Saturday, November 15, 2008

Examples of Cultural Similarities between those in the Nile Valley and those in other areas of Africa

The goal here is to highlight cultural parallelism or similarities between Dynastic Egypt and elsewhere in Africa from various sources; mind you, not to argue for or against cultural diffusion between communities in the said regions. Let's start this compilation of cultural parallels between ancient Egypt and other parts of Africa with the "Rainmaker King", neatly described in the following 2004 piece by Simon Simonse, Kings and Gods as Ecological Agents: Reciprocity and Unilateralism in the Management of Natural Order; an interesting piece that goes over the impact of ecological situations on interaction within communities and visa versa, how that ties into Kingship and ritualization. It serves as an interesting demonstration on how the thin layer of the ruling elite sought to legitimize their authority by appealing to divine connection, as being agents divinely appointed to their role or place in society, which at times [like a double-edged sword], that is to say — in times of natural disasters and extraordinary hardship came back to bite them in the behind, when leaders failed to curb said hardship of the people...  


The Rainmaker concept  
Among the Lulubo and Lokoya, responsibility for the various aspects of the natural environment that can be critical for community survival is allocated to the different clans. In case of a crisis (drought, infertility) the clan associated with the problem, is the target of investigations. The main investigation strategy is to check, one by one, the quarrels members of that clan have been involved in. When such a conflict has been identified, a solution is suggested: by way of reconciliation or restitution. Of particular interest are provocations of the responsible clan official. If a settlement of the dispute fails to bring the required result, there will be more rounds of investigation. If no solution is found the official of the clan associated with the disorder will be suspected of deliberately sabotaging the community. Accusations and counter-accusations will be thrown back and forth. The clan-official stands face-to-face with the community. If the disaster subsides, and if he uses the expectations focused on him cleverly, he may come out as a more powerful and wealthier member of the community. If the disaster prolongs, and there are no other candidates left to be blamed, he must be killed. He ends up as the scapegoat of his community.  

This type of drama is most elaborate in the case of the Rainmaker. Of the various public concerns the weather has the greatest dramatic potential. Rains are capricious and localised. Rain falls over a period of 9 months. Its timeliness is a precondition for the two main harvests. The tension is particularly high in June when the first crop is about to be harvested and the annual period of hunger is peaking. The power of Rainmakers is built on this suspense. If they manage the rains well they gain in prestige. If the rains fail the community turns against its Rainmaker blaming him or her of drought. For as long as the drought persists, the confrontation between the king and his community will escalate. The process follows the steps listed in the attached table. It may ultimately lead to the Rainmaker being killed. In the area I studied I identified 26 cases of accomplished killings of kings within living memory. As the crisis deepens and the need for a solution rises all members of the community, including women and children, are gradually drawn into the process. It is the most dramatic manifestation of the community acting as a unified entity…

The clan-leaders, Rainmakers, the Master of the Bush, Master of the Soil, the Master of Birds etc. are given recognition by being given designated parts of game after a hunt, the first catch of white ants, etc. They may be reminded of their responsibility by an annual sacrifice at the beginning of the season. Clan- officials are also called on on a private basis: to bless a newly cleared field, heal barrenness, to protect against pests…  

Between the different ecological responsibilities, rain is the most important. The importance not only depends on its practical importance for agriculture but also on its potential for generating social consensus during a period of crisis. While the Rainmaker usually shares the title of ‘King’ (Lulubo ‘osi’, Lokoya, ‘ohobu’ Lotuho ‘hobu’) with two or three other officials (usually fertility and soil) their cosmological position as ‘kings of heaven’ is matched by the highest social status.

Reciprocity in the management of natural order may be negative as well as positive. If the members of the community provoke the clan official, disorder will follow: leopards may turn up at unusual places, the soil will turn infertile, and women have miscarriages. Initial solutions for addressing such disorder are through mechanisms of exchange, by way of restitution and restoration. However the reciprocity is not between the community and the environment but between different clans using their ecological powers to blackmail others and create dependency…  

In few ethnographic areas is the continuity between kingship and divinity, captured in Rene Girard’s famous phrase that “gods are dead kings as much as sacred kings are gods who have not yet died”, so easily visible as in the Nilotic world. The death of the Eastern Nilotic Rainmaker/King plays a key role. If he dies as a victim of the crowd, his death is expected to release the rain and to re-activate ecological normality. If the King dies a non-violent death his powers will remain active for at least one complete season. For that period the tomb will be the object of ritual attention. For about one year after his death the King will not be succeeded. The dead King reigns. Before the new rainy season, after the tomb has been flattened, a new person will take over. We could say that these kings enjoy a short-lived divinity. The power of the king and that of divinity are continuous. The same terms are used for both. To say that a certain rainmaker’s powers are effective the Lulubo will say: the man is really ‘ juok’ . “Juok’ is the word used for God. 

