Friday, July 31, 2009

Striving for Clarity and Accuracy

There are various aspects of academia that some of us take for granted, without critical thinking. The driving "wisdom" here, is that if an idea is an oft repeated or recited one in sections of academia, then it must certainly be accurate and doesn't call for further investigation. This almost certainly appears to have been the case in a recent personal encounter with a question dealing with "bovine" taxonomy, one concerning the Fulani cattle in particular. It has generally been the case in "western" academic circles, to casually refer to Fulani cattle breeds as "West African Zebu", and as such, one opinion encountered fairly recently in an internet discussion forum, figured that such a description is fine and dandy, because Zebu happens to be accompanied by the "West African" descriptive, thereby invoking the subspecies' precise African origin. That may well be so, but does that at any rate, necessarily render the Zebu-characterization correct? After all, here, it is not simply the matter of the cattle subspecies' geographical origin, but its actual genealogical heritage. As far as the latter goes, i.e. the genealogical question, this was greeted with an explaining-away that "implicitly" argues that the West African "Zebu" makes sense given the relatively predominant Zebu genetic contribution over those of other bovine lineages [namely the Bos Taurus either African and/or European] in the West African "Zebu" gene pool. To this end, sources such as that compiled by E. M. Ibeagha-Awemu. et al. 2004 have been offered as evidence; it goes like this:

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The argument given based off this piece of information, as it goes, appears to be that most of the Bovine types sampled herein are "hybrid", because of their apparent "inter-subspecies" ancestries, and that notwithstanding, has no bearing on their assigned taxonomic identity; the unspoken "wisdom" here, is that since this piece of information appears to suggest that most cattle breeds out there are rarely "pure", and hence are inclined to be "hybrid", then the condition of having ancestry from divergent subspecies doesn't have any bearing on a cattle breed being assigned to only one of the subspecies. Instead, contribution from the other parental subspecies whose taxonomic identity had not been assigned to the offspring — is interpreted here as "admixture". The tacit premisewittingly or unwittinglythat this logic lies on, is that the breeds are assigned their taxonomic identity based on which parental type's contribution to their gene pool supposedly 'predominates' or 'prevails' over others'. Indeed, just reading off of that table above, for example, one comes out with the understanding that many of the African breeds assigned the "Zebu" descriptive appear to have more "Zebu" contribution than their Bos Taurus counterparts. However, further investigation involving other set of markers cautions that the situation is more complex than that imagery.

You see, one has to bear in mind, that we are dealing with domesticated fauna here, which means that whether or not the herders are actively aware of the precise set of phenomena that impart advantageous features to their livestock, awareness of a trend(s) in the success of a breed will lead to every effort [by the herders] at sustaining or maintaining, if not swelling the populations of said breed. The type of markers implicated in the table above, do not necessarily allow one to adjudge the significance or precise magnitude of contribution from the parental inter-subspecies elements involved; and why is that? Because again, the Fulani was the product of domestication, meaning that it was intentionally crossbred to bring out and retain certain advantageous features from the contributing parental bovine subspecies types. These advantageous features would have had to have been encoded in certain DNA nucleotides, rendering certain DNA loci under "selection pressure". Such a situation would therefore make these loci insufficient in ascertaining the actual level of respective contribution from the contributing parental bovine "inter-subspecies" involved. Other loci may well simply be relatively stable in the face of random genetic drift, by chance occurrence. For instance, a largely "hybrid" population comprising Zebu-Taurine individuals might not accurately reflect contribution of the "parental" subspecies involved, because certain loci could, by chance occurrence meted out by "positive" random genetic drift, remain relatively stable in their distribution across the population, simply because the number of "hybrid" individuals which just-so-happen to be homozygous at the locus in question happens to be the relatively overrepresented one than that comprising individuals which are heterozygous at said locus. To demonstrate how all this could be, one only need to look at what uniparental genotyping from the so-called African Zebus thus far reveal: these tests show that in the case of West African "Zebu" breeds, a majority of them have "Zebu" paternal ancestry, but by contrast and almost "exclusively", they have the Bos Taurus maternal ancestry! This is a true definition of a "hybrid" ancestry. It is not as if the West African "Zebu" are largely "Zebu" in both maternal and paternal ancestry, and that only a small segment of their population is "Zebu" and "Bos Taurus" in ancestry, so as to deem the "aberration" as "admixture", but that this is true for virtually all the African "Zebu", that they happen to have both "Zebu (Bos Indicus)" and "Bos Taurus" uniparental ancestry.

