Part I: Ancient Africa
from the beginnings BC / BCE
African Timelines Table of Contents History, Orature, Literature, & Film
Discussions on: African-Egyptian Question I & II | Problem of Sources |
Sacred Writing | Ancient Egyptian Writing & Literature | Ma'at & ethical principles|
African Orature | Power of the Word | What Is Culture? | Ethnicity, Language & Culture |
Can We Generalize about a Common African Culture?
5 to 2.5 million
Fossils, rocks, ancient skeletal remains have been uncovered in the Rift Valley and surrounding areas
Photo of an African rift (Univ. of Pennsylvania), 1 Apr. 2005:
Evidence points to a common human ancestry originating in Africa from the emergence of a humanlike species in eastern Africa some 5 million years ago. From Hadar, Ethiopia, the 3.18 million year-old remains of "Lucy" were unearthed in 1974.
Resources for African Archeology (ArchNet-WWW Archeology), 1 Apr. 2005:
Human Origins and Evolution in Africa (Jeanne Sept, Indiana Univ.-Bloomington), 1 Apr. 2005: http://www.indiana.edu/~origins/index.html
Early History , The Story of Africa , British Broadcasting Company [BBC] News: World Service, 1 Apr. 2005:
Wide spread of species across Asia, Europe, and Africa. Fire use develops. The earliest true human being in Africa, Homo sapiens, dates from more than 200,000 years ago.. A hunter-gatherer capable of making crude stone tools, Homo sapiens banded together with others to form nomadic groups; eventually nomadic San peoples spread throughout the African continent.
African Nomads (1) & (2) 1 Apr. 2005 : http://www.unesco.org/whc/exhibits/afr_rev/africa-c.htm
from UNESCO's World Heritage Centre : Africa Revisited - Nouveaux Regards Sur L'Afrique (In English and French) 1 Apr. 2005 :
Discoveries suggest Africa was the primary gene-center for cultivated plants like cotton, sorghum, watermelon, kola-nuts and coffee, and first site of the domestication of certain plants for food.
Agricultural Revolution Student Module ( Richard Law, Washington State U) , 1 Apr. 2005:
Rock paintings of North and South Africa
African Art in Antiquity: Rock Art (Dr. Olu Oguibe, formerly of U of South Florida):
The Olu Oguibe Art History Class (1996-1999) , 1 Apr. 2005:
Olu Oguibe Home Page
Student Internet Projects & Exhibitions
The River People emerge along Nile, Niger, and Congo Rivers (West-Central Africa); the Isonghee of Zaire (Republic of Congo) introduce mathematical abacus; and Cyclopian stone tombs built in Central African Republic area. Spread of agriculture south of the Sahara Desert supporting a growing population, which mastered animal domestication and agriculture, and forced the San groups into the less hospitable areas.
Ancient Egyptians begin using burial texts to accompany their dead, first known written documents. Ancient Egyptians, who called their land Kemet (Land of the Blacks) and Ta-Meri (Beloved Land), were primarily agriculturists who, with the practice of irrigation and animal husbandry, transformed the Nile Valley into a vibrant food-producing economy by 5000 B.C. Their settled lifestyle allowed them to develop skills in glass making, pottery, metallurgy, weaving, woodworking, leather work, and masonry. In this latter craft, ancient Egyptian practitioners excelled in architecture, as the pyramids attest.
4000 to 1000
Ancient African civilizations of the Nile Valley are established & flourish.
Black Kingdoms of the Nile (Timothy Kendall, text; PBS Online's Wonders of the African World with Henry Louis Gates, Jr .: 1999: Episode I) http://www.pbs.org/wonders/fr_e1.htm
Prof. Peter A. Piccione's History courses webpages
(Univ. of Charleston, NC; formerly of Northwestern Univ.) - http://www.cofc.edu/~piccione/index.html
include Nubia, which the Egyptians called "Kash" or " Kush ," with capitals at Napata , then Meroe
Civilizations in Africa: Kush (Richard Hooker, World Civ, Washington State):
Ancient Egyptians traced their origins to the Mount Rwenzori range in East Africa known as "the Mountains of the Moon" ( see Hum 211 African Film description of the movie by that title) , and some accounts to "Ethiopia," a term variously designating land south of Egypt (the Upper Nile Valley), or the entire African continent. Thus, Nubia, Egypt’s southern neighbor with its own civilization, probably preceded ancient Egyptian (Kemet) civilization.
