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Race and History: Cheikh Anta Diop “Civilization or Barbarism” Essay

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Updated: Jul 8th, 2021

It is widely believed nowadays that Africa is the cradle of humankind. Many thousand years ago Homo sapiens developed there and started to migrate to other lands and continents. However, when it comes to the matter of human civilization, the popular idea is that Europe was the place where it originated. For many centuries, the White population dominated science and culture, which helped to strengthen this viewpoint while perceiving Africa as the land of barbaric tribes.

Nevertheless, modern anthropology offers another theory, which claims that black people used to have a developed civilization for centuries before the appearance of other races. This paper focuses on the work by Cheikh Anta Diop, who uses paleontological findings to support the Afrocentric idea that the Negroid race culturally dominated during the ancient times, which puts into great question some historical facts offered in books.

Paleontological Evidence

One of the ways to study ancient communities is to analyze the remains of their culture. In the first chapter of his book, Dr. Diop begins the discussion by claiming that the migration of black people can be confirmed by the traces of African Upper Paleolithic art across various countries (11). Thus, similar cave carvings were found in Libya, Egypt, Ethiopia, and other territories. All of them belong to the Upper Paleolithic period, which makes them the oldest type of art.

Another important point made in the chapter is that the first European was a Black human who had migrated from Africa. Dr. Diop mentions the Grimaldi man found during one of the archaeological works in Italy (13). It was not until 40000 years ago that racial differentiation began among people. Until then, Europe was inhabited by black people, who carried the African culture. Moreover, the same ethnic group moved to other parts of the world, including Asia as far as Siberia. This theory is proved by the numerous findings of human remains found on those territories. More specifically, the skulls found across Europe and Asia were identified as belonging to Negroid people of the discussed period.

As the climate changed and the boundaries of habitable land moved, there occurred a mutation in genes of some human groups, beginning the process of racial differentiation. Dr. Diop mentions that “the first White appeared only around 20000 years ago” (15), known today as the Cro-Magnon. It most likely happened due to the cold conditions that people had to survive in Europe. The Yellow race, according to Dr. Diop, appeared five thousand years later, with the Chancelade Man being its prototype (16). The question of the racial identity of cultural groups is rather important for various fields of science, whether it is history, anthropology, medicine, or other studies.

As the glacial zone changed, communities traveled further to the North. This event gave the start to the formation of the Scandinavian and German branches. The former migrated to Eastern Europe, creating the group of Slavs. Dr. Diop mentions other branches including the Celts, the Iberians, the Greeks, the Latins, and others (18). The African culture could have been dominant even in the times of the currently known civilizations like ancient Greece.

Ancient Civilization

If the Black race originating from Africa dominated in prehistory, there must be material evidence for this theory. Dr. Diop mentions that the findings in England, which belong to the Megalithic period, support the idea of a strong Negroid influence (19). For instance, Egyptians used to mine tin on the territory of England during the Bronze age. The author goes even further and claims that the ancient Saxon language developed from the African vocabulary (19). This unexpected theory sheds new light on the understanding of contemporary European culture.

The developed civilization based on the African culture existed around the Mediterranean and even further. Dr. Diop refers to the findings of M. Gimbutas, who claimed that societies in ancient Europe were “characterized by sedentary life, agriculture, a cult of the mother goddess” (19). This culture ceased to exist with the invasions of the Kurgans from the East, who enforced their nomad, patriarchal way of life. However, Dr. Diop argues with Gimbutas about the question of the Kurgan culture and the matriarchy. He notes that Crete, for instance, acquired writing from the Egyptian colonization and not from the invaders (Diop 21).

The issue of whether the ancient societies were matriarchal remains open as well. However, there is a proven existence of “Hellenic Black virgins and goddesses” (Diop 21). What seems evident is that the Kurgan invasions destroyed the peaceful agricultural community of Europe and started a new civilization.

Personal Response

The work of Cheikh Anta Diop gave me an unexpected viewpoint on the origins of European culture. What used to be attested as the findings of White people may have deep African roots. Of course, the theories of Dr. Diop rely on limited facts such as the few paleontological findings on the European territory. However, it may be valuable to understand, for example, that ancient Egyptians perceived themselves as black people. This explains how the famous and praised European civilization grew from the culture cultivated by African people for thousands of years even before the first White appeared.

Conclusion

Dr. Diop offers a theory of Black culture dominance during prehistoric times. He uses paleontological evidence to build his viewpoint and presents such facts as shapes of human skulls, cave art, and other material traces of Negroid representatives across Europe. The invasion of people that developed later in other parts of the world destroyed the peaceful African culture and set the base for what is nowadays known as the European civilization.

Work Cited

Diop, Cheikh Anta. Civilization or Barbarism: An Authentic Anthropology. Lawrence Hill Books, 1991.

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"Race and History: Cheikh Anta Diop "Civilization or Barbarism"." IvyPanda, 8 July 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/race-and-history-cheikh-anta-diop-civilization-or-barbarism/.

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IvyPanda. "Race and History: Cheikh Anta Diop "Civilization or Barbarism"." July 8, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/race-and-history-cheikh-anta-diop-civilization-or-barbarism/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Race and History: Cheikh Anta Diop "Civilization or Barbarism"." July 8, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/race-and-history-cheikh-anta-diop-civilization-or-barbarism/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Race and History: Cheikh Anta Diop "Civilization or Barbarism"'. 8 July.

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