Saturday, April 8, 2017 3:13 pm
By Godini G. Darah
The choice of the topic for this lecture was informed by the imperative need for the African intelligentsia to engage in self-evaluation about the relevance of academic studies to the processes of development and nation building. The year 1960 inaugurated what has been described as the “wind of change” in the political fortunes of Africa. This phrase refers to the terminal point of insurgent era of anti-colonial struggles that culminated in the granting of independent status to former African colonies of European powers. That final push for national independence was triggered by the resolution of the Fifth Pan-African Congress in the British city of Manchester in 1945. The congress was organised under the auspices of George Padmore of Trinidad and Tobago; the Congress secretariat was headed by Kwame Nkrumah who became Ghana’s first prime Minister in 1957. The Congress resolved, among other things, that all of Africa should be free of colonial rule; and this came to pass by 1960 when nearly all of the continent gained independence except sections of Southern Africa and North Africa where armed struggle was required to accomplish the anti-colonial revolution.
Fifty or more years on, the aspirations of sovereign nationhood that fired the African movements of independence have yet to be fulfilled. The trajectory of rapid socio-economic transformation envisioned in the anti-colonial campaigns has been derailed in many African countries. In nearly all the newly independent countries, the native bourgeoisie that inherited power from the colonial oppressors have gone on to institute regimes of repression and exploitation that are more vicious that those experienced under direct colonial rule. The promise of life more abundant chorused by the independence movements has been subverted by local predators and dictators. Each passing decade seems to prove right the prophetic statement made by the African-Caribbean revolutionary thinker, Frantz Fanon, that native bourgeoisie of the under-developed countries would betray their nations. In Fanon’s words, because “it is bereft of ideas, because it lives to itself and cuts itself off from the people, undermined by itshereditary incapacity to think in terms of all the problems of the nation as seen from the point of view of the whole of that nation, the national middle class will have nothing better to do than to take on the role of manager of Western enterprise, and it will in practice set up its country as the brothel of Europe.” (“Pitfalls of National Consciousness”,The Wretched of the Earth, 1967).
Nigeria, the most populous African nation, typifies the tragic failure of the political and intellectual elite to fulfil the great expectations of post-independence nation building in Africa. Nations of Asia were also colonised; however, their middle classes rallied around indigenous institutions and socialist ideas to break out of the cycle of underdevelopment. Unlike African and many South American former colonies which got bewitched by the suicidal economic prescriptions of the Euro-American path of growth, the Asian countries defied and challenged the paradigm of and prescriptions of the World Bank and Bretton Woods institutions to achieve self-reliant modernity. The handy examples are Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea, North Korea, Singapore, and China.
In this lecture, I argue that Nigeria, nay Africa, is in urgent need of redemption from neo-colonial peonage; Nigeria urgently needs to develop radical ideas that can facilitate the liberation of the minds of the people and material resources from subservience to foreign domination. This is the sense in which “redemption” is used in this lecture. What should be the role of humanities, the intelligentsia of the humanities and humanistic imagination in this programme of Africa’s redemption? The ordinary meaning of word “redeem” is applied in the lecture, namely, “to recover”, “to free oneself” “to rescue” or “to deliver”.
In order to appreciate the significant role the humanities must play in this programme of redemption, a section of the lecture deals with the Black African origin of the human species and humanistic thoughts and ideas. It is argued that humanity originated in Africa and later spread to other continents through migrations. It is further argued that most of the great ideas of philosophy, beliefs, ideology, science, technology, and systems of social organisation and governance were invented and practised by black African geniuses before they were borrowed, adopted, adapted, or stolen by peoples of other “races” in the world. There is, therefore, a puzzling paradox that needs to be explained, namely, how did Black Africa where humanity first evolved and where universities and scholarly inquiry were first developed come to occupy the bottom of the development ladder in current global ranking? The unravelling of this gigantic paradox is part of the reason why a study of the humanities is imperative in Africa.
What Are the Humanities?
