Massey and Africa
Rey Bowen, in his brief article 'Gerald Massey: His Life and Works'1 says 'Massey claimed that it was around 1870 when he stumbled across the idea that the human race had its origins in equatorial Africa.' Unfortunately he does not claim where, yet the assumption that the genesis of the human race lay in the dark continent must have been in his mind long before then.
It was in the 1840's when Massey as a young man read a small book by Constantin de Volney, more out of its radicalism than its overview of human history, that would prove to have had a profound affect on his aspiring mind.2 Volney's book, The Ruins: or a Survey of the Revolutions of Empires, (1793), I believe, was the one source that would later put Massey on the road to his theory of the African origins of civilisation and manifested itself fully in his assertion that 'All the evidence cries aloud its proclamation that Africa was the birthplace of the non-articulate and Egypt the mouthpiece of articulate man,'3 over thirty years later.
Volney had visited Egypt and was overwhelmed by it. In the imaginary dialogue between himself and the Genius of the world, he wrote,
'These heaps of ruins, said he [i.e., the Genius], that you observe in this narrow valley, laved by the Nile, are all that remains of the opulent cities that gave lustre to the ancient kingdom of Ethiopia. Here is the monument of its splendid metropolis, Thebes with its hundred palaces, the progenitor of cities, the memento of human frailty. It was there that a people since forgotten, discovered the elements of science and art, at a time when all other men were barbarous, and that a race now regarded as a refuse of society, because their hair is woolly, and their skin is dark, explored among the phenomena of nature, those civil and religious systems which have since held mankind in awe.'4
He was one of the first to point out that the early settlers of the Nile valley were essentially of Negroid stock, i.e. Ethiopians. In a footnote to the above quotation, having discussed the prevalence of Negroid-types in the writings of the ancient commentators, he goes on to say,
'It would be easy to multiply citations upon this subject; from all which it follows, that we have the strongest reason to believe that the country neighbouring to the tropic, was the cradle of the sciences, and of consequence that the first learned nation was a nation of Blacks, for it is incontrovertible, that by the term Ethiopians, the ancients meant to represent a people of black complexion, thick lips, and woolly hair. I am therefore inclined to believe that the inhabitants of Lower Egypt were formerly a foreign colony imported from Syria and Arabia, a medley of different tribes of Savages, originally shepherds and fishermen, who by degrees formed themselves into a nation, and who, by nature and descent, were enemies of the Thebans, by whom they were no doubt despised and treated as barbarians.
I have suggested the same idea in my Travels into Syria, founded upon the black complexion of the Sphinx...'5
Massey fully endorsed this view, but took it further, believing that the actual origins and cradle of the human race lay in the vicinity of the equatorial rain forests of central Africa, and with the migration to the north, following the course of the Nile as it proceeded through the Rift valley, our earliest ancestors would have founded settlements along the Nile including Ethiopia. If this is true, then the first settlers of the Nile would have been direct descendants of Ethiopia, bringing with them the rudiments of their understanding of the sciences of the heavens and agriculture embodied in the types discussed by Massey. That the science of astronomy was already established is certain, for no migration can take place without sign-posts which is what the stars provided. Thus the origin of astronomy was in essence the making of a black race. Or as Volney puts it,
'It was thus, upon the distant shores of the Nile, and among a nation of sable complexion, that the complex system of the worship of the stars, as connected with the produce of the soil and the labours of agriculture, was constructed.'6
Although how astronomy really started is still debateded,7 the evidence for the origin of the human race in Africa is indisputable, despite the ongoing debates concerning the 'out of Africa' hypothesis. Archaeologists have discovered the earliest remnants of the first hominid-types in Africa, and their discoveries have been confirmed by palaeoanthropology, the earliest human types being considered to be around 100, 000 years old and to have come from Africa and the Middle East. These were the first recognisable fully modern human types, that is, Homo sapiens sapiens.
'According to the "Out of Africa" hypothesis, these earliest modern humans eventually spread out to take over the territory of all other existing hominids.'8
And it must be remembered the only specimens that have been found come from what is called the Afar Triangle in the north extremity of the Great Rift valley. One of the earliest recognisable ancestors of homo sapiens—Lucy, approximately dated to around 3.5 million years old—was discovered in Africa, by Donald Johanson in 1974 at Hadar in the Lower Awash valley, where also some of the earliest known tools have been unearthed—approximately 2.5 million years old. What distinguishes this relic—Australopithecus afarensis— of our ancestry is bipedalism, its ability to walk upright, the common hallmark of Darwinian evolution. Earlier specimens, believed to date back at least 3.9 million years have also been discovered, namely in Ethiopia. Bipedalism is the distinguishing trait of hominid types, but that does not mean to suggest they displayed any signs of intelligence as we commonly understand the term. It is most probable that they spent most of their time in the trees, before eventually daring to move out into the open savannas. Although the lineage of our ancestors is not feasibly clear, it is believed that several variations on the prototype took place, with bifurcations along the way before the next of our own genus appeared, homo habilis who displayed bipedal motion, a slightly larger brain and an ability to use their hands. Specimens of this creature have been found, again in Africa, to the East and in the South, some dating back two million to 1.5 million years old. It would be an over-simplification to carry on this line of descent until we arrive at homo sapiens proper as evidence of other hominid-types have been unearthed; some may or may not bear any relation to us. But what is important is the preponderance of these finds to date, that they all took place in Africa.