Source: Kings and Gods as Ecological Agents: Reciprocity and Unilateralism in the Management of Natural Order

More on the Rainmaker King, we have the following excerpt taken from Stuart Piggott's work on the "The Dawn of Civilization", with references to Cyril Aldred's "Egypt to the End of the Old Kingdom",...

"But although the purely archaeological evidence might appear to demonstrate a parallel development in the two areas, we know that in fact this, though superficially existing in material culture, was not the product of identical societies, nor was it leading to such state of affairs. In Mesopotamia the beginnings of little independent city-states under tutelary gods, rulers, councils and assemblies are perceptible, though later to be submerged in a familiar pattern of oriental despotism, but in Egypt from the beginning we are able to glimpse that essentially African figure, the omnipotent, rainmaking, god-king. The prehistoric cheiftain, a rainmaker and medicine-man, with magic power over the weather and therefore able to keep his people in health and prosperity becomes with the founding of the first, the Pharoah, a divine king being in command over the Nile and able to sustain and protect the nation."

One sees elements of this divine kinship and its ability to manipulate natural climatic-geological matters in predynastic concepts of the "god in the city", as put forth by Budge; if one thinks about it, pre-dynastic Egypt was made up of Lower and Upper Egyptian kingdoms, which means each had their own local gods and beliefs...

In prehistoric times every little village or town, every district and province, and every great city, had its own particular god...  

The god of the village, although he was a more important being, might be led into captivity along with people of the village, but the victory of his followers in a raid or fight caused the honours paid to him be magnified and enhanced his renown. [kind of like what we see in the Rainmaker King concept]  

The gods of provinces or of great cities were, of course, greater than those of villages and private farmilies, and in the large houses dedicated to them, i.e., temples, a considerable number of them, represented by statues, would be found...  

whenever and wherever the Egyptian attempted to set up a system of gods they always found that the old local gods had to be taken into consideration, and a place had to be found fo them in the system. This might be done by making them members of triads, or of groups of nine gods, now commonly called "enneads"; but in one form or other they had to appear. The researches made during the last few years have shown that there must have been several large schools of theological thought in Egypt, and each of these the priests did their utmost to proclaim the superiority of their gods... 

we see that the great god of Heliopolis was Temu or Atum, the setting sun, and to him the priests of that place ascribed the attributes which rightly belong to Ra, the Sun-god of the day-time. For some reason or other, they formulated the idea of a company of gods, nine in number, which was called the "great company (paut) of gods", and at the head of this company they placed the god Temu...

The priests of Heliopolis in setting Temu at the head of their company of the gods thus gave Ra, and Nu also, a place of high honour; they cleverly succeeded in making their own local god chief of the company, but at the same time they provided the older gods with positions of importance. In this way worshippers of Ra, who had regarded their god as the oldest of the gods, would have little cause to complain of the introduction of Temu into the company of the gods, and the local vanity of Heliopolis would be gratified. - E. A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Religion.

Another ritual attached to kingship, is brought to attention by Marie Ange, in the following extract:

BONHÊME, Marie-Ange, Appétit de roi, in: Hommages Leclant 2, 45-53. Discussion of the theme "eating the kingship," a practice attested in Papyrus Brooklyn (47.218.50, col. XVI, 6-7) describing the rites of the "confirmation of the royal power in the New Year." In these rites the king is eating the jAw.t/jA.t symbol in bread. There seem to be some similarities between the described Egyptian rites and the conception and practice of "eating the kingship" in certain African kingdoms.

