (despite the Maasai being dominant in some respects due to their warrior caste and effective organisation). The word "maasai-itis" has even be coined to describe the western obsession with the Maasai. Perhaps they are so well known because of their tall elegant muscular features or their fierce, brave, stubborn and arrogant reputation; or maybe because of their simple yet distinctive appearance with ochre-covered warriors proudly holding their spear and wearing their bright blood-red shoulder cloak ( shuka ) and the women wearing bangles and strings of coloured beads around their neck (both sexes wear earrings, taking pride in stretching large holes in their ear lobes). The men sometimes cover their braided hair with a fatty ochre paste and may wear an elaborate head-dress, perhaps of a lion mane or eagle/ostrich feathers, during some ceremonies; the women generally have shaved heads (head-shaving is a significant feature of some rituals, both for men and women).

Difficult Times

The Maasai's history becomes more clear during the nineteenth century which saw increasing western encroachment into Kenya. This took the form of missionaries and explorers. The missionaries were keen to convert tribes to Christianity, halt slave trading and stop some of the Maasai practices which they perceived as barbaric (such as dressing almost naked and leaving their dead for wild animals to scavenge rather than having a burial ceremony). The explorers were less interested in tribal welfare and more interested in commerce, setting up a trade route from the coast through Kenya to Uganda (which took the form of a railway at the end of the nineteenth century; Nairobi was founded as head-quarters of development midway along this railway in 1899); some explorers did try negotiating land and access rights with local tribes but these were not always favourable to the native population. Arabs also headed inland attempting to widen their trading (in particular there was a busy slave-market at Zanzibar and a large demand for ivory) and unwittingly spreading the Swahili language.
Already under great pressure from foreign influence and some inter-tribal warfare, the Maasai were deeply affected when rinderpest (a cattle disease) struck their herds around 1880-1890; the reduced grazing led to more woodland which encouraged breeding of the harmful Tse tse fly. The Maasai were also hit with drought, famine, smallpox and cholera. In 1910 they were forced out of even more of their homeland which had already been bisected by the Kenya/Uganda railway, and in the early 1960's they lost yet more of their territory during the government land redistribution programmes (including the creation of the Masai Mara Game Reserve).

The Importance of Cattle

The Maasai are semi-nomadic pastoralists (they rear cattle and as a result sometimes have to travel searching for new grazing pastures). The cattle are fundamental to the tribe's survival and this has led to an almost mystical relationship. The Maasai believe that their (Rain) God Enkai granted all cattle to them for safe-keeping when the earth and sky split (they feel this justifies them raiding cattle from other tribes).
The cattle serve many purposes: their milk and blood is used for food; their hide is used for mattresses, shoes and other accessories; their dung is used for plastering hut walls; their (sterile) urine has some medicinal and cleansing qualities; their meat is rarely taken for food (but may be used during ceremonies and in times of famine). Blood is obtained by shooting an arrow at close range through the cattle's jugular vein, then capturing the spilled blood into a gourd (where it can be mixed with milk); the wound is not fatal and is patched afterwards.
Cattle are a major sign of wealth and exchanged during marriage (to pay for brides). The quantity of cattle is more important than the quality although the Maasai have well over a hundred words to describe their animals. However cattle are not without problems and the Maasai have to continually seek out good grazing for their cattle (sometimes travelling for days during the dry season); such free movement is becoming far more difficult in modern times. Other animals including goats, sheep and some domestic animals are also kept. Although mainly cattle-rearing and previously despising of those who till the soil, the Maasai are turning towards some cultivation (usually maize and some vegetables) which offers something else they can trade with other tribes (otherwise the Maasai would be forced to trade for such foods themselves).

The Maasai Home

Maasai families live in an Enkang (a form of enclosure, stockade or kraal) formed by a thick round 'fence' of sharp thorn bushes; this protects the tribe and their cattle, especially at night, from rival tribes and other predators. The Enkang may contain 10-20 small squat huts made from branches pasted with fresh cow-dung (by the women) which bakes hard under the hot sun.
Maasai huts are very small, with perhaps two 'rooms' and not enough height for these tall people to stand upright or lie fully stretched. They are also very dark with a small door-way and tiny hole in the roof. The hole in the roof serves two purposes; it lets a little light into the hut but just as importantly it lets some smoke escape from the smouldering (cow-dung) fire which is kept alight for warmth and cooking - and perhaps to smoke off unwanted insects. The Enkang used to be 'temporary' and something that could be built elsewhere if the Maasai had to migrate to fresh areas of grazing, although such action is less feasible these days.
Enkangs are sometimes called Manyattas , and the two are both collections of huts, however a true Manyatta is really a camp used by an age-related group of unmarried warriors and may contain many more huts (built by the women-folk and set a short distance away from the Enkang ).

