From the Temples of Egypt to Emperor Haile Selassie's Pan-African University: a short history of African Education.

Author:Marah, John K.
Position:Report

This article represents an attempt at a general history of African education from ancient times to the modern day efforts made at institutionalizing 'Pan-African' education (Marah 1989). As all general history, emphasis is placed on sweeping, Pan-African experiences of African people in Africa and the United States of America; such an effort necessarily leaves out parochial or particularized interests or subsets of African people's education. This general historical treatment of African people's education, as far-reaching as it is, has its own merits; it allows us to see Africa from a global perspective and it affirms that African people's educations have not always been in the hands of Arabs, Europeans, and Americans; it substantiates further that African people themselves have always had unabated interests in their own educations, from the temples' of Egypt to modern day popularized educational systems. Furthermore, this Pan-African treatment of African people's education could motivate a 'few' scholars and students to examine how and where their own peculiar interests in African people's education fit .into the longer picture. Lastly, as nations begin to gather into larger and larger economic and political units (U.S.A., Mexico, and Canada; China, Hong Kong and Macao; United Western Europe, etc.), African people must also (begin to) see themselves from a Pan-African 'perspective; this is why this attempt is not without merits.

From a Pan-African perspective, African people's education could be said to have gone through seven major stages: 1) Education in the Egyptian Temples; 2) Tribal or Traditional Education; 3) Islamic Education; 4) European Missionary and Colonial Education; 5) Colonial Educational Adaptation imported from Europe and America; 6) Neo- Colonial education from Europe and America (1940's-1970's); 7) African Nationalists on African Education (1950's-1990's); and 8) The attempts to institutionalize Pan-African education, which has not yet been accomplished. We now turn to a 'brief description of each of these stages and argue for the institutionalization of Pan-African education.

1) African Education in the Temples of Egypt

If Europeans and white Americans begin the history of 'their' education in Greece and Rome (Thompson, 1963), African people's educational history must begin with Egypt (Weiser, 1988); (Bernal 1996: 448); (Hilliard, 1995), and Ethiopia (Hansberry 1960: 357- 387). To begin from the 'beginning', Hansberry (1960: 365) tells us that

...when Didodorus Siculus was traveling in Egypt in the first century before the Christian era, he was informed by 'envoys from Ethiopia' that it was in their country and among their remote ancestors that mankind first learned to practice the arts, to create laws, and to render worship to the gods; it was also from their country, the envoys contended, that ancient Egypt's oldest cultures, earliest civilized peoples, and most ancient kings were derived. ...It is true that long after the 'glory that was Greece' and the 'grandeur that was Rome' were no more, it was still widely believed in learned circles that it was the Ethiopians of remote antiquity who laid the foundations upon which all subsequent civilizations were built. ... 'Ethiopia was the earliest established country on earth and the Ethiopians were the first to introduce the worship of the gods and to establish laws. It is of further interest to note that Akhenaton, the Egyptian (Aton Devotee), was a black man that embodied monotheism, a monotheism now attributed to Christianity and Islam (Rogers, 1972: 59). Akhenaton's poem, "Hymn to the Sun" remains a classic, in terms of its singular devotion to the praise of his one and only God. We take a few lines from that masterpiece:

Thy dawning is beautiful in the horizon of the sky, O Living Aton, beginning of Life! When thou risest in the Eastern horizon, Thou fillest every land with thy beauty. Thou art beautiful, great, glittering, high above every land, Thy rays, they encompass the Lands, even all that thou hast made. How manifold are thy works! They are hidden from us. a sole God, whose powers no other possesseth Thou didst create the earth according to thy heart While thou wast alone. (Walbank and Taylor, 1942: 43) Jackson (1970: 111) tells us that Akhenaton's belief in Atonism was 'crushed' in Egypt but was never obliterated, and that Moses received his theological education at Heliopolis, where he became a Boswell of Atonism. This Egyptian education of only the best few has been dubbed the 'Egyptian Mystery System' (Weiser, 1988). In that Egyptian Mystery System

