Posts Tagged ‘Sudan’

Evolution, Race and African Civilisation: A Remedial Course for Kippers

June 27, 2014

A few days ago I reblogged a piece from Still Laughing At UKIP, reporting the massive racial abuse and vilification directed against the Labour MP, Chuka Umunna, by the Kippers on Facebook after he had the audacity to observe that they weren’t actually very good at spelling and grammar. The article’s ‘Racism. Uncontrolled, Mass Racism’, and it’s at http://stilllaughingattheukip.wordpress.com/2014/06/23/racism-uncontrolled-mass-racism/, if you want to check it out for yourself. The racist remarks reported by the Kipper Smoker include the crass, racial insults of ‘monkeys’ and ‘spear chuckers’ to describe Blacks, as well as remarks that people of ancient African extraction are ‘uncivilised’. So let’s go through a few facts about evolution and African civilisation, just to straighten the record.

Archaic Features in First Human Colonists in Europe Compared to Africa

The comments about ‘monkey’s recalls the daft and dangerous racial hierarchies Europeans drew up in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, which placed White Europeans at the top of the evolutionary ladder as the apex of human evolution, and Blacks at the bottom. The lowest rung was occupied by Aboriginal Australians. Below them were Orang-Utans, which Europeans were originally unsure whether they were human or apes. Science has overturned this classification, and I cannot see any modern, ethical archaeological department ever endorsing such claims that certain sections of the human species are inferior to Whites, no matter what the authors of the infamous ‘Bell Curve’ may claim about innate differences in cognitive ability between different ethnic groups.

It is true that physiologically Aboriginal Australians have many archaic features, such as a pronounced brow ridge. This is hardly surprising considering just how ancient these people are, having colonised the continent about 40,000 years ago. They are, however, just as human as every other part of the human race. Their facial features are also very close to those of the ancestral humans that colonised Europe at about the same time. Skeletons showing Australian Aboriginal characteristics from that remote epoch have been found in Southern France. A little while ago I went to a seminar at Uni taken by an American professor, who was one of the world’s greatest authorities on early man and the Neanderthals. He pointed out that the skeletons of the early modern humans – Homo Sapiens Sapiens recovered from that period have archaic features, and are less gracile than African skeletons from the same period. If you want to put it crudely, at that stage the ancestors of modern Europeans were less evolved than their cousins in Africa. Despite their physiological differences, they were still Homo Sapiens Sapiens. Their appearance does not saying anything about their essential humanity.

Ancestral Skull

Ancestral Modern Human Skull from Broken Hill, South Africa. The first humans to colonise Europe 30-40,000 years ago had similar features

Africa: Continent of Many Cultures and Civilisations

Now let’s deal with the claims that Africans are somehow ‘uncivilised’. For a start, Africa is a continent, not a single country, and contains a plethora of cultures and peoples, whose lifestyles can vary considerably. The Bushmen of South Africa – the Khoisan peoples – are hunter gatherers, while many of the peoples of East Africa were traditionally nomadic pastoralists, herding their cattle across the Savannah. Others have long been settled in village as settled farmers and agriculturalists. And some of these peoples have developed highly advanced civilisations.

Ancient and Christian Nubia

The Nubians of the Sudan took over much of the culture of ancient Egypt, and for a time even ruled the ancient Land of the Nile. Regardless of the claim that the Ancient Egyptians themselves were Black, there was a dynasty of Black pharaohs, whose empire stretched into the Ancient Near East. One of these was the pharaoh Taharqa, who is mentioned in the Bible for his part in struggling with the Assyrians for the control of the various minor, Near Eastern states dominated by these two superpowers, like ancient Israel. The Nubians later converted to Christianity, and had a literate, Christian civilisation with strong links to Egypt and the Byzantine Empire until the country was conquered by Islam in the 14th century. Archaeologists have been studying the remains of their ancient culture since that part of Africa was opened up to Europeans in the 19th century.