Rites of Passage

As with many tribes the Maasai have a distinct social structure based partly on significant stages of life (precise details vary between sub-tribes and under modern influences; the details here are deliberately vague and serve to give an overall impression).
The very young children simply play within the Enkang , or mind the cattle herds nearby as they get older. Then both sexes are initiated into young adulthood between the ages of 15-18 or more; this is done through circumcision. Western society (and increasingly Maasai women) argue against cliterodectomy (or - more harshly but perhaps more realistically- FGM Female Genital Mutilation) which 'prepares' the women for marriage. Boys tend to remain more keen to follow the ritual towards manhood.

Elders generally decide they need a new group of warriors every 6-10 years at which point (perhaps over a couple of years) all suitably aged boys are circumcised. This age-related group of warriors ( Morani ) live together in a Manyatta for anything from 8-12 years or more, learning and developing their survival skills (as juniors) and performing other warrior duties. In the past a Moran could be expected to prove his manhood by killing a lion armed with nothing more than a spear - but this process is no longer allowed under protective government animal legislation. The warrior's job is to protect his village and cattle from predators and other tribes, to take cattle grazing and search for new pastures (perhaps journeying for several days) and even to raid cattle from nearby villages ('justified' since the Maasai god Enkai had granted all cattle to the Maasai). Modern civilisation is forcing many of these activities to become traditional rather than real-life, however the passage into manhood still remains a significant step even today.
Women look after the young children, milk the cattle, repair the huts, collect fire-wood, prepare the food and may need to travel many miles to fetch water.
Warriors eventually go through the Eunoto ceremony leading to marriage when they can take several wives and have children (the men are allowed to have relationships with any circumcised women of their age group); they also begin to acquire cattle. Finally they become respected elders. Elders look to Laibon (spiritual leaders, perhaps one per clan) for advice and expect them to provide rain and good grazing. Mt Kenya's three peaks (Batian, Nelion and Lenana) are named after three legendary Laibon .

Looking Forward

The Maasai are a proud and independent people who have survived despite incredible pressures, however their greatest challenges remain ahead. They are losing their grazing land (taken either for commercial large-scale wheat-growing or other cultivation, or for wildlife conservation) and losing their ability to roam freely throughout the country. Their people, especially the younger ones, are being influenced by modern schools and city developments. Stricter controls on law and order have (perhaps rightly) reduced the warrior's role in tribal fighting and cattle-raiding, and taken power from the elders. Some Maasai may seek comfort and income from the tourist industry (selling beads and craft-work, parading and dancing, opening their Enkangs for inspection) - however such income is not sufficient and such a way of life is not proper for these people. It remains to be seen how well they continue to retain their identity.

Benjamin Banneka astronomer mathematician Blk History Time Capsule

November 9 Benjamin Banneker was born on this date in 1731. He was a self-taught, black astronomer and mathematician.
He was born in Ellicott, MD. At the age of 22, Benjamin Banneker created a working clock from wood after studying the watch of a friend. It took him two years to finish the clock, which kept accurate time in hours, minutes, and seconds until his death. Banneker became interested in astronomy through a local surveyor named George Ellicott, who loaned him astronomy books. In 1791, George Washington commissioned George Ellicott and French engineer Pierre L'Enfant to help plan the construction of the nation's capital on a ten-square-mile area of land. Ellicott asked Banneker to be his assistant. A dispute between some Americans and Frenchmen led L'Enfant to abandon it and take the drafted plans with him. Over the course of two days, Banneker reproduced the intricate plans from memory, preventing a major delay.
Shortly after returning to his farm in April 1791, Banneker issued his first of some ten annual almanacs, which were published by several printers and sold widely in both England and the United States. Banneker charted the movement of heavenly bodies and successfully predicted several solar eclipses. Farmers and navigators relied on this important information. Banneker and his sisters were born free and grew up on a self-sufficient, 100-acre tobacco farm. Growing up, he spent much of his free time devising and solving mathematical puzzles. It was not until after his retirement from farming at the age of 59 that Banneker began to study astronomy through borrowed books, becoming a man of science and mathematics through unassisted experimentation and close observation of natural phenomena.
Benjamin Banneker died in 1806.
Black First:
2,000 years of extraordinary achievement

