Thursday, August 13, 2009


*on the bus from Abydos...*

Over the course of our journey through the various sites of timeless communication erected by our ancestors here in Kemet, I have been repeatedly reaffirmed in my accordance with Jacob Carruthers' suggestion to cut out the middle man, so to speak, and step past our "European interpreters" who have told us how our history went down. Carruthers would know; he has shown us firsthand in his essays how the politics of translation can twist a story into something that would probably be strangely unrecognizable to the people of Ancient Kemet. In the case of dealing with our history, there is a point where is it unacceptable to wholly trust any interpreter. Of course, be cordial :o) but the point is to learn how to think for yourself. Use the available resources to develop that ability.

In that respect, I think our entire group has taken part in the exercise of speculation...and it's now evident that we don't just have European interpreters to worry about. We must be cautious of any interpretation that spawns from a place that lacks integrity.

We must be cautious of the "Restorative Societies" that attempt to reconstruct the temples and tombs of ancient Kemet. In some cases, they sand the limestone, sandstone, and granite blocks down to a bare pulp, devoid of the one bold and telling mdw ntr (glyphs) that decorated their faces. The "restorers" misplace a block here, redraw a scene there, remove a segment over there. All so the modern day tourist may marvel at "how the temple originally looked." Revisiting and revisiting, like the crazy woman at Seti's temple in Abydos, who couldn't even read the walls enough to critique them if she wanted to. (Not that Abydos was incorrectly restored, but the consideration to make that determination should be made.) -- I wonder how much money that woman has spent, marveling at scenes she can't even decipher, twice a day for two months out of the year. We know with certainty that she is off the mark in her interpretations of the temple, but the other interpreters are more stealth.

We must be cautious of the Egyptologists, who take bold steps for high profile discoveries. They make targeted finds and publicize on what we see as credible networks. They excavate just enough to open a site to the public. They determine just enough to declare a conclusion. In fame, they become the same romanticized cowboys who violently expanded the "American frontier", except here they are ravaging and pillaging our historical record, building their case and sending the real evidence on a Trail of Tears only to be hidden and potentially lost forever. The Egyptologists play their charades, knowing they don't fully believe in what they do. And somehow I end up spending 60 more Egyptian Pounds to play charades with them in the Mummy Room at the Egyptian Museum, knowing in my heart that that mummy is probably not Hatshepsut. It's easy to speculate when you reflect and realize that Almighty Dollar has won the bout with your ability to reason.

So now, I'm cautious. Especially of those who have the power and the resources to serve as interpreters for a large audience. They are not all malicious or misinformed. But we must sift to find the gold.

The politics of translation is pervasive. After all, everything is a translation of sorts. For instance, you will never know how I truly feel...even if you looked into my eyes and saw a reflection of the African sun. Even if you experienced all of this with me. With my words, my face, my behavior, my touch, I translate it all to you, settling in the satisfaction that "you know what I mean." But to be me right now, to feel the heat on my skin, to feel the melancholy of awe, to comprehend the universe from a place that only my soul inhabits and its experiences have impossible.

What, then, is a primary source but another lens? When will we be able to take our glasses, our filters off? ...Education, I believe, is the LASIK. Read it all. Hear it all. See it all. Experience it all. You can then begin to see with a clear eye. Placing our cameras at every angle, we make some kind of composite photo of the realm we study...

As I close, now having just returned from Abydos and Dendera, I hope that you can capture my feelings as a component of your composite in the study of Kemet. The key thing is to remember where your information is coming from, and what it has been through. Listen for the intellectual accent of your interpreters...

As your interpreter on this study abroad experience, I do what I can for you. I use the available media to make that doomed attempt to eliminate the inevitable void of human loneliness. I want to give my best attempt. I want to provide the closest translation to how I feel in this place, in this moment. I hope that, with the best job English can do and the best understanding written communication can provide, I have done just that.



BLP said...

And you have done exactly what you set out to do my sister! You have prepared us for the journey, whether we are blessed to follow in your footsteps or contine to travel with you through this virtual space. Thank you 1,000,000 for the vision and the memories.

Zelle said...

Your personal bout with intellectual integrity, both as a sender and reciever. I really enjoyed it.

Zelle said...

Your personal bout with intellectual integrity, both as a sender and reciever. I really enjoyed it.