Yes, there are hybrids amongst the so-called African breeds of "Bos Taurus" as well, but unlike their so-called "Zebu" counterparts, uniparental genetyping show that there are actually sizable populations of these "Bos Taurus" who have virtually ONLY "Bos Taurus" ancestry both maternally and paternally.

The argument that many herds are likely to have "inter-subspecies" ancestry, and therefore are 'hybrid' and the condition has no bearing on their assigning to one or the other taxonomic [bovine] group, is immaterial to the fact that genealogical and archeological particulars point an "independent" African Bos Taurus domestication, and hence, considered a "true" phylogenetic entity on its own that distinguishes it from the "Near Eastern" or European Bos Taurus and Bos Indicus. Nor is it necessarily the case, as uniparental genotyping attest to, that African Bos Taurus populations are inclined to be breeds of "Taurine-Bos Indicus" lineage; there are considerable populations of African Bos Taurus, particularly in Western Africa, that are still virtually all Bos Taurus in their lineage! This however, as just demonstrated, is not the case with the western African "Zebu" breeds like the Fulani. The following piece, from Blench et al.'s compilation, gives us an illustration of what has just been described, in relation to uniparental genotyping:







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The other argument made, in addition to the genealogical one just examined, goes like this:

They are zebu, African zebu, as their physical characteristics and their genetics make clear.

Indeed, the present author of this blog is aware of the naming schemes based primarily on morphological traits; that though, says little in actual genetic basis for such terminology. In fact, many of the so-called West African "Zebu" breeds appear to bear traits that are considered "intermediate" in relation to Asian Zebu breeds. This includes things like for example, the less prominent humps on many of the West African "Zebu" breeds when compared to those of their Asian counterparts. It has even led to coining of such terms like "Zeboid"; see, courtesy of Blench et al.'s compilation:

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Generally, the bovine subspecies have become casually synonymous in dichotomous terms, with hump-less breeds being synonymous with "Bos Taurus" or Taurine descriptive and humped subspecies being synonymous with the "Zebu" descriptive; this, usually regardless of actual genealogical particulars.

The last line of defense for upholding the viewpoints examined and rebuked [or at least challenged] herein, about the justified assigning of West African "Taurine-Bos Indicus" hybrid breeds like the Fulani to just the Bos Indicus taxonomic group, appears to one of logical fallacy 'appeals to popularity'; that is to say, that many in "western" academia circles simply refer to Western African breeds like Fulani as West African "Zebu", and therefore they must necessarily know all and have the last word on the subject matter. Any challenge to this viewpoint or call for further investigation into the subject matter, to iron out potential incoherencies, peculiarities or inadequacies is dismissed out of hand as emotionalism or an attempt at making an argument simply for argument's sake. It matters not, the fact that all the sources cited by its defender (advocate) too agree with the position maintained by the present author of this blog, as well as "materially"-supported [as the plentiful citations herein bespeak] by the present author, that the so-called West African "Zebu" are IN FACT "hybrid" breeds of BOTH "Bos Taurus" and "Bos Indicus", and so from that fact alone, it would actually be inadequate and inaccurate to deem these hybrid breeds as simply "Zebu". Superficial reasonings aside, the taxonomic assignment as such doesn't really reflect the genetic reality at hand, other than its ardent defenders crying that the Zebu do in fact form part of the genealogy; but still the keyword here, is "part"! A defender of the said taxonomic assignment even went as far as using human socio-constructs as the presumably perfect analogy of the situation at hand, pointing out that despite "hybrid" ancestry, humans are inclined to assign themselves to just one "ethnic"/"racial" group or the other. If said defender were not blindsided by ideology, it would have occurred to the person that not only are the socio-contructs in question not regarded as scientific, but also humanity from a biological standpoint, does not comprise of several distinct "sub-species"; our variations have not been that significant to warrant division of humanity to several distinct subspecies. Such is the sort of weight [as it relates to substance] with which the layperson approaches questions relating to the subject matter of this very blog topic. Is it possible that better explanation is afforded by the more informed defenders, lettered in the disciplines of bioanthropology and molecular genetics, than those examined herein? Perhaps, but from accessible material spread over the net and libraries, none has come to attention that adequately and accurately justifies the taxonomic assignment of the West African Bos Indicus-Taurine 'hybrids' to just the "Zebu" phylogen. The quest for accuracy and clarity should not be dismissed as an abomination, but as an opportunity for furthering knowledge, and the specifics demonstrated here thus far go to show just why!