Black History Time Capsule Emmett Scott

February 13
Emmett Scott *On this date in 1873, Emmett J. Scott was born. He was an African-American author and administrator.
From Houston, TX, he briefly attended Wiley College in Marshall, TX before starting to work as a journalist for the Houston Post in 1891. He was awarded a honorary M.A. from Wiley College in 1901. In 1894, he started his own weekly newspaper the Houston Freeman and soon after became the personal secretary for Booker T. Washington. From this position, Scott was elected secretary of Tuskegee Institute in 1912. He became widely recognized as the leader of what was to later be known as the “Tuskegee Machine,” the group of people close to Booker T. Washington who wielded influence over the Black press, churches, and schools in order to promote Washington’s views.
After Washington’s death, Scott became a special assistant to the U.S. secretary of war in charge of Negro affairs at the start of World War I. This was at a time when race relations in the military were an issue of debate and it was here where Scott became a liaison between Black soldiers and the War Department. For twenty years from 1919, he held positions as secretary, treasurer, or business manager at Howard University. Emmett Scott died in 1957.
The Encyclopedia of African-American Heritage
by Susan Altman
Copyright 1997, Facts on File

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Hurt Of It All

Februar12 2009

THE HURT OF IT ALL by Sarah Webster Fabio .
Ain't nobody heard me singing sweet songs lately; my sweet notes soured sometime ago- raped robbed, abandoned left rotting in some Southern swill which stayed too long in the heart-of-America still, turning bad.
Ain't nobody heard me singing sweet songs lately. Where have life's sweet things gone? Flowers, friends, love and tokens of love, security, beauty, hope? Nope, nobody seems to know where or even when all those things, those dreams, those sentiments we cherished perished.
Ain't nobody heard me singing sweet songs lately; they turned to ashes in the flashing waste of our great hate. Coltrane couldn't make it either; Sam Cooke lied when he said "a change is going to come;" and I watched them both die before it did.
Otis Redding had an inkling of this truth while sitting on the dock of the bay, both of us swaying while Aretha plumbed the depths of the black race's soul, voicing a juju of our visions; shaking her head sadly, she said "ain't no way."
Martin tried to love, tried to be a drum major for peace, but juxtaposed on his deep, resonant sound of rolling drums was the U.S.A.'s shotgun blast of apartheid, shattering, blood splattering his dream, our dreams and those of his strong black, stoic mother, prophet father, four brave and beautiful youth and the bronze wonder of his too-soon widowed devoted wife-and all of us blacks poor in the riches of the world and spirit.
Mahalia heaved her deep bosom and dropped a tear on his rough hewn wooden bier; crying a cop-out plea straining beyond the trials of the earth and the veils of hate and scorn; reaching toward other worldness from a soul weary voice, gutted with despair, "Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on."
Where we gonna go, Mahalia? Don't tell the bell heralding for our folk an eternity of hell in the beast's Walhalla.
Where we gonna go, Mahalia? You tell us and don't just put us on with notes, not of murderous discord nut, with the sweet submissive sound of suicide.
If my life must be a sacrifice, let it be in the name of my own self interests and those of my strong black sons and daughters.
Ain't nobody heard me singing sweet songs lately; but maybe I will find as a last word, some sweet note to leave behind when it's said "that's all she wrote."....

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Egyptian mathematics

Ancient Egyptian Mathematics Much is known about the Ancient Egyptian knowledge of Mathematics because of a document recorded in the second century B.C. by the scribe, Ahmes. The papyrus roll was found in a Thebes ruin and was purchased in 1858 by Henry Rhind. The Ahmes or Rhind Papyrus was later sold to the British Museum.

The references in this papyrus to earlier mathematical concepts, indicate that some of this knowledge may have been handed down from Imhotep, the supervisor of the building of the pyramids around 3,000 B.C.

Calculation of The Ahmes Papyrus , which contains 84 mathematical problems and their solutions, provides a clue to the Ancient Egyptian value for . The Egyptians used a method of assuming a solution and then correcting it known as regula falsi. Using this approach, a comparison was made between the area of a circle and a square.

View the Ancient Egyptian comparison that yields a value for .

Pi Movie (QuickTime 2.6 MEGS)
Pi Movie (AVI)
Pi Movie (MPEG) Based on this method, the ancient Egyptians determined a value for that was 3.1605.

Egyptian Numbers Learn about Egyptian Numbers and test your ability to use them.

Egyptian Mathematics Find out more about Ancient Egyptian Mathematics.

Ahmes Find out more information about the Egyptian scribe.

Hieroglyphics Learn how the Rosetta Stone allowed us to unlock the Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Visit the Cyber Mummy Home Page to find out more information about Ancient Egypt.

