An Ethiopian Journal

"Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunters"

The Afrikan Presence in the Ancient World

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Afrikan Historians of the Nineteenth Century Knew the Importance of Nile Valley Civilization and the Afrikan Presence in the Ancient World

Despite the vigorous debate among certain Afrikan and European scholars today concerning the Afrikan origin of Nile Valley civilization and of humankind, no such dispute appears to have existed among Afrikan intellectuals during the 1800s. In fact, between 1841 and 1883 Afrikan historians in the United States explained in four histories the central importance of Afrikan people and civilization in world history.

The earliest writer was James W. C. Pennington, who in A Text Book of the Origin and History of the Colored People (1841) based his understanding of human origins on the Christian bible. Afrikans, he argued, were descendants of Noah through Ham, whose sons were Cush (Ethiopia-Nubia), Misraim (Kemet or ancient Egypt), Phut (Somalia) and Canaan (Palestine).1  Pennington said Afrikans in the United States were “properly the sons of Cush and Misraim amalgamated.”2

The sons of Cush, according to the biblical account, settled in Western Asia, the so-called Middle East, “‘bounded east by the eastern branch of the Euphrates and the Persian gulf, south by Arabia, or the Arabian Sea, west by the Red Sea and Egypt, and north by Canaan and Syria.'”3  They also settled in Afrika itself, he wrote.

Pennington also wrote the “Egyptians and the Ethiopians are confederated in the same government, and soon became the same people in politics, literature and peculiarities. … the conclusion is clear that the two nations were equals in the arts and sciences for which Egypt is admitted on all hands to have been so renowned.”4   In this conclusion Pennington relies upon Roman and Greek writers and contemporary European historians of antiquity.5

Also relying upon the Christian bible, Robert Benjamin Lewis in Light and Truth: Containing the Universal History of the Colored and Indian Race, from the Creation of the World to the Present Time (1844) wrote that all of human history began in Afrika with Afrikans. Lewis located the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve in Ethiopia, concluding that “Ethiopia (Gen. ii. 13,) was black, and the first people were Ethiopians, or blacks.”6

He added: “That portion of the earth which was first peopled, after Adam and Eve had left Paradise, was the land of Ethiopia, by the Ethiopians, on the river Gihon, that went out of the Garden of Eden, ‘which compasseth the whole land (or country) of Ethiopia,’ 4003 years before Christ. … The children of Ethiopia were from Adam to Noah” and through Noah’s progeny.7

Lewis saw no white-skinned people in the beginning of human history. Of Noah’s three sons, Ham, Shem, and Japhet, he wrote: “To the descendants of Ham, I have generally given the name of Ethiopians — blacks with frizzled or curly hair. The descendants of Shem were denominated Assyrians and Syrians — blacks with long straight hair.”8   As for the progeny of Japhet, Lewis writes they “were also denominated colored people by the Grecian historian.”9

Lewis also commented on the ancient Nile Valley. To the Afrikans of Kemet (ancient Egypt) can be credited, among other things, he wrote, the invention of the alphabet, the invention of books and paper, writing instruments such as the pen, the science of embalming, and the use of linen cloth.10

“It was the Egyptians that discovered the elementary principles; studied the sciences and arts, and the phenomena, and laws of nature; gave names to the planets, and furnished the archetype of those civil and religious systems, which prevailed in that quarter of the world, and have since spread into every civilized nation,” Lewis wrote.11  They formed the first ships and the first libraries and mastered philosophy, mathematics, jurisprudence, medicine, and magic.12

Nineteen years later, William Wells Brown in The Black Man: His Antecedents, His Genius, and His Achievements (1863) discussed an Ethiopian origin of Kemetic (ancient Egyptian) civilization. “It is the generally received opinion of the most eminent historians and ethnologists, that the Ethiopians were really negroes … That, in the earliest periods of history, the Ethiopians had attained a high degree of civilization, … and that to the learning and science derived from them we must ascribe those wonderful monuments which still exist to attest to the power and skill of the ancient Egyptians.“13

As for the Kemites (ancient Egyptians), Brown wrote: “Volney assumes it a settled point that the Egyptians were black. Herodotus, who travelled extensively through that interesting land, set them down as black, with curled hair, and having negro features.” 14

Similarly, George Washington Williams in History of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880 (1883) wrote that Afrikan presence and influence extended into ancient southern and far east Asia. “Now, these substantial and indisputable traces of the march of the Negro races through Japan and Asia lead us to conclude that the Negro race antedates all profane history,” he observed. “And while the great body of the Negro races have been located geographically in Africa, they have been, in no small sense, a cosmopolitan people. Their wanderings may be traced from the rising to the setting sun.”

Williams wrote that Afrikans were the most ancient people of the planet and the oldest and most indigenous of the peoples of Asia. “Monuments and temples, sepulchred stones and pyramids, rise up to declare the antiquity of the Negro races.” Scientific investigation concludes “the Negro type of man was the most ancient, and the indigenous race of Asia, as far north as the lower range of the Himalaya Mountains, and presents at length many curious facts which cannot … be otherwise explained.” He added: “Traces of this black race are still found along the Himalaya range from the Indus to Indo-China, and the Malay peninsula, and in a mixed form all through the southern states to Ceylon.”15

[Biographical statement, if needed: Ahati N. N. Toure is a Ph.D. candidate in Africana and American history at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.]


1 James W. C. Pennington, A Text Book of the Origin and History, etc. etc. of the Colored People (Hartford, CT: L. Skinner, Printer, 1841; reprint Detroit: Negro History Press, nd), 10.
2 Pennington, 12.
3 Pennington, 11-12.
4 Pennington, 22.
5 Pennington, 22-23; and R. B. Lewis, Light and Truth: Containing the Universal History of the Colored and Indian Race, from the Creation of the World to the Present Time (Boston: Published by a Committee of Colored Gentlemen, Benjamin F. Roberts, Printer, 1844), 309-315.
6 Lewis, 10.
7 Lewis, 15.
8 Lewis, 13.
9 Lewis, 19.
10 Lewis, 280-282.
11 Lewis, 282-283.
12 Lewis, 283.
13 William Wells Brown, The Black Man: His Antecedents, His Genius, and His Achievements (New York: Thomas Hamilton, and Boston: R. F. Wallcut, 1863), 32.
14 Ibid.
15 George Washington Williams, History of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880. Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens; together with a Preliminary Consideration of the Unity of the Human Family, an Historical Sketch of Africa, and an Account of the Negro Governments of Sierra Leone and Liberia. In Two Volumes, Volume I: 1619 to 1800 (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1883), 18-19.

Written by Tseday

September 16, 2008 at 6:03 am

One Response

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  1. Nice reading!


    September 16, 2008 at 10:38 pm

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