The Ancient Kemetic Roots of Library and Information Science.



The knowledge of knowledge, and its acquisition, should not be a mystery to the African, because historical evidence indicates that it was his/her ancestors, the ancient people of Kemet (KMT), "the black land" (the words Kemet and Egypt are used interchangeably throughout this presentation), who built and operated the first major libraries and institutions of higher education in the world.

Thus, the African should take his/her proper first place in library history, a well-deserved first place, based upon historical evidence.1 That evidence directs us to begin our discussion of library and information science with ancient Kemet (KMT), "the black land", Egypt, the home of all humankind, a high culture, and the African world community, and consequently, an essential starting point in any discussion of civilization and history that will allow us to define and develop new realities and visions for human development.

The great Cheikh Anta Diop (1923-1986), author, Egyptologist, Kemetologist, historian, linguist, and scientist, stressed the importance of the above when he wrote:

For us, the return to Egypt in all domains is the necessary condition for reconciling African civilizations with history, in order to be able to construct a body of modern human sciences, in order to renovate African culture. Far from being a reveling in the past, a look toward Egypt of antiquity is the best way to conceive and build our cultural future. In reconceived and renewed African culture, Egypt will play the same role that Greco-Latin antiquity plays in Western culture (Diop, 1991, 3).

Hence Kemet is to Africa what Greece is to Europe, a foundation/introduction to civilization, and in the case of Africa, the oldest civilization, developed in part 6,000 years ago by people of African descent in the rich Nile valley.

The Ancient Egyptians: An African People

Now the Black civilization that shook the white man up the most was the Egyptian civilization, a Black civilization. (He) was able to take the Egyptian civilization, write books about it, put pictures in those books, make movies for television and the theater---so skillfully that he has even convinced other white people that the ancient Egyptians were white people... They were African; they were as much African as you and I (Malcolm X, January 24, 1965).

There is an ongoing debate concerning the race of the ancient Egyptians. Some have said the Egyptians were not Black, and thus African people have no claim to Egyptian culture, and that the Black folks pictured in the temples and on the monuments of Egypt were only slaves in a racially mixed Egyptian population, and thus did not play a significant role in Egyptian civilization.

To debate the issue here isn't necessary. However, we can briefly explore this important topic and remind ourselves and others that "... human lineage began in Africa some 2.5 million years ago... ", and as a result, all humans are genetically linked to an African woman who lived 200,000 years ago (Williams, 1991, 56-57).

Cheikh Anta Diop, author of "Origin of the Ancient Egyptians" in Egypt Revisited (Van Sertima, 1982, 9-37), understood the significance of the above facts. His research uncovered seven key aspects of this race/culture debate:

(1) He asked the curator of the Cairo Museum to allow him to perform a melanin (skin color) test to determine the pigmentation of the ancient Kemetics and thus end the debate. The curator refused to allow him to perform the test. The test would, according to Diop, "... enable us to classify the ancient Egyptians unquestionably among the Black races." (Ibid, 15)

(2) He reported that, by osteological measurements (body size as determined by muscles and bones) used in physical anthropology, the ancient Egyptians were an African people (Ibid).

(3) He discussed the connection of the Group B blood type among the modern and ancient Egyptian populations, and the African population of West Africa (Ibid, 16).

(4) He discussed how Herodotus (the "father of history") and others (Aristotle, Strabo, Diodors... ) referred to the Egyptians and the Ethiopians as people with "... black skins and kinky hair," or people who were (according to Ammianus Marcellinus, Book XXI, para 16:23) "... mostly brown or black."

(5) He illustrated how the divine inscriptions of Kemet associated the surnames of the gods with the word black; hence, a reflection of the (black) good in people and God.

(6) He illustrated how in The Bible (where Egypt is mentioned over 750 times) Semitic (Hebrew and Arabic) custom and tradition associate Egypt with Black people.

(7) He investigated the linguistic link (e.g. Egyptian and Wolof) between ancient Kemet and other parts of Africa.

The crux of the issue of race and the Egyptians is part of an attempt to take Egypt and Egyptian history out of Africa intellectually, and thus substitute a Euro-centric politicization of history that confirms the racist notion that Africa has no history of importance, and that the ancient civilization of Egypt is not part of the African experience, but rather is a part of the Arab, Asian, or an European centered experience.