Activities / History / Information Video / Project / Application / Home Page / Teacher Resources

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Sirius Mystery and the Dogon Tribe*

(Excerpted from UFOs and Outer Space Mysteries Donning Press, 1982 Chapter Six) Web version published with permission of the author
The search for an extraterrestrial calling card has taken researchers to many strange places. Some have hiked the Andes to examine mysterious ruins while others have sought alien traces in deserts and jungles. Others have scoured the rare book rooms in libraries and pored over dusty volumes of Mesopotamian or Sanskrit legend. Some have analyzed UFO reports, others have tried to puzzle out the source and meaning of baffling long-delayed radio echoes.
Several specialists now claim they have found the long-sought "final evidence" of visits made to earth by ancient astronauts. The myths of the Dogon tribesmen of Mall, West Africa, contain astronomical knowledge which the native people could have neither learned by themselves nor guessed. Obviously, the researchers say, some more advanced civilization told them.
These fascinating Dogon legends speak of Jupiter's four moons and Saturn's rings, which were not seen by human beings until the invention of the telescope. They speak of the star Sirius and of a pair of invisible companions. One of them circles Sirius every fifty years, the legends declare, and is made of a metal that is the heaviest thing in the universe. Astronomers have discovered that such an object (called "Sirius-B") does exist but only the most sophisticated and sensitive instruments -- unavailable, of course, to the Dogons -- can detect it.
The planets circle the sun, the tribesmen believe (and astronomy confirms), in elliptical orbits. And planets with different kinds of people on them circle six other stars in the sky -- so the legends have it.
Who told the Dogons about Sirius and about the other space science secrets? Author Robert K. G· Temple (The Sirius Mystery, St, Martin's Press, 1975) claims to be able to trace the Sirius-B myth back through Egyptian mythology to Sumerian mythology, thus establishing the certainty that the informants were extraterrestrials. Ancient astronauts entrepreneur Erich von Daniken endorses and adopts Temple's explanations in his latest book, Von Daniken's Proof.
But other observers disagree. Astronomers Carl Sagan and Ian Ridpath, for example, have suggested that the modern astronomical aspects of the complex Dogon mythology entered the lore only recently, probably shortly before the myths were written down in the 1930s. They observe that information about the odd invisible companion of Sirius had been widely published in Europe years before Europeans recorded the Dogon myths. As anthropologists have known for a long time, primitive tribes have a remarkable talent for absorbing interesting new stories into their traditional mythology.
In reply Temple produces evidence for the great antiquity of the Sirius cult. The number "fifty" has great signifance in ancient myths. He points out that the Dogon myths also describe a third star (astronomers would call it "Sirius C"), as yet undiscovered. These same myths, Temple claims, identify a planet circling that star as the home of Nommo, an alien creature who founded the Dogon civilization.
Temple's impressive research was encouraged by noted futurist Arthur C, Clarke (although Clarke now prefers the "modern influence" hypothesis). The book's advertising blurb quotes prolific science writer Isaac Asimov, who says, "I couldn't find any mistakes in this book. That in itself is extraordinary."
The star Sirius is certainly no stranger to mysteries. As the brightest star in the sky it was known and worshiped by ancient civilizations. Its appearance in the dawn sky over Egypt warned of the impending Nile floods and the summer's heat and marked the beginning of the Egyptian calendar.
Strangely, ancient records explicitly list Sirius as one of six "red stars." The other five are still seen as red but from the time of Arab astronomers to the present day Sirius has been blue-white.
Astronomers classify Sirius as a "class A" star, hotter and younger than our sun, Its brightness is due largely to its proximity; it is barely eight light- years away from the earth. This is only a stellar stone's throw by galactic standards and Sirius is only twice as far away from our solar system as are the nearest stars to the sun, the Alpha Centauri system.
Sirius figures prominently in the Dogon myths. The tribe has a periodic Sirius festival called the "Segui" ceremony; each celebration lasts several years (the last was in 1968-72.) The interval between ceremonies may be forty, fifty or sixty years.
Through the carbon dating of old ritual masks researchers have established the antiquity of the Segui ceremonies. Such criteria suggest that these periodic festivals have been going on for at least 600 years and possibly much longer.
But here's the rub: there is no archaeological evidence that the specific references to the twin hidden companions of Sirius are anywhere near that old. Furthermore, most Dogon symbology already has multiple levels of meaning; the sketches used to illustrate the Sirius secrets are also used in puberty ceremonies.