Ethiopia

Further east is the equally ancient culture of Abyssinia, now Ethiopia. This too is also extremely ancient. There were early centres of civilisation at Meroe and then Aksum. Although Meroe was a literate civilisation, they spoke a language completely unrelated to any other, so that although their inscriptions can be read, scholars at still at a loss to know what they mean. The main languages of modern Ethiopia, Amharic, Tigre and Tigrinya, are descended from Ge’ez, which in turn is descended from the South Arabian languages, such as Sabaic, when colonists from these civilisations conquered and settled there well over 2,000 years ago. It converted to Christianity under its king, Ezana, in the fourth century, before the Anglo-Saxons had managed to over-run Roman Britain.

The Swahili in East Africa

South of Ethiopia, the great Muslim civilisation of the Swahili emerged later in the Middle Ages. They adopted not only Islam, but also other features of Islamic and Arabic life and culture. They built impressive cities from blocks of coral taken from the east African reefs, which were covered with a kind of lime wash produced by burning the same coral. In their time, they created some of the most outstanding examples of Islamic architecture, some of which can still be seen today in places like Zanzibar.

Nok, Benin and the Great Civilisations of West Africa

On the other side of Africa, other civilisations emerged which reached an extremely high level of civilisation. Africans in what is now Nigeria began smelting iron early, long before Europeans, in c. 1800 BC, due to the natural iron bloom available in the region. The earliest African artistic culture outside ancient Egypt, the Nok, appeared in Nigeria in the 3rd century BC. This is known for its highly stylised sculptures, the artistic skill of which has drawn admiration from modern art experts and connoisseurs. Other West African cultures also have been the subject of considerable scholarly interest for the high standard of their art, such as Ife and Benin. Both of these cultures produced extremely naturalistic metal sculptures. The Benin bronze heads, produced to form part of a shrine to the rulers’ life-force, are justly famous and are found in many European collections after they were looted by punitive raids by the British in the 19th century after they expanded into the region.

Ife Sculpture

Sculpture of a king of Ife. Similar works have been found in terracotta dating from before the 12th century.

Benin Bronze

Benin Bronze from Shrine to Ruler

These cultures also impressed European observers and traders when they first encountered them in the 16th and 17th centuries. They commented on the size of the cities they encountered, as well as the chastity of the indigenous women, which they considered to be far greater than their own. These civilisations did practise much that struck Europeans as barbaric, such as human sacrifice. What surprised them about this, however, was that such a cultured and civilised people should actually engage in such horrors. Captain Denman of the West African Squadron, charged with suppressing the slave trade between Africa and America, stated this in his evidence to a parliamentary inquiry in the 1840s. When asked whether mass human sacrifice really existed amongst the peoples of Dahomey, Ashanti and other cultures in the region, he replied that it did, and that it ‘was remarkable, given the achievements they have made in most of the arts of civilisation’. In other words, what shocked Europeans wasn’t that the Africans committing these atrocities were barbarous savages, but actually the complete opposite: they were highly civilised, and so the massacres they committed were even more shocking and horrifying by contrast to the rest of their civilisation.

Akure Place

Plan of the palace of the Deji of Akure, showing how complex great African buildings may be.

Benin pic 2

View of the City of Benin, published 1668 by the Dutch explorer, Dapper

North of these pagan civilisations was the great Islamic empire of Mali. Access to a plentiful supply of gold made it one of the richest civilisations in West Africa. So rich, that when its ruler passed through Egypt in the 12th century on the hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, the amount of gold he and his retainers carried was so great that it actually through the country into a recession. Mali was also an important religious and intellectual centre, in which the scientific literature of the Muslim world also circulated. Scholars have uncovered vast libraries of ancient manuscripts preserved in the empire’s mosques from the Middle Ages. Amongst the treasures of this civilisation are manuscripts of the heliocentric system, showing the Earth and planets moving around the Sun, which Muslim scholars discovered independently of Copernicus about two centuries earlier.

Non-Ptolemaic Moon

Non-Ptolemaic Model of the Moon’s orbit, produced by the Turkish astronomer Qutb al-Din al-Shirazi in 1285. Similar works were copied and circulated amongst scholars in Mali.