I am indebted to the Wikipedia sources on the definition of “Humanities” as referring to academic disciplines that study human culture. The etymology of the term derives from the Latin language expression of “studiahumanitatis”, that is, studies devoted to culture, refinement, education, and specifically education befitting a civilized and refined person or manners. In the Middle Ages in Europe, the term was contrasted with divinity and referred to what is commonly known as the Classics or the study of ancient languages, literatures, philosophies, and civilizations. In that era of European history under reference, studiahumanitatis was a course of studies that consisted of grammar, poetry, rhetoric, history, and moral philosophy. In contemporary usage, the humanities are often contrasted with natural and sometimes social sciences. According to our source, the humanities use methods that are primarily critical or speculative as distinguished from the empirical approaches of the natural sciences. In Nigeria, the Humanities are used synonymously with the Arts.
In many universities, there are about a dozen main fields or disciplines of the humanities. They include Anthropology which is the science of humans or the totality of human existence and Classics which Western scholarship refers to studies of cultures of classical antiquity such as Greek and Roman civilizations. As I hope to show later in the lecture, this Eurocentric classification ignores the antiquity of Black Egyptian, Nubian, and Ethiopian civilizations which gave birth to the Greek and Roman ones celebrated by the Euro-American heritage of scholarship. History is one of pivotal courses of the humanities, being the study and interpretation of records of human societies and institutions. Geography was traditionally part of the humanities, especially aspects that investigate and explore the distribution of the arts, literature, and other expressive forms over space, territory, and time. In Nigeria, Geography is now commonly found in the Social Sciences.
Linguistics of the study of languages often straddles the Humanities and Social Sciences. Language studies are central to the development of the Humanities. There are associated fields of literary theory concerned with rhetorical, associative, and ordering features of language, as well historical linguistics that deals with the development of language across time. Linguistics is particularly relevant to the study of literatures because language is the primary medium in which literature is expressed. The University of Lagos had a head-start in the study of linguistics and literatures with the establishment in the 1960s of the Department of African Languages and Literatures under the leadership of Professor AdeboyeBabalola, a doyen of Yoruba oral literature studies. The effort was extended to the University of Ife, now ObafemiAwolowo University, where Professor ‘Wande Abimbola held sway. He started from the University of Lagos.
Law and Politics are subsumed under the Humanities in some Universities. Law straddles politics, economics, philosophy, and history. Literature occupies a premier position in the Humanities. It refers to the study of the aesthetic use of language to narrate events; there two basic categories, namely, fictional and on-fictional literature. Literature is distinguished by its features of refined language, rhetorical elegance, metaphorical, and allegorical references. Literature is the most protean of all the subjects in the humanities primarily because it embodies nearly all other subjects such as history, anthropology, geography, economics, law, philosophy, natural sciences, technology, visual arts and aesthetics. This multi-disciplinary quality is conveyed in the old Latin expression of “utile et dulce”, meaning, useful and delightful.
This is the sense in which it is said that anyone who reads or experiences a great work of literature remembers it all though life. Examples of such canonical works are Pharaoh Akheneton’s “Hymn to the Sun” composed about 3,500 years ago, King David’s “Psalms” and Solomon’s “Songs” of the Old Testament section of the Bible, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, great epics such as Gilgamesh of Sumeria, John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, Daniel Kunene’s Emperor Chaka the Great, The Mwindo Epic from the Bayanga of the Congo by Daniel Biebuyck and K.C. Mateene, D.T. Niane’sSundiata: An Epic of Old Mali, and J. P. Clark and OkabouOjobolo’sThe Ozidi Saga of the Ijawof Nigeria. Other imperishable classics of literature are Nigeria’s Daniel Fagunwa’sOgboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irumole (Forest of A Thousand Daemons) Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God,Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman, Kenya’s NgugiWaThiong’O’sPetals of Blood,A Wreathe for Udomo by Peter Abrahams, and of South Africathe English William Shakespeare’s Othello, King Lear, and Julius Caesar plays, and War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy and the poetry of Alexander Pushkin of Russia.