Explore the Wonders ( clickable map opens up the Wonders of the African World , Henry Louis Gates, Jr., 1999): Temples of Abu Simbel, Black Pharaohs; City of Jebel Barkal; City of Meroë, & Pyramids at Giza http://www.pbs.org/wonders/fr_wn.htm
Ancient Nubia (Freeman Institute, Severn MD; & Return to Glory Film Project Joel Freeman & Don Griffin, 2000): photo gallery & commentary: http://www.freemaninstitute.com/RTGpix.htm
"Neither Goddesses nor Doormats: The Role of Women in Nubia" (Tara L. Kneller, Syracuse Univ., 1993), Don Mabry's Historical Text Archive: http://historicaltextarchive.com/sections.php?op=viewarticle&artid=23
Centers of early civilization flourish in Mesopotamia, Egypt, northeastern India, and northern China.
Ancient Egyptian & Nubian Art (Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory Univ., 2001):
"The Great Sphinx of Giza" ( Mysteries of the Nile, Nova Online Adventures, PBS Online-WGBS, 2000): "The most enigmatic of sculptures, the Sphinx was carved from a single block of limestone left over in the quarry used to build the Pyramids. Scholars believe it was sculpted about 4,600 years ago by the pharaoh Khafre, whose Pyramid rises directly behind it and whose face may be that represented on the Sphinx.
The Great Sphinx (Getty Conservation Institute, 1990-1992):
Egyptian Artifacts Exhibit - Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms (Univ. of Memphis): http://www.memphis.edu/egypt/artifact.html
University of Memphis Institute of Egyptian Art and Archaeology home page:
World Cultures' Egyptian Timeline & links (Richard Hooker, WSU, 1997):
AFRICAN-EGYPTIAN QUESTION I : Most of us in the West are familiar with ancient Egyptian civilization and its achievements, as one of the cradles of [Western] civilization.
Who Built the Pyramids? (Nova Online Adventure, PBS):
Univ. of Chicago's The Oriental Institute: A Brief History links to a profile of John Henry Breasted , founder, "among the earliest to champion the role that the ancient Near East played in the rise of western civilization, . . .long before the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome": http://www-oi.uchicago.edu/OI/INFO/OIBH/OIBH.html#Breasted
It is important to remember that Egypt is in Africa: see Map (Nova Online Adventure, PBS):
Ancient Kemet (as the ancient Egyptians called their kingdom, a term dating from ca. 3100 BCE) is also the cradle of Black African civilization. A subject of heated contemporary debate is the ethnicity and/or color of the ancient Egyptians, and Africanist scholars like Molefi Kete Asante and Abu S. Abarry observe that "the more [ancient] Egypt is seen as a society of significance to human civilization, the more its [black African] origins are disputed by some white scholars." They claim that racist sentiments have led "revisionist historians of the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries, the age of the European slave trade [and European colonization of Africa], …to discredit Africans," "to explain away the African base" of ancient Egypt, "and to accredit all African achievement to the presence of European genes." It is well to note that the ancient Greeks described the way the Egyptians looked to them: "The ancient Greek writers Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus, and Aristotle all testified …that the ancient Egyptians were ‘black-skinned'" (Asante and Abarry 3-4).
