If you have ever wondered why Africa should matter to you, this book is for you.
Inspired by our ancestors, written by an African woman of the diaspora.*
The Last Shall Be First: Stories and Essays from the Diaspora.
WHOSE LAND? WHOSE TREASURES?
Coming into Consciousness is a big deal. Breathtaking knowledge is revealed. Sometimes before the new knowledge is fully accepted cognitive dissonance sets in; this is the first phase of shattering old belief systems. It’s the beginning of a journey that replaces believing with knowing. Questions are asked…the search for answers begins. Long-held beliefs are challenged. And for many Africans of the diaspora accepting that challenge means leaving behind years, perhaps decades of disinformation about our ancestors and our Motherland.
For the most part Africans of the diaspora have been deliberately programmed to believe some sordid untruths about Africa. That programming was used to lead our minds, hearts and support structure away from our ancestors and our original home, so that we ended up being tended to by some very dangerous strangers. After all, who wants to be associated with savage, backward or ignorant behavior? Nobody.
I never got a real picture of the Continent until my mother started traveling there decades ago. After each trip she’d return to the States loaded with tales of the wonders of Africa. The vivid pictures her stories painted told of a place lavish with animals, beauty and sounds. Unlike what the European media was telling us, Africa was a place where people were friendly, giving, and proud to be African. Her stories made me want to visit this astonishing land of our ancestors for myself.
When I traveled there a few years ago, I was faced with cognitive dissonance. So, when I left Africa, I left with a lot of questions.
Traditional Africans Still Value Their Traditions
My mother was a frequent traveler to the land of our ancestors. Many of her summers included visits to the countries along the West Coast of Africa down (from the African perspective) to northern-most Egypt. She traveled to villages and large cities. Of all the observations she shared with me about our Motherland, a couple that stayed with me: there was no trash to be found in traditional African villages and cities; and recycling materials was an honored tradition. I recall how amazed my mother was to discover that in traditional villages, Africans found new and interesting uses for old tires by making them into new shoes.
Egypt, Not So Traditional: The Egypt We Don’t See
Little wonder then that what I witnessed on my long anticipated trip to beloved Kemet (Egypt) – the ancient Kemetans’ gift to the world – in 2007 both shocked and appalled me. As my friend and I toured areas of Cairo by car we were surprised, not only by the level of poverty and disorganization that seemed to thrive within the city, but by the mounds of trash. Found dumped in heaps along neighborhood roads or scattered along highways and streams, the sheer volume of garbage we saw in Cairo was staggering and nearly everywhere.
I mean… really. Who knew? I certainly didn’t. The media never really talk much about modern day Cairo beyond displaying skillfully photographed pictures of Pr NTR (pyramids), or showing an occasional cryptic image from the latest riot taking place there. They do not show photos of many of the areas dirt roads dotted with pot holes that better resemble unsafe obstacle courses. Nor do they reveal there are hollowed out apartment buildings, a few of which seemed to have been casualties of ballistic missiles. (Eerie vestiges from a long ago fought Six Day War)? Most importantly, they ignore the abject poverty that afflicts nearly all corners of Egypt, the traffic chaos that mentally strangles and suffocates and the air pollution that absolutely does. (When our Air France flight into Cairo landed early in the evening, the pilot warned us that though it was only 6pm the dense smog blotted the daylight, giving the appearance of being midnight).
Towering arrogantly (and ironically) in the midst of all the building rot and human despair stood cement and glass oases housing 4 and 5 star hotels that cater to Westerners and foreign embassies.
When my friend and I asked a taxi driver about the alarming quantity of debris fields that could be found everywhere, he told us that trash collection is unpredictable or nearly non-existent, so the people discarded their trash on the streets, roads and in the rivers.
Wouldn’t the people of KMT, as traditional Africans, have kept their habitat free of trash? Or had modern day descendants of Kemetans determined that recycling holds no value? I pondered those and other questions as the driver abruptly closed the subject by switching on the radio, blasting it to discourage further questioning.
The Once Life-Sustaining Nile Dirty Beyond Imagination
Bodies of waters we saw in Egypt were murky from pollutants, especially the once worshiped Hapi (Nile) that for centuries sustained KMT life. Ages ago, the rise and fall of Hapi was directly related to the fortunes of the Kemetans. Their entire culture revolved around Hapi’s annual inundation and the bounty it brought to their people. Hapi was the life line of KMT. Crops fertilized by its rich, black soil set the foundation for a society that became the envy of the world.