Closely allied to literature are the performing arts, music, theatre, and dance. The performing arts include acrobatics, comedy, film, magical arts, juggling, and opera. In Nigeria the fields of music and theatre have been well developed. As an academic discipline music covers music performance, music education, musicology, ethnomusicology, music theory and composition. In Nigeria theatre is, perhaps, the most developed sub-genre of the performing arts. In technical terms, theatre is concerned with acting out or presenting stories in front of an audience, using a combination of speech, gesture, music, dance, sound, and spectacle. Music and theatre and integral to the daily lives of Africans and the tangible and intangible folk expressions of the performance culture are limitless. Nigeria frontline position in African dramatic arts reflects the ubiquity and dynamism of the performance arts in the domain of culture.In some Universities in Asia, Europe, and the Americas, dance is treated as a distinct academic discipline, with emphasis on choreography and kinaesthesia or the science of the body movement. Although these elements of expressive culture are well developed in Africa, tertiary institutions have not exploited them sufficiently to produce an Afrocentric industry of a world-wide scale. In countries like Japan and South Korea, there are universities devoted to dance and performance.
The subject of visual, fine, and applied arts falls under the domain of artistic and aesthetic education. The performance arts of music, songs, poetry, and narrative employ the media of words; the visual and design arts are expressed in non-verbal media of signs, drawing, painting, colour, wood, clay, and stone. This process of using images to express, relate, or narrative events or ideas is considered in some societies to be the most sublime of the humanities. As shall be shown in sections dealing with ancient Egypt and other civilizations of Africa, the visual arts are among the most enduring of the creative enterprises of humanity. The pyramids of ancient Egypt such as that of Khufu are estimated to be 4,600 years old. The artistic works of Nigeria’s Bruce Onobrakpeya remind us of the ingenuity of Africans in this field of creativity. Advancement in technological innovation has raised design art to a level where excellence in technical products and tools is now described in the image of “the state of the art” as applied to automobile vehicles, crafts, and household utensils.
Philosophy contends with literature for a pre-eminent status in the humanities. Philosophy is derived from the idea of the “love of wisdom” and it a study of the problems concerning matters such as existence, salvation, knowledge, justification, truth, justice, right and wrong, beauty, validity, mind, and languages. Philosophy is distinguished by its method that is critical, systematic, and based on reasoned argument, rather than experiments as in the natural and social sciences. As will be shown in the sections dealing with education and scholarship in ancient African civilizations of the Nile Valley, philosophy is the foundation of intellectual quest. For nearly 5,000 years, philosophy has enjoyed the premier academic limelight of the being the queen of the humanities. As a method of inquiry and academic discipline, philosophy was originated by priest-professors of the temples of the Egyptian Mystery System or universities in ancient times. For several millennia, philosophy was an all-encompassing field of studies that included physics. For example, Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727), the English mathematical genius presented his formulae in philosophical language. His 1687 book on the matter was titled Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy.In many academic institutions today, the branches of philosophy treated are logic, ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology. Regrettably, the discipline of philosophy is largely marginalised in Nigerian universities. In the few institutions where it is taught as a degree course, the proprietorship of the discipline is wrongly attributed to Greek scholars who were students of ancient Egyptian institutions. We have more to say on this later in the lecture.
Religious studies are often treated as the companion of philosophy. In ancient times, this separation was not necessary as religious discourse was an extension of philosophical inquiry. The major world religions and faiths are those of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. There are also Taoism and Confucianism in Asia. Owing to Nigeria’s ideological subservience to Western European intellectual traditions, the academic study of religion in our institutions is narrowed to only the Abrahamic religions which trace their origins from the common ancient roots associated with Abraham (circa 1900 B.C.). Abraham is the patriarch of the Jews whose life is narrated in the Old Testament section of the Bible and in the Koran. The Abrahamic religions emphasise monotheism or the worship of a single god; the chief religious orders are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and they constitute about 50% of the adherents of the so-called revealed religions of the world. The indebtedness of the Abrahamic religions to Black African philosophy will be examined at an appropriate section of the lecture.
Black African Origin of Humanity:
There is now incontrovertible evidence that the human species first evolved in Africa. I would like to skip the details of the long evolutionary history of the universe or cosmos in order to explain how the human species came into being on Planet Earth. “Cosmos” is a Greek word for “the order or balance of the universe”. There are copious studies on the planets that make up the cosmos or universe. A handy book on this is that by the American physicist, Carl Segan, Cosmos: The Story of Cosmic Evolution, Science, and Civilization (Abacus, 1995). According to Segan the blue planet known as Earth “…condensed out of interstellar gas and dust some 4-6 billion years ago. We know from fossil record that the origin of life happened soon after, perhaps around 4.0 billion years ago in the ponds and oceans of the primitive Earth” (p. 44). The processes summed up in this brief description were said to have been triggered by what scientists refer to as the Big Bang, an automatic, primordial explosion that brought stars, planets, and steroids into existence.