Further south, in Zimbabwe, is the great stone fort from which the country takes its modern name. This vast structure is so impressive that previous European scholars could not believe it had been built by Africans, and instead attributed it to the Arabs or Chinese. I’ve got a feeling that some of the Ufolks may well believe it was built by ancient space aliens. Examination of the ruins themselves, however, show that it is indeed African in design and construction, similar to the way wooden houses are built by the peoples of the area.

Zimbabwe Fort1

The Temple at the Great Fort of Zimbabwe

There may also have been many other African civilisations, of which we currently know little, simply because the evidence for them has not survived. Africans tend to build in wood, rather than stone, a material that is particularly vulnerable to the continent’s climate and attack by termites. We only know of those civilisations that have either survived to the present day, such as Dahomey, Ashanti and the other contemporary Nigerian cultures, or who built in stone. Other civilisations may have existed which built in wood, the evidence for which perished over the centuries. However, merely because the evidence has not survived, does not mean that such civilisations weren’t there in the first place.

The Kippers racially abusing and insulting Umunna thus reveal just the extent of their own vile bigotry, but also how little they know about human evolution and African culture and civilisation. While these are fairly exotic topics, they’re not so arcane that only a few scholars know about them. There have been some excellent TV series on them, aimed at the general public. These include The Incredible Human Story on the BBC, presented by Time Team’s own Dr Alice Roberts. The BBC also produced a series on human evolution, presented by the avuncular, moustachioed Dr Robert Winston. Further back in the 1990s, Channel 4 also screened a series on human evolution, which presented the case that the early human colonist of Europe were actually Black. Again, an entirely respectable viewpoint, considering that all modern humans arrived out of Africa.

As for African civilisation, there have been a number of blockbusting series. Back in the 1980s there were a couple, one on BBC 2, presented by the Black African scholar Dr Ali Mazrui, and another on Channel 4 presented by the White afrocentrist historian, Dr Basil Davidson. More recently, BBC 4 and 2 screened a series, Lost Kingdoms of Africa, presented by a Black British art historian. I’m afraid the only thing I can remember about this chap’s name is that he was Gus somebody, and his name was double-barrelled. And that, like all archaeologists and intrepid explorers, he wore the de rigueur Indian Jones felt hat. This was also well worth watching, and there was a book to accompany the series. It’s great series like that which provide the strongest argument for retaining the BBC, and keeping television out of the mitts of Murdoch.

Africa’s Problems those of Human Evil, Corrupt International Economic and Political System

Terrible atrocities and crimes against humanity are being committed in Africa, by kleptocratic dictators and army generals, who are a blight on the human race. These have gained power partly through the profound economic and social problems of their nations, but also through the complicity of Western politicians, industrialists and financiers. The difference and superiority of western, scientific and industrial culture is only very recent. Western Europe only began to overtake Islam scientific and technologically in the 17th century, and there were still areas in which the Muslim world was superior in the 18th. Well into the 19th century, much of western Europe was ruled by absolute monarchs, whose societies rested on serfdom, the effective enslavement of their peasants. One American historian of the Balkans has pointed out that while the Turks in the 19th century were seen as barbaric for taking the heads of those they slew in battle, this was actually common amongst American bounty hunters out West. Before the development of cheap, efficient photography, the only way you could prove that you had successfully hunted down and killed a dangerous criminal was to take their heads.

Africa is beset by many severe problems, but this is not because its people are somehow less ‘evolved’ or ‘uncivilised’. Indeed, for much of human history, the opposite has been true. The continent’s problems come from a number of causes, which include the legacy of colonialism, a corrupt and unfair international economic system, and simple pure, unrestrained human evil. The last knows no difference in colour, and affects every culture. Including the upper echelons of the Tory party, and even now clouds the judgment of Kippers towards their fellows.

Old Nubian Words and Phrases

June 28, 2013

The Nubian language belongs to the Eastern Sudanic branch of the Nilo-Saharan family of African languages. It is spoken by about a million people in Egypt and the Sudan. In 1977 there were about 500,000 speakers of one of its dialects in Kordofan in Sudan, and another 175,000 speakers in the country’s Northern Province. The Old Nubian language was written in the Coptic script, with the addition of three letters taken from the ancient Meroitic alphabet. Christian religious texts were translated into Nubian from the eighth to the fourteenth centuries. I’ve decided to give an idea of what the language and its religious literature was like by posting here a few Biblical and other religious phrases with a translation and the individual words and elements of the language’s grammar that make them up.