Palaeoanthropologists tend to shy away from a common source hypothesis. This is for good reason as the demarcation between true hominid- and anthro-type is never clear cut nor as simple as we would prefer it. In the Eighties another discovery was made which later came to be called the 'Eve hypothesis'. The theory is that the human race can be readily traced back to an archetypal woman of African origin, as the DNA chromosome is easier to trace through the matriarchal lineage rather than the patriarchal. This time the discoveries weren't in the caves of Africa but in the labs of America.
'Based on a comparison of a particular kind of DNA found in cell parts called mitochondria, a team of biochemists in Berkeley, California, had concluded that all human beings on earth could trace their ancestry back to a single woman who lived in Africa only 200,000 years ago. Every living branch and twig of the human family tree had shot up from this "mitochondrial Eve" and spread like kudzu over the face of the globe...'9
As good as it sounds, in line with Massey's theory of diffusionism—since these 'people from Africa began to disperse across Europe and Asia' between '100,000 and 50,000 years ago' and eventually into the Americas— there have been strong criticisms against this theory.
It was in the Seventies when Wallace, the geneticist, had proposed a common origin based on a sample of over 200 mitochondrial DNA drawn from five different ethnic groups. His results suggested 'that there had been a recent, single point of origin for the modern human race. There were two ways of determining where that origin had been, and these came in conflict. If the mutations occur steadily through time, and if more mutations have accumulated in Africa than anywhere else, thence Africa should be the homeland whence all populations have sprung.'10 And if his results were conclusive it would mean we, including Caucasians, are all essentially black deep down inside. However, Wallace found that most of the mitochondria was more closely related to an Asian type than any other, suggesting the origin was somewhere in Asia, which Wallace eventually, and reluctantly, opted for in 1983 when he came to publish his work, although I understand from Finch's introductory note to the Black Classic Press reprint of BB Wallace later came to shift his paradigm to Africa.11 Wilson, Stoneking and Cann carried out further tests on mitochondrial DNA—significantly using placentas, once thought by some Egyptologists to be the origin of the phonetic h sign in the hieroglyphics, more usually interpreted by others as a sieve or basket.12 Their conclusion was that humans are more closely related than was once suspected, and the further down the DNA chain you go, the closer you get to even closer similarities. In theory, it would be possible to follow the chain all the way down to arrive at a common root, the biological basis of humankind. From their researches they generated a computer model of a hypothetical genealogical tree; its roots were firmly in Africa. 'The simplest explanation was that all human races had originated in Africa and later some people had migrated out, whilst others had remained on the home continent.'13 Unfortunately, given the time scale, this does not account for other races inhabiting parts of the world far earlier and their complete obliteration, as if wiped off completely, unless the proposition that this generic race was adept at changing rapidly to circumstances and had some how managed to outlive the others is correct. The migration out of Africa took place, conjecturally, only 135,000 years ago or perhaps even as late as only 50,000 years ago. More recent studies have turned up no non-African types.14
Other scientists working in this field have suggested that the rate of change in mitochondrial sequencing was much slower, pushing the date of our hypothetical Eve much further back. This would make sense since it is generally accepted that the migration from Africa took place far earlier, say a million to a million and half years ago. But there are other scientists, and some geneticists among them, who have quashed this theory, stating that it is difficult to pinpoint any place on the planet where humans possibly originated as there is too much data lacking and no possible way of gauging the rate of reproduction that took place with our earliest ancestors. Overall, our mitochondrial Eve amounts to nothing more than the 'lucky mitochondrial gene type that happened to survive random lineage extinction and be spread over the world, not by individuals but by the ebbs and tides of gene flow through relentless millennia.'15 Further, the computer program used by the Berkeley scientists should have been tested with the batches of DNA in different orders. It was found later by doing this that different roots were produced, not all of them in Africa, and that although the hypothesis was correct it was the interpretation that was wrong as the data analysis was wrong.
