Discussing Cheikh Anta Diop's Two Cradle Theory

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Cheikh Anta Diop’s Two Cradle Theory
Troy D. Allen
Southern University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Journal of Black Studies Volume 38 Number 6 July 2008 813-829 © 2008 Sage Publications 10.1177/0021934706290354 http://jbs.sagepub.com hosted at http://online.sagepub.com

For many scholars, the concept of race to discuss the ancient Egyptians is a modern ideological and social construct that fails to have agency in antiquity. Therefore, scholars have attempted to negate the ancient Egyptians’ African identity by stating either that race does not exist or that the Egyptians were a race of their own. This article seeks to discuss Cheikh Anta Diop’s two cradle theory by using historical and linguistic evidence to place ancient Egyptian culture in its proper cultural context. This study examines the “proto-cultures” of the three “cradles” posited by Diop: northern, southern, and the zone of confluence. Keywords: two cradle theory; Cheikh Anta Diop; matrilineal social structure; Kemetic civilization

he great African historian Cheikh Anta Diop challenged the dominant narrative of African historiography with the publication of his groundbreaking work, Nations Negres et Culture (Diop, 1955). In that work and subsequent texts, Diop emphasized his theory that ancient Kemet was an African nation and was connected to the rest of “Black Africa” (Diop, 1981). Even as important was the fact that Diop’s work demonstrated that ancient Kemet could not have emerged from the “proto-cultures” of Semitic civilization or Indo-European civilization (pp. 112-113). To demonstrate his thesis, Diop articulated what he called a two cradle theory that illustrated key underlying structures and foundations of African civilization. Then, Diop juxtaposed those characteristics against the similar structures and foundations of Indo-Aryan civilization (p. 113). The French historian Fernand Braudel (1993) stated in A History of Civilizations, These realities, these structures are generally ancient and long lived, and always distinctive and original. They it is that give civilizations their essential outline and characteristic quality. (p. 28) 813



Journal of Black Studies

Diop argued that the role and status of women was one of these underlying realities and structures that gave African civilization its uniqueness (Diop, 1974, p. 143). In fact, Braudel agrees that this is an essential criteria to be examined. Braudel states, The role of women is always a structural element in any civilization—a test: It is a long lived reality, resistant to external pressure and hard to change overnight. A civilization generally refuses to accept a cultural innovation that calls into question one of its own structural elements. (p. 29)

This article seeks to discuss Cheikh Anta Diop’s two cradle theory. Using historical and linguistic evidence, we examine what this study characterizes as the proto-cultures of the three “cradles” posited by Diop: northern, southern, and the zone of confluence. In 1908, Edward Wilmont Blyden (1908/1978) authored a small text entitled, African Life and Customs, in which he stated, There is no question now as to the human unity, but each section has developed for itself such a system or code of life as its environments have suggested to be improved, but not changed by larger knowledge. The African has developed and organized a system useful to him for all the needs of his life. (pp. 10-11)

Blyden then set out to describe four aspects of African life: the family, property, social life, and the tribes. He cautions his readers that he is speaking about a particular type of African, that is, one untouched by European or Asiatic influence, namely, as Blyden states, the “pagan African” (p. 10). The idea of an African untouched by outside influences is an essential component for Africans who wish to regain an accurate historical memory. Currently, Africa’s social organization includes both matrilineal and patrilineal...
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