Debates on "Afrocentrism" (Molefi Kete Asante's term) and Martin Bernal's controversial "Black Athena" thesis:
Africa South of the Sahara: History: Afrocentrism (Karen Fung, Stanford Univ. Libraries)
Paul Halsall's Internet African History Sourcebook (scroll down to Contents: African History: General: Debates): http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/africa/africasbook.html
Statue of King Tut'ankhamun (Egyptian Museum, Cairo) : http://touregypt.net/museum/stat.htm
"Nefertari: Saving the Queen," by Jeffrey Levin, The Getty Conservation Institute Newsletter 7.3 (Fall 1992): Maat, the goddess of truth and cosmic order, protects Nefertari with her outstretched wings. Photo: Guillermo Aldana: http://www.getty.edu/conservation/resources/newsletter/7_3/nefertari.html
The Tomb of Nefertari (1986-1992): "The Getty Conservation Institute's first field project focused on the 3,200-year-old tomb of Queen Nefertari in the Valley of the Queens, near Luxor, Egypt" (J. Paul Getty Museum). "The Institute collaborated with the Egyptian Antiquities Organization to conserve the 3,200-year-old wall paintings in the Tomb of Queen Nefertari, and to develop a long-term maintenance plan for the tomb."
Art and Eternity: The Nefertari Wall Paintings Conservation Project, 1986-1992
Site: Valley of the Queens: http://www.kv5.com/html/data_queens.html
Faces of Ancient Egypt: Ancient Egyptian Art from the Oriental Institute Museum, David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art, Univ. of Chicago, 1996-1997:
World Cultures' Ancient Egypt Gallery
The African-Egyptian Question II: Asante and Abarry are among Africanist scholars who maintain that African "civilization as expressed from the ancient cultures of the Nile Valley [e.g. Egypt/Kemet, Nubia/Kush] , have tied together the diverse peoples of the [African] continent and the [African] Diaspora* in ways that distinguish Africans from Europeans or Asians"--although one must be careful not "to assume too much commonality" among African cultures and societies, each "unique, having developed its own orientation to the universe and the physical environment in its concepts of religion, science, art, and politics." Nevertheless, in "the practical experiences of African peoples" across the continent today these scholars trace the continuation of "ancient myths and beliefs in resurrection and life, reincarnation, matrilineality [lineage traced through the "mothers"], burial of the dead, the value of children, the ultimate goodness of the earth" (Asante and Abarry 111) , as well as reverence for the ancestors believed part of the living human community—a worldview integrating past and future into the present.
* African Diapora can be defined as the global community of Africans and peoples of African descent living outside of Africa.
PROBLEM OF SOURCES : Modern scholars must confront 2 major problems when trying to establish the ancient sources of African traditions: (1) loss of sources due to human or natural intervention (e.g., destroyed by invading armies or carried off to Western museums and private collections); and (2) undeciphered documents (e.g., the Merotic texts of ancient Meroe--which probably pre-dates ancient Kemet (Egypt)-- remain undeciphered).
2700 to 1087
Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom , & New Kingdom of ancient Egypt & Upper Nile.
Map of Ancient Egypt, ca. 1650 BCE (Ralph et al's World Civilizations , Ch. 39; Examination Chapters , W. W. Norton):
Life in Ancient Egypt (Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, PA)
Chronology of Ancient Egypt :
Gods & Religion:
Richard Hooker's Egyptian Timeline ( World Civilizations, WSU):
Ancient Egypt and Nubia (Africa: Art of a Continent, Guggenheim Museum, New York):
First pyramid of Djoser was built at Saqqara (Old Kingdom era, 2686-2182 BCE)
U of Memphis' clickable map of Step Pyramid Complex of Djoser ( ca. 2800 BC) http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/arth/zoser/zoser.html
Saqqara was the main necropolis of Memphis:
Univ. of Penn's Map locating Saqqara in ancient Egypt :
Old Kingdom-era master architect Imhotep was also chief physician, prime minister, teacher, philosopher, priest, & astronomer. Equated by the Greeks with their god of healing, Imhotep is regarded by many as the father of medicine.