Courtesy of some poster going by the moniker of "Pax Dahomensis" on a discussion forum, the following was brought to attention:

There are several sources dealing with cultural comparative studies between Kmt and traditional other African cultures. Unfortunately I only have a few of them at home so the following information will be largely incomplete. Most of the following information is taken from Egyptologists Aboubacry Moussa Lam, Oum Ndigi and Jean Charles Coovi Gomez' francophone works. I have found myself a lot of other similarities but as I plan to publish them in the future, I don't want to post them on here for now.  

I) Pantheon and Mythology: Many Kemetic deities are still worshipped in modern Africa.Here are a few. Oum Ndigi demonstrated by showing ten homophones of Geb's names identical to their counterparts in Basaa which are also homophones of a Basaa deity called Koba, that Geb and Koba are the very same deity. He also pointed out some mythological parallelisms such as the identification of Geb and Koba to the Time, to a goose sitting on the Primordial egg, to the fifth of the Primordial ancestors, etc...  

Aboubacry Moussa Lam pointed out some striking resemblances between Dogon and Kemetic mythologies. Like in Kmt, the Dogon creation began with primordial waters (called Nommo in the Dogon language ,a word related to the kmtic Nwmw which would most logically be the actual translitteration of one of the mdw ntr usually translitterated by Egyptologists as "Nwnw"(Nun)), which are "populated" in both areas by reptile-like creatures. From these waters came out eight creatures that came to life as couples: they are thus an ogdoad but become an ennead along with the creator god just like in Kmt. The supreme God of Dogon people is called Amma, a name related to 'Imn (Amun) according to Théophile Obenga and both Gods do use their penises and speech to create. Like Amun who was invoked by Pharaohs to make the level of water rise, Amma is a water god. Still according to French Africanist Marcel Griaule, Amma is a ram wearing a calabash between his horns representing the sun.We all know that Amun was often depicted as a Ram wearing but he actually wasn't before the New Kingdom:he was only a provincial unsolarized deity and wasn't assimilated to the ram back then. It would thus mean that contacts between the two populations occurred after the NK.Pic of Amen-Ra at Abu Simbel:

Recently, Théophile Obenga said that the name of the supreme God of Dagari people of Burkina Faso was Myin and that this name was related to 'Imn.Interestingly enough, Myin is also considered to be the sun to Dagari people. Perhaps some meticulous comparative researchs about Myin and Amun could lead to the same conclusion as the relationship between Amun & Amma.  

II) Conception of death Kemetians had a conception of death quite similar to that of modern Africans. According to this page:

Because Re was Atum as well as Amun, people saw him as simply another form of the Creator god. Because he traveled each day through the heavens, he was also the god of time. The “birth” and “death” of the sun each day helped the Egyptians to understand time, life, death, and resurrection. The sun gave the Egyptians confidence that life never ended, and that death was merely another form of life. The Kushites shared the same beliefs.  

About the BaKongo people of Central Africa, this page says:

Life in that sense is a cyclical and repetitive movement between the two worlds mentioned above, resembling the path of the sun. At the rising and setting of the sun then, the living and the dead exchange day and night. In Kongo belief, man's life does not end, it constitutes a cycle, and death is merely a transition in the process of change. Following that belief, a man's soul does not dwell in the grave after his death but leaves it to become a ghost (n'kuyu) in the land of the dead, which is called ku mpemba a fula.  


This was the form in which the blessed dead lived on in the hereafter. It was also the result of the union between the Ba and the Ka. An Akh was believed to live on unharmed for eternity, they were sometimes referred to as 'The Shining Ones'.  

French Africanist Louis Vincent Thomas reported a fon chant describing death(ku) as an illumination after which life would no more lived be into darkness.

According to Egyptian beliefs, the soul of the dead accompanied the sun on its eternal journey in the Upper Waters (the heavens) around the world. A boat or at least a model of a boat was therefore included in every tomb.  

Beninese anthropologist B.Adoukonou reported that the dead had to travel with a boat to the world of the deads. Many people of modern day Africa do use the same term as the Md Ntr "akh" meaning "to become a spirit",e.g. ku le-ku. Of this word are also derived terms meaning "ghost" in these languages e.g. kutito(fon-gbe),okue(mbochi) just like akhu(ghost) derives from akh in the Mdw Ntr.  

When French missionaries discovered the term "okue", they systematically and erroneously translated it by "devil". Interestingly in Coptic, akhu also means "devil "although we know that they were definitely considered as such during pharaonic Times. Perhaps the Christians who evangelized both Kemetians and Mbochi people had the same reaction vis à vis of the same concept.  

