Controversies in African History

Topics: Ancient Egypt, Race and Ethnicity, Black people Pages: 5 (1364 words) Published: November 4, 2013

Controversies in African History
In 1871, Charles Darwin suggested that Africa was the birth place of humankind. This statement ignited great controversy within Europe. Most of Europe withheld Protestant beliefs, believing that human races were separately created. They believed in Adam and Eve and completely disregarding the theory behind evolution. Because many Europeans did not want to accept that their ancestors came from Africa, the idea of the Africa cradle of human kind was easily a racial issue. According to “Human Evolution” in the book History of Africa written by Kevin Shillington, “The material evidence for human evolution depends largely upon the recovery and examination of ancient bones, fossils, stone tools and other artifacts” (Shillington 9). It is with these techniques that the first peoples of the world can be traced back to Africa. In fact, “the modern study of genetics has also been an important tool for tracing relationships between ancient peoples and the movement of people both within and out of Africa” (Shillington 9). In the mid 1980s, Allan Wilson along with his colleagues at the University of California, Berkley used mtDNA, mitochondrial DNA, to pinpoint the birth of humankind (Shreeve 5). They compared mtDNA from women around the world and “found that women of African decent showed twice as much diversity as their sisters” (Shreeve 6). With the telltale mutation occurring at a steady rate, they concluded that present day humans have lived in Africa twice as

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long as anywhere else in the world (Shreeve 6). The increasing advances in technology reflects and supports the increasing confidence of Africa being the cradle of human kind. For a long period of time, the racial identity of the ancient Egyptians has been a topic of great controversy. Along with the long-held Hollywood view of the ancient Egyptians being white, came one of the most challenging debates in history; were the ancient Egyptians black or white? Erik Gilbert and Jonathan T. Reynolds, authors of Africa in World History, say that some scholars such as James Breasted argue that the Egyptians were white. James Breasted, and Egyptologist, wrote the book, The Conquest of Civilization, an early classic of world history. The book states without question that the Egyptians were part of the “Great White Race” (Gilbert 80). Others scholars such as Cheikh Anta Diop argue that the ancient Egyptians were black. With much certainty Diop stated, “The ancient Egyptians were Negroes. The moral fruit of their civilization is to be counted among the assets of the Black world” (Gilbert 80). The reasoning behind questioning the Egyptian’s race lies within the desire of many scholars wanting to give credit to one race or the other for the great achievements and advancements of the ancient Egyptians. According to translated book The African Origin of Civilization written by Cheikh Anta Diop, a well-known African American historian and anthropologist, eyewitness of the period affirm that the Egyptians were black. Herodotus, the Greek "father of history" made reference to the Egyptians as having "black skin and wooly hair" (Diop 1). However, some scholars say this description from Herodotus was only relative to that of the fair skinned Greeks (Gilbert 80). Diop states that “we know that the Egyptians called their country Kemit, which means “black” in their language” (7). Diop proceeds to explain that people tend to dismiss the exact interpretation and implication of this word to the actual race of the Egyptians. Scholars

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rebuttal with the argument that “Kemit designates the black soil of Egypt, rather than the black man and, by extension, the black race of the country of the Blacks” (Diop 7). Not only is the race of the ancient Egyptians a topic of great controversy, but also the influence of ancient Egypt on Greece.

Along with this controversy comes another grueling debate; was Greece influenced by the ancient Egyptians? Like...

Cited: Asante, Molefi Kete. “Race in Antiquity: Truly Out of Africa.”
Diop, Cheikh Anta., and Mercer Cook. The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality.
Westport: Lawrence Hill, 1974. Print.
Gilbert, Erik, and Jonathan T. Reynolds. Africa in World History: From Prehistory to the
Present. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2008. Print.
Rogers, Guy Maclean. Black Athena Revisited. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,
1986. pp. 449-452 (abridged).
Shillington, Kevin. History of Africa. 3rd ed. New York: St. Martin 's, 1989. Print.
Shreeve, James. “The Greatest Journey and Reading Secrets of the Blood.”
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