Imhotep - 3rd Dynasty (from Who's Who of Egypt ):
See U of Memphis' clickable Map of Egypt of ancient sites along Nile Valley:
ca. 2300- 2100
Heliopolis Creation Narrative of the Kemetic priests of On, and the Memphite Declaration of the Deities (carved on a granite slab carving at the order of Nubian King Shabaka, ca. 710 BCE, recopied from earlier papyrus version), are the earliest written human accounts of creation. U of Memphis' clickable Map of Egypt of ancient sites along Nile Valley, also locates Heliopolis: http://www.memphis.edu/egypt/map.htm
In the Memphis theology, the deity Ptah unites "heart and tongue" to create all "through utterance"—the spoken word. Creation narratives are found throughout Africa passed down through across centuries and generations through oral traditions (Asante and Abarry 12-13)
Egyptian Mythology , courtesy of Tour Egypt , Official Internet Site of: The Ministry of Tourism, Egypt, The Egyptian Tourist Authority :
Clickable pictographic "Map" of the Egyptian Underworld (Richard Hooker, World Civilizations, WSU):
West African Cosmogony: Origin Myths of Mande, Yoruba and Cameroon (Franklin & Marshall College Anthropology 269 course):
SACRED WRITING : "Ancient Africans believed that the deity Dhehuti [Thoth] invented writing…. Dhehuti, who became the Greek Hermes, was associated with wisdom and knowledge. Writing brought with it so much power and influence that the ancient Africans reserved the knowledge and skill for priests and kings. Mystery and magic surrounded the development of the art, because few people could appreciate the strange markings on papyrus" (Asante and Abarry 2) : "Although only a small portion of the population was literate, a great proportion of objects from Egypt are covered with writing,"according to UChicago's Oriental Institute. See Oriental Institute Virtual Museum (Univ. of Chicago):
Egyptian Gallery: Writing: http://www-oi.uchicago.edu/OI/MUS/QTVR96/EG/EgD.html
The Egyptians called their writing, medu netcher , or "the words of the gods" ("hieroglyph" is a Greek word which means "sacred writing"), according to Richard Hooker ( World Civilizations, WSU, 1996 ). See "The Words of the Gods: Hierglyphics": http://www.wsu.edu:8000/~dee/EGYPT/MEDU.HTM
& see Egyptian icons (Univ. of Pennsylvania): http://www.sas.upenn.edu/African_Studies/Egypt_GIFS/Egyptian_Icons_12112.gif
Later, throughout the continent, many traditional African cultures developed "secret societies, actually societies of secrets,…with their own scripts" (e.g., the Vai, Bambara, Benin, Bakongo, Peul, and Akan). "As symbol systems for sacred occasions, these scripts are often under the control of specially trained and consecrated priests" (Asante and Abarry 2).
ANCIENT EGYPTIAN WRITING & LITERATURE: Creative literature included poems, plays, and narratives, as well as the oldest religious and ethical texts which include the "Pyramid Texts" and the "Declarations of Virtues." Greek philosophy, as well as many of the basic tenets of the major world religions, were pre-configured in ancient Egyptian civilization," which early Greek philosophers would later acknowledge the debt that they owed to " Egyptian knowledge systems in which they were educated" (Mutere). However, it was not until the 19 th century, and the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, that scholars were able to decipher the ancient Kemetic writings on stone and papyrus. The Rosetta Stone now stands in the British Museum, London.
Illuminating World Cultures - Egypt (British Museum)
Ancient Egypt Interactive Learning (British Museum)
Writing - including the Rosetta Stone (British Museum)
Dept. of Egyptian Antiquities (British Museum) "illustrates every aspect of ancient Egyptian cultures from Predynastic times (c. 4000 BC) down to the Coptic (Christian) period (12th century AD) and includes a significant amount of material from Nubia and the Sudan"
The Egyptian Exhibition: The Rosetta Stone (Hunterian Library, Univ. of Glasgow) offers photo & text: http://www.hunterian.gla.ac.uk/museum/egypt/rosetta.h tml
The Egyptian Exhibition : http://www.hunterian.gla.ac.uk/museum/egypt/egypt.html
MA'AT : the African ethical principles collectively embracing the values of truth, harmony, justice, reciprocity and cosmological order.
Ma'at: Goddess of Truth; Truth & Order (Richard Hooker, World Civilizations, WSU): http://www.wsu.edu:8000/~dee/EGYPT/MAAT.HTM
Kemetic texts "paint a powerful portrait of ancient Egyptian moral and ethical standards. Central to the ancient Egyptian ethos is the concept of Ma’at" (Mutere). Ma'at was the ancient Egyptian goddess who personified "truth" and "justice," and "is identified by a feather against which She weighs each person's soul in her hall of judgment. Egyptian priests would draw the feather of Ma'at on their tongues in green dye to give their words truth and creative power" (Mutere).
