Summer Study Abroad Kemet, Day Fourteen

  • If I ruled the world
  • I’d free all my sons
  • Black diamonds and pearls
  • If I ruled the world
  • And then we’ll walk right up to the sun
  • Hand in hand
  • We’ll walk right up to the sun
  • We won’t land
  • We’ll walk right
  • up to the sun
  • Hand in hand
  • We’ll walk right up to the sun
  • We Won't land...
  •        Nas (Featuring Lauryn Hill), If I Ruled the World

I'm never ready to return to the United States.

I never am after traveling to Africa, especially with students and what Baba Ayi Kwei Armah would call the "companions" of common purpose. 

I never am when reflecting on the fact that our best thinkers have increasingly been siphoned off to the intellectual and cultural cul-de-sac of explaining our African humanity to societies set up on the premise that we lacked humanity. That our best thinkers have increasingly been trained, especially after desegregation, to create brilliant analyses of "blackness" that empty into individual praise and advancement, leaving more and more of their kindred to suffer unchanging oppression.

We prepare to return to America tomorrow, to a country run by a White Supremacist cabal supported by millions of terrified, xenophobic enablers, resisted by millions more and still an ongoing hostage situation for still millions more Aboriginals (First Nations people which includes the Spanish-speaking original inhabitants of the settler state's southwest) and Africans.

There is nowhere in the world that is free of human problems. Here on Elephantine Island, home of the original center of Ancient Kemet's trade with inner Africa, we have talked at length with the modern Nubian descendant's of those who maintained and renewed the Kemetic state from what is now the Sudan and Ethiopia. They face racism here in ways both familiar and unfamiliar to their cousins in the United States. As Du Bois once wrote, "the color line belts the world."

With a moleskine full of jotted notes, I'll be posting more thoughts on the days we have been here in the days ahead. In the interim, I've been reading through some of my blog posts from previous journeys. We initiated Howard's Summer Study Abroad in Kemet in 2008, the year after Asa G. Hillard III (Nana Baffour Amankwatia II) made transition here in the Nile Valley during our Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations conference. We have returned many times since, and will continue this journey annually.  We are part of a genealogy and a practice that demands it. One that Asa, Yosef ben Jochannan, Jacob Carruthers, William Leo Hansberry, Alain Locke and so many others undertook, inherited and renewed. We will not be the weak link in the chain, one that extends backward to far antiquity and forward to our complete liberation.

Below is a post from 2009 and the second Study Abroad Kemet journey. The students who travelled that year are now professors, lawyers, farmers, community activists and many other things besides.  The fullness of our collective efforts has not been communicated. Coming back to the deteriorating racial politics of a re-forming settler state, we have a renewed purpose. Part of that purpose is to remind ourselves that we work to create the world we wish to live in. 


[Aswan, Upper Kemet, Sunday, August 9, 2009]: As our bus hurtled back toward Elephantine Island and the hotel Saturday afternoon, we still had miles (kilometers here) to go before we slept, though we had met a 2:30 a.m. wake up call and departed by ferry for the bus caravan to Abu Simbel at 3:30 a.m. Since the beginning of our journey, and without sacrificing punctuality, we have emancipated time from the tyranny of the clock, and are the better for it intellectually and emotionally. Who has classes, after all, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights after a dozen hours spent travelling to, climbing into, through, over and around ancient temples and tombs in African summer weather? We do, it seems.

 Abu Simbel. Barely twenty miles from the border between Egypt and the Sudan. Ramses IIs’s single most impressive monument: two temples, one to the primary Netcher of his era, Amun Ra, and the other built on behalf of his wife, Nefertari, to the glory of Het-Heru. A love story set in stone, and at once a commentary on how to unify a state around a single shared idea: the Great House. In the wake of the 40 year old Black Power/Black Studies movement and the study tours of Egypt by African-Americans that it sparked, the country should have by now rendered the sight of two dozen Black folk with cameras, pens, pads and studious expressions commonplace. Still, we arrest the attention of tourists and temple guards alike.