*As always: Lookout for ongoing updates; notes on this site are regularly updated as information comes to attention!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Nehesu: What does It Mean?

For those who have ever been part of a Nile Valley discussion, the word "Nehesu" is a familiar one. However, this word seems to be shrouded in a bit of mystery, as far as its precise meaning is concerned. One thing is certain about it, in that it was generally referenced towards groups beyond Kmtnwt's (Dynastic Egypt) southern boarder, particularly beyond where lower Ta Seti lay. Several guesswork have taken place over the years, about its most purportedly-plausible meanings; however, these appear to be just that guesswork. This includes the reported Budge translation of the term to "Negroes" , and other translation efforts which place the word as a term supposedly commonly associated with "slaves", "Negro" slaves. See for example, the following pieces:

Click on the images for hi resolution.

Speaking of which, some personal notes of the present author [of the blog] were made on discussion boards a few years back, mid-2005 to be precise:

Various folks connect it with "race", in particular "black" or "negro". On that note, it appears that there were/are proponents out there, however very few, who have tried to associate the term with some sort of a "hamitic" race, or what is supposedly "non-Negroid" black folks. As such, the word "nuhas", which denotes "copper", has been used to hypothesize that, the Nehesu were likely named after their “copper toned skin”, and in the terms of these advocates, this would mean "copper skin caucasoids"; not much different from how some folks here refer to “brown”, as a way to runaway from having to say ‘black’.

To my understanding, this word has been documented in the Old Kingdom, and it appeared that early Egyptian artwork used it in connection with "southerners", who were painted in the same brown skin tones as Kemetians. But then, in the Middle, Second Intermediate and New Kingdoms, it was applied to "southerners", who were depicted in varying colors from reddish brown to pitch black, including various dress styles, hair styles or wigs, and varying facial features. Aside from the “southerners”, I am not aware of the application of “Nhsw” to any other people.

Again, turning to languages still spoken in the region, like the Beja, various words have been utilized in hypothesizing possible origins of words, and their meanings. As an example, a Beja word “nehas”, which is understood as ‘being pure”, has been used in this manner. There is at least one perspective of connecting the word with a possible Kemetian viewpoint of their southern roots, i.e., their “pure” ancestors [pure, as in less foreign admixture], whereby this was looked at in relative terms, not absolute.

At the time these notes were presented, one opinion on the matter went like this, by a third party observer:


I think Nhsy's were a tribe or group of people linked together by rituals different from other parts of "deeper" Africa, who derived ntrws to animalism, totetism, etc….. whereas the Nhsy were praising a lot and praying, could be circumcising their children, because of the hieroglyphic spelling of the name, if you decorticate, you will have in prayer, n-Hst, hsi to praise,n-hsy or the ones in praising just my take on this.

If you look at the glyphs, you will see why i feel that way, the rope the walking stick, (moving tribes materials) and the rebel sign, the man with his hands behind his back, no! if i make any connection to Moses i will be fired.
but then i may be complètement à côté de la plaque.


Of course then, the feedback offered by the present author was to the effect of:

I've heard this one too, along the lines of, 'being praised by God or a god', or 'the chosen people' God. This is supposed to be what the 'hsy' or 'hsw' in 'Nhsw' signifies, from this viewpoint.

But getting back to the glyphs presented above, at least one translation given to a variant of "Nehesu" was "peasant" that Mdu Ntr term in particular, was "Nehi"; see the glyphs again:

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Along those lines, an effort was made by a third party advocate to tie "Nehesu" with a string of distinct nouns generally of a 'pejorative' connotation...

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The above was for instance, described and translated in the following manner:

...and this was a name of a 13th Dynasty Pharaoh .