According to our sources, life forms evolved about three billion years ago through the process of the joining of cells. Every life form is composed of cells; there are 100 billion cells in a single human body. Segan adds that the “…cells outlive the human carrier and when a human dies, the cells migrate and float away, some as far as the stars. Over time, some of the cells can come down to inhabit or produce other animals or plants; this cycle goes on and on without break” (p. 47).There are creatures or life forms that are older than humans in the evolutionary calendar. Examples are reptiles, crocodiles, shrimps, and crabs that are about 400 million years old. The giant animal species known as dinosaurs were wiped out about 65 million years on account of traumatic climate change on Planet Earth.
Evolutionists estimate that the first human-like beings appeared about 4.5 million years ago. Anthropologists and geologists have confirmed that the first site where this miraculous transformation occurred was the Olduvai Gorge in Northern Tanzania in East Africa. The initial discoveries were made by the British scientist, L. S. B. Leakey in the 1930s; his wonderful work was continued by his wife, Mary, and son, Richard. Following the Olduvai excavations, further hominid finds were made in Kenya and the Oromo river valley in Ethiopia, also in Eastern Africa. The accounts of these breakthrough researches are well documented in Martin Meredith’s book, Born in Africa: The Quest for the Origins of Human Life (Simon & Schuster, 2011). The Australian historian, Professor Geoffrey Blainey has a helpful description under the “From Africa” chapter of his book,A Very Short History of the World (Penguin Books, 2004) thus:
They lived in Africa, and two million years ago, they were few. They
were almost human beings, though they tended to be smaller than
their descendants who now inhabit the world. They walked upright;
they were also skilled climbers…
Two million years ago these human beings – known as hominids –
lived mainly in the lands now called Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia.
If Africa is divided into three horizontal zones, the human race
occupied the middle or tropical zone…
They already had a long history, though they had no memory or
record of it. We talk today of the vast span of time since the
building of the pyramids in Egypt, but that span was merely a
wink compared to the long history which the human race had
already experienced. One early record has been uncovered in
Tanzania. Two adults and a child were walking on
top of volcanic
ash softened by recent rain. Their footprints then were baked
by the sun and slowly covered by layers of earth. The footprints,
definitely human, are at least 3,600,000 years old. Even that is
young in the history of the living world. The last of the dinosaurs
were extinguished about 64,000,000 years ago (pp. 3 – 4).
For our purposes in this section we shall also refer to the ground-breaking research done by Africa’s distinguished Egyptologist, Professor Cheikh Anta Diop of Senegal (1922 – 1986). Diop published two seminal books on the subject of the African origin of humanity; namely, The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality (1974 andCivilization or Barbarism: An Authentic Anthropology (1991). In the second book Diop sets out the facts in the opening paragraph of Chapter!, with the title: “Race and History: Origin of Humanity and Racial Differentiation”. This is how Diop states the matter:
Africa’s distinguished Egyptologist, Professor Cheikh Anta Diop of Senegal, Dr Louis Leakey
The research conducted in humanistic paleontology, particularly
by Dr Louis Leakey, has helped to place the birthplace of humanity
in east Africa’s Great Lakes region, around the Omo Valley.
Two ramifications that have not been sufficiently emphasized until
now have come to light as a result of this research.
Humankind born around the Great Lakes region, almost on the
Equator, is necessarily pigmented and Black; the Gloger Law
calls for warm-blooded animals to be pigmented in hot and
All the other races derive from the Black race by a more or less
direct filiation, and the other continents were populated from
Africa at the Homo erectus and Homo sapiens stages, 150,000
years ago. The old theories that used to state that Blacks came
from somewhere else are now invalid (p. 11).
