Evidently, prejudice permeates the sandstone edifice of each temple at Abu Simbel. Surprise is unwarranted, we have all surely encountered “the vile Foe” of Racism on the lesser plateau that we left last Sunday…but the spirit of Howard University that we have collectively and remotely recreated here has been audaciously challenged, and that is cause for an eyebrow raise.
We have stepped onto each site in Kemet, and our behavior in and interaction with these temples, tombs, pyramids, and monuments has shown brilliance in stark contrast to the demeanor of some who share the opportunity, as if their experience were shrouded in darkness…
We differ in purpose. In usual microcosmic HU fashion, we question what is placed before us because we know every notion is given through the lens of perspective. We are not simply on a tour; we are here seeking truth. We have studied, we have been listeners, and now we are becoming our own interpreters. We don’t simply pose & snap photos & marvel at the aesthetics of our surroundings. We interact with the space we enter. We study it: study the structure, learn and study the mdw ntr (glyphs), study the light, study the sound, through conversation, explanation, inquiry, and discussion while on site.
We ask what the symbols mean. We ask whose name is inside the shenu (cartouche). We ask how the temple architects constructed the temple of Heru (Horus) in order to cause sunlight to illuminate only the likeness of Ramesses II on his birthday and “coronation day.” Not all questions are answered, but questions are asked, and discussions are had. We don’t simply observe the site; we interact with it. We don’t even have the time or desire to notice the other tourists or the guards, thereby leaving a potentially reciprocal relationship irreconcilable.
Today was the first day that I became aware of the threat we pose to them. It may have been the guards’ insistence on following our group in order to force the “No Cameras” rule while other tourists snapped away, flash and all, at the temple walls that made me see it. Or perhaps it was the European tourist who stamped and cursed her way out of the temple of Het-heru after we were allowed to stay despite Dr. Carr guiding us (we, thus, became an exception of the “No Guides” rule). Or maybe it was even the European man at our hotel when, seeing us relax in the pool, asked, “What are you wild ladies doing in a place like this?” and if we have a connection to Egypt.
See, to them and most of the world, we don’t belong here in Kemet. This place is not ours to claim: Kemet is not Africa. It’s ancient people were not African. So why are you rowdy African Americans here? What is the American Negro doing in Egypt reading glyphs on the walls? Step aside for the Italian, Spanish, English, Asian, and (white) American tourists. And Why do they refer to Cheops as Khufu, and Memphis as Mennefer, and Egypt as Kemet anyway?...
…Because we’ve looked into Pepy’s face, Seti’s face, Ramesses’ face; we’ve seen their skin; we’ve seen the statues and reliefs of Montuhotep, Khufu, and Khafre to Tiye and Akenaten; we’ve read Diop & Obenga & Carruthers; we’ve seen how the people of Kemet depicted themselves, down to the paint color, and how they depicted foreighners; we know that the Kemetic people, in their late period, viewed the Greeks as “childlike;” we know that several modern African civilizations trace their origins to Kemet; We know that chemistry, the alphabet, math, architecture, astronomy, literature, medicine, modern religion are all owed to the people of Ancient Kemet.
That is why we are in this place. We are connecting with our history…and to be unwelcome, to be followed like shoplifting teens, is like being chaperoned on a visit to the graveyard of our relatives. We are here at the resting place, the living space of our ancestors, and we face what their history has faced: greed, distortion, and misunderstanding.
As we look into the faces of their monuments, they hold their gaze steadfast on the rising sun, as if to say, “Patience. Maat is. The time will come.” And we continue to learn, we continue to teach, we continue to be inspired, energized, and motivated by this place. We take in its air through our noses like the gift of life, like the ankh…and we continue on.