All in all, analysis into the origins of the human race is still ongoing along various lines of enquiry, whether it be through biological, archaeological, or palaeoanthropological disciplines, with no satisfactory result to date. The importance of the Eve hypothesis, regardless of whether it is correct or not, is that in Masseian terms it fits very neatly into the idea of the primo-genetrix of all nations and cultures, the primal Mother of Apt, Rerit, Typhon, or whatever name she is known by. It may not be correct on a biological basis, but on an archetypal level it is perfectly valid.
I am not one who enjoys dashing people's dreams, but until more conclusive evidence is forthcoming I will sit on the fence and say perhaps Massey was right; at least he can now say that science itself has supported his claims, in a way. And it is also interesting to note that mitochondrial genes stay with the mother and are only passed on through the female line. It is a curious irony, that in this sense, the male could easily be displaced if not become obsolete, in tracing our true human ancestry just as the Egyptians traced theirs originally through the mother, as did the tribes of Inner Africa.
I have discussed this diffusionist theory at great length because I wish to touch on something else that is relevant to this discussion, and that is Massey's adoption by the Afrocentrists as a kind of Godfather. Indeed, he has been hailed by them for championing on their behalf their legitimate claim to be placed firmly in the centre of civilisation and for being the strong contributors to flourishing cultures that was so long ago denied them, probably even before the first boats in the slave trade headed for the west. I am perfectly in agreement with Finch, Diop, Bernal, Chandler, Ben-Jochannan and all the other Afrocentrists who have a right to reclaim their past, but I can't help feeling that they are pushing things too far. They have embraced Massey's theories and even republished his works to make them available to a wider audience. This is a positive step in itself, but I was particularly alarmed a couple of years ago when I happened to be passing through the centre of Reading, driving round the inner ring road, and noticed a mural on one of the walls based on Egyptian imagery. All of the features of the pharaohs were Negroid, and what struck my attention more than them was a painting based on the famous bust of Nefertiti made out to be black. There is absolutely no proof that Nefertiti was of Negroid stock. The only contemporary queen around that time who was admittedly black is that of Queen Tiy, Nefertiti's mother-in-law, and hence not of the same blood-type let alone racial group. (Her background from African stock is also questionable.) The bust of Nefertiti in the Berlin museum displays the skin tones of a Caucasian. Yet some Afrocentrists have challenged the identity of the bust as being that of Nefertiti, possibly based on the assumption of the Egyptologist Alexander Moret who in 1927 claimed it 'is almost certainly not Nefertiti.'16 Others have handed out the view that since the bust was hidden immediately after it was discovered in 1912, going out of circulation until it was restored in 1920, then 'We do not know what the bust really looked like when it was found, before it was restored,'17 the logical follow on from this being that its finders tampered with the 'evidence' by re-colouring it in Caucasian tones.
Yet all the fragments of wall carvings, etchings and drawings we have of Nefertiti closely resemble the outline, shape and contours portrayed on the bust. The resemblance is apparent even to the non-artistic eye.
Hilliard, from whose contribution to Egypt I have been quoting, opines 'Why use foreigners to represent natives? Why turn natives into white people? It is a not so subtle attempt to prove that the Egyptians were actually white.'18 I could counteract this by asking why turn 'white' queens into blacks, particularly since, as he goes on to declaim himself, that 'neither Nefertiti nor Cleopatra (the last Queen) had anything to do with the development of the civilisation of KMT'? The popular imagery of Egypt as portrayed through the media is, and has been in the past, of a white race invaded by foreigners, who from the south have been black, i.e. Nubians. But that does not mean to say that the ruling races where always white (in the media's acceptation of the term) nor were they always black. It is best if we were to keep it in perspective with a balanced view over the whole picture of Egyptian history. Nefertiti was a foreigner inhabiting a black land. Yet the mural and other representation of her I have seen painted by Africans and Afro-Americans make her out to be black, for which there is no justification. The majority of the Nilotic peoples were black, as Massey and others have proved. And it is to them we should turn our attention once more to set the historical record straight and not by balancing it the other way. Egypt has never lost her black heritage. It is perfectly recoverable, as Massey has demonstrated, primarily through her types. It was never glossed over with a white veneer by European scholars who wished to Europeanise her for the benefit of reclaiming her as part of the lost Empire. The black element in the art, statuary, mortuary temples, and paintings, etc., are clearly discernible for all to see. All we need to do is to readdress the issues properly, just as Massey sought to do a hundred years ago, and rewrite the history of Egypt from an objective viewpoint.19
1. Starfire, 2:1, 56.
2. Shaw's biography of Massey, (first edition) p. 23.
3. BB 2:599.
4. The Ruins, 1819 ed., pp. 12-3. Cf. the quote in Egypt, Child of Africa, p. 144.
5. Ibid, p. 15. It is interesting to note here that Flaubert also believed the Sphinx to be of black complexion. See Egypt, Child of Africa, p. 144.