 Ramses has emerged, with The Memphite Theology, as a particularly helpful subject informing our consideration of “The Politics of Translation” and “The Challenge of Intellectual Integrity.” Friday night we spent a spirited class session examining the parallels between the account of Ramses’s struggle with the Hittites and their allies during the epic Battle of Kadesh and Christian allegory in the Bible. The uber-Pharaoh is frequently saddled with the speculative label of being “The Pharaoh of the Exodus.” If there was an Exodus and if it happened under Ramses, all the more evidence that the Abrahammic religions are extended riffs on a Kemetic melody. As we read passages from Ramses’s plea to his father Amun to assist him and examined his dogged reproaches for seemingly being abandoned, the light in several students’ eyes shone: it was, after all, the Gethsemane and Golgotha pleas of Christ, two thousand years before, not to mention David and Goliath, Joshua at Jericho and Gideon, just for starters.

Hala at Abu Simbel 1.JPG

Howard University Study Abroad Kemet, Abu Simbel, 2009


 The next day, we stood in the innermost chamber ofthe temple, (called the “holy of holies”). This chamber is the inspiration for the pulpits that mark the sacred center of churches around the world. There are no guides allowed in the temple: in peak season (October through February), the thousands of people visiting daily would make the presence of guides in each temple proffering detailed explanations literally impossible. Still, we manage to discuss the most important scenes on the walls, columns and ceilings while absorbing the impatient urging-ons of the patrolling police and temple guards.

xm and Ni.JPG

Nijel and Angi at the Nubian Museum. 

Having finished examining Ramses’s temple, we moved quickly to the temple for Het-Heru (the Greek Hathor) built for Nefertari (Ramses's temple is on the right, Nefertari's on the left). We entered, examining an exquisite relief of Ramses in battle, with Heru arming him with a mace of strength and, behind him, Nefertari, arms raised in protection, giving him something to return home to after fighting. The unifying concept of the Per-Uah restoring Ma’at has emerged as a constant theme as well, appearing in the well-documented efforts of Piankhy, Shabaka and Taharqua mounted at the Nubian Museum of Aswan, which actually allows visitors to get "up close and personal" with the classical artifacts.

Angi Brittany Robert.JPG

Angi, Brittany and Robert with Shabaka and Taharqa, Nubian Pharaohs of the 25th Kemetic Dynasty, Nubian Museum, Aswan

There are two reliefs in the back chamber of Nefertari’s temple, opposite the walls that framed her holy of holies. To the left, Ramses II worships his wife, with lotus flowers and Het-Heru behind him, sistrum in hand, coaching and urging him on. On the right, one of my favorite scenes, Het-Heru and Auset flanking Nefertari, breathing life into her. The royal epithet at the top of the first column of Mdw Ntr above Nefertari’s head, “Hemetch Nsw,” [King’s Wife]. The determinative for wife is a well full of water, the single most important element of creation and the thing that a human being—and a man needing a wife—cannot live without.

Friday morning, we had stood astride the Nile’s life-giving water on the bridge overlooking the Aswan High Dam. Looking downriver toward Abydos, Memphis, Saqqara and the Giza Plateau, we were reminded of the majesty and beauty of the land that thirty centuries of Black women and men had come together to create and share with the world. We surveyed the dry granite outcroppings that form the Nile’s final and northernmost of its six cataracts. Seized by the need for a mnemonic unguent, I scrolled through my Ipod’s playlist for a sufficiently powerful performance to lash the moment fast against the hard backbone of my mind’s long-term memory.

My eyes widened as the thumbwheel alit upon an Ancestral choice. I imagined Amenemhat, Ahmose, Hatchepsut, Piankhy and Ramses standing astride, along and upon the Nile, looking down the expanses of time and space and envisioning their successful efforts to realize Sma Tawi, Nsw Bity and Neb Tawi, the United Two Lands. As the dulcet harmonies of Lauryn Hill eased through my ears, the sudden turntable scratch emptied into the existential question that our children raise in the wake of perpetual challenges to their potential and doubts about their abilities, a question that evaporates when raised against the memory and vision of Kemetic serenity, permanence and relentless, unceasing movement: “Life…I wonder…Will it take me under?”