Clearly the Dogons (in common with many other cultures) were fascinated by Sirius, probably because its position in the sky was crucial to successful agriculture (it's the only star they have a name for.) Inevitably one must ask, if the Dogons had heard good stories about Sirius from other sources, would they ignore them or would they quickly adopt them into their own cultural myths?
Temple's book mentions the absorption of a Christ-figure into the traditional Dogon Pantheon, obviously a recent addition. Sagan has recounted numerous examples from Arizona and New Guinea -- and other scholars have noted similar instances -- of the rapid assimilation of new stories, songs and lore into the eclectic mythology of Stone Age peoples. Such assimilation occurs most frequently when the subject is one of particular interest to a people -- as Sirius is to the Dogons.
The main problem with the alleged antiquity of the Dogon "Sirius secrets" legend is that they are reminiscent of European Sirius speculations of the late 1920s. Europeans too believed that the "white dwarf' Sirius-B star was the heaviest thing in the universe, although in later years astronomers were to find thousands of similar objects along with even heavier and denser objects such as neutron stars and black holes. Europeans too talked about the discovery of a third star in the Sirius system; later investigations, however, ruled out that possibility.
The Dogon beliefs about Jupiter and Saturn sound familiar too. To be specific they sound like the kinds of astronomical conclusions one might draw from studying the heavens through a small portable telescope. (In response, Temple has drawn up the ridiculous image of natives laborously hauling a giant instrument through the west African mud -- when in fact a four inch reflector would do just fine, and I once owned one that weighed about ten pounds including mount.) The Dogons hold that Jupiter has four moons when in fact it has at least 12, plus a ring, as any true extraterrestrial would have known. Saturn is not, as the Dogons insist, the farthest planet in the solar system. At least three are farther and at least one of them has rings too.
So what is the alternative to the extraterrestrial hypothesis for the Dogon myths7 The Dogons could have learned of European Sirius lore in the 1920's from traders, explorers or missionaries, many of whom are avid amateur astronomers. (Temple claims missionaries didn't show up until 1949.) The Dogons were not isolated. Many served in the French army in World War I and some of them could have returned years later with colorful embellishments for their native legends.
But the extraterrestrial hypothesis will not fade away so easily. Robert Temple, who spent eight years studying mythology, is convinced that he can trace the Sirius-B information back to the Sumerians. This of course would destroy the modern influence explanation totally.
Unfortunately the ancient records contain no clear, unambiguous references to this Sirius lore although the works of historians, astronomers and philosophers were explicit and detailed on innumerable other subjects. But that doesn't stop Temple. He says the references are there but recorded in riddles which he alone has been able to decipher. "The ancient peoples were not concealing information from us out of spite," he writes. "their purpose in disguising their secrets was to see that the secrets could survive."
To penetrate this supposed disguise (which might not be a disguise at all, other classical scholars maintain), Temple resorts to ancient puns, to hidden meanings, to "garbled versions" which he must amend to fit the theory, to the exchange of consonants in innocent-looking words, to similar-sounding words from different civilizations thousands of miles or thousands of years apart and to other equally questionable tactics.
Using similar techniques other writers have "discovered" dozens of different, often contradictory "ancient secrets" about Atlantis, primitive Christianity, forgotten wisdom, ancient visitors and numerous other things. Classical mythology has been a Rorschach test into which people have projected nearly any notion that appealed to them. We need more reliable evidence -- especially theories that can be tested.
Temple has made very few verifiable assertions about mythology (and The Sirius Mystery is overwhelmingly about ancient myths, not about the Dogons or modern astronomy). One such rare claim is that "the oasis (Siwa) and Thebes are both equidistant from Behdet ... This proves that geodetic surveys of immense accuracy were thus practiced in ancient Egypt with a knowledge of the earth as a spherical body in space and projections upon it envisaged as part of… the Sirius lore."
This sounds significant and convincing until one measures the distance on a map and discovers an "immensely accurate equality" of a twenty percent difference! Other Temple claims, including some wild assertions from The Secrets of the Great Pyramid, can as easily be checked and as easily demolished.
But didn't Isaac Asimov check over the book for just such factual errors, as the publisher claims? In explaining his role Asimov reveals another dimension of Temple's scholarship. "Robert Temple on three different occasions, by mail and phone, attempted to get support from me and I steadfastly refused," Asimov wrote. "He sent me the manuscript which I found unreadable. Finally, he asked me point-blank if I could point out any errors in it and partly out of politeness, partly to get rid of him, and partly because I had been able to read very little of the book so that the answer was true, I said I could not point out any errors. He certainly did not have permission to use that statement as part of the promotion, I'11 just have to be even more careful hereafter."