6. Ibid, p. 100, my emphasis.
7. The zodiacal signs, for example, are still considered to be the invention of the Greeks and Babylonians—see Budge, The Gods of the Egyptians, cited in Churchward, Signs and Symbols of Primordial Man, p. 212, who comments, 'The Babylonians copied and obtained their knowledge from the Egyptians, and we are surprised that Dr Budge should write that they borrowed from the Greeks; they were old and degenerating in decay before the Greek nation was born!!' Ibid., p. 213.
8. The Neanderthal Enigma, p. 11. I am indebted to this work for the ensuing information.
9. Ibid., p. 3-4. For a full summary, see ch. 3 of this work.
10. Ibid., p. 65.
11. See p. vi, and note 3.
12. See item Aa. 1 in Gardiner's list, Egyptian Grammar, third ed., p. 539.
13. Ibid., p. 67.
14. Ibid., p. 68.
15. Ibid., p. 78.
16. Nile and Egyptian Civilisation, p. 217—cited in Egypt, Child of Africa, p. 143.
17. Ibid., p. 143.
18. Ibid., p. 128.
19. Those interested in the Afrocentrists' point of view should consult the following works: George C. M. James, Stolen Legacy (1954, reprint Africa World Press; NJ, 1992.); Na'im Akbar, Light from Ancient Africa (Mind Productions & Assoc.; Florida, 1994.); Charles Finch, The African Background to Medical Science (Karnak House; London, 1990) and his essay 'The Works of Gerald Massey' in Journal of African Civilisations (Nov. 1982.); I. van Sertima, ed., Egypt, Child of Africa, Journal of African Civilisations, vol. 12, Spring 1994 (Transaction Publishers; New Brunswick, 1994)—particularly essay 4, K. W. Crawford, 'Racial Identity of Ancient Egyptian Populations based on the Analysis of Physical Remains,': essay 6, R. Rashidi 'Black Land of Antiquity,': essay 9, A. Hilliard 'Bringing Maat, Destroying Isfet,'; Y. Ben-Jochannan, Africa: Mother of Western Civilisation (Alkebu-lan Books; NY, 1971); C. A. Diop, The African Origin of Civilisation (Lawrence Hill & Co.; Westport, 1974); T. Browder, Nile Valley Contributions to Civilisation (Karmic Guidance; US, 1992); A.S. Saakana, ed., African Origins of the Major World Religions (Karnak House; London, 1988)—particularly Finch's contribution 'The Kamitic Genesis of Christianity', pp. 33-58, as it is entirely dependent on Massey's research. It also appears in his book noted above. See also his essay in Egypt, Child of Africa, 'Nile Genesis: Continuity of Culture from the Great Lakes to the Delta,' pp. 34-54, which discusses other significant archaeological findings in Africa and the negroidal features of the Sphinx; M. Bernal, Black Athena, (Rutgers University Press; NJ, 1987.); and D. D. Houston, Wonderful Ethiopians of the Cushite Empire (Oklahoma, 1926, reprint Black Classic Press; MD, 1985). See also A. & I. Ali, The Black Celts (Punite Publications; Cardiff, 1992) which suggests the presence of blacks in ancient Wales recoverable from early Welsh dialects.
For a consideration, in the Masseian vein, of the diaspora see Churchward, Signs and Symbols of Primordial Man (London, 1912), p. 133 where he states, 'Our belief, from the anatomical and other studies of the various races, is that the original home of man was in the Nile valley and its sources ... it being the centre of the exodus for the world.' See his map showing the migration from the homeland and the routes taken by the stellar and lunar cults, and the explanation on pp. 437-40. It is worth mentioning Churchward's view of the pygmies as the earliest homo-types (borrowed from Massey) is almost confirmed by the archaeological findings as Lucy, for example, would have measured only approximately 3 feet when standing, slightly shorter than the average height of pygmies which, according to Schweinfurth, was 4 to 4 feet 10.5 inches based on the measurements he took of the Akkas, a race of pygmies inhabiting a district near the source of the Nile. (Cited in Thompson, Mystery and Lore of Monsters, London, 1930, p. 185.) Churchward's measurements, based on a tribe of pygmies brought to London from the Congo, range from 1.158 to 1.378 metres, or 3.8 to 4.5 feet approximately, whereas the average height he gives of the Akkas is 1.378 and 1.36 metres. (See Churchward, ibid., p. 140.) Interestingly enough, later finds made at Arame in the Middle Awash valley may possibly date slightly earlier, 4 million years old, consisting of teeth and bone fragments of Australopithecus kamidus which is believed to be a small hominid about the same size as a pygmy chimpanzee.
This page last updated: 22/10/2010