Of course if we choose to use a language comprehensible only to law and economics graduates it will be easy to prove that the masses need to have their life run for them. But if we speak in plain language, if we are not obsessed with a perverse determination to confuse the issues and exclude the people, then it will be clear that the masses comprehend all the finer points and every artifice. Resorting to technical language means you are determined to treat the masses as uninitiated. Such language is a poor front for the lecturer’s intent to deceive the people and leave them on the sidelines. Language’s endeavor to confuse is a mask behind which looms an even greater undertaking to dispossess. The intention is to strip the people of their possessions as well as their sovereignty. You can explain anything to the people provided you really want them to understand.
In February, #blackinasia wrote an essay, “Ancient Egyptian “Blackness” in the Graeco-Roman Imagination”, based on the ancient Egyptian race “controversy”, a long held debate that takes root from anti-black racism (Martin 300-306), that rejects any possibility of seeing ancient Egypt within an African context. This “controversy” has led ancient Egypt to be grouped under a near Eastern context, a European context in popular culture or a group of its own, entirely separate from the rest of African cultures (Martin 296). However, what usually goes largely ignored is the Afrocentric elements ancient Egyptians used in portraying themselves.
[image description: A model of a funerary boat from a tomb at Beni Hasan. 11th-12th Dynasty with figurines wearing Afro-like styles]
In #blackinasia’s essay on “blackness” in ancient Egyptian, he explains that the ancient Egyptians would more likely see themselves more as an African people than anything else through their cultural, linguistic, and biological background. #blackinasia starts off with explaining their ancestral homeland, the Land of Punt, which is located in modern-day Ethiopia and Eritrea. He then goes on to the biological similarities between the ancient Egyptians and Nubians (who are accepted as black Africans). Then onto how in ancient Egyptian art, Egyptians are depicted in brown and black hues. He later ends the essay with what is considered “blackness” through Graeco-Roman perceptions, listing more examples where Greek scholars imagined Egyptians within an African context.
[image description: a map of the continent of African with Egypt highlighted and label revealing it’s location]
I first would like to paraphrase Eglash and Odumosu (102) when I say that Africa does not have a homogenous culture in anyway, that is not to say that there a singular African identity, so instead I use the term “African context”. When I speak about an “African hair culture” it is to simplify a complex phenomena describing a family resemblance across multiple cultural streams.
As #blackinsasia mentions there are some cultural roots of ancient Egypt that better portrays them as an African people than ancient near eastern or European people. I believe there are actually multiple examples of how this is culturally true. However, for the sake of the theme for this blog, in this essay I argue that through close examination of the history of hair and hairstyles in ancient Egypt a pattern of similarities can be seen with African cultures and in fact that such cultural hair practices can only be indigenous to an African context.
[image description: a side-by-side comparison between a Himba child and Ramesses II as a child to show a cultural resemblance in which it is quite common for various African peoples to shave their infants’ head, sometimes leaving a tuft of hair. (Seiber and Herreman 56).]
The Hair Texture of Ancient Egyptians
[image description: an artistic depiction of Herodotus, known as the “father of history and travel writing.” Photo via The Telegraph)
The ancient Greek historian, Herodotus, describes the hair of the ancient Egyptians as woolly using the term (οὐλότριχες), ulotrichous which means woolly or crisp hair. The root word, οὐλό, also has been used by Greeks to also describe the hair of Ethiopians, or black Africans (Snowden 6). There is also Cleopatra’s attendant, Iras, who is described as being dark-skinned with woolly hair (Snowden 15).
[image description: A Fresco Scene of two grape farmers, two of which had thread-like lines for hair which possibly represents straight hair and the figure to the far right seems to be wearing afro-textured hair.]
Though enough mummies have been discovered to infer that some ancient Egyptians had straight hair, this piece of fact is usually used as an end-all debate by anti-black racists that deem it impossible for ancient Egyptians to be seen in an African context. What usually happens is that anti-black racists show that Egyptian mummies had straight hair and that supposedly that proves ancient Egyptians were closer to Arabs, Europeans, or any other people other than Africans. However, many of these denialists fail to explain why straight hair is apparently lacking in ancient Egyptian hairstyles. In fact, if we examine the history of ancient Egypt a trend of the indigenous people being woolly-haired becomes more evident especially in the Predynastic periods.
[image description: A scene from the Narmer Palette from the Naqada III period of two afro-haired men.]
Throughout ancient Egyptian history, including the Predynastic periods, there have been sufficient discoveries of combs with long teeth resembling African combs, suited for combing through and detangling coarse hair.
[image description: Ivory combs and hair pins from the Naqada period before the rise of Pharaohonic Egypt.]