A representation of an animated Djed Pillar:

A Kutito/Egungun ceremony in Porto Novo,Benin: 

In Togo,Benin and Nigeria, the Kutito(among Gbe speaking people) and Egungun (among Yoruba speaking people) are masked dancing ancestors returning to earth to help and punish living people. Jean Charles Coovi Gomez pointed out that this ceremony was exactly the same as what we know of Kemetic "raising the Djed Pillar Ceremony".  

Egungun ,the Yoruba name of the ceremony means "bone, skeleton". In Kmt, the Djed pillar was considered as the backbone of the neter Ausar. There is ample evidence for mummification in traditional Africa. Félix Dubois reported it among Songhoi people, M.Delafosse among Baule(Akan) people of Ivory Coast, A.M.L Desplagnes among the Dogon and Mossi, J.C.C.Gomez among the Yoruba.  

Mummy of the Obi Ijeh of Idumuoghu,Ibusa, Nigeria From Oscar Pfouma "Histoire culturelle de l'Afrique Noire": 

The Dogon sign "gono" or "gonono", written at the end of the Sigi Time (sixty years) and identical to the Egyptian "ânkh" represents God after he created the world. Ancient Egyptians also celebrated, each sixty years, a ceremony called "hn" representing the renewing of the world. The osirian rite Sâh and the Dogon Sigi are isomorphic. The relationship between AE and modern Black Africa is irrefutable.  

Dogon gonono:"a 60 years time"  
Egypt hnn:"a 60 years time"(Budge)  
Dogon Sigi  
Egypt sâh
Dogon Naporo=Osiris  
Egypt Npr=Osiris(E.Naville)

The Egyptian word for deity but also pharaoh, Ntr is also found in modern BA languages as thus:  

Coptic:Noyte, Nute  

BA and AE religious customs are exactly the same;Hermopolitan cosmogony is found among Northern Cameroon populations.According to M.Maubert "Coutumes du Gurma":

"it is impossible (...) even for a layman, to not mention (...) AE, more precisely Hermopolis in Middle Egypt, whose specialists tell us that its cosmogony was about some elements (...)very similar to those we had the surprise to found among Fali people.A primordial egg or "Mother Egg". Two waters existing before everything, (...) "Waters containing waiting germs of creation (...) the only trait common to all the AE cosmogonies (...)" Existence of two lands and four rivers. The intervention of an ogdoad, whose members ,the organizers of the world who worked to built the more or less complete state of the world we know today (...) were originally one and same divinity but represented four entities and finally four couples (...), each couple representing the male and female aspect of one of the other entities (...) The classical iconography shows this eight characters as strange anthropomorphic creatures (...) frog-headed men, snake-headed women in Egypt and are described as crawling beasts living in muddy waters in Cameroon. Even the black ape, mentioned by Lebeuf reminds us of Thot, the baboon-headed god of Hermopolis."  

The name of Thot(Greek name for Djehuti) is still found in Modern BA:Zukta, Zigta,(Muhuleh), Jukta(Jukun).

Speaking of mummy traditions, indeed one can argue that it likely had its origins amongst certain communities in pre-historic Sahara, as the so-called Uan/"Black Mummy" found in the Libyan desert exemplifies.

Parallels in posturing...

Top image shows the Fon art on the left hand side, which is reminiscent in its theme, of the ancient Egyptian wall relief of Rameses smiting an enemy on the right hand side. Bottom image shows another example of parallels between west Sahelian/Sub-Saharan art [likely Benin carving] — sporting the head of some carnivorous creature [likely a feline of some sort] on the left hand side, and two ancient Egyptian figurines — one sporting a falcon head, and the other, a feline; what stands out here, is the remarkably similar standing postures, particularly what they are doing with their arms and hands.  

Parallels in color conventions
The ancient Egyptians were not the only ones to depict their fellow dark skin African neighbours in dual contrasting tones; the following image shows a conflict between the Fon warriors and their Yoruba counterparts. Both of these groups would generally be seen as dark skin peoples, but from the image below, this might not be immediately apparent to anyone unfamiliar with these peoples...

Parallel themes in art centered females

Kemetian art, like any other, speaks for itself. For instance, Kemetian art had certain features that were similar to that of other ancient African culture. You'll see what I mean...

