More than 40 years ago, a very significant event in Cairo marked the history of the African historiography: it is the international Conference on Egyptology organized by the UNESCO from January 28 to February 3, 1974 in Cairo, Egypt. Let us recall briefly this global event unknown to the general public (including the African public).
Why was the Cairo Conference held ?
The Cairo conference was held as part of UNESCO’s writings on African history. In other words, the UNESCO wrote a lot on African history in several volumes and at a moment the question that arose was as follows: should we classify the history of the Pharaonic civilization in the context of African history? Yes or no?
In order to be able to put the Pharaonic civilization in the African context, it was necessary to prove scientifically that the Pharaonic civilization (by its culture, language, and languages and also by its people) belonged to the African World.
Why did it have to be proved?
This had to be proved because the misrepresentation by Egyptologists was already effective through the construction of several lies. And because of those misrepresentations, there were 3 schools:
The first and most important one was the school of western scholars and experts. According to them, the people who created the Pharaonic civilization were a white people from Europe who had landed in Africa to create this civilization, while tanning and mingling themselves with African (black) elements over time. Therefore, according to this school of thought, the Pharaonic people had a European white origin and the shades of dark or black skin visible on the Pharaonic frescoes were only the results of race-mixing.
The second school of thought is the school of orientalist researchers or the specialists of the so-called oriental civilizations. According to this school, the Pharaonic people came from the East to create their civilization on the African soil.
The third (and last) school was one of those who claimed that the Pharaonic civilization was a black one created by Blacks and belonged to the African world. It was the stance embodied by Cheikh Anta Diop and Theophile Obenga and also the most challenged school of thought by orientalist and western scholars who were already broadcasting – at that time through their media (as they still do today) – all sort of things to prove that the Pharaonic civilization was not black.
Faced with this situation of 3 schools, then 3 different stances, it was necessary to definitely reach an opinion based on rigorous and scientific criteria about this question of the Pharaonic civilization which divided the ones and the others. This is why the UNESCO organized the International Conference on Egyptology in Cairo and invited all the great specialists and their delegations to organize a confrontation between all researchers and specialists from all horizons (including Africans) to solve this problem and to put an end to the debate on the Pharaonic civilization. Cheikh Anta Diop and Théophile Obenga met at that conference.
The symposium addressed the topic of the peopling of ancient Egypt and the decipherment of the Meroitic writing. But the fundamental problem which concerned everyone was:
Who were the Pharaonic people? Were they Africans or not?
Twenty specialists, five observers and two UNESCO representatives from fourteen different nations spent many hours and several days on this issue.
A. M. ABDALLA, Department of History, University of Khartoum, Sudan
A. Abu BAKR, University of Cairo, Egypt
N. BLANC, École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris, France
F. DEBONO, UNESCO expert, Centre de documentation sur l’Égypte ancienne, Malta
J. DEVISSE, Université Paris VIII, Paris
CHEIKH ANTA. DIOP, University of Dakar, Senegal
G. GHALLAB, Institute of African Research and Studies, University of Cairo, Egypt
L. HABACHI, Oriental Institute, University of Chicago, USA
R. HOLTOER, University of Helsinki, Finland
S. HUSAIN, Egyptian Organization of Antiquities, Cairo, Egypt
J. GORDON-JACQUET, c/o Institut français d’archéologie orientale du Caire, USA
W. KAISER, German Archaeological Institute Cairo, Federal Republic of Germany
J. LECLANT, Université Paris-Sorbonne, Paris
G. MOKHTAR, Egyptian Antiquities Organization, Egypt
R. EL NADURI, Faculty of Arts, Alexandria, Egypt,
THEOPHILE OBENGA, Professor at Université Marien N’Gouabi, Brazzaville, Congo
S. SAUNERON, Institut français d’archéologie orientale du Caire, France
T. SÄVE-SÖDERBERG, Uppsala University, Sweden
P. L. SHINNIE, Department of Archaeology, University of Calgary, Canada
J. VERCOUTTER, Institut de papyrologie et d’égyptologie, Université de Lille
V. L. GROTTANELLI, Institute of ethnology, University of Rome, Italy
S. HABLE SELASSIE, Department of History, Haile Selassie I University, Ethiopia
F. H. HUSSEIN, Department of Physical Anthropology, National Research Center, Cairo,
L. KAKOSY, Department of Ancient Oriental History, University of Budapest V, Hungary
P. A. DIOP, journalist for Senegalese daily “Le Soleil”, Dakar, Senegal
UNESCO representatives :
M. GLÉLÉ, cultural studies division
Mme MELCER, cultural studies division
Cheikh Anta Diop and Théophile Obenga were the only ones among all participants asserting that the Pharaonic civilization was a black civilization. They were just two to represent Africa, against all other scholars.
