Cheikh Anta Diop, the man who committed his entire life to the history & richness of African history

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African history has been so mistreated in the past so much so that efforts were made deliberately to obscure it. In the 1830s the German philosopher G. H. F. Hegel remarked that Africa “is no historical part of the world; it has no movement or development to exhibit.” Such arrogance and dismissal towards an entire continent are simply myopic, to say the least. Although, one man an African will challenge this narrative and provide scientific proves that in fact, Africa is the cradle of humanity, the birthplace of humankind. And so we begin with an individual whose work lay the foundation stone to the numerous doors opening to African history.

Cheikh Anta Diop, (29 December 1923 – 7 February 1986) was a historian, anthropologist, physicist, Pan-African, and politician who studied the human race’s origins and pre-colonial African culture. Diop grew up attending both traditional Islamic and French colonial schools in Senegal. Upon completing his bachelor’s degree, Diop was granted a scholarship in 1946 to study in Paris, where he began his graduate studies at the Sorbonne (part of one of the first universities in the world) in physics at a young age of 23.

Once at the Sorbonne, Diop became involved in the African students’ anti-colonial movement, where young African intellectuals worked for African independence. He helped organize the first Pan-African Student Congress in Paris in 1951 and in 1956 participated in the First World Congress of Black Writers and Artists in Paris. These movements laid the groundwork for a growing African liberation sentiment, supported by the ideological arguments of Negritude, Marxism, and Pan-Africanism.

He first chose the field of physics and chemistry before turning to philosophy and history, with a thesis addressing “precolonial Black Africa” which is a comparative study of the political and social systems of Europe and black Africa from antiquity to the formation of modern states and demonstrates the black contribution to the development of Western civilization. And in the “Cultural Unity of Black Africa,” Cheikh Anta Diop yet again opens another door to African history. In this book, he examined the family systems of matriarchy and patriarchy and the relationship they share with environmental conditions, and the two general types of state formations that arise from the two. In addition, Diop points out that the struggle between the matriarchy and the patriarchy was resolved differently in Africa than it was in Europe or in other societies.

Using the Aborigines of Australia as an example, both systems merged. In Europe, a dying husband was able to sell his wife or select an eventual husband for her. By contrast, women of ancient Ethiopia had rights equal to men and political power. Ethiopia was the first recorded country in the world to have been ruled by a queen. Matriarchy, according to Diop, is not the absolute domination of women over men. It is important to point that out because people conceive matriarchy to be the reverse of patriarchy where they confuse it to be a relationship based on domination. Instead, it is a harmonious dualism accepted by both sexes. Where each person fully develops by following the activity best suited to his/her physiological nature. Matriarchy is to not be confused with amazonism. Amazonism according to the free dictionary is the taking on of masculine habits and occupations by women.

He was a true nationalist and an advocate for African federalism. Committed to the richness of African history, Diop’s 1951 Ph.D. dissertation looked into ancient Egyptian history and the influence it had on European culture. At a time when European cultural superiority was the accepted notion, Diop proclaimed that African civilizations were the inspiration and origin of European accomplishments. Also, dispelling long-held ideas that Africans contributed nothing of importance to humanity. The Sorbonne rejected his dissertation, yet his work nevertheless, received worldwide attention.

In 1955 his work was published as Nations negres et culture (Negro Nations and Culture), a publication that would make him one of the most widely known and controversial historians of his era. Partly due to the response to the book, in 1960 Diop was awarded his doctorate by the Sorbonne. That same year, Senegal gained its independence and Diop returned to his home country. Consequently, he became more and more active in the African student movements then demanding the independence of French colonial possessions, he became convinced that only by reexamining and restoring Africa’s distorted, maligned, and obscured place in HowComYouCom could the physical and psychological shackles of colonialism be lifted from the Motherland and from African people dispersed globally.

Diop’s first work translated into English, The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality, was published in 1974. It gained a much wider audience for his work. He proved that archaeological and anthropological evidence supported his view that Pharaohs were of Negroid origin. Some scholars draw heavily from Diop’s groundbreaking work, while others in the Western academic world do not accept all of Diop’s theories. Nevertheless, his work posed important questions about the cultural bias inherent in scientific research. Diop showed above all that European archaeologists before and after the decolonization had understated and continued to understate the extent and possibility of Black civilizations.

The Swiss archaeologist Charles Bonnet’s discoveries at the site of Kerma later shed some light on the theories of Diop. They show close cultural links between Nubia and Ancient Egypt, though the relationship had been acknowledged for years. This does not necessarily imply a genetic relationship, however. Mainstream Egyptologists such as F. Yurco note that among peoples outside Egypt, the Nubians were closest ethnically to the Egyptians, shared the same culture in the predynastic period, and used the same pharaonic political structure. He suggests that the peoples of the Nile Valley were one regionalized population, sharing a number of genetic and cultural traits.

Diop argued that there was a shared cultural continuity across African peoples that was more important than the varied development of different ethnic groups shown by differences among languages and cultures over time. His books were largely responsible for, at least, the partial re-orientation of attitudes about the place of African people in history, in scholarly circles around the world.

Notwithstanding, among Diop’s most important prolific findings was evidence that there were five species of man, originating in Africa, on the latitude of Kenya, Ethiopia, and Tanzania and going on a north-south axis to South Africa. Any humanity that had its birth in that region (sub-equatorial, i.e., below the equator) could not have survived without pigmentation (color of the skin). For that reason, the first man had to be a Black man. It is only after that race left Africa to people in other parts of the world that different climate phenomena caused man to take on a different look. Nature created six specimens of man before we got to man as we know him today. Based on his findings, Diop determined that the first three had not developed the sufficient potential to leave their own area. The other three, however, did leave Africa. The fourth and fifth of the species disappeared–and what remains is man as we know him today.

In 1953, he first met Frédéric Joliot-Curie, Marie Curie’s son-in-law, and in 1957 Diop began specializing in nuclear physics at the Laboratory of Nuclear Chemistry of the College de France which Frederic Joliot-Curie ran until his death in 1958, and the Institut Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris. He ultimately translated parts of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity into his native Wolof language.

Check Anta Diop died on February 7, 1986. In 1936, under the Popular Front government in France, Dakar became home to the Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noire (IFAN), an institute for the study of African culture. The IFAN was renamed Cheikh Anta Diop University in 1960 in his honor. The University predates Senegalese independence and grew out of several French institutions set up by the colonial administration. The university bears the motto “Lux Mea lix,” which is Latin for “Light is my law.” Today, the university remains a premier institution and among the most successful on the African continent. Diop’s works are truly masterpieces that need to be studied by all.

To begin the story and origins of the African continent is to read Diop’s work, without his work our understanding of African history will be incomplete. We hope you enjoyed this piece and we would love to hear from you regarding any feedback or details that are worth highlighting.

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