Temple's book is indeed extremely long and many other researchers have echoed Asimov's assertion that it is "unreadable." But was anything left out? The author mentions that he could have made the book much longer but restrained himself "lest I blow this book up into a pufball of miscellaneous odds and ends" -- which prompted one reviewer to remark that Temple had stopped much too late to avoid that fate.
But even after hundreds of pages of myths and interpretations Temple fails to make a connection between ancient Egypt and the modern Dogons; instead he "assumes" it. Nor does he establish a connection between the Dogon creator Nommo and the star Sirius. Temple claims that bas-reliefs of the Sumerian demigod Oannes, which depict a "fish man," prove Nommo, whom the author identifies as the ancestor of the Dogon Nommo myths, was an amphibious extraterrestrial. Unfortunately he neglects to mention other bas-reliefs which show "fish-deer" and "fish-lions" and which consequently suggest that the fish motif was symbolic, not descriptive.
Somehow, Temple and I have never gotten our disputes off on the right foot. When I set him a draft of a sharply critical review written for Astronomy magazine, he replied with a blistering counterattack in a letter to my editor: "A virulent attack against my honesty, integrity, and intelligence," he called my review. "Mr. Oberg has entirely misrepresented me and made violent distortions of my argument.... He shows a total ignorance or disregard for almost every fact in my book, and there is hardly a single thing in his review which is remotely accurate." The review was indeed consequently modified in parts where Temple explained portions of his book I may have misinterpreted.
Here is an example of how hard it can be to critically examine the claims in the book. There is one passage (page 65) which I took to mean implied additional confirmation of Temple's hypothetical aquatic inhabitants of the Sirius system: "It is worth pointing out that in the event of planets in the Sirius system being watery, we must seriously consider the possibility of intelligent beings from there being amphibious... Beings of this type would be a bit like mermaids and mermen.... Perhaps the 'sirens' are, figuratively, a chorus of mermaids recalled from earlier times....They are called in Greek Seiren....It is interesting that the Greek Sirius is Seirios."
I assumed, reasonably I.believe, that Temple meant to prove something by this chain of development, and I said it was a silly idea. In a response published in Fate magazine, he denied intending that: "I refer, entirely in passing, to the Greek word for siren and its similarity to the word for Sirius, drawing absolutely no conclusions of any kind." If so, I wonder why that passage was ever "worth pointing out" in the book in the first place.
Another claim: that in Egypt the oasis of Siwa and the ancient Nile City of Thebes are both equidistant from the shrine city of Behdet, in the delta -- and the same exact distance, too. To Temple, this proved that "geodetic surveys of immense accuracy were thus practiced in ancient Egypt with a knowledge of the earth as a spherical body in space and projections upon it envisaged as part of...the Sirius tore." (And presumably, that the Egyptians then located their river deltas, eases, and river ports deliberately on geometric rather than purely geographical grounds, I'm tempted to ask?) But my own measurements, which I published, showed the distances to be nowhere close, in error by tens of miles, at least ten percent -- hardly "immense accuracy."
Temple replied in Fate: "The pattern published in my book was drawn by a professional cartographer who earns his living by drawing reliable maps for an international corporation." He allegedly found the distances "to be nearly equal to one another" -- although no quantitative definition of "nearly equal" was ever offered. "Perhaps (Oberg) is unaware," Temple went on, "that the differential curvature of the earth variously distorts distances shown on maps. The cartographer took all such factors into account. Did Oberg? I suspect not."
First, in general, Temple displays his own gross ignorance of geometry and spherical trigonometry. At the latitude of Egypt, over distances of several hundred kilometers, planetary curvature introduces distortions only on the order of fractions of kilometers, not the tens of kilometers worth of inaccuracies I found in Temple's claim.
Second, while it is difficult to obtain precise locations of many archeological sites referred to in The Sirius Mystery, Temple himself shows a map that gives the location of Behdet (31.23 degE, 31.50 degN) and Thebes (32.63 degE, 25.70 degN). For Siwa, I called Dr. Farouk EI-Baz of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, and his maps showed it at 25.50 degE, 29.22 degN (that's the oasis center, with the modern town about ten kilometers SE).
So it merely remains for any interested reader to check and see which of us is correct. Using spherical trig, I got 612.3 km for the Siwa-Behdet leg and 654.8 km for the Thebes-Behdet. Temple claims his expert cartographer found these distances "nearly equal." I wonder.