Nursing Woman. From Giza: 5th Dynasty (ca. 2420-2389 B.C.E). Limestone with remains of paint. (courtesy of metmuseum)

Akan [Ghana] wood carving of a female breast-feeding a young one; not unlike the theme being communicated in the ancient Egyptian rendition above.  

Fertility Dolls

On the far left, is an ancient Egyptian "paddle" doll, courtesy of the British Museum; in the middle, we have Ashanti examples of the fertility doll, and third image is yet another example of fertility dolls common amongst the Akan.

Fertility dolls are a fairly common theme in Africa, from the Akan speaking groups of Ghana to the Donguena, Evale, Hakawama, Himba, Humbe, Kwanyama, Mukubal, Mwila, Ndimba, Ngambwe, Ovambo and Zemba people of the semi-desert areas of Angola for example, and it appear that the ancient Egyptians were no different in this aspect.

A little trivia on the Egyptian "paddle doll"...

Such dolls are usually found in Upper Egypt and Nubia. When complete they have faces and hair of clay. Hair may also be of faience beads. This one is missing its hair. A number have been found dating to the second half of the 11th Dynasty from tombs in the neighbourhood of Deir el Bahri and are common at Thebes. However, at least two have been found in earlier tombs at Beni Hasan and one at Rifeh. Another was found beneath the Ramesseum at Thebes dating to the 13th Dynasty (Bourriau 1988, 126-127). Most are of 11th Dynasty to Middle Kingdom.  

The marks on the body are thought to be tattoos or scarification and the end of the paddle, it has been suggested is an exaggerated pubic area. That such dolls are found mainly in female graves has led Egyptologists to suggest that these are fertility figurines put in graves to ensure fertility in the afterlife. - Courtesy of SWANSEA UNIVERSITY.  

Body ornamentation

Above: Ancient Egyptian dancers, with attention to those in nude; bottom image - courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum, we have: Standing Male and Female Figures, 18th–19th century Democratic Republic of Congo; Tabwa Wood, beads; H. 18 7/32 in. (46.28 cm), H. 18 1/2 in. (47 cm) The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift, 1969 (1978.412.591,2).

Attention to detail here focuses on the string of beads around the waist of nude females, another fairly common theme in many African societies. The resolutions of the images above might not be high enough, but careful inspection shows said beads around the waist of ancient Egyptian female figures in every instance they appeared nude. This theme is repeated in the Congolese wood carving example above, wherein the string of beads around the waist is visibly absent in the male figure, but obvious on the female counterpart.  

Circumcision ritual 

Visual aid renditions of ancient Egyptian traditions of circumcisions largely show us those done to male candidates, but researchers like Shandal have proclaimed to have observed signs of female circumcision in mummied specimens, and if these indeed are remnants of circumcision, the idea itself is not exactly anomalous, given that female circumcision, although progressively on a decline, is still practiced in Egypt. Perhaps in the composite case of male and female circumcision, outside of any secondary "appeals" of male circumcision — like the issue of hygeine, it was meant to mark some rite of passage ritual. It certainly precedes Islam in the African countries where it is or was practiced. That said, we are told by Desmond Wiggins, at the University of South Australia, that...

A 1963 study conducted by Shandal determined that a large number of female mummies found in Egypt were circumcised (1963, cited in Ras-Work, 1997, p. 142). As with male circumcision it is believed "female circumcision" was performed to mark class distinction in Egypt. Taba proposes that "female circumcision" was transported from Egypt to the Sudan and the Horn of Africa in the fifth century CE with the migration of the population (cited in Ras-Work, 1997, p. 142).


In light of which, pdf document "FGM (clickable)" tells us,...  

Shandal, in his study of 1963 ‘Circumcision and infibulation of females’, states that “a large number of circumcised females were found among the mummies of ancient Egyptians, but a few infibulations were encountered’.

Clarification point...

