Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

"Antenor Firmin, the 'Egyptian Question,' and Afrocentric Imagination"

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

"Antenor Firmin, the 'Egyptian Question,' and Afrocentric Imagination"

Article excerpt

Diop and Firmin: The Legacy Continues

In the final division of the essay, we shall briefly comment on the legacy of Diop in relation to Firmin's work. In his seminal text, Firmin has not succeeded o explore profoundly the linguistic link between ancient Egypt and the rest of continental Black Africa. In 1954, the brilliant and highly respected Senegalese historian, anthropologist, physicist, and philosopher Cheik Anta Diop would fill the gap by establishing in his epoch-making book Nations negres et culture the decisive and impressive linguistic connection between Egypt and several countries in Black Africa. Diop articulates a coherent theory of common linguistic roots of African languages he studies as well as the theory of Black genesis of ancient Egypt, as his intellectual predecessor had achieved.

Diop repudiates the racially-based scientific theories and dangerous ideologies propagated by European Egyptologists, anthropologists, archeologists, linguistics, and historians. In September 1956 at the First International Congress of Black Writers and Artists, Diop pronounces these words to his predominantly Black audience:

   We have come to discover that the ancient Pharaonic Egyptian
   civilization was undoubtedly a Negro civilization. To defend this
   thesis, anthropological, ethnological, linguistic, historical, and
   cultural arguments have been provided. To judge their validity, it
   suffices to refer to Nations negres et culture. (190)

Likewise, in the footsteps of Firmin, in the English translation of Civilization or Barbarism: An Authentic Anthropology, Diop would rehearse and sustain the Firminian thesis that "ancient Egypt was a distinct African nation and was not historically or culturally a part of Asia or Europe" (191) as some scholars had traditionally maintained. The Black origin of ancient Egypt, according to Diop, was critical for the reconstitution of African history and the future of the whole continent. Consequently, he would write in The African Origin of Civilization: "Ancient Egypt was a Negro civilization. The history of Black Africa will remain suspended in air and cannot be written correctly until African historians dare to connect it with the history of Egypt." (192) Diop describes with more precision and clarity the significant contributions of the Black race in the making of modernity:

   The ancient Egyptians were Negroes. The moral fruit of their
   civilization is to be counted among the assets of the Black world.
   Instead of presenting itself to history as an insolvent debtor, the
   Black world is the very initiator of the "western" civilization
   flaunted before our eyes today. Pythagorean mathematics, the theory
   of the four elements of Thales of Miletus, Epicurean materialism,
   Platonic idealism, Judaism, Islam, and modern science are rooted in
   Egyptian cosmogony and science. One needs only to mediate on
   Osiris, the redeemer-god, who sacrifices himself, dies, and is
   resurrected to save mankind, a figure essentially identifiable with
   Christ. (193)

Conclusion

The Significance of Firmin in the Twenty-first Century

The problem of scientific racism and the exclusion of Black people of ancient Egypt and the people of African ancestry from the meganarratives of human history and world civilizations are central points to the vindicationist discourse of Antenor Firmin's The Equality of the Human Races. As a result, Firmin attempted to shift the geography of reason--that was then Eurocentric--and decenter the Westernization of epistemology and human history. He found Western historiography and its treatment of African history and culture deficient, and assessed the scientific enterprise and vision of Western scholarship as racist and unscientific. For Firmin, the problem of whiteness (or the Aryan myth) was a major crisis of modernity, which was deeply rooted in the racist culture in Western societies and white supremacist ideology. …

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