initiation into the Highest Knowledge was not open to just anyone (much like the Ph.D. of today), not even to any Egyptian priests. Before they were ready for the Highest Initiation, priests had to fulfill a number of tasks and pass a number of tests to be allowed to go through to the next level. Those who did not pass the test with flying colors the first time were denied once and for all the chance to try to fulfill the entrance requirements for higher levels. If the candidate was a stranger to the mysteries, an extremely strict inquiry would first be made into the candidate's ancestry, and ... the college of magicians would convene ... to determine admission or rejection. The Greek philosophers- Thales, Pythagoras, Plato and Eudoxus- were the best known foreign scholars to successfully pass the various tests. Pythagoras was assigned the prophet Sonchis as his mentor. ...Plato was trained for fourteen years .... the brilliant teachings of Plato, who had an enormous influence on the development of Christian philosophy, originated in the sacred places of Memphis, the city of Menes, and in Heliopolis, the city of the Sun. (XXI, XXII) Even though this concept of the Egyptian mystery system has been vigorously challenged by Mary Lefkovitz (1996), in her Not Out of Africa, a more able scholar, in terms of competitive plausibility, Bernal (1996: 92), states that

the issue of whether there were "colleges" or "universities" at Memphis and other Egyptian cities depends on definition. It is known that at least since the Old Kingdom c. 3000 B.C. there was an elaborate bureaucracy of specialized scribes, doctors, and magicians and that from the Middle Kingdom c. 2000 there was an institution called 'House of Life.' Egyptologists have been divided on how to interpret this institution. Some like Alan Gardiner describe it merely as 'scriptorium,' a place of restricted entry where some papyri were kept. Others have concluded that it was a kind of university. For instance, the Egyptologist P. Derchain maintained that by the first period of Persian rule 525-404 B.c. these institutions contained papyri on subjects ranging from medicine, astronomy, mathematics, myths, embalming, to geography, etc. .. .in a word one ought to find there the complete totality of all the philosophical and scientific knowledge of the Egyptians.' The subject is clearly moot but equally clearly, Lefkovitz is wrong to claim that the eighteenth century Afrocentrists' descriptions of "Egyptian Colleges" are based solely on fiction. Another scholar (Budge, 1923: CCXI) substantiates that the Egyptian belief system recognized the fundamentals of today's western Christianity, and produced numerous commandments, the Negative Confessions, that could have informed the Ten Commandments in the Christian Bible. In The Book of the Dead, for an instance, the individual accounted for his actions in life by reciting that he had "not committed theft; slain man or woman; acted deceitfully; uttered falsehood; uttered evil words; set (his) mouth in motion (against any man); defiled the wife of a man; committed sin against purity; made (himself) deaf to the words of right and truth; committed acts of impurity; neither (had he) lain with men; increased (his) wealth, except such things as (justify) (his) own possessions", etc., etc. (367-371). Thus, in The Book of the Dead, we see African people from Egypt and the Sudan (Budge, 1923: CCXI) grappling with some of our salient concerns today, especially those about homosexuality and the exploitation of man by man.

John G. Jackson (1985: 115-116) asserts in his Christianity Before Christ that "the Egyptian influence on Orthodox Christianity is far more profound than most people realize. The whole Christian Bible was derived from the sacred books of Egypt, such as: The Book of the Dead, The Pyramid Text, and the Books of Thoth. "

Ancient Egyptian education also included the study of Logic, Mathematics, Science, Architecture and Medicine (van Sertima, 1982). Although the Egyptian masses were illiterate, there were scholars, scientists, theologians, and agricultural scientists, to produce enough food, administer justice, and conduct research on vital issues of the times; there were enough specialists to conduct diplomacy, lead armies of conquest and for defense, build monuments, keep records, and create exquisite poems and other works of art.

The Mary Lefkowitzs of the Western world would want us to believe that Africa never gave anything to Greece or Rome, but more able scholars, scientists, linguists, and historians (Allman, 1989; 1990); Bernal (1987; 1996); Wallbank and Taylor (1942); Wilson and Cann (1992); Jackson (1970); Hansberry and Johnson (1964), etc., have enough on record to put Mary Lefkowitz to shame.

2) Traditional African Education

Williams (1971) admirably describes the destruction of African civilizations with the advent of the Hyksos or Desert Kings into ancient Egypt that led to the dispersal of a number of African peoples; this destruction of African civilizations continued with the Moroccans or Moors who attacked Songhai, the last Sudanic empire i n West Africa in the 1490s. As if these were not enough, the Arabic and Atlantic slave trades gave the final blows to the last remaining kingdoms of the Asante, Dahomey, Bornu, Kano, and Benin, among others. Colonization...

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