Note that his Nsu Biti title contains the determinative for "Barbarian" - his SaRe title merely lists him as "Nahasi" - which I interpret as "The Barbarian" - a synonym in Mtau Ntr for "Peasant, supplicant, worthless ..."

The Greeks would later borrow this ideological terminolgy: Barbarian, for any people who were not Greeks...

The translation no doubt raises a red flag instantly, if for nothing else than the odds of a King, a figure who is generally quite protective of or guarded and sensitive about his image both during life and after death, allowing himself to be identified by anything that is synonymous with "worthless", unless of course, it was a case of some sort of "commemorative" gesture of ridicule bestowed upon him by a successor who despised him and sought to have history remember him in a soiled or less-than-flattering image?

While these various above-mentioned translations bearing either pejorative connotations to them or else less-than-flattering air to them were being offered, another set of meanings was being simultaneously offered for "Nehesu (Nehesw)" by the said third party, hence presenting sets of lexicons at odds with one another, at least in so far as conventional thinking goes; see for example, allegedly based off material cited from a Budge authored dictionary:

Nhsj (Nahasi)- a Sudanese man
Nhsj.t (Nahasit) - a Sudanese woman
Nhsjw (Nahasou)- Sudanese; southerners in general
Nhsjw (Nahasou)- The Sudanese tribes in the Tuat, the results of the masturbation of Ra.

The way it's written

Most words in the Mdw Ntr that began with the letter "n" were written with the hieroglyph of a water ripple; the word "Nhsjw" was written using the 'Guinea-fowl' glyph with the pronunciation being "Nh;Neh;Nah" - very few words began with this 'letter.'


In Budge's dictionary, alongside the word "Nehsi" there are additional hieroglyphics showing the different ways of writing the "Nehsi" in the plural. What interests us here is the following example:

(throw stick)+ s + (sedge plant) + "ou"

--The "throw stick" can be either a determinative; an ideogram; or a phonogram "rs" or "Aa"; at the beginning of a sentence it's a phonogram (and probably also an ideogram which indicates "foreign".)

--The "sedge" hieroglyph ("(n)su; sut") indicates the south; ie;Upper Egypt, Sudan...
So we have "rs"+ "s" + "su" or "Resou" which means "southerners" with the use of the "throw stick" to indicate "foreign southerners"; the same as it is used in the word "Aamu" to indicate "(foreigners)Asiatics"...

:essentially all non-Egyptian peoples in the south; "strangers"


There's one Pharaoh that I came across while reading "Egyptian Language: Easy Lessons in Egyptian Hieroglyphics by EWB". If I recall correctly, the example text was from the "Stelae of Pa-Nahesi" (25th Dynasty?).

I personally think that the title "Pa Nahasi" was a self-deprecating play on words that would imply something like the Pharaoh calling himself "The Barbarian!" or "The Stranger!" - literally it means "The Sudani man". (not "The Nubian")

At the very least, these highly divergent translations of the term underlie the highly speculative nature of the translation efforts that have approached the term over the years.

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Furthermore, in reference to the cartouche [reposted immediately above] allegedly bearing a pharoah's name, which has "Nahasi" in it, it is simplistic to take "Nehesw" as "stranger", for if that were the case, there would be no need for a determinative/ideogram suggestive of "foreigner" in say, the first cartouche. That determinative is there, precisely to modify the meaning of the noun in question.

And as noted a few notes ago, one of the reasons for reposting extracts from an old internet boardroom discussion, "Nehesw" seemed particularly reserved for groups from beyond Kemet's (Dynastic Egypt) southern border; it wasn't applied to those in Kmtnwt's east, north or west, as far as recollection allows. Thus 'Nehesw' has got to be more than a synonym for "stranger", or its Greek equivalent of "barbarian" which is not reserved for any one group or territory, as the former appears to be. The precise meaning of the term continues to be uncertain, but what is clear in the meantime, is that neither "negro", "worthless", "peasant", "stranger", "Nubian" which is a Roman corruption of a Nile Valley term that was used in markedly different context from that of the Romans and their 'contemporary' European imitators of the word, nor "Sudan" which is a fairly modern construct, cut it, as far as logical interpretation goes for reasons gone over. As such, this leaves a space here that calls for watching-out for future developments, in both the not-so-distant and distant future!