Subject marker added to the final consonant of a word: -i
Definite article ‘the’, -l.
Ngod, ‘Lord’.
Ngod.i.l., ‘the Lord’.
Istauros, ‘Cross’.
Istauros.i.l., ‘the Cross’.
Particle added to indefinite nouns, such as ‘a man’, ‘a dog’, etc, to make them the focus of a sentence: -lo.
Parthenos, (from Greek), ‘Virgin’.
Tu, ‘stomach.
Dzunt.ung, ‘to become pregnant’.
Parthenos.i.l.lo tu.lo dzunt.u.ng.arr.a -‘(Behold) a Virgin shall be with child’ (Matthew 1.23).

-n: shows the genitive.
Angelos – ‘angel’.
Ngod.in angelos, ‘the angel of the Lord’.

Ted – ‘Law’,
Tidzkanel, ‘fulfilment’
Ted.in tidzkanel, ‘the fulfilment of the Law’.

-U – relational marker linking adjective to noun. Adjectives are always placed before the noun.
Ngok, ‘glory’.
Istauros.u ngok.ko – ‘the glorious cross’.
-U is also used as a relative pronoun.
Till, ‘God’
Ngod.u till, ‘the Lord God’.
Ngiss, ‘holy’.
Parthenos.u ngiss.u Maria ‘The holy Virgin Mary’.

Ogidz – ‘man’,
On/ un – ‘to love’
Ogidzdz.u tillil unil, ‘a man whom God loves’.

-Ka: marker of oblique case.
Tan – ‘his’
Windz – ‘star’
Ngal – ‘to see’
Kin – to come’
Tan windz.i.ka masal.(n).osk.i.lo nga.s.in kas.s.o.si.n, ‘We have seen his star in the east and have come’.

-ketal – from
Aul – ‘saviour’.
Kim.m.a sion.i.a ketal aul.el ‘from Zion the Saviour will come’.

I’ve taken the above examples from the notes I made a long time ago from a book on the various languages of the world, written for librarians. The statistics for the numbers of speakers in Kordofan and North Province, Sudan, come from Kenneth Katzner, The Languages of the World (London: Routledge and Keegan Paul 1975)

The Churches and Monasteries of Medieval Nubia: Part Four – the Monasteries of Ghazali and Qasr el Wizz

June 23, 2013

Ghazali

The monastery of Ghazali in the kingdom of Nobatia was excavated by Peter Shinnie and H.N. Chittick of the Sudanese Antiquities Service in 1953 and 1954. The monastery lay on the modern Wadi Abu Dam, not far from the town of Merowe. It had first been discovered by Europeans in 1821, when it was visited by Linant de Bellefonds. Lepsius had visited it 28 years later in 1849, and discovered twenty inscribed stones, which he took back to Berlin. The monastery dates from the tenth century, when Nubian Christianity was at it height. It was deliberately chosen for excavation because of the light it promised to shed on Nubian Christianity during its heyday.

The monastery’s church was large by the standards of medieval Nubia. It was 28.1 m long and 13.9 m wide (92 feet by 46 feet). It was composed of mud brick resting on lower courses of dressed sandstone blocks. Its interior was plastered, and covered in graffitti. In its layout, it was a typically Nubian church. It was basilican in plan with a nave and two side aisles. The aisles were divided from the nave by a series of arcades. A bench ran along the entire length of the north aisle. Halfway down the nave was the pulpit. Jars inserted in to the floor suggest that a wooden screen separated the haikal from the nave. Behind the heikal was a series of seven steps leading to an apse-shaped tribunal. South of this apse was the church’s dianonikon, or sacristy.