Professor Diop explains further how the human race spread from Africa to other parts of the world:
The first Black who went out to populate the rest of the world
exited Africa through the Strait of Gibraltar, the Isthmus of Suez,
and maybe through Sicily and Southern Italy. The existence of a
cave and parietal African art of the Upper Paleolithic period has
confirmed this point of view” (p. 11). Diop adds that “…the first
inhabitant of Europe was a migrating Black: the Grimaldi Man…”
Further, Diop explains that
“If one bases one’s judgement on morphology, the first
White appeared only around 20,000 years ago: the
Cro-Magnon Man. He is probably the result of a mutation
from the Grimaldi Negroid due to an existence of 20,000
years in the excessively cold climate of Europe at the end
of the last glaciation…(pp. 15 – 16).
Thus humanity was born in Africa anddifferentiated itself into
several races in Europe, where the climate was sufficiently cold
at the end of the Wurmian glaciation” (p. 16).
On the accident of skin colour, Diop argues thus:
If the human being had been born in Europe, it would have been
first white and then it would have negrified (darkened) under the
Equator, with the appearance of the formation of melanin at the
level of the epidermis, protecting the organism against ultraviolet
Therefore, this is not a value judgement: there is no particular
glory about the cradle of humanity being in Africa, because it is
just an accident. If the physical conditions of the planet had been
otherwise, the origin of humanity would have been different (p. 16).
In view of the fact that the Jewish and Arab stories of the creation of the world and humanity are pervasive in Africa now, it is important to know what Professor Diop says about Jews and Arabs. According to Diop,
All Semites (Arabs and Jews) as well as the quasi-totality of Latin
Americans are mixed breeds of Blacks and Whites. All prejudice aside,
this interbreeding can still be detected in the eyes, lips, nails, and hair
of most Jews.
The Yellows, the Japanese in particular, are also crossbreeds, and
their own specialists today are acknowledging this important fact
Black African Origin and Cradle of the Humanities and Sciences:
Perhaps, the best introduction to the primacy and antiquity of the Black African civilization of Egypt is the statement by the radical African American historian, Hendrik John Clarke that the “..civlization of Egypt lasted longer than any other civilization known to man – about 10,000 years. The civilization reached its height and was in decline before Europe was born”. “Introduction” J. A. Rogers, World’s Great Men of Color, Vol.I, 1996, (p. xii). Clarke’s assessment is shared by all important scholars of the world who have done extensive work on Egypt and the Nile Valley civilizations. Other studies consulted for our purpose are Stolen Legacy by George G. M. James (1954), John Wilson’s The Culture of Ancient Egypt (1951), Cheikh Anta Diop’sCivilization or Barbarism: An Authentic Anthropology (1991), and Innocent Onyewuenyi’sThe African Origin of Greek Philosophy: An Exercise in Afrocentrism (1993).
Black African scientists and astronomers of the Nile Valley civilizations inaugurated the systematic study of the planets, stars, and other heavenly bodies in the universe or cosmos. These inquiries and the deductions made therefrom formed the foundation of philosophical speculation and exegesis. These Africans of antiquity were able to determine the natural laws that govern the existence and movement of planetary bodies and animate life. For example, the ancient Egyptians knew that the star we know as the sun was at the epicentre of the universe. This is now referred to as the solar system of which the Earth is a member. This explains why the early cosmogonies religion in Egypt made the sun the central object of veneration and worship. The Sun-god was called Ra.
The details of the Egyptian cosmogony and it how gave birth to other religious thoughts and systems such as Judeo-Christian faith and Islam are set out in great detail in Chapter 17 of Diop’sCivilization or Barbarism, with the heading “Does An African Philosophy Exist?” It is a comprehensive 67-page chapter which is difficult to summarise. Only a few highlights are necessary here.
As Diop observes, the Egyptian cosmogony is based on pyramid texts dated about 2,600 B.C. “…the epoch when even the Greeks did not exist in history yet, and when the Chinese and the Hindu philosophies were meaningless” (p.310). Diop explains that,
“Ra is the first God, the first demiurge of history who created
throughthe word. All other gods in history came after him, and
there exists a demonstrable historical relation between Ra’s word,
theKa-or the universal reason that is present everywhere in the
universe, and in everything – and the logos of Greek philosophy
or the Word of the revealed religions…(p. 311)
Nigeria, the most populous African nation, typifies the tragic failure of the political and intellectual elite to fulfil the great expectations of post-independence nation building in Africa. Nations of Asia were also colonised; however, their middle classes rallied around indigenous institutions and socialist ideas to break out of the cycle of underdevelopment. Unlike African and many South American former colonies which got bewitched by the suicidal economic prescriptions of the Euro-American path of growth, the Asian countries defied and challenged the paradigm of and prescriptions of the World Bank and Bretton Woods institutions to achieve self-reliant modernity.