To prove that the Pharaonic civilization was an African civilization, it was not simply a question of establishing that the Pharaonic people had black skin. It was necessary not to be limited to the skin. It was also important to prove that the people:
Used to speak African languages
Possessed an African culture, customs and traditions
In order to technically and scientifically prove all the above mentioned, it was significant to rely on many subjects such as archeology, anthropology, biology, chemistry, geography, linguistics, dating and many more by using the methods of all these areas. It was therefore a work of study and intense research that needed to be done and a scientific battle at a very high level. Indeed, since there were specialists from all over the world, failure was not option.
At the end of the scientific symposium, the works of Cheikh Anta Diop and Theophile Obenga, who said that the Pharaonic civilization is an African civilization, had triumphed. That is why in the general conclusion of the final report of the conference it is written that:
“The very detailed preparation of the presentations by Professors Cheikh Anta Diop and Obenga did not always get an equal feedback despite the clarifications set out in the preparatory working document sent by the UNESCO (see Appendix 3). As a consequence, discussions were not balanced”
In other words, when Diop and Obenga were scientifically demonstrating the black characteristics of the Pharaonic civilization to other scholars and experts, the latter could not really challenge their massive and important statements. It therefore led to unbalanced scientific debates despite the scholars’ large number and skills.
The final report of the 1974 Cairo Conference held by the UNESCO (second edition).
Thanks to the scientific battle led by Professors Diop and Obenga, it has now been more than 40 years since science definitely showed that the Pharaonic civilization is a black civilization. It has been more than 40 years since science delivered its judgment. Therefore, it has been more than 40 years since the international scientific community knew for sure that the pharaonic civilization is neither white nor oriental or anything else but a black civilization indeed, an African civilization. And all the serious research carried out over time confirms the black identity of the Pharaonic civilization.
The conference instruments are still in existence today and are kept by the UNESCO, but Africa’s enemies are deliberately ignoring the existence of the symposium and pretend that it never took place. This is why people (including Africans) ignorantly still continue to ask questions about the origin of the Pharaonic civilization, while this issue has already been solved through science 40 years ago.
If Westerners still continue to lie about the Pharaonic civilization today through the media or in so-called scientific books, documentaries or so, it is for reasons not grounded on science or truth. Today as far as we are concerned, let us remember the conference as a moment when Maat (Truth, Justice and Order) triumphed over Isefet (disorder, lie and bad ways)!
Let us celebrate the moment where Cheikh Anta Diop and Obenga accomplished a huge task for African historiography! Let us celebrate the moment where only two sons of the continent brilliantly made the land of their ancestors victorious in the world’s face!
Let us recall this sentence of Osiris Cheikh Anta Diop at that moment:
“Even today, among all the peoples on earth, a black person from black Africa can identify on their own and in an exhaustive manner, the core identity of their culture with that of Pharaonic Egypt, so that both cultures can serve as reciprocal reference systems. He is the only one who can still identify him indubitably to the Egyptian cultural universe. He/she feels at home. He does not feel out of place, as any other man/woman would be, whether Indo-European or Semitic. The way a Westerner feels the echo of his ancestors’ soul till date by reading Caton’s text is the same way the psychology and culture revealed by the Egyptian texts identify with the black personality. And African studies will emerge from the vicious circle in which they evolve to find their full meaning and fruitfulness only by moving towards the Nile Valley “(Cheikh Anta Diop, Antériorité des Civilisations Nègres, p.12).
And let us also remember this recommendation from Osiris Diop:
“With equal knowledge, the truth conquers. Train yourself, arm yourself with science to the teeth (…) and reclaim your cultural heritage. “
And let us pay homage to all African scholars as well as black and historians of African ancestry who make science work and who use their science to serve the continent and use their knowledge to serve the black world as Cheikh Anta Diop and Théophile Obenga did!
By: Lisapo ya Kama
- Le peuplement de l’Egypte ancienne et le déchiffrement de l’Ecriture Méroitique,
- Instruments of the conference held in Cairo from January 28 to February 3, 1974
- Jean Phillipe Omotunde, les Racines Africaines de la Civilisation Européenne Vol
- Cheikh Anta Diop, The African origins of civilization
- Cheikh Anta Diop, Nations Nègres et Culture