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Remembering Cheikh Anta Diop: 8 quotes from his seminal works

Today we remember, and celebrate Cheikh Anta Diop, a pre-eminent Senegalese academic, anthropologist, physicist, politician and historian whose groundbreaking research and writing continues to inspire research on race, pre-colonial African culture and Black civilisation. Here’s our selection of 8 excerpts from Diop’s writings.

Cheikh Anta Diop (29 December 1923 – 7 February 1986) was a Senegalese historian, anthropologist, physicist, and politician who studied the human race’s origins and pre-colonial African culture.

Diop is known for various groundbreaking work, and he is the foremost proponent of the view that the ancient Egyptian civilisation was founded by Black Africans. He asserted through various writings that archaeological and anthropological evidence supported his proposition that Pharaohs were of Negroid origin, a position which was rejected by many scholars, but fervently supported by numerous other African academics.

Diop’s work laid the foundation for Afrocentric writing critiquing the history of Africa by debunking racist prejudices and theories, and his work continues to inspire research on race, pre-colonial African culture and Black civilisation. Diop’s work has been praised for invoking fundamental questions about the cultural bias inherent in anthropological and scientific research.

His book “The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality” published in 1974 received widespread attention. In the book, Diop argues that there is abundant archaeological and anthropological evidence, which supports the position that mankind and civilization started with black people, and that Ancient Egypt was largely Black African in race and culture during the early years of its civilization.

Diop’s writings have influenced black people around the world with regards to their racial identity, culture and heritage, and his work continues to inspire scholars.

Here’s our selection of 8 excerpts from Diop’s writing.

1. “European languages must not be considered diamonds displayed under a glass ball, dazzling us with their brilliance”

2. “The ancestors of the Blacks, who today live mainly in Black Africa, were the first to invent mathematics, astronomy, the calendar, sciences in general, arts, religion, agriculture, social organisation, medicine, writing, technique, architecture”

3. “Ancient Egypt was a Negro civilisation. The history of Black Africa will remain suspended in the air and cannot be written correctly until African historians dare to connect it with the history of Egypt. The African historian who evades the problem of Egypt is neither modest nor objective nor unruffled. He is ignorant, cowardly and neurotic. The ancient Egyptians were Negroes. The moral fruit of their civilisation is to be counted among the assets of the Black world.” Taken from The African Origin of Civilisation.

4. “In practice it is possible to determine directly the skin colour and hence the ethnic affiliations of the ancient Egyptians by microscopic analysis in the laboratory; I doubt if the sagacity of the researchers who have studied the question has overlooked the possibility”.

5. “Thus imperialism, like the prehistoric hunter, first killed the being spiritually and culturally, before trying to eliminate it physically. The negation of the history and intellectual accomplishments of Black Africans was cultural, mental murder, which preceded and paved the way for their genocide here and there in the world” –  Civilization or Barbarism: An Authentic Anthropology.

Cheikh Anta Diop University library building, showing additions, 2005. Photo: CC BY 2.5/MyriamLouviot

6. “When we say that the ancestors of the Blacks, who today live mainly in Black Africa, were the first to invent mathematics, astronomy, the calendar, sciences in general, arts, religion, agriculture, social organization, medicine, writing, technique, architecture; that they were the first to erect buildings out of 6 million tons of stone (the Great Pyramid) as architects and engineers—not simply as unskilled laborers; that they built the immense temple of Karnak, that forest of columns with its famed hypostyle hall large enough to hold Notre-Dame and its towers; that they sculpted the first colossal statues (Colossi of Memnon, etc.)—when we say all that we are merely expressing the plain unvarnished truth that no one today can refute by arguments worthy of the name.” ― Cheikh Anta Diop, The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality

7. “To overcome the tremendous obstacles in the way of the economic unification of Africa, decisive political actions are required in the first place. Political unification is a prerequisite. The rational organization of African economies cannot precede the political organization of Africa. The elaboration of a rational formula of economic organization must come after the creation of a federal political entity. It is only within the framework of such a geo-political entity that a rational economic development and cooperation can be inserted. The inverse leads to the type of results we have witnessed over the years.” ― Cheikh Anta Diop, Black Africa: The Economic and Cultural Basis for a Federated State

8. “Until now (1960, date of the first edition), the history of Black Africa has always been written with dates as dry as laundry lists, and no one has almost ever tried to find the key that unlocks the door to the intelligence, the understanding of African society”. – Preface: Precolonial Black Africa

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