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:

Click for hi resolution

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...

Click for hi resolution

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.

Click for hi resolution

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!

1 comment:

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