For fully three minutes, an eternity in hip hop timespace, I stood, motionless, before the Nile and the memory of the great African past, allowing Nasir Jones to resolve the seeming hopelessness of a puny and contemporary racescape against a hungry if as-yet underfed vision of what will and must be as he opined what he would do “If I Ruled the World.” His words and Lauryn’s melody catalyzed a comingling and bonding with my own mind’s eye as it played images of Pharaonic command and mass public effort, teeming all along the river’s four-thousand mile expanse over the three millennia of Kemet’s unbroken command.

“If I ruled the word/I’d free all my sons/Black diamonds and pearls/If I ruled the world…”

Our band seeps with contemplative deliberateness out of the busses and takes in each new site’s wonder: the steppes that frame the Tombs of the Nobles on Awsan’s west bank, including the tomb of Hardjuf, known as “the world’s first explorer” for his survey of inner Africa; the mirth of children in an Elephantine Island village that has been adopted by wave after wave of African-American visitors.

“Open they eyes to the lies/history’s told foul/but I’m as wise as the old owl/plus the gold child/seein things like I was controllin’/clique rollin’/truggers six digits on kicks and still holdin’/trips to Paris/I civilized every savage/give me one shot/I’ll turn trife life to lavish/political prisoners set free/stress free/no work release/purple jet skis/and M 3s…”

Saturday morning, as our little boat neared the island where the Philae Temple of Auset (Isis) has been preserved, we scanned the cliffs and foliage for the white birds whose craning necks indicated that we were looking at the descendants of Djehuty. The egret, of the ibis family were further proof that the people of Kemet were Africans. The symbols for intellectual work: the noble and silent baboon and the elegant, aloof ibis—were animals found only inside Africa, deeply beyond the reach or influence of Europe. The temple, built during the Late Period of Greek and Roman authority by Kemetic architects and designers, became the last temple where Kemetic spiritual systems were openly observed, by the Nubians. It was closed by the Roman Emperor Justinian, but not before Auset had transformed into Mary and written the “Cult of the Black Virgin” on the religious DNA of Christianity, from the re-inscribed portraits of Madonna and Child to the re-inscription of the largest single shrine to Isis in Western Europe to the Cathedral of Notre Dame (Our Lady) in Paris.

In the U.S., we have battled against the dim and vacant gaze of absence in the eyes and souls of children who have been pulled away from the excellent practice of study by distractions, real and imagined. As my mind’s eye framed image after image of our students drinking in inextricable sets of life-altering images, Nas and Lauryn’s declaration evoked the answer to the seemingly intractable question, “why?” They do not do better because they do not know. They have not seen. And, after all, we need not question what we would do if we ruled the world. In fact, the lessons of Kemet remind us that we rule the worlds our imagination and deliberate, excellent effort allow us to create.

Ma and Sawdayah.JPG

Catherine Carr and Sawdayah Brownlee with a New Kingdom Scribe at the Nubian Museum, Aswan. Elder Mother Carr took the journey as a gift from her family to celebrate her 80th birth year, and accompanied by her daughter, Gussie, named for her mother's mother. Her grandson, Ellington Fuller, Gussie's son, completed his first journey to Africa and to Kemet with HU Study Abroad Kemet in 2018.

Summer Study Abroad, Kemet: Day Three

“Feelings came over me far different from those which I have felt when looking at the mighty works of European genius.  I felt that I had a peculiar heritage in the Great Pyramid built…by the enterprising sons of Ham, from which I descended. The blood seemed to flow faster through my veins.  I seemed to hear the echo of those illustrious Africans.  I seemed to feel the impulse from those stirring characters who sent civilization to Greece—the teachers of the father of poetry, history and mathematics—Homer, Herodotus, and Euclid.  I seemed to catch the sound of the “stately steppings” of Jupiter, as, with his brilliant celestial retinue, he perambulates the land on a visit to my ancestors, the ‘blameless Ethiopians.’  I felt lifted out of the commonplace grandeur of modern times; and, could my voice have reached every African in the world, I would have earnestly addressed him in the words of the Liberian poet Hillary Teague: “From Pyramidal Hall; From Thebes, they loudly call; Retake your Fame.”  