One additional disturbing note: That distance has been computed based on a true geodetic oblate spheroid, but even assuming a flat surface would only have introduced an error of a few tenths of one percent at most (Temple obviously didn't know that, or he wouldn't have asserted that measurements even less accurate than that were proof that ancients took Earth's sphericity into account.).
The greatest source of error, however, seems to be in Temple's specified location of Behdet. Precise maps at the NASA space photo interpretation lab in Houston list "Behdet" as an ancient name for modern Damanhur, located today at 31.03 degN, 30.28 degE, i.e., more than a hundred kilometers away from where Temple locates his "Behdet" at 31.50 degN, 31.23 degE. Damanhur is 521.0 km from Siwa and 625.9 km from Thebes, a deviation of 20%.
Am I getting too picky here? Perhaps so -- it does seem like a trivial point, arguing over how different two meaningless geographical distances really are. There are innocent available explanations: typographical error or miscopied notes, for example. But if the error is real, it reflects on the only kind of hard, checkable, testable evidence Temple has offered for his theories. A critical analysis has to investigate the accuracy of such claims, so as to judge the validity of the book's conclusions.
Temple offered another line of reasoning. "We have in the Dogon information a predictive mechanism which it is our duty to test, regardless of our preconceptions." One example: "If a Sirius-C is ever discovered and found to be a red dwarf, I will conclude that the Dogon information has been fully validated." (OK, I'll bite--but if such a star is not discovered, Temple has risked no converse conclusions.)
Another example: "The Dogon also mention a period of rotation of Sirius- year...this rotation is astronomically possible but whether it is correct or not we cannot yet know. Here, then, is another datum to be investigated when it is possible." (OK, but if it's not true then Temple may suddenly discover that, as in another similar case, "the Dogon information... must be not only garbled (or perhaps concealed in line with a secretive tradition) but only partially true."-- in other words, no disproof would follow the failure of his prediction.)
That's one major characteristic of classical pseudo-science, its ability to incorporate any result and its ability to be immune from disproof from any result. Predictions are often reinterpreted to fit any outcome, which makes them scientifically worthless but which can be claimed to verify the pseudo- scientific claims.
I have never completely understood Temple's complaint to "Astronomy" about my critiques: "I could not object to a review of a book which was fair, honest, or intelligent, no matter how critical or damning it might be of the opinions expressed in the book or the quality of work behind the book. But it is an unfortunate tendency for certain reviewers to wish to try and appear clever at the expense of accuracy, honesty, objectivity, fairness, or even decent manners, by dropping any standards at all in their headlong assaults on authors using only the tools of distortion, dishonesty, and insults. And this is what Mr. Oberg has done." Whew! (I must confess I've felt that way about some other people, tool).
Such words would have more persuasion behind them (to me they're merely an emotional appeal to sympathy) if Temple had ever admitted anywhere in print that he had found (or had been shown) any errors in his book or articles or public statements -- but if he has done so, I haven't become aware of them.
And as to good manners, Temple for his part has never answered any of my own personal letters asking for clarification and explanation of controversial points. Instead, he closed his response to my own article in 1979 with a brushoff: "In my view it is pointless to attack someone in print unless you can substantiate what you are saying. Since Oberg cannot do so, we need not concern ourselves with criticisms of The Sirius Mystery." I certainly concur with the first of those sentences!
If I were alone in picking on Temple's thesis, he might be able to argue a case for ad hominem persecution. But other observers have also written skeptically about the "Sirius Mystery."
A series of articles has appeared in the Griffith Observer, an astronomy magazin e issued monthly by the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. September 1976 saw Tom Sever's "The Obsession with the Star Sirius," and editor Ron Oriti's "On Not Taking it Seriously." October 1977 saw Marvin Luckermann's "More Sirius Difficulties," on ancient calendar systems and an alternate, non- extraterrestrial explanation for the ancient fascination with the number fifty (the article quotes Michael Astour's book Hellenosemitics as saying, "This exorbitant figure, very popular in Greek myths, has its explanation: it is the number of seven-day weeks in one lunar year. The proof is supplied by (the Odyssey), where Helios is said to possess 7 herds of 50 cows each and 7 herds of 50 sheep, a transparent allegory of the days and nights of the year.") In September 1980, Dr. Philip C. Steffey did an in-depth analysis of Dogon astronomical traditions in "Some Serious Astronomy in the 'Sirius Mystery,' " which criticized Temple's book as "inadequate and full of factual errors and misrepresentation of critical material."