Image of judgment of the soul before Osiris :
from Book of the Dead: http://www-oi.uchicago.edu/OI/MUS/HIGH/OIM_10486.html
(Ptolemaic Period, ca. 332-30 B.C. Papyrus and ink)
"The Book of the Dead was a collection of spells, hymns, and prayers intended to secure for the deceased safe passage to and sojourn in the other world."
The "ethical principles of Ma’at" shape "the key idea in the traditional African approach to life," recurring "in most African societies as the influence of right and righteousness, justice and harmony, balance, respect, and human dignity," according to Asante and Abarry (59) . Most traditional African religions perpetuate the "fundamental principles of harmony between humans, humans and the environment, and humans and the spirit world" (Asante and Abarry 59).
From the Carnegie Museum of Natural History:
"Of all the deities, the goddess Maat was the most important in perpetuating the status quo. The Egyptians believed that when the gods formed the land of Egypt out of chaos, Maat was created to embody truth, justice, and the basic orderly arrangement of the world. Maat personified the perfect state of the god-created world, and all that people had to do in order to live and prosper in the world was to honor and preserve Maat. On a national level, it was the king's responsibility to preserve Maat through daily offerings given at the temples. On an individual level, the goal of every Egyptian was to lead a honorable life that would allow entrance into the afterlife after death."
-" Gods and Religion, " Teacher's Guide to the Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt (1999)
Life in Ancient Egypt: Resources for Teachers:
Women's Rights: Ancient Egypt & the United States
Women in World History Curriculum (Lyn Reese, Director) :
ca. 1000 - 800
Bantu ("the people") migration spreads through sub-Saharan Africa (Africa south of the Sahara Desert), over some 2,000 years. Bantu, a linguistically related group of about 60 million people living in equatorial and southern Africa, probably originated in West Africa, migrating downward gradually into southern Africa. The Bantu migration was one of the largest in human history. The cause of this movement is uncertain, but is believed related to population increase, a result of the introduction of new crops, such as the banana (native to south Asia), allowing more efficient food production. Societies typically depended on subsistence agriculture or, in the savannas, pastoral pursuits. Political organization was normally local, although large kingdoms would later develop in western and central Africa.
The Iron Age South of the Sahara (Richard Hooker, Civilizations in Africa ,WSU)
Early in their history, the Bantu split into two major linguistic branches—the Eastern and Western Bantu. The Eastern Bantu migrated through present-day Zimbabwe and Mozambique, down to South Africa. The Western Bantu moved into what is now Angola, Namibia, and northwestern Botswana. Today, among the Bantu language groups, the most widely spoken Bantu-derived language is Arab-influenced Swahili, which is used as a lingua franca (a language used in common by different peoples to facilitate commerce and trade) by up to 50 million speakers on the eastern coast of Africa. Ethnic groups descended from the Bantu include the Shona, the Xhosa, the Kikuyu, and the Zulu, of the Eastern Bantu language branch; and the Herero and Tonga peoples, of the Western Bantu language branch.
Ethnologue: Languages of the World - Africa, 14th ed. (Barbara F. Grimes, ed., SIL [Summer Institute of Linguistics] International, Dallas, Texas, 2001.):
Kush or Nubia (upper or southern reaches of Nile River) rules Egypt from capital Meroe; with metal technology, widened economic influence in sub-Saharan Africa
Civilizations in Africa: Kush
(Richard Hooker, World Civilizations,Washington State Univ.)
"The Aksumites were a people formed from the mix of Kushitic speaking people in Ethiopia and Semitic speaking people in southern Arabia who settled the territory across the Red Sea around 500 BC." Civilizations in Africa: Axum
(Richard Hooker, World Civilizations, WSU):
Ancient Nok culture thrives in forests of central Nigeria (to CE 200). Claimed by the Yoruba peoples as ancestors, the Nok are justly revered for their art and terra cottas .