–      Edward Wilmot Blyden, From West Africa to Palestine (Freetown: T.J. Sawyer, 1873)

Like echoes of visitors in the limestone burial chambers of Maidum’s “Bent Pyramid” or Dashur’s “Red” (or North) Pyramid, Old Kingdom Kemetic cosmology and philosophy of governance is amplified by the expansive national program of monumental architecture of the world’s first nation-builders. The Red Pyramid, one of several constructed by the Master Builder of Antiquity, Per Uah [Pharaoh] Sneferu, is Kemet’s third largest, after his son Khufu’s “Great Pyramid” and grandson Khafre’s pyramid, both miles away in Giza. 

In the space of two days, we completed the taxing physical and rejuvenating spiritual work of traveling to, climbing and descending into burial chambers of five of them. Ahead lie processing what the so-called “Pyramid Age” meant in Egyptian and world history, the moment when the template for human architecture was forever advanced from rudimentary survival to soaring refashioning of nature to suit human purpose.

Senefru at Maidum.jpg

Before entering Seneferu's pyramid at Maidum

Entering and exiting pyramids is no easy task. Over the years, however, I have seen very few Africans not be able to successfully complete it, regardless of age or physical condition. Whatever pulls them first down and then back up through the narrow passages, it is clear that one key to passing this momentary test of will and stamina is the company of fellow travelers of common mind and purpose. As I once again climbed down through the Red Pyramid’s narrow passage, our students had already descended, calling encouragements to each other as the single file string expanded, body by tentatively entering body. 

Red Pyramid.jpg

Preparing to enter the Red Pyramid, Dashur

Midway down to Seneferu’s burial chamber, a man straining to return through the shaft to the surface drew closer on my left. Moving through the shafts of pyramids requires an average sized adult to approximate variations of a duck walk, gripping guide rails as she navigates the sharp descent angle of an escalator of thin wooden gangplank, punctuated by narrow metal strip “steps.” Even when Egypt was flush with visitors, Maidum and Dashur were not crowded, each requiring a journey of over an hour from Cairo and specific interest of those determined to trace the arc of Old Kingdom periodization. Now, as in recent post-revolution journeys, we had both sites virtually to ourselves, making anyone not from our group emerging from the beveled ceilinged burial chamber both a welcome sight and, given the shaft’s narrow dimensions, a quick and friendly blending of personal space as we squeezed past each other.

Though I couldn’t see his face, as the approaching man grew larger in the dim light I made out a familiar pattern on his t-shirt. It was a print in the pattern of Bogolanfini, the Malian cotton fabric commonly known as “Mud Cloth.” “You okay, brother?” I called to him as he ascended laboriously. “Yes, brother…” he said. As we got closer, I saw that he was another African. “Where are you from?” he asked?  “America,” I said. “Those are our students you passed on the way up!  And you?”  He said, “I live in Spain but I am from Sierra Leone!”  By then, we were within a few yards of each other. “Long live Africa!” he exclaimed, his sonorous tenor bouncing off the diorite in the shaft.  “Long live Africa, long live!” I replied, equally loudly, in a well-known reply among Pan Africanists, especially those from the days of solidarity anti-colonial struggles across the continent and in the African Diaspora. Moments later, we squeezed past each other in a brush of salutation, solidarity and brotherhood. 

The encounter gave me renewed purpose. After leaving Maidum and Dashur, we spent the early afternoon at a site devoted to the early administrative capital of Kemet, a place known to the ancients as Min Nefter (the beautiful place) and Hwt Ka Ptah (Place of the Soul of God (Ptah)). Min Nefer (or “Memphis”) so impressed the Greeks that visited it many centuries after its founding and rise to permanent importance in Kemetic governance that the awed visitors took to calling the entire country one of the names of this one city. Hwt Ka Ptah became “Aiguptios,” which, eventually, became “Egypt.” This name, of course, survives in the name of the modern country. The name “Memphis” marks a southern U.S. city that sits on the Mississippi river, a testament to the misinformed “Neo Greek Revival” dreams of a cobbled white southern aristocracy who invented a past as bogus as its slavery-fueled ambitions.

At the Memphis “open air” museum, we saw a partial statue of the New Kingdom empire-builder Ramses II, long ago toppled by nature and now the centerpiece of the site. New Kingdom rulers often evoked the rituals, sebaytand rulers of the Old Kingdom for inspiration and sanction. And, from Memphis and points south, re-unifiers of Kemet, from the Middle Kingdom’s Mentuhotep II to Late Period Nubians Piankhy, Taharqa and Shabaka, projected their power all the way down the Nile to the shores of the Mediterranean. Kemet always renewed itself by 

Memphis Ramses .jpg

With a fallen partial statue of Ramses II at Memphis.