According to military-associated surgeons G. Davis et al., we have:  

It has not been possible to determine when or where female circumcision originated. Theories and supposition date it as far back as the 5th century, BC. Herodotus stated that the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Hittites, and Ethiopians practiced female genital excision 500 years before the birth of Christ. Although it is commonly believed that female circumcision originated in Egypt at the time of the pharaohs, there is no evidence of infibulation in the Egyptian mummies. The practice has been documented in pre-Islamic Arabia, ancient Rome, and tsarist Russia.l As late as 1870, British surgeons performed female circumcision to treat psychological disorders. In the United States, as late as 1954, clitoridectomy was practiced for the treatment of melancholia and had been recommended for nymphomania, hysteria, epilepsy, kleptomania, and even truancy.2 Today, female circumcision is common in 30 African countries, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Yemen. - G. Davis et al., Female circumcision: The prevalence and nature of the ritual in eritrea, 1999.

Thus, if we are to accept what these authors say about there being no sign of infibulation in the Egyptian mummies, then it raises the question of what Shandal was relying on as evidence of mutilation/circumcision, given the pretty much *dehydrated and dried up* nature of mummified flesh.

At any rate, it appears that this cultural commonality in parts of the African continent likely originated in the pre/proto-Holocene Saharan communities, from where it would then be carried over to the Nile Valley.

The tracing of a possible origin amongst pre/proto-Holocene communities in the Saharan belt is a reckoning that stems from the general understanding that at some point or another, the Sahara was home to many of the African groups that now inhabit the general zone spanning the Sahel and its adjoining sub-Saharan regions — from west to east. One looks to groups like the Pygmies and the Khoisans for example, wherein circumcision ritual may not be widely practiced — i.e. if practiced amongst them, and may well reflect cultural diffusion from Bantu speaking groups. Now if one recalls via Semino et al. [re: "Deepest Clades"], it is observed that whilst there are common lineages between the Ethiopian and Khoisan samples, they generally fell into different clusters — indicating early divergence, with clusters developing in loco, according to where the said groups located themselves.

— The Bantu migration, which was responsible for major repopulation events in the sub-Saharan regions of central, east and southern Africa, has its origins in a west African region. So, it would be obvious where those groups might have inherited such a tradition. When the forebearers of contemporary E1b1a (M2) arrived in west Africa, they obviously interacted with pre-existing Saharan groups.

— East African Afrasan groups, according to Cruciani et al. 2007, have been implicated in bidirectional migrations, which placed the recent common ancestor "E-m78" in the region north of the African Horn in East Africa, with that likely region being the eastern Saharan region straddling southern Egypt and northern Sudan. The aforementioned authors reported that southern Egyptian populations tested positive for the most undifferentiated and diverse microsatellite examples of E-M78 bearing chromosomes.

As to any question about where the practice of infibulation comes from, one cannot be certain about the precise whereabouts and circumstances of its origins, pending specific evidence to that end, but from what G. Davis et al. tells us, there has been *no evidence* of infibulation in Egyptian mummies, and if we are to take the words of another source which purports to cite the aforementioned Shandal, even he was hard pressed to come across such a thing. So what's the truth? As noted earlier, if these mummies had no infibulation as a possible sign of an event after circumcision, then one has to wonder what then, Shandal used to come to his conclusion about circumcision in female-designated mummies — which it should come as no news — bear pretty dried up mummified flesh. Whatever the case may be, it can be safely said that contemporary practice of female circumcision in Egypt is not something that was just recently introduced, and certainly not by Islamic invaders from "Southwest Asia", where it is rarely practiced; rather, it likely harkens back to remote antiquity. Both male and female circumcision is found in certain communities along and near the Sahelian belts.

Miscellaneous parallels...

Left: Egyptian step pyramid [Djoser's], and right: The Askia tomb [Mali], mimicking the structure of a step pyramid.

Burial mounds gave way to Mastabas, and Mastaba traditions matured into the grand Egyptian pyramids. Tombs like the Askia structure too ultimately derive from indigenous Sahelian tumuli traditions associated with burials. Courtesy archnet library, we are told for example...

The Tomb of Askia is the central commanding feature of the Great Mosque of Gao. This layout pays homage to the Saharan tradition of prominent ancestral tumuli or tomb mounds erected over graves that date to before 1,000 BC. This large feature was incorporated into a new mosque building tradition in which the mosque itself becomes a combination of tomb, minaret and sacred enclosure. - archnet library

Courtesy of UNESCO World Heritage Collection,…  

Criterion (ii): The Tomb of Askia reflects the way local building traditions in response to Islamic needs absorbed influences from North Africa to create a unique architectural style across the West African sahel. Criterion (iii): The Tomb of Askia is an important vestige of the Empire of Songhai, which once dominated the sahel lands of West Africa and controlled the lucrative trans- Saharan trade. Criterion (iv): The Tomb of Askia reflects the distinctive architectural tradition of the West African sahel and in particular exemplifies the way buildings evolve over centuries through regular, traditional, maintenance practices.  

