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Afrocentric Claims of ‘Black Origins’ of Ancient Egyptian Civilization Spark Controversy

June 21, 2024


Egyptologist and former Minister of Antiquities Zahi Hawass asserted that Afrocentric claims about the “Black origins” of ancient Egyptian civilization are “false and misleading”, according to a statement published on Thursday, 20 June.

Hawass made these comments in response to a Facebook post by Afrocentric advocate Professor Kaba Kamene that stirred controversy among Egyptians.

In the post, which has now been deleted, Kamene shared a photo of himself with a group of Afrocentrists at Cairo’s Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, asserting in the caption: “I am teaching the Kenet Travel Group about our history.”

Hawass highlighted that although the Black Kingdom of Kush briefly ruled Egypt around 500 B.C., marking the end of the Pharaonic era, it left no lasting impact on Egyptian civilization.

The Kingdom of Kush, also referred to as the Kushite Empire or simply Kush, was an ancient kingdom situated in Nubia, spanning the Nile Valley in present-day northern Sudan and southern Egypt.

He emphasized that the facial features of Egyptian kings depicted in these artworks are distinct and do not suggest they were Black.

Hawass clarified that the issue is not about opposition to Black people, but rather against a group that spread unsubstantiated ideas after visiting the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square.

What is the Afrocentric movement?

Afrocentrism asserts that Africans and other non-white majority communities  have historically endured domination by Europeans through slavery and colonization. It argues that European culture is largely irrelevant and sometimes directly opposed to the aspirations of non-Europeans seeking self-determination.

Afrocentrism advocates for people of African descent to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of traditional African civilizations. It emphasizes the importance of defining and embracing their own history and values distinct from those imposed by European influences.

According to Afrocentrism, African history and culture originated in ancient Egypt, considered the cradle of world civilization. Afrocentrism posits that Egypt once united Black Africa until its ideas and technologies were appropriated and its achievements obscured by Europeans.

Why is the Afrocentric movement controversial?

Critics argue that Afrocentrism’s quest for exclusively African values sometimes risks reinforcing racial stereotypes.

Some of its ideas also tend to appropriate and oversimplify the cultures of other distinct African civilizations, notably ancient Egypt.

Recently, the movement has faced criticism for reinterpreting historical figures, such as Queen Cleopatra, through a narrow racial lens. In the controversial Netflix documentary series, Queen Cleopatra, one of the talking heads says, “I remember my grandmother saying to me, ‘I don’t care what they tell you in school, Cleopatra was black’.”

Cleopatra was primarily of Ptolemaic Greek descent, with some Persian and Sogdian Iranian ancestry, according to scholars. This is based on the fact that her Seleucid family, which reigned over much of West Asia, intermarried with the Ptolemaic dynasty, a Macedonian Greek family.

However, the debate around Cleopatra’s physical appearance can overshadow her legacy as a ruler, and also promotes the fallacy that race is shaped purely by physical attributes and is only skin-deep.