Monday, August 16, 2010

Reflections On Kemet

In the words of James Baldwin, “My memory stammers but my soul is a witness.” These words represent my experience with Kemet. There is still so much knowledge I need to gain about the place around me but yet, I feel connected to every place I’ve visited. We are socialized and trained to learn a false history of the cradle of civilization. Our History. Growing up I always felt that the way the black community was portrayed was wrong but I was never able to articulate my feelings and thoughts in ways so that other people could understand. I was blessed with the opportunity to go to Howard University where I was able to be the student of many great teachers. One of these teachers, and the one with the most influence on me, is Dr.Carr. He always says such profound things with such great ease. I often feel that he’s saying things I’ve always somehow known or things that seem so obvious but that I couldn’t figure out how to put into words. He is the person that has helped me learn that I am African, and that my history, and the history of my ancestors did not start with slavery. This idea was so foreign to me four years ago and now I can’t imagine not knowing it.

My first trip to Kemet was in 2008. During these past two weeks, memories from my first trip have come back, flooding my mind. I am no less amazed now than on my first visit, at the genius and majesty of the civilization that stood all around me over 4,000 years ago. I am so grateful that the ancient Egyptians built with such purpose and with the intentions that their masterpieces would last forever, so that I can marvel at them and learn from them and the culture that they represent. This year’s trip is very similar to my first trip because the same emotions have come rushing back. Pride, because my ancestors did these things. Hope, because what we have done we can do. Anger, because such extreme efforts are made on the daily to steal our legacy from us, and because people who have no claim to all the sites we visit, think that they have the right to profit from them. These feelings, along with many others are part of my daily experience here. This trip is also very different from my first one. I have been able to do things that I didn’t get to do the first time. For example, I saw the unfinished obelisk, went to the Nubian Museum in Aswan and the Luxor Museum in Luxor, and I got to wade in the Nile River. As a learning experience it is also very different. Dr.Beatty and students from Chicago State University have come along with us on this journey so I have had the opportunity to learn from them. Dr. Beatty’s passion is so overwhelming that I can’t help but to absorb it. His complete mastery of the ancient Egyptian language and understanding of ancient Egypt, coupled with his willingness to teach and answer questions has allowed me to gain a completely new and advanced understanding of Kemet. Being able to learn from Dr.Carr and Dr. Beatty has given me such a well-rounded learning experience.

This trip has been a refreshing spiritual journey, helping to further discover who I am. As well as that, it has continually helped me realize why and how I have to live my life according to ma’at. One of the lessons of Ptah Hotep that we have learned is that if ma’at stands firm then our children will live. With this journey we have all been given the charge of bringing this experience and our lessons learned back to our families, friends, and communities so that they can grow, develop, and live up to their true potential. A couple of days ago in lecture, Dr.Carr said that we have to learn who we are so that we can take the good from people without privileging their humanity over our own. This is the struggle we all face, learning who we are despite the forces that constantly try to prevent it, so that we can move through the world the way we were meant to and live up to our divine purpose.

Ancient Egypt has so many lessons to teach, and they are in every structure, temple, hieroglyph, painting, and text. Some of the lessons that are really staying with me are that to be fully committed to something you must do it with excellence and strive for perfection and that patience is a virtue. The pyramids, temples, and monuments are images of the cosmos on the ground. The Temple of Amun at Karnak is a result of over 2,000 years of building. The ancient Egyptians had “hour-watchers” that would pay attention to the movement of the heavens. They would rotate this duty for thousands of years so that they could map out the stars and as a result were able to plan their temples. Every other monument and structure is a testament to this way of life. Every glyph is a piece of art and every idea and blueprint for a monument was planned out and understood down to the last nanometer. If their work wasn’t perfect, they didn’t use it. We saw this first hand with the unfinished obelisk. It would have been the largest obelisk ever completed but while the Egyptians were working, a crack split down the center and they stopped working on it. Their work was perfection and designed to last forever and I hope to embody these principles when working on things that I’m passionate about.

In lecture, Dr.Carr talked about how “people fight to create identities based on what their objectives are. The truth, really, is of no consequence.” We are a witness to this everyday when we view the images that modern society presents to us, claiming they are representations of ancient Egypt despite all evidence, text, and testimony to the contrary. During one lecture here, we spoke about the National Geographic Magazine that featured King Tutankhamun. Zawi Hawass had the final say on the image that would be released on the cover. He solicited three teams of scholars to do facial reconstruction and chose the image with the white phenotype. This action fell in line with Hawass’ theory that the ancient Egyptians were “Caucasoid North Africans.” The term itself is absurd, yet it has become an accepted theory. Zawi Hawass uses his power and authority to push his theory. He uses no research or evidence to back it up. By using euphemisms like “Caucasoid North African” he is able to call the ancient Egyptians white without actually engaging in a conversation about race. It is left to us to combat things like this because people readily accept incorrect theories and assumptions. While here, we have been faced with a critical question: why? Why would he and scholars like him do this? Why must they perpetrate lies? Why are they so unable to face the truth staring back at them? The only answer I can think of is that they are in such awe of a culture and people they have no claim to that they will do anything to be able to have these master pieces somehow belong to them. If they were to accept and proclaim the truth, they would be going back on everything their society represents.

The Greeks themselves gave testimony about their visits to Kemet in the Late Period and gave descriptions of the ancient Egyptians as Black Africans. Modern Westerners say that this testimony is “unreliable” and they ignore the education the Greeks went to Egypt to get. Egyptian priests trained the first philosophers of Greece. “Greek” and “Roman” columns are imitations of flowers and plants grown in Egypt. The head of Djehuty is a bird from Africa that we got to see while we were in Aswan. The dress of Seshet is from a jungle cat inside Africa. The skin of Seti I is black as night and the extra flesh around the mouths and noses give evidence to a black phenotype—as do the monuments which display broad noses and thick lips. The wigs in the Cairo Museum have braids and afros. The table of races inside one of the tombs we visited showed the Egyptians as belonging to the same group as the Nubians. The wood figures of the Egyptian and Nubian armies, both have dark brown skin. This evidence, and so much more, shows us that the ancient Egyptians were black Africans. My job is to make sure that my community knows these things so that they can claim and know about the excellence of their ancestors and can have the confidence to go through life feeling proud and complete.

Our legacy is grounded in so many different things. Our ancestors were responsible for the development and creation of so many disciplines. Africa is the cradle of philosophy, art, science, mathematics, medicine, architecture, music, writing, and countless other areas. The creation of writing is one of the most important things we are responsible for. Evidence of Sumerian Cuneiform dates back to 3200 B.C.. The earliest evidence of a writing system in world history proceeds Mesopotamia, and happened prior to Sumerian Cuneiform. Prior to this knowledge, when the question of which writing form came first, Sumerian or Egyptian, there was a debate about independent invention versus diffusion: if the Sumerian Cuneiform was first, how could the Egyptians borrow the idea of writing without using Sumerian signs? Who influenced whom? Signs were found on early Mesopotamia pottery that are not “readable” from the vantage point of the Sumerian language, but they are “readable” from the vantage point of the Egyptian language.

Today in lecture, when Dr. Beatty was speaking he said that, “if you are truly African, you should have the confidence to stand on your past, your ancestors, your legacy, and to use that legacy to build your reality—unapologetically.” This is what I plan to do. Coming to Egypt has allowed me to gain such a greater understanding of my past, ancestors, and my legacy so that I know who I am and who the people in my community are. Together we can change the future for our children and our descendants for years to come, increasing their understanding and love of themselves. If we can do this then we will know that we have lived up to our purpose.

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