Head-supports: the first image shows that from Mali, and the second image shows that from the Nile Valley, dating to Dynastic Egypt. Head-supports like these are yet another common theme across Africa.

Gourd ornamentation is a widely practiced tradition on the African continent. In the images above, although the specimens themselves in question are from vastly different time frames, with the Sahelian example being the far more recent example, the remarkable parallelism in the themes of the art is hard to miss. On the left, we have the image of an Egyptian example dating back to the Nagadan period some time in around the 4th millennium BC, while on the right, we have a sub-Saharan example from west Africa.

Some interesting pectorals, from the Nile Valley and sub-Saharan west Africa. In this case, we have pectorals sporting ram heads, demonstrating remarkable parallelism; the examples here, include one from ancient Egypt and Nigeria (?). The ancient Egyptian example is obvious on the top right hand side, sporting a ram head with a sun disc.

Perhaps one of the most prolific recurring feature of art sporting Egyptian royalty or elite, is the staffs, of which the Was-scepter is famous. Again here, parallels can be seen between the physical manifestations of the ancient Egyptian examples and those from elsewhere in Africa; Egyptologist ABOUBACRY MOUSSA LAM for example, had gone to great lengths to show parallels between the Egyptian staff designs and those from both west Africa and east Africa, citing examples like the Fulani and Dogon amongst other groups.

Below, we have an early and a rather simple rendition dating back to ca. 3500 BC, found in the Hierakonpolis tomb 100, sporting several individuals holding what appear to be Was scepters.

And here, we have a mock up of a Was scepter:

The following "Hangool" staff of Somali make, is reminiscent of the Was scepter, with its forked base...

Similarly, here we have the "Woko" staff from Ethiopia...

The following is a "North Saharan" — from "Kargur Talh" in particular — rendition dating to ca. 6ky to 7ky BP; it notably sports a male figure holding what appears to be a staff, reminiscent of the Was scepter...

This is all for now; as more examples come in, this post will continue to be refined.


The Big Valley said...

Excellent roundup, and well worth repeating. The pictures are great- fleshing out the text. Keita himself does a roundup of similar cultural similarities across the board, confirming your detailed analysis. Two questions:

1) Some spin a bogus strawman of wild-eyed 'Afrocentrists' hunting for Egyptian influence on the rest of Africa. But might not the whole edifice of spin come crashing down on itself if the equation were to be reversed? In other words, it is African influence on Egypt that is the key starting point, not the other way around. By that I mean the foundations were laid in and by the Saharan peoples who moved into the Nile Valley and brought the distinctive elements that were to make up many distinctive elements of the dynastic civilization- including mummification (the Uan child mummy for example), the foraging, argicultural and herding economy, the religious beliefs- particularly the cattle based beliefs, king as rainmaker etc, the numerous artistic motifs and iconography based on the Saharan rock art, etc. etc..

The genesis of ancient Egypt is on the ground, coming from the bottom up, from the Saharans and others, right on into the early dynasties, when the hegemony of the 'darker' South was consolidated over the north. This 'Saharan genesis' is not thus dependent on assorted migrations from the Mediterranean or Mesopotamia, or the Middle east. These would play their part in later dynastic eras, but the foundations were via the black peoples of the Sahara.

2) And might not the Sahara provide the foundations for many developments in West Africa- from the early herders and agriculturalists, to the rock artists, to the development of the great West African Empires centuries later? In other word, the Sahara would be a great transmission belt, linking East, West and North Africa. Hence sweeping Eurocentric claims that West Africans "have no link" culturally with the Nile valley peoples are proven false. Indeed, does not the history of West Africa start somewhat with peoples from the Sahara? Correct me here if I am wrong, but I remember old textbooks mentioning various peopling scenarios dealing with exactly this possibility. The link below shows ancient cemeteries in Niger for example

and kevin Macdonald's chapter in Archaeology and Language By Roger Blench, Matthew Spriggs, entitled "Archaeology, language and the peopling of West Africa: a Consideration of the Evidence" rounds up several items of data in this regard.