Our students are cementing their learning with physical experiences, integrating new information in our nightly classes and life-long interests in the Nile Valley and guided study that they undertook in preparation for the journey. It is the collective undertaking that binds our learning to permanent memory and expanded horizons. 

Tomorrow, we will spend the day in the Cairo Museum fastening more sinew and muscle to the narrative skeleton of the Nile Valley’s three millennium history as a civilizational nation. Today, a great deal of our nightly class and debrief discussions was devoted to how Egyptian heads-of-state organized the sprawling nation. How Africans created, expanded and maintained a country of many different people over thousands of miles for three millennium remains one of the great stories of world history. Kemet is the primary society of the classical world, the fountainhead for much of what endures today in religion, science, government and culture.

Kemet's Africans carried ideas toward the Mediterranean from inner Africa and resemble their kin across the continent in how they viewed the world and how they articulated ideas of time, space and human relationships to each other and the cosmos. Our students's reactions to the monumental remains of the society so far have not been unlike that of Edward Blyden, an African son of St. Thomas in the Caribbean who spent a great deal of his life in Liberia and passed away in nearby Sierra Leone. We should join Blyden and the Liberian poet Hillary Teague in not only "retaking the fame" of African people, but renewing and extending the best contributions of human society that we have made. We must see and interact with the world on our terms.

Summer Study Abroad in Kemet 2018: Day Two

“The lessons in this text [the Book of Khety]—like the lessons in Ptahhotep, like the lessons in all of thesewehemy mesewtexts—are eternal lessons...I have identified six (most recent) generations, and then contemporary groups, and I just want to sort of suggest how we can look at these generations…Richard Allen and Prince Hall…David Walker and Maria Stewart…Henry Highland Garnet…Martin Delany…Henry McNeal Turner…Drusilla Dunjee Houston…Arthur Schomburg…John Henrik Clarke…Ben Jochannan…Anderson Thompson and Asa Hilliard…Cheikh Anta Diop…Which means that we, you know, have to stop putting on our dashikis and geles and bubas once a year and coming to Detroit, Atlanta, and Harlem, and looking pretty, and saying ‘Hotep!”—I mean, it’s good to say “hotep” because, fifty years ago, we didn’t’ know what “hotep” meant! But it’s not a joyride; it’s a place to go work.”

-- Dr. Jacob Hudson Carruthers, Jr. (Djedi Shemsu Djehuty), Djed Wat N Ankh [Endurance/Resurrection]: The Road to Life, 16thAnnual ASCAC Conference, Detroit, Michigan, March 19, 1999

“Do not be arrogant with what you have learned, but speak with the ignorant as with the wise. The limits of skill are not reached, and no one is born wise. Good speech (Mdw Nrf) is more rare than green stone and can [even] be found among the young women pounding grain.”

--Ptah Hotep, Vizier to Djedkare Issi, Kemetic Old Kingdom Fifth Dynasty (c. 2400 bce)

Our first day of #HUStudyAbroadKemet2018 field exploration and discussion began on the Giza plateau overlooking modern Greater Cairo, a North African city swiftly approaching two dozen million people. We had come to consider the formation and genealogy of the Kemetic state, like China a civilizational state (as distinct from modern settler colonies turned states of the “Western” Hemisphere or the artificial states produced in the wake of western-style colonialism in the “Eastern” Hemisphere).  Our group is primarily students from college sophomores to PhD candidates and faculty and staff from two Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The youngest traveler, my 15 year old nephew, Ellington Fuller, is a rising high school junior. 

Ellington Fuller and Carruthers DSCN1775.JPG

Ellington Fuller, 5 months, with Jacob Carruthers and the author, 21st Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations Conference, Tennessee State University, March 2003. 

