Category Archives: Uncategorized

African Heritage

I came across an interesting article while browsing the other day. I freely admit that I am skeptical of the source–it’s on the library website as a scholarly source, but the obvious bias and skewing of information is a little sketchy. Regardless, the article does bring up a few interesting points that I would like to discuss. I know at least one of the other posts has addressed this in part already, but please bear with me.
Essentially, the article is written to draw our attention to the African origin and element of Ancient Egyptian culture. The author is more than a little upset about Egyptians being categorized as “caucasian” back in the day due to Europe’s ethnocentric way of looking at complex civilizations, and he gets a little bit carried away in bashing that concept. I’m not sure how much of his evidence and arguments are actually legitimate, since my own knowledge on the subject is rather sparse. Regardless, he does seem to be onto something.
There is truth in what he says about depictions of Egyptians (especially deities) being painted dark colors. I was always under the impression that it was a stylistic thing–but it is possible that it was meant as a representation of darker-skinned people. Why did I have this assumption that the dark colors were stylistic? I’ve seen pictures of these drawings. I live in a diverse age, where I encounter many people of varying skintones on a daily basis. Why then would I assume, upon seeing a drawing with people painted different colors, that this detail was merely stylistic?
The answer is neither new nor particularly attractive (and I’m sure, at this point, that you can guess where I’m going with this). We, as a part of Western society, recognize that Western society has said and done some pretty horrible things to and about other cultures. Nowadays, we generally try our best to avoid continuing that unfortunate tradition. However, when you have spent your entire life surrounded by Western culture, it becomes difficult to recognize and pick out the remaining subtle traces of stereotypical ethnocentric Western thought. We don’t mean to dismiss the Egyptians’ portrayal of themselves and their gods as dark-skinned people–simply put, we have difficulty (especially when ill-educated on the subject) coming to terms with the reality of the representation when it is so clouded by preconceptions we didn’t realize we had.
The article goes into depth about African identity and the African culture as the origin of complex civilization– I’m not going to go into depth on this, since I don’t know which parts should be taken with a grain of salt. I will say, however, that his argument brings up an intriguing question–Why would Western European states decide to recognize Egypt’s origin as Caucasian rather than African, even when given evidence to the contrary? Why did the concept of admitting the oldest and most advanced society they knew was of African origin gall them to the point where they felt they had no choice but to reject that concept? Truth be told, they should have expected Egypt to identify with other African states simply due to proximity and ease of travel between them (versus Europe, which is on the other side of the Mediterranean from them rather than simply upriver).

The article can be found by searching this information in the MSU library database:
Ancient Egypt: Africa’s stolen legacy
Saafu Khpera. New African 389 (Oct 2000): 18-25.

Boats

I found myself drawn in by last week’s discussion of boats and the Nile, much more than I expected. Why? Because I, as an English major, can’t help but to immediately space out as my brain connects this tidbit of cultural relevance to every myth excerpt I’ve ever gotten my hands on. So, I would like to expand a little bit on our discussion of the Nile as a method of travel in order to elaborate on its cultural importance, from an English major’s point of view.

 

As we talked about last week, the Nile was essentially the only way it made sense to travel in ancient Egypt. Therefore, it is not surprising at all that the symbol of a boat came to signify travel as a concept, and that boats were placed in tombs so that the departed had a way of traveling to the afterlife. But the significance of the boat goes so much deeper than that.

The boat was present during creation: Ra and the other gods were on it when it was lifted from the primordial waters and the world was created. In addition to being the mode of travel to, from, and within the underworld for the gods, it is the only way for the dead to reach the underworld. It appears in countless myths (many more than I have been able to properly get hold of), always somehow in connection with divinity. Either it is being used by a god or the descendant of a god, or it belongs to a god or is being used in order for a task to be completed at the behest of a god. (The myths in question are in a book that is currently a hundred miles away at my parents’ house–I would be happy to post source information in the comments as soon as I am able to retrieve it).

I find this connection to divinity to be fascinating for a number of reasons. First, it more or less sets the boat up as a gift of the gods to humanity, which effectively attributes its glory as a technological innovation directly to the gods, rather than to people. Second, it aligns the boat with the concept of life. The gods stood on it when they came into being from the primordial waters, and it continued (and in many cases still continues today) to provide a way and means of maintaining life for the people. Funerary boats are more concerned with the next life, but still the principle remains.

 

Discovering ties between the boat and these concepts of life and divinity makes me even more curious. As an English major, I itch to re-read the myths all over again while keeping these things in mind so that I can detect any changes in meaning and re-analyze, and hopefully understand the culture a little better than before. At the same time, I wonder how these ideas played into everyday life on the banks of the Nile?