Eurocentrics are always arguing that 'black americans' supposedly "have no right" to try to examine Egypt or set the record straight in a more balanced way. They are not supposed to have an opinion. Such examination or commentary is supposedly reserved only for them, because there is "no connection" between the Nile Valley and West Africa. But does not the great Saharan foundations of the 2 regions blast a hole in that notion?


Specific central African tool designs found at the well known Naqada, Badari and Fayum archaeological sites in Egypt (de Heinzelin 1962, Arkell and Ucko, 1956 et al). Shaw (1976) states that "the early cultures of Merimde, the Fayum, Badari Naqada I and II are essentially African and early African social customs and religious beliefs were the root and foundation of the ancient Egyptian way of life."

Pottery evidence first seen in the Saharan Highlands then spreading to the Nile Valley (Flight 1973).
Art motifs of Saharan rock paintings showing similarities to those in pharaonic art. A number of scholars suggest that these earlier artistic styles influenced later pharaonic art via Saharans leaving drier areas and moving into the Nile Valley taking their art styles with them (Mori 1964, Blanc 1964, et al)

Earlier pioneering mummification outside Egypt. The oldest mummy in Africa is of a black Saharan child (Donadoni 1964, Blanc 1964)

Frankfort (1956) suggests that it is thus possible to understand the pharaonic worldview by reference to the religious beliefs of these earlier African precursors.

Several cultural practices of Egypt show strong similarities to an African totemic clan base. Childe (1969, 1978), Aldred (1978) and Strouhal (1971) demonstrate linkages with several African practices such as divine kingship and the king as divine rainmaker.

Physical similarities of the early Nile valley populations with that of tropical Africans. Such connections are demonstrated in the work of numerous scholars such as Thompson and Randall Mclver 1905, Falkenburger 1947, and Strouhal 1971. The distance diagrams of Mukherjee, Rao and Trevor (1955) place the ancient Badarians genetically near 'black' tribes such as the Ashanti and the Taita.

Serological (blood) evidence of genetic linkages. Paoli 1972 for example found a significant resemblance between ABO frequencies of dynastic Egyptians and the black northern Haratin who are held to be the probable descendants of the original Saharans (Hiernaux, 1975).

Language similarities which include several hundred roots ascribable to African elements (UNESCO 1974)

Ancient Egyptian origin stories ascribing origins of the gods and their ancestors to African locations to the south and west of Egypt (Davidson 1959)
Advanced state building and political unity in Nubia, including writing, administrative apparatus and insignia some 300 years before dynastic Egypt, and the long demonstrated interchange between Nubia and Egypt (Williams 1980)

S.O.Y Keita, 'Royal incest and Diffusion in Africa," American Ethnologist > Vol. 8, No. 2 (May, 1981), pp. 392-393

The Big valley said...

"Such examination or commentary is supposedly reserved only for them,"

change to

"Such examination or commentary [on ancient Egypt and the Nile valley] is supposedly reserved only for the European academy"

Mystery Solver said...

To The Big Valley,

Yes, Dynastic Egypt is the outgrowth of proto-dynastic Saharan social and Sahelian complexes, which in turn derived from sub-Saharan Africa. As for the possibility of some level of migration from the Nile Valley to western Sahara or west Africa after the Dynastic Egyptian social apparatus had already been put in place, some researchers do not rule it out, as exemplified by Rosa et al., in the course of their analysis of Guinea Bissau samples.

In terms of the peopling of west Africa, it is complex, as is the case elsewhere in Africa. I have already laid out scenarios of this peopling extensively in past postings here, both from the Y chromosome and mtDNA standpoints, along with tangible archaeological indicators. The desertification of the Sahara acted as a pump, in the sense that it pressured people therein to seek refuge in both sub-Saharan west Africa through to sub-Saharan east Africa. Preponderance of evidence suggests that like the PN2 [E1a1b/E3b] carriers, PN2-E3a/E1a1a carriers originated in the vicinity of sub-Saharan east Africa, and went onto people west Africa, where they'd join earlier Saharan dwellers. West Africa would be the point of expansion though, for E3a bearers, amongst others. So yes, like those that sprang up in the Nile Valley, west African social complexes adopted, or rather, inherited Saharan and sub-Saharan traditions; neither can be separated from those origins.