Ellington was five months old in March, 2003 when Dr. Jacob Carruthers (Djedi Shemsu Djehuty, or “The One Who Speaks is a Follower of Djehuty,” Founding President of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations (ASCAC) held and spoke to him in a penultimate act of intergenerational dialogue. Baba Jedi made transition shortly after.  Now Ellington, a late adolescent scholar athlete with his mother’s wit, his father’s demeanor and his grandfather (my father)’s peaceful and introspective spirit, has been entrusted to us for his first trip to Africa.


On March 17, 1995 at the 12th annual ASCAC conference in Detroit, Michigan, Dr. Carruthers delivered a major address, “The Elder’s Staff,” where he took the ASCAC “study group of the whole” through a passage from the sebayt (teachings) of Ptahhotep, called by Asa Hilliard, Nia Damali and Larry Obadele Williams “the oldest book in the world.” Ptah Hotep begins the sebaytby enumerating the ailments of old age, including loss of energy and memory. He then asks the Late Fifth Dynasty Per Uah[“Great House”, now called “Pharaoh”] Issi, if he might be allowed to take an apprentice and make of him a “mdw iaw,” or “speech (staff) of old age,” to whom he might then transfer “the speeches of those who have heard”: The collective memories and distilled wisdom of the Ancestors.

Dr. Carruthers, the first African American scholar to master the study and teaching of Middle Egyptian (the high form of Egyptian Hieroglpyhs, or Mdw Ntr(Divine Speech)), began his remarks by identifying the function of elders in a community. “If you’re old,” he asked, “what are you hanging around for?”  He gave the answer that Ptahhotep outlined in the oldest surviving document on the subject of the role of teaching and learning in human society: “you’re hanging around to teach.”  

The Sebayt of Ptahhotep was used to train schoolchildren in reading, writing and ethics in the Kemetic nation over the course of two millennia. Ptahhotep’s unfinished tomb, in the Kemetic national burial complex of Saqqara, is near that of Kagemni, author of another majory sebayt; Teti, an early Sixth Dynasty Per Uah whose pyramid contains prayers of the corpus referred to collectively as the “Pyramid Texts,” and Mereruka, Teti’s Vizier, one itme Senior Judge of the sprawling network of regional and national Kemetic courts, over fifty-one centuries before U.S. Chief Justice John Marshall delivered his opinion in Marbury v. Madison, burnishing and extending the myth of what Pauline Kael has called the “American Scripture” of the U.S. Constitution. 

In anchoring the in-situ dimension of our intellectual work with problematics of nation building as presented in the remains of the Kemetic nation in Saqqara and on the Giza Plateau, we considered several first order questions at the day’s beginning and in hours of our evening class after returning from our visits: How do societies preserve and convey the best of what they have learned to future generations? How has Africa and how do Africans achieve this objective, on our own terms, across time and space?  How, in fact, did the Africans with the longest recorded experience of building and sustaining civilization think of time and space and the place of humanity in the cosmos?

We began our day by entering the most recognizable structure of human antiquity: The so-called “Great Pyramid” of Khufu, son of Fourth Dynasty founding Per Uah Sneferu, on the Giza Plateau. Dr. Mario Beatty shared a new article with the group reporting findings of an international team of scientists who hypothesize that this pyramid harnesses electromagnetic energy of a fashion conducive to restorative and regenerative benefits for living material. Certainly, this would not be a surprise to African Diasporic artists from Louis Armstrong and Paul and Essie Robeson to Sun Ra and Earth Wind and Fire’s Maurice White, all of who travelled to the pyramid and drew direct inspiration and creative instruction from Kemetic culture. 

Next, we descended the plateau to walk and examine the great ritual hall and pyramid complex conceived in the Third Dynasty (c. 2700 bce) by the famous Imhotep, Vizier to Per Uah Djoser. Discussing Imhotep’s planning and construction of the oldest stone building in world history while standing in and examining it is an experience that forever erases one’s predisposition to believe any prior (mis)educational assaults on the nature of African scientific achievement, giving a (re)newed meaning to the term “STEM”. Before leaving, we visited the Hor-em-Akhet [Horus on the Horizon], colloquially referred to as the "Great Sphinx of Giza," the likely visage of Per Uah Khafre.  In a long-practiced ritual by visiting African people, we compared our physical profiles to that of the Sphinx's head. The idea that these Egyptians were not African people (in the way that we acknowledge the full physiological range of our "modern" existence) is, of course, absurd.