The study of the humanities started in the Egyptian Mystery System, a body of academic institutions that were the forerunners of modern universities. Astronomy, Mathematics, and Geometry were among the core courses taught in the Egyptian Mystery System. The details of the development of these sciences are available in Chapter 16 of Diop’s Civilization or Barbarism under the title “Africa’s Contribution: Sciences”. Papyrus records of the early mathematical formulae, figures, and diagrams are included in the chapter to illustrate the various stages of intellectual development. As shall be shown in respect of many Greek scholars to whom some of the works are erroneously attributed, these sciences were invented and perfected several thousand years before those Greeks went to Egypt to learn them. Two notorious cases are those of Archimedes and Pythagoras; the latter spent 22 years in Egypt as a student of Black Egyptian professor of Mathematics. The rigorous mathematical calculations of the Egyptians enabled them to design and construct the great pyramids, some of which are over 4000 years old. Records show that there are 118 pyramids still surviving in Egypt and Nubia (Sudan). The greatest in structure is the Pyramid of Khufu which is about 4,600 years old. The structure includes 2.3 million limestone blocks and weighs 5.9 million tonnes. The science of mathematics was combined with that of architecture in the construction of the pyramids.
The views of the American historian, Professor Will Durant attest to the accounts given above as expressed in his monumental book, The Story of Civilization Part I: Our Oriental Heritage (Simon and Schuster, 1954). On Egyptian science, Durant writes that
The scholars of Egypt were mostly priests, enjoying far from the turmoil
of life, the comfort and security of the temples, and it was these priests
who, despite all their superstitions, laid the foundation of Egyptian
At the very outset of recorded Egyptian history we find mathematics
highly developed; the design and construction of the Pyramids
involved a precision of measurement impossible without considera-
ble mathematical lore. The dependence of Egyptian life upon the
fluctuations of the Nile led to careful records and calculations of
the rise and recession of the river; surveyors and scribes were
continuouslyremeasuring the land whose boundaries had been
obliterated by the inundation, and the measuring of the land was
evidently the origin of geometry. Nearly all the ancients agreed
in ascribing the invention of this science to the Egyptians…(p.179)
Professor Durant pays tribute to the genius of Imhotep, the greatest architect and physician of ancient Egypt. In the portrait, Durant says
The first real person in known history was not a conqueror or
a king but an artist and a scientist – Imhotep, physician, architect
and chief adviser of King Zoser (ca. 3150 B.C.). He did so muchfor
Egyptian medicine that later generations worshipped him as a god
of knowledge, author of their sciences and their arts; and at the same
time he appears to have founded the school of architecture which
provided the next dynasty with the first great builders in history.
It was under his administration…that the first stone house was
built; it was he who planned the oldest Egyptian structure extant –
the Step-Pyramid of Sakkara, a terraced structure of stone which
for centuries set the style in tombs; and apparently it was he who
designed the funerary temple of Zoser, with its lovely lotus columns
and its limestone panelled walls…(p. 147)
Medicine is another field in which Imhotep excelled. Professor Innocent Onyewuenyi provides a good summary of some of the great heights of Egyptian medical science. In his The African Origin of Greek Philosophy: An Exercise in Afrocentrism (1993), Onyewuenyi comments that the “Mystery System Schools also produced medical doctors of repute. He quotes the views of the historian, Mary Motley thus: “The first physician of antiquity of any fame was the black Egyptian Imhotep, who lived about 2980 B.C. during the Third Dynasty…and he was so highly thought of in his day that he was worshipped a s kind of god centuries after his death. He cured physical and mental sickness. In later years people slept in the shrine at his temple, dreamed of him and went away cured” (p. 51).Onyewuenyi adds that:
Imhotep lived two thousand years before the Greek doctor
Hippocrates who is called the father of medicine. It is an irony
of history that African medical doctors are ignorant of the
existence and contributions of Imhotep while swearing the oath
of Hippocrates and displaying it in their private offices (p. 51).