For example, Elmer Johnson, in his book A History of Libraries in the Western World, made the above mistake by referring to Egypt as part of the Western world rather than Africa, when he hesitatingly said, "It is difficult to say whether the first library in the Western World was located in Egypt" (Johnson, 1965, 21).

Hence it seems easy for those of the Euro-centric mind to put Egypt in the Middle East, or anywhere but Africa, because its great past contradicts all the jungle and savage images white racism has created about Africa and its people.

The truth, as revealed through a correct reading and interpretation of history, is that Egypt is a part of Africa and African people. No amount of dis-information or mis-information will change that reality; a reality some may not want to face, because it requires that they alter/change what they think about Africa, about the African experience, and ultimately about themselves.

This ambivalence or fear to alter how we think, act, and react to African ethnology was illustrated by Allman F. Williams when he said, "... if the 'Out of Africa' model proves even partially correct,... it will fundamentally change our view of who we are," in reference to the African origins of humankind (U.S. News & World Report, 1991, 60).

Consequently, there seems to be a fear that once people (especially those effected by white racism) realize that their roots are tied to an African woman who lived 200,000 years ago, and that Egypt was a Black civilization, they may have psychological problems.

The problem is rooted in white racism, and a false consciousness that will not allow one to see Egypt (Kemet) as a Black civilization; the ancient leader in art, literature, science, government, etc., while Europe, the pinnacle of Western thought, eagerly sent its elite (students) to Kemet to receive the advanced and fundamental lessons of civilization, an enterprise Kemet mastered many years before the rise of Europe, and according to George G.M. James in Stolen Legacy: Greek Philosophy is Stolen Egyptian Philosophy (1954, 39), Europe didn't know anything about libraries until the African Moors of North Africa occupied and introduced them to Spain.

We should expect this debate/problem concerning the race of the Egyptians to continue. However, we know, through the work of Diop and other capable scholars, that there is a solid connection of language, culture, religion, biology, and eyewitness reports, to prove that the ancient Egyptians were an African people.6 They were a people who saw themselves as Black, referred to themselves and their land (Kemet: "the black land") as Black, and had others see and refer to them and their land as Black.

Having explored the issue of phenotype (color/race) and its delineations in ancient Kemet, we can now turn briefly to its history.

Ancient Kemet: Remember the Time

To assist our chronological understanding, Manetho, a Kemetic priest, in his book Lost History of Egypt, divided Kemetic rulers into thirty time periods or dynasties. This division, still used by modern historians, sub-divides Kemetic dynasties into: the Old Kingdom (First Intermediate, Middle Kingdom, Second Intermediate), and the New Kingdom, geographically referred to as Upper and Lower Egypt to identify their north and south locations.

The Upper and Lower kingdoms of Kemet were rivals until the reign of King Menes (fl. C. 3100 B.C.-3038 B.C.), also known as Aha Mena and Narmer. He politically united Kemet, established a centralized government (c. 3200 B.C.), and founded a capital named Memphis in his honor, between Upper and Lower Kemet (Egypt).

This political unification played a significant role in Kemet, which allowed economic, social, cultural, and governmental institutions to endure with comparatively little change for almost two thousand years. Thus a high culture emerged, hieroglyphic (Mdw Ntru) writing was introduced, commerce flourished, the great pyramids were built, and Kemet became one of the most advanced nations in the ancient world. Consequently, it set a record of achievement few civilizations could rival.

After this period, Kemet entered a cycle of instability which ended in c. 2000 B.C. With the establishment of the Middle Kingdom (2134-1786 B.C.), and the founding of Wa-Set (a.k.a. Wo-Se' and Thebes). However, because of weak leadership, in 1786 B.C. Kemet was captured by foreign nomads, the Hyksos, who were eventually expelled in c. 1570 B.C. Leading to the birth of the New Kingdom.

The New Kingdom (c. 1570-1085 B.C.) witnessed: the rule of Amenhotep I, II, IV (Amenhotep IV introduced monotheism to Kemet and the world), Tuthmosis I, II, III, and IV, Makare Hatshepsut (the queen who proclaimed herself pharaoh and ruled during the minority of her nephew Tuthmosis III), and Rameses I and II (the Great), whose...

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