Blog Post 1 Joseph Wright

The article that I chose to examine was a New York Times article entitled “What Women Could Do In Ancient Egypt” a review of Egyptian Art published by Holland Cotter in 1997 originally. The article by begins by discussing the exhibit entitled “Queen Neferiti and the Royal Women” and was a visiting exhibit to the Brooklyn Museum of Art. I originally chose this article as I was influenced by a discussion of gender roles that had been discussed in a few of my other classes this semester and I found it would be an enlightening experience if I had examined the role of women in perhaps the most famous ancient civilization of all time. I wished to see how this once great civilization was treating its population and determining how it might influence us today.
The article discusses that the role of women in Ancient Egypt extends more beyond the two most famous depictions of the Egyptian female in popular culture: the Cleopatra and the Fan girl. They explain that it is not a few simple roles that women filled but many roles that were high status include property owners and decision makers. The article however, does not stray away from the point that men were viewed as the dominant figure is most artwork, standing a head taller than the female in most depictions where they are together. Men are often depicted as named figures, while almost none of the women are named.
In most depictions that were seen women were seen as inferior to men, at least among the common people. In the elite of society however they were able to acquire wealth through work and were able to own land. There even existed a few female pharaohs, the most famous being the woman known as Hatshepsut, who reigned from 1486 to 1468 BCE. Ultimately the most common depiction that existed in the artwork of women was that of one that has persisted through the millennia, the role of motherhood. The article makes special note to examine that Queen Nefertiti and her young daughter are in a very famous pose both kissing the ankh, which is the symbol of life in a way showing that from females stems life.
Ultimately I enjoyed this article, It was brief and art focused but did provide me with the opportunity to examine a few of the images associated with Egyptian femininity and how it relates to the discussions in class and our modern viewpoints.

Edington, Blog Post 1

The article “The Earliest Representations of Royal Power in Egypt” was hard to follow, mostly because I felt I couldn’t understand how the authors (and archaeologists) were coming to the conclusions they were.  For example, “stylistic and technical peculiarities suggest that all the main tableaux with human figures are the work of only one or two hands” means which peculiarities?  The article states that the figures were etched with a pointed implement, which makes sense, since it’s in stone, though they could, I guess, have just drawn the figures.  Given that stone wears down any tool, wouldn’t the artists have had to change tools in the process of drawing the figures?  If this was the case, then wouldn’t the changing of tools, given the lack of uniform manufacturing, have caused differences in the style of the figures?  If there were slightly different styles in the figures, then how can archaeologists tell that it wasn’t an artist change, and not a tool or simply style change?  If there weren’t slightly different styles in the figures, what does that say about the types of tools that were used?  Even artists I know who start using a new box of pencils, pastels, or even paper say it changes the way they draw or paint, and it looks different to the trained eye.  How do archaeologists separate these types of changes from the hand of the artist?

It’s also interesting to me that the authors focus on site seven as a scene similar to the Scorpion and Narmer mace heads, but don’t mention how the other sites fit in with the scene until a few sections later, talking about the inter-relatedness fits a “grand scheme” instead of slow accumulation of iconographs. I don’t know that much about the Scorpion or Narmer mace heads, but if they also included other scenes or sections, what is the relevance to the chronology if these accompanying scenes have changed?  What does it mean if they haven’t?  The focus of the article on the fan-bearers, the crown position, and the boats is intriguing though.  By first talking about Dynastic conventions of artistry, the article sets up the reader to see the Nag el-Hamdulab scenes as transitory, developing images of a future Egypt portrayed by the Narmer scenes.  It is also confusing to me how, just because we can date the Scorpion scene before the Narmer scenes, and the fan-bearers and standard-bearers have increased in the Narmer, that the smaller number of fan-bearers in the Nag el-Hamdulab scene “confirms” that this scene is chronologically earlier than the other two.  Why couldn’t the society have decreased the number of fan-bearers, then increased them again?  In a similar way, the authors talk about the crown angle tilting gradually, and the boat prows becoming less ‘clubbed’.  Again, why does the gradual changing of these when put in this order confirm that these are placed in chronological order?  Nowhere did the authors talk about dating the Nag el-Hamdulab scenes, merely comparing them.  I guess I don’t understand why we can make these assumptions.

The most interesting point to me was that the artists started on the right-hand side of the rocks when drawing, not the traditional middle section.  Since there was writing at the time, the archaeologists assume that this structure means the artists were professionals, and used to writing. I find this interesting to explore in other contexts, such as switching between left and right starting languages (written) and how artists or poets approach different kinds of art through history.  I am wondering if this type of finding is common through the rest of the history of ancient states?