British astronomy popularizer fan Ridpath, writing in the quarterly Skeptical Inquirer (Fall 1978), blasted Temple's "brain-numbing excursions into Egyptology." The Dogon legend connected with Sirius, wrote Ridpath, "is riddled with ambiguities, contradictions, and downright errors, at least if we try to interpret it literally." And does the Dogon mythology ever really say that Nommo, the founder of their culture, came from Sirius -- which is at the crux of Temple's reconstruction? "It does not!" Ridpath asserts. "Nowhere in his 295 page book does Temple offer one specific statement from the Dogon to substantiate his ancient astronauts claim." Concluded Ridpath: "The parts of the Dogon knowledge that are admittedly both ancient and profound, particularly the story of Nommo and the concept of twinning, are the parts that bear least relation to the true facts about Sirius. The parts that bear at least a superficial resemblance to astronomical facts are most likely trimmings added in this century. Indeed, in view of the Dogon fixation with Sirius it would surely be more surprising if they had not grafted on to their existing legend some new astronomical information gained from Europeans. We may never be able to reconstruct the exact route by which the Dogon received their current knowledge, but out of the confusion at least one thing is clear: they were not told by beings from the star Sirius."
Carl Sagan's contribution to this discussion was in his book Broca's Brain (1979). "At first glance," Sagan admitted, "the Sirius legend of the Dogon seems to be the best candidate evidence available today for man's past contact with advanced extraterrestrial civilization." But Sagan then finds both astronomical and mythological holes in the hypothesis. "There is some evidence," he points out, "that the Dogon like to frame pictures with an ellipse, and that Temple may be mistaken about the claim that in Dogon mythology the planets and Sirius-B move in elliptical orbits." Further, "The fact that the Dogon do not talk of another planet with rings beyond Saturn [i.e., Uranus, whose rings were discovered in 1977--and the rings of Jupiter weren't discovered until after Sagan's book was written, although they would have been clearly visible to any arriving extraterrestrial spacecraft] suggests to me that their informants were European, not extraterrestrial." Concludes Sagan, "There are too many loopholes, too many alternate explanations for such a myth to provide reliable evidence of past extraterrestrial contact.
Nevertheless the Sumerian Oannes myths, first described by Sagan and Shklovskiy in Intelligent Life in the Universe in 1966, are as intriguing as ever. In a recent book, The Once and Future Star (Hawthorn Books, 1977), George Michanowsky identifies "Oannes" as a Hellenized version of the Sumerian name Ea; he theorizes that the myths may refer to a gigantic supernova. Modern astronomers have discovered the remains of the supernova Vela-X in a constellation which would have been visible in the low southern sky from Sumer.
The mystery of the ancient "red" Sirius also remains baffling. Some astronomers speculate that the white dwarf Sirius B might have been a flaming red giant only 2000 years ago although current astrophysical theories decree that any such transformation in less than 100,000 years is impossible. Other ancient astronomical records make no mention of Sirius being red.
Meanwhile the Dogon myths continue to baffle investigators. The obviously advanced astronomical knowledge must have come from somewhere, but is it an ancient bequest or a modern graft? Although Temple fails to prove its antiquity, the evidence for the recent acquisition of the information is still entirely circumstantial.
Dogon descriptions of Jupiter, Saturn and Sirius remind one of Jonathan Swift's uncanny description of the two undiscovered moons of Mars. But that isn't the only parallel. Swift appears to have taken the idea of two close (although not necessarily small) moons of Mars from Voltaire's novel Micromegos in which an extraterrestrial visitor tells earthmen about the undiscovered Martian moons. And from what star system does the visitor come? You guessed it -- Sirius!
In 1977 two radio astronomers were interested enough in the Sirius mystery to direct their telescopes at the star system in hopes of picking up any artificial radio signals. None were detected, That was not surprising since, judging from the age and energy of the stars in the Sirius system, astronomers believe it is unlikely that any earthlike planets could exist there long enough for life to emerge and develop.
So where does this leave the mysteries of Sirius? The antiquity of the Dogon astronomy is not so obvious as ancient astronaut enthusiasts claim but neither has it been disproved. The ancient records are filled with unanswered astronomical questions -- including the "red Sirius" and the possible Sumerian Ea-Oannes references to the spectacular Vela-X supernova. The Dogon myths may or may not be related to these other putties (or even to Kepler's supernova, which has been seriously suggested.) It seems likely that we will never know for sure.
Whatever their place in the search for extraterrestrial contact, the Dogon myths are certainly odd. The Stone Age storytellers speak by their campfires of other people on other planets and of other mysteries. Our mysteries may be different but our questions are the same and we are no wiser.