The church’s floor was tiled. Below this was a drain system, which may have been connected to the baptistry. A large pottery dish, which may have been used for foot-washing, was set in the sacristy floor. Shinnie and Chittick believed that the sacristy’s layout was Greek, rather than Coptic, providing further evidence that the Nubian liturgy stated that Christ had two natures, rather than one. Outside the church on its north side was a tank lined with plaster. This was either the baptistry or an epiphany tank. Its position is unusual as baptistry tanks were usually located in the southeastern corner of the nave.

The monastery’s other buildings were located in three groups. They were built of schist and mortar, the majority containing debris left over from when they were occupied and water jars. One of the buildings was probably a refectory. It contained circular benches, similar to those in Egyptian churches. The monastery was surrounded by a wall, beyond which were the complexes latrines. One of the distinctive features of the monastery’s cemetery was the graves of its former inmates. These were box graves with crosses, now only fragmentary. The tombs’ epitaphs are in Greek and Coptic, with most of them in Coptic. Although the epitaphs followed the Byzantine pattern, the extensive use of Coptic suggests that many of the monks may have been Egyptian, who had fled to Nubia from persecution in their homeland. Shinnie’s investigation showed the importance of monastacism to Nubian Christianity, and that Greek, Coptic and Nubian were all used in the church’s liturgy. The layout of the monastery of Ghazali is shown below.

Ghazali Monastery.jpeg

Qasr el Wizz

Ghazali was not the only monastery excavated. Others included that of Qasr el Wizz. This is far more compact than some of the other monasteries, such as the Kom H monastery at Old Dongola. The layout of Qasr el Wizz is shown below.

Ghazali Monastery 2.jpeg

A Coptic Funeral Inscription from Medieval Nubia

May 4, 2013

One of the great medieval African civilisations was Christian Nubia. Centred on the thin strip of land running for the first to the sixth cataract of the Nile in what is now the Sudan, the Nubians possessed a written language from the sixth century AD. In 550 a local king, Eirpanome, appears to have converted the pagan temple at Dendur into a church. Christian Nubia survived until the sixteenth century, when the kingdom of Alwa declined following the conquest of Soba by the Muslim kingdom of Fung.

Between 1961 and 1963 the area around Arminna was excavated by the Universities of Pennsylvania and Yale as part of UNESCO’s campaign to save the ancient monuments in the region. The archaeologists uncovered the remains of the medieval town and a church. This church contained several inscriptions, including one in Greek and another in Coptic, the language of the Egyptian Christian church. The Greek inscription commemorated a person called Marieo. Its first 19 lines were the Greek Orthodox prayer for the dead, which is still used today. It read:

‘God of spirits and all flesh, You who have trod under death and have rendered ineffectual the devil, and have given life to Your world, rest the soul of Your departed servant (named) in a place of verdure, in a place of refreshment; therein grief, pain, and mourning have fled. Pardon every sin done by him in word, or deed, or thought, since You are a good God and love mankind, because there is no man who will live and will not sin. For You alone are outside sin, Your justice is justice forever, and Your word is truth, because You are the resurrection, the life, and the repose of Your departed servant (name), Christ our God, and to you we send up glory with Your everlasting Father and all-holy and good and life-giving Sppirit, now and always and forever. Amen’ Above the inscription, running from left to right, were a cross, an alpha and omega, and the sign of the fish.

The coptic inscription was situated inside the church’s apse. It had been set up by the parents of a woman named Maria. The inscription reads:

‘According to the statement which the Creator spoke, “Adam thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt (lit. she will) again return,” such was the way in which the blessed Maria went to rest, who was the daughter of Ptoou and the daughter of Mariam in the month of Hathor in the year (of the martyrs) 637. Her years were 39. The good god will give her rest in the bosom of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob beneath the treat of life, which is in the paradise of joy with all his saints, who cried out, “Amen, so be it, Amen”‘.

These two inscriptions show the contacts medieval Christian Nubia had with the other Christian churches, and the touching concern its citizens felt to raise monuments to their deceased relatives.

Sources

Niall Finneran, The Archaeology of Christianity in Africa (Brimscombe Port: Tempus 2002)

Bruce G. Trigger, The Late Nubian Settlement at Arminna West (New Haven and Philadelphia: The Peabody Museum of Natural History of Yale University/ The University Museum of of the University of Pennsylvania 1967).