#HUStudyAbroadKemet2018 at the pyramid of Unas, Saqqara. Step Pyramid of Imhotep for Per Uah Djoser in background

We stood in the great expanse of Djoser’s pyramidal courtyard as a desert breeze caressed the mute sands where thousands of Kemetic citizens had beheld the Heb Sedfestivals of Pharaonic ascension twenty seven centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ. Standing in the distance in one direction were huge predecessor pyramids constructed by Sneferu and in the other direction the previously-visited pyramid of his son Khufu, Khufu’s son, Khafre and Khafre’s son, Menkaure (and the women who had birthed them, married them and/or been sisters to them).  Saqqara is the crossroads of Kemetic—and by extension, world—state formation and governance. That it was an African enterprise that lasted over thirty centuries and birthed the foundations for much of what we have received as human knowledge can seem fantastical until one literally stands in the places.

It is not enough, of course, even to travel to Egypt and see these places. At one time, Giza, Saqqara, and the tombs of Ptahotep and his fellow wise elders and advisors teemed with visiting tour busses from around the world. The so-called “Arab Spring” disrupted this steady flood of human curiosity. White Americans have not returned. A sprinking of Europeans and Asians periodically dot the once-crowded ruins, with the balance of visitors being comprised of groups who have been coming to the Nile Valley in large numbers since the 1960s: African-Americans and others from the African Diaspora. 

African Genesis.jpg

Philadelphia's African Genesis Study Tour outside the "Great Pyramid" of Khufu, Giza Plateau

Our flight to Kemet included scores of members of one of these groups, the African Genesis collective from Philadelphia, a group that has been coming to the Nile Valley for nearly thirty years. This year, as in previous years, we take our meals in hotels alongside African Genesis and other groups led by African Americans such as Anthony Browder, Runoko Rashidi, Manu Ampim, James Small among many others. The local tour guides find many of these Africans more knowledgeable than themselves; in fact, the Howard group, led by Dr. Mario Beatty, has rendered local expertise unnecessary, itself a testament to the two century genealogy of contemporary study and instruction referred to by Dr. Carruthers in his 1999 ASCAC lecture, “Endurance/Resurrection: The Road to Life.”

That genealogy, to borrow a phrase from the late Malian scholar Hampate Ba, remains a living tradition, apprenticed from life to life in a fashion that Ptahhotep would no doubt recognize. It is passed from generation to generation, as Carruthers notes, by those who take their intellectual work on behalf of Black communities formed in cauldrons of modernity as articles of faith and responsibility and acts of (re)membering. Like many other life lessons, these sebaytmove along communities of shared blood and/or experience. 

As a part of Howard’s College of Arts and Sciences Freshman Seminar Program in 2015, Dr. Beatty placed Ta-Nehisi Coates’s series of essays to his son Samori (and, by extension, to an American nation consistently deaf and mute to the concerns of its African citizenry) in the context of the classical African explication of intergenerational sebayt. Coates visited Howard later that semester to discuss this now-famous set of letters/essays, Between the World and Me. His name literally means “Black Land” in Middle Egyptian. By replacing Coates’s form in the genealogy out of which, knowingly or unknowingly, it emerged, Beatty revealed and re-membered the African tradition, the world’s oldest. He noted that, as Ta Nehisi’s father, legendary Black Classic Press publisher, Baltimore Black Panther captain and Bibliophile Paul Coates did for him, Ta-Nehisi did for Samori, and African fathers and sons and mothers and daughters have done for millennia.

Ellington Fuller is one among a steady and growing number of next generation Africans being introduced to their similarly-seeking agemates, the apprentices directly in front of them, and the elders who have received the speeches of those who have heard. This collective transcends time and space, drawing instruction and inspiration from Ancestors like Imhotep, Ptahhotep and Kagemni from far antiquity viewed now through disrupted, disputed but also resilient and restorative intellectual genealogies. Our work is not work undertaken a form of exclusionary, elite academic practice. Rather, we seek to restore the intergenerational dialogue, on Africa and Africans’ own terms, so that we might speak to the world from rich perspectives that, if properly understood, can contribute to human transformation.

Us at Sphinx.jpg