Ancient Africa: The Nok, Mr. Dowling's Electronic Passport to Ancient Africa (Mike Dowling, 2001): http://www.mrdowling.com/609-nok.html
Nok Museum of African Arts, The Museum of African Arts @ Harlemm.com (1996), an electronic collection of works held by other museums and private collectors:
http://www.nokmuseum.org/aboutnok.html Re-check this link. LL-JUL1703
" Rulers of Nubia established their capital at Meroë around 300 B.C., and the kingdom lasted there for more than nine centuries." Wonders: City of Meroe , Black Kingdoms of the Nile (Timothy Kendall, text; PBS Online's Wonders of the African World with Henry Louis Gates, Jr .: 1999: Episode I ) http://www.pbs.org/wonders/Episodes/Epi1/1_wondr4.htm
"A Tale of Two Floodplains: Comparative Perspectives on the Emergence of Complex Societies and Urbanism in the Middle Niger and Senegal Valleys," AFRICAN ORATURE : Ancient writing traditions exist on the African continent, as shown earlier in this timeline, but most Africans are primarily oral peoples, and their art forms primarily oral rather than literary.. In contrast to written "literature," African "orature" is orally composed and transmitted, and often created to be verbally and communally performed as integral part of dance and music. Oral arts and traditions of Africa are rich and varied, developing with the beginnings of African cultures, and continuing to flourish today.
POWER OF THE WORD : In traditional African cosmologies, the spoken/performed word animating the creative process, is considered to have special powers to evoke spiritual and communal forces and ferment inner life. African oral arts often combine religious, artistic as well as social functions: e.g., to convey wisdom, teach ethics and social codes of conduct; teach religious beliefs and communal values, celebrate cultural heroes and revered ancestors, & explain the origins, history, and development of states, clans, and other important social organizations. Mutere calls African oral arts "art for life’s sake." Dr. Mutere's "African Culture and Aesthetics": http://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/aoi/history/ao-guide.html
African Spirituality and Philosophy:
from KAMMAASI / Sankofa Project Guide , 1999
African oral arts genres take many forms--including proverbs and riddles,
epic narratives, oration and personal testimony, praise poetry-songs, chants
and rituals, stories, legends and folktales.
African Proverbs, Sayings, and Stories: http://www.afriprov.org/index.htm
Moderator Rev. Joseph G. Healey, M.M., Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Urban Ministries Support Group (UMSG) in Nairobi, Kenya
WHAT IS CULTURE? See WSU Learning Commons website What Is Culture? , the baseline definition of culture , and pursue links on important definitions, quotations, and discussions of culture.
Meanwhile consider an Anthropologist’s definition: "Culture consists of the abstract values, beliefs, and perceptions of the world" that shape people’s behaviors and are reflected in those behaviors." Shared by members of a society, "[c]ultures are learned, largely through the medium of language, rather than inherited biologically, and the parts of a culture function as an integrated whole." "People maintain cultures to deal with problems or matters that concern them. To survive, a culture must satisfy the basic needs of those who live by its rules, provide for its own continuity and an orderly existence…," "strike a balance between the self-interests of individuals and the needs of the society as a whole," and "have the capacity to change in order to adapt to new circumstances or to altered perceptions of existing circumstances" (William A. Havilland, Anthropology, 7 th ed, Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1994; p. 303].
ETHNICITY , LANGUAGE AND CULTURE: As Africa’s peoples established themselves and diversified in response to local conditions, they developed distinctive cultures, oral traditions and oral art forms. Africa’s hundreds of different ethnic groups are often defined by the language they speak, according to contemporary (especially Western) scholarly practice. Spoken African languages indigenous to the continent are variously estimated to number from 700 to 3000 .