In his “Commentaries and Notes to References” to J. A. Rogers’ World’s Great Men of Color, Vol. I, (1996) the African American historian, Hendrik John Clark describes Imhotep thus: “Among the great personalities of the ancient world Imhotep is particularly outstanding. His life is especially important to the Africans and Afro-Americans of today for he was one of the many wise Africans who at the dawn of history gave the world those ideas of enlightenment and wisdom that made what we now call civilization possible. Imhotep was the world’s first multigenius” (p. 29).
A more fulsome portrait of Imhotep is done J. A. Rogers himself who describes Imhotep as the “God of Medicine, Prince of Peace, and the first Christ”:
No individual of the ancient world has left a deeper impression on
history than Imhotep…he established such a reputation as a healer
that he was worshipped as a god for about 3,000 years, not only
in Egypt but also in Greece and Rome. Even early Christians
worshipped him as the Prince of Peace…In addition to being the
chief physician to the King, he was sage and scribe, chief lector
priest, architect, astronomer, and magician. At that time magic
and science were allied, as in native Africa and the East today. (p. 38)
Rogers’s account shows that Imhotep was a poet and philosopher as well. “He preached cheerfulness and urged content. His proverbs, embodying a philosophy of life, caught popular fancy and were handed down from generation to generation. One of his best known sayings is: Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we shall die’. Imhotep diagnosed and treated more than 200 diseases, among them 15 diseases of the abdomen, 11 of bladder, 10 of the rectum, 29 of the eyes, and 18 of the skin. In the words of Rogers, the physicians associated with Imhotep
“…knew how to detect disease by the shape, color, or condition
of the visible parts of the body, as the skin, hair, nails, tongue.
They treated tuberculosis, gall stones, appendicitis, gout,
rheumatoidarthritis, mastoid diseases, and dental caries. They
practicedsurgery…and extracted medicine from plants…Imhotep,
it is said, knewof the circulation of the blood, which is 4,000 years
before it wasknown in Europe” (World’s Great Men of Color, p. 39).
Philosophy provided the foundation for the sciences and other practical aspects of life. It was probably the first field of expertise developed by the ancient Egyptians. In his book, Stolen Legacy (1954) Professor George G. M. James of British Guyana describes how other traditions of philosophy were conducted in the Egyptian schools:
The schools of philosophy, Chaldean, Greek and Persian, were part
of the Ancient Mystery System of Egypt. They were conducted in
secrecy according to the demands of the Osiriaca, whose teachings
became common to all the schools. In keeping with the demands for
secrecy, the writing and publication of teachings were strictly
forbidden and consequently, Initiates who had developed satisfactorily
in their training, and had been advanced to the rank of Master or
Teacher, refrained from publishing the teachings of the Mysteries or
philosophy (Stolen Legacy, p. 13).
George James argues that the study of philosophy was meant for the salvation of the soul, adding that the “…earliest theory of salvation is the Egyptian theory”. He explains that
The Egyptian Mystery System had as its most important object, the
deification of man, and taught that soul of man if liberated from its
bodily fetters, could enable him to become godlike as see the Gods
in this life and attain the beatific vision and hold communion with
the Immortals…(p. 27)
Professor James explains the salvation idea further thus:
Plotinus defines this experience as the liberation of the mind
from its finite consciousness, when it becomes one and is
identified with the Infinite. This liberation was not only freedom
of the soul from bodily impediments, but also from the wheel
of reincarnation or rebirth. It involved a process of disciplines
or purification both for the body and the soul. Since the Mystery
System offered the salvation of the soul it also placed great
emphasis upon its immortality. The Egyptian Mystery System,
like the modern University, was the centre of organized culture,
and candidates entered it as the leading source of ancient
culture. According to Pietschmann, the Egyptian Mysteries had
three grades of students (1) The Mortals, i.e., probationary
students who were being instructed, but who had not yet
experienced the inner vision. (2) The Intelligences, i.e., those
who had attained the inner vision and had received mind or
nous and (3) The Creators or Sons of Light, who had become
identified with or united with the Light (i.e. true spiritual
consciousness). W. Marsham Adams, in the
“Book of the Master”, has described those grades as the
equivalents of Initiation, Illumination, and Perfection.
