Summer Study Abroad in Kemet 2018: Day One

"This writing was copied out anew by his majesty in the House of his father Ptah-South-of-his-Wall, for his majesty found it to be a work of the ancestors which was worm-eaten, so that it could not be understood from beginning to end. His majesty copied it anew so that it might become better than it had been before, in order that his name might endure and his monument last in the House of his father Ptah-South-of-his-Wall throughout eternity, as a work done by the son of Re, Shabaka, for his father Ptah-Tatenen, so that he might live forever."

--Preface to The Memphite Theology on the order of Shabaka, Per Uah of the 25th Kemetic Dynasty, 710 b.c.e.

"Cherish study, avoid the dance, so you'll become an excellent official. Do not yearn after outdoor pleasures, hunting and fishing; shun boomerang throwing and the chase. Write diligently by day; recite at night. Let your friends be the papyrus roll and the scribal palette; such work is sweeter than wine. Indeed writing, for one who knows it, is far better than all other professions, pleasanter than bread and beer, more delightful than clothes and perfumed ointments, more precious than a legacy in Kemet, than a tomb in the West."

--Neb-Maa-Re Nakht, Royal Scribe (Sesh Nesw), 20th Kemetic Dynasty, c. 1500 b.c.e.

The legendary W.E.B. DuBois was known for his passionate moderation. In bed daily by eleven p.m. A remarkably disciplined reader and writer who planned research agendas with daily tasks over years and kept to them with low tolerance for interruption. A literal human metronome of consistency and intellectual productivity.

In writing about the Reconstruction period in U.S. history, Dr. DuBois captured a strikingly similar combination of intellectual passion, consistency and productivity as he marked the determination of "an entire race" to go to school in the wake of the end of the U.S. Civil War. As Mary Bethune would remark before Congress in 1939, within several generations, a people who had been pressed into functional illiteracy in the reading and writing of the English language had produced generations of students who had mastered the language and set out to dismantle the system that had required their miseducation.

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Ms. Bethune and Dr. DuBois (pictured here in the famous 1936 photograph taken on the steps of Howard University's Carnegie Library Building with Adelaide Cromwell, Monroe Work, Charles Wesley, James Weldon Johnson, Alain Locke, Arturo Schomburg and Mordecai Wyatt Johnson, among others as they worked on the landmark Encyclopedia of the Negro) were only two among the ranks of pioneering scholar-educators who traced the institutional memory of the African quest for education in the United States.

Yesterday, nineteen Howard University students, faculty and staff as well as educators and students from Chicago and Houston departed on the latest Howard Summer Study Abroad in Kemet. The first of these study tours began in 2008, one year after the women and men of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilization and Trinity United Church of Christ mourned the transition of the legendary Asa G. Hilliard III [Nana Baffour Amankwatia II] in the Nile Valley.  A review of the work that led up to that initial and subsequent HU Study Abroad: Kemet journeys can be found here. This group extends direct intellectual genealogies that begin in classical Africa, extend throughout the African continent, were repurposed into weapons of resistance and survival during enslavement and colonialism, and serve as what Jacob Caruthers called "the deep well" of knowledge and experience that African thinkers and others search out to create (re)new(ed) human meaning.

At some point in the next two weeks, our group will, as our cohorts have done in previous years, in a line for line reading and translations of two of the most famous texts in Kemetic literature, the consideration of the origins of reality in the so-called Memphite Theology and a mediation on the field and functionof intellectual life as distinct from all other field of labor entitled The Instructions of Dua-Khety (more commonly known as The Satire of the Trades). In doing so, our students will open a deep and energized consideration of the fact that the African-American quest for education has its roots in the dawn of the human experience.

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Jazelle Hunt, HU Study Abroad Kemet 2009, Saqqara

At the center of Africana intellectual work is respect for the process of reading and writing and the determination to provide methods for collective learning. The notion of the group "learning community" has its origins in Kemet. From Kemetic sites of scholarly instruction (known as the "Per Ankh" or "House of Life") to evidence of scholarly achievement ranging from the step pyramid (shown here behind Jazelle Hunt) and the stone structures of Imhotep that enclose it through the great convenings of scholars trained in Arabic, Songhai and other scripts at the great centers of learning at Timbuktu and Jenne in the 16th and 17th centuries; straight through the rites of intergenerational learning in Western and Eastern Africa that inspired Lord Baden-Powell to return to England and found The Explorers (the model for the subsequent Boy and Girl Scouts); to the collective struggle of Africans to retain the high skills and crafts of their home societies and to learn enough of each other's languages and skills to survive and resist enslavement while ship-bound; through the genius of their descendants to inherit those cultural markers and to pour them into educational institutions called Abakua, Poro and Maroon or Mason, Order of Eastern Star and Mutual Aid and Relief Society. 

The Historically Black College and University has inherited these Maroon sensibilities and the traditions of communal, collective learning that they represent. In the U.S., schools began to convene in hush harbors and one room cabins, far different than the imposing stone structures we have borne witness to so far in Kemet. Yet some things have remained the same: the determination to right that which is wrong; to rebuild anew, better than before. To shape the future in ways that respect the contributions of the past in ways that do not deify the ancestors while listening to the wisdom that their experiences provide.

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HU Study Abroad Kemet, 2010, Tomb of Ptah Hotep


Tomorrow morning, we will begin our journey in Kemet's "Old Kingdom," traveling from Ptah Hotep's tomb to the pyramids of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure to Min Nefer (Memphis), ancient capital of classical antiquity's greatest nation, to Saqqara, the world's largest and oldest national cemetery. In my next entry, I hope to continue this discussion of how our collective efforts continue connects to the tone and tenor of Africana approaches to intellectual work.