Today the Nile is dirty. It is no longer venerated. The ceremonies and rituals extolling Hapi and the prosperity it brought to its people are little more than misty shadows posturing on the desert sand. Were the people occupying Egypt now the descendants of KMT whose highly organized civilization evolved in conjunction with the rise and fall of the Hapi? I posed this and other questions to my friend as we both stared despondently from the deck of our cruise ship down into the murky waters of the Nile we had been warned to stay physically clear of.
Cairo’s National Museum** holds a vast array of antiquities of the ancient people of KMT. Many of famed King Tutankhamen’s relics can be found there. Yet, the museum was an eyesore. My friend and I were dismayed to see ancient artifacts propped clumsily and precariously outdoors next to the museum’s entrance. Once inside the museum, we were greeted by ancient artifacts stacked high in rooms or strewn about haphazardly. We were handed a map, but it was evident to us that little thought had gone into properly placing the prized artifacts.
As we strolled through the museum, it became more apparent that museum treasures suffered from a lack of proper handling, possibly for decades. My friend and I left the museum discussing whether it was possible for the true Kemetan descendants to show such little regard for their ancestor’s history.
The Grounds of Pr NTR Not So Holy
The holy land where Pr NTR of Khufu (Giza Pyramid) and Herem Akhet (Sphinx) rest are just steps away from a fence that borders yet another depressed and distressed neighborhood. And as I strolled reverentially over those holy lands, I became aware of a carnival-type atmosphere that was present throughout the grounds. I beheld a lack of solemnity and respect unlike what my friend and I had witnessed in Egypt’s mosques where visitor’s displayed quiet and high regard; and where shoes were removed prior to entry.
The ancestors who were the original builders of KMT’s holy temples deserve to have similar respect displayed on their holy grounds.
The sight of a crumbling great Pr NTR and the debris field that lay in a not so small pile at its base, deeply grieved me. Here, I thought, was a lack of evidence of any heroic efforts being taken by an original people to maintain its heritage.
Surely more care of national treasures would be taken by their descendant/owners, I concluded as I stared in disgust at the rising pile of rocks that could one day rival the original Pr NTR… that was if the great Pr NTR itself lasted much longer.
The Arabization and Islamization of Egypt
Ali A. Mazrui in his book The Africans points out that the Arabization and Islamization of Egypt after the 7th century BCE brought changes in religious practices of indigenous Egyptians:
“The flooding of the Nile is no longer the most sacred part of the year; it has been replaced by the fast of Ramadhan. The flood used to be a symbol of abundance; Ramadhan is a symbol of abstinence. The ancient Egyptians often worshiped the sun in all its rotund splendour; Islamised Egyptians looked at the new moon in search of Ramadhan.” The Africans, p. 47.
There is little doubt that the influx of Muslim culture into Egypt brought other changes, too. It is well worth noting that traditions practiced today in Egypt (and in many other parts of the Continent) do not come from the cultures our ancestors gifted to us. We know this primarily because African nations respect for women was customary. Even Ibn Battuta in his 14th century journeys through African nations noted African’s respect for women’s independence was unlike anything he’d seen before. (Read what Battuta writes about Walata, but see the traveler’s thoughts on the customs of other African nations, too). It likely never occurred to classical African nations to disrespect half of their population. (Note: Battuta also claimed to witness cannibalistic African nations. If true, his observations are remarkably similar to those of Henry Stanley’s 500 years later. Additionally, cannibalism was something Arabs as well as Europeans were personally acquainted with, as my book details).
Africa Traditions Are No Less Valuable To Africans
Regarding politics, democracy, religion, dress, education, and most especially African thought… Arabization, Islamization and Western colonization have all left traces of their finger prints on our precious Motherland as well as on our minds. At the same time, their cultural practices have placed a stranglehold on our own ancient cultural practices and traditions.
And while other peoples find value in their own culture (as they likely do), preserving the ancient practices, traditions and artifacts which remain of our ancestor’s culture is critical, too. And no less so. Our great, great grandparents’ culture is our culture. And if we don’t cherish our own gifts, there’s no one else who will.
(Sheshet Kemet is an African woman of the maafa who came into consciousness a few years ago after realizing she had ACD: acquired cognitive dissonance).
*Maafa, the Swahili term for disaster is sometimes used instead of diaspora. Both terms describe the centuries of destruction that Africans and their descendants have endured.
** When I visited Egypt in 2007, I was shown the location of a newly announced museum that would house the artifacts from the original Cairo museum. A quick internet search shows it is still under construction and that the Cairo museum is undergoing a much-needed facelift.
Copyright©Sheshet Kemet 2015