For years they underwent disciplinary intellectual exercises,
and bodily asceticism with intervals of tests and ordeals
to determine their fitnessto proceed to the more serious,
solemn and awful processof actual Initiation (pp. 27 – 28).
This section of Professor James’s thesis is so profound and illuminating that I must resist the temptation to summarise or abbreviate it. Let us follow the details on the Liberal Arts/Humanities aspects:
Their education consisted not only in the cultivation of the ten
virtues, which were made a condition to eternal happiness, but
also of the seven Liberal Arts which were intended to liberate
the soul. There was also admission to the Greater Mysteries,
where an esoteric philosophy was taught to those who had
demonstrated their proficiency…Grammar, Rhetoric, and Logic
were disciplines of moral nature by means of which the irrational
tendencies of a human being were purged away, and he was trained
to become a living witness of the Divine Logos. Geometry and
Arithmetic were sciences of transcendental space and numeration,
thecomprehension of which provided the key not only to the
problems of one’s being; but also to those physical ones, which
are so baffling today, owing to our use of the inductive methods.
Astronomy dealt with the knowledge and distribution of latent
forces in man, and destiny of individuals, races, and nations. Music
(or Harmony) meant the living practice of philosophy, i.e., the
adjustment of human life into harmony with God, until the
personal soul became identified with God, when it would hear and
participate in the music of the spheres. It was therapeutic, and was
used by the Egyptian Priests in the cure of diseases. Such was the
Egyptian theory of salvation, through which the individual was
trained to become godlike while on earth, and at the same time
qualified for everlasting happiness. This was accomplished through
the efforts of the individual, through the cultivation of the Arts and
Sciences on the one hand, and a life of virtue on the other. There
was no mediator between man and his salvation, as we find in
the Christian theory…(p. 28).
From the detailed description provided by Professor James, we can identify the seven compulsory disciplines that featured in the programme of the Humanities in the ancient Egyptian Mystery System or University. These are Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Geometry, Arithmetic, Astronomy, and Music. The courses were not studied just for the promotion of personal credentials; the student underwent the intellectual experience in order to become a more wholesome, purified, and virtuous human being. As Professor James elucidates further, the four cardinal virtues gained through education are Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence, and Justice:
The virtues were not mere abstractions or ethical sentiments,
but were positive valours and virility of the soul. Temperance
meant complete control of the passional nature. Fortitude meant
such courage as would not allow adversity to turn us away from
our goal. Prudence meant the deep insight that befits the faculty
of Seership. Justice meant the unwavering righteousness of
thought and action (p. 30).
It is pertinent to add that all the branches or temples of the Egyptian Mystery System were coordinated from a central Grand Lodge in Egypt. It was known as the Osiriaca Great Lodge, named after Osiris, the god of salvation. James says that in “…addition to the control of the mysteries, the Grand Lodge permitted an exchange of visits between the various lodges in order to ensure the progress of the brethren in the secret science (p. 31).
The construction of the temple or campus of the Mystery School reflected the divinity and sacredness of the process, thus “…each temple was supposed to be a microcosm or symbol of the temple of the Universe or of the starry vault called temple (p. 32). As Professor James observes,
Wide roads led to the temples for the convenience of processions,
while the immediate entrance was lined with statues, consisting
of sphinxes and other animals. The front wall formed two tower-
like buildings called pylons, before which stood two granite
obelisks. Immediately behind the pylons came a large court where
the congregation assembled and watched the sacrifices. Immediately
next to the hall of the congregation, came the hall of priests, and
immediately following the hall of the priests came the final chamber,
called the Adytum, i.e., the Holy of Holies, which was entered only
by the high Priest. This was the place of the shrine and abode of God.
Each temple was s reproduction of the world. The ceilings were
painted to represent the sky and the stars, while the floor was green
and blue like the meadows. Ceremonial cleanliness was at all times
imperative, and the people before entering the temple must care-
fully purify themselves in a nearby stream. In later times, this
became a ceremony of sprinkling with holy water before entrance
into the temple (pp. 32 – 33).