Ethnologue: Languages of the World - Africa, 13th ed. (Barbara F. Grimes, ed., Summer Institute of Linguistics, Dallas, Texas,1996.): http://www.sil.org/ethnologue/countries/Africa.html
"Apart from Arabic, which is not confined to Africa, the most widely spoken African tongues are Swahili (an Arab-influenced Bantu language) and Hausa, each with more than 20 million speakers today. Several languages (often inaccurately termed dialects simply because they have few users) are spoken by only a few thousand people. On the average an African language has about 200,000 speakers; only a few dozen languages have more than 1 million speakers." Scholars group African languages into four language families: Afro-Asiatic, Nilo-Saharan, Khoisan, and Niger-Congo. . . . [A language family is defined a group of related languages assumed to derive from a common origin, and often subdivided into branches composed of more closely related languages.] At least some of the African linguistic families are believed to have a history of more than 5000 years" ( Microsoft Encarta 97 Encyclopedia ).
Of related interest: "Where Do Languages Come From?" by linguist Merritt Ruhlen (Exploratorium Magazine Online 23.1): http://www.exploratorium.edu/exploring/language/index.html
Pathway: Back Issues / Language Volume 23 Number 1:
Regarding the question of cultural/"genetic" identity, see Prof. Gene Gragg's provocative 1996 summary of the Oriental Institute's AfroAsiatic Index Project: "Around the same time that they were discovering Indo-European, scholars were becoming aware of the existence of other major families like Semitic (uniting, among others, Akkadian, Aramaic, Hebrew, Ugaritic, Arabic, South Arabian, and Ethiopic)....To make matters worse [for historical linguists trying to establish whether languages are "genetically" related], evidence has been accumulating that Semitic is not an isolated family, but is itself part of a superfamily, probably older than Indo-European, which stretched over large parts of Northern and Eastern Africa and Western Asia. This family, sometimes still called 'Hamito-Semitic,' but now more often 'Afroasiatic' or 'Afrasian' includes-besides Semitic-Egyptian, Berber, Cushitic (a heterogeneous group of dozens of languages, including Somali, centered around the Horn of Africa), Omotic (a large group of languages in Southwest Ethiopia), and Chadic (more than a hundred languages, including Hausa, spoken over a large sub-Saharan area centered around Lake Chad). Relationships are still being established within the last four groups, many individual languages are very poorly known, and new information is coming in on an almost daily basis." ( "ETYMOLOGY AND ELECTRONICS: THE AFROASIATIC INDEX," [Oriental Institute, Univ. of Chicago]
CAN WE GENERALIZE ABOUT A COMMON "AFRICAN CULTURE" GIVEN THE CONTINENT'S GREAT DIVERSITY?
Yes, argue some Africanist scholars. Consider that there are ways other than language by which common ethnicity and cultural identity can be defined: for example, by a group's belief in a common origin (e.g. the Mande peoples trace a common origin to Sundjata Keita, legendary 13 th century founder of the Mali Empire: see Part II: African Empires ), and increasing cultural similarities among groups can develop over centuries of contact and exchange. Kwame Gyeke points out (1) that "a number of Africa’s ethnic groups are small" and their "cultures have been so greatly influenced by those of neighboring large groups that they…share the culture of the large groups"; (2) that "a seemingly distinct ethnic group may in fact…be a subdivision…of a larger ethnic group"; and (3) that common cultural patterns extend across African states because "arbitrary and unrealistic boundaries drawn a century ago by Africa’s [European] colonial masters" found single ethnic groups [bound by kinship, language, and cultural ties] in two or more neighboring countries (in Asante and Abarry 297-298) . Thus, Gyekeye and others believe it is possible to generalize, cautiously and respectful of local and regional cultural diversity, about common and pervasive features of African cultures, In any case, some oral arts genres, such as praise poetry, are common to most African peoples (see J udith Gleason, ed. Leaf and Bone: African Praise-Poems. New York: Penguin Books, 1994 ). Kofi Awoonor, respected African poet and oral arts historian, calls Africa’s oral poetic tradition one of the oldest and most continuous of all African oral arts.
Kofi Awoonor: http://www.uflib.ufl.edu/cm/africana/awoonor.htm
African Writers: Voices of Change (Africana Collection, George A. Smathers Libraries,
NEXT > PART II: African Empires AD/CE 1st - 15th centuries
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African Timelines Table of Contents History, Orature, Literature, & Film
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