Excerpts from:

MDW NTR: DIVINE SPEECH (A historiographical Reflection of African Deep Thought From The Time Of Pharaohs To The Present)

By Jacob H. Carruthers

From the Conclusion of Chapter 1: The Instructions of Part II: Good Speech

Let us now summarize the wisdom of the Kemites concerning governance. First of all, speaking and listening to speaking constitute the vehicles by which wisdom and truth are transmitted. The ancestors transmitted their doings through what they told the elders who in turn told their children who repeated the sayings to their children as generation followed generation. This traditional wisdom and truth have withstood the test of time, because these sayings are sufficient guides for directing the deeds of all the people of the country, especially the officials. Education in this sense is synonymous with governance, both of which have as their objective the attainment and maintenance of Maat (Trough of Justice).

The Instructions of Ptahhotep contained a collection of maxims which instructed the youth in the correct values, attitudes, and modes of behavior suited for those who would become the civil servants from the office of prime minister down. Indeed, in all probability, the future pharaoh also received this education alongside some of the children from various ranks including the poorest. Although the Meyukare text states that the Pharaoh is born wise, this is a trope signifying that the pharaohship is wise because of its inherent resources, its advisors, and the records of officeholders. These students were taught what was expected of a good official. A good official was wise and knowledgeable about the country and the people. He was advised to listen and learn from people in all walks of life, especially the so-called uneducated. He understood that listening was the major source of acquiring knowledge and wisdom. About all, he understood that Maat (Truth and Justice) was the foundation of all existence and that it must be adhered to in all actions.

In relationship to his supervisors and persons of higher rank, the civil servant was always to show respect and trustworthiness. He was to carry out his orders with courtesy and discipline and give advice when asked, thus gently teaching his supervisor. He was to avoid showing-off, pushiness, and playing one superior off against another. He was also supposed to shun gossip and ridicule.. In relationship to his peers and intimate associates, the official was to show friendship, loyalty, and generosity. One was to respect wealth but not dote on it. Wealth primarily functioned to enable one to be generous. One should not boast of success, nor belittle those who are not so successful.. The implicit wisdom was that one had to be a good kinsman, friend, and neighbor before one could be a good official.

In relationship to the general population or the folk, the public servant was always to demonstrate a scrupulous attachment to justice and charity. One's speech should be gentle and encouraging. One was to listen patiently and indulgently even when folk are inarticulate and emotional in delivering their complaints. One should strive to make one's constituents secure and satisfied. One should avoid corruption and, in general. Serve as a model for the masses and instruct with virtue. As was indicated above, the general character of governance is educational. The good public official is a man of Maat in the sense of Balance. He is cool in the face of hotheaded, vicious behavior. He is a self-disciplined person who speaks wisely because he speaks only when he has something worth saying.. Otherwise, he is silent. Thus listening, showing respect to others and demonstrating discipline at the same time. In other works, a good person makes a good official.

The Instruction of Ptahhotep thus reinforced the traditional concept of governance. In a well-ordered society, the function of governance was to maintain that order and embellish it. The Instruction of Meryukare was extending the explanation to cover factual situations experienced during a time of trouble. The text asserts that it has given all the laws of pharaohship so that the future pharaoh may instruct and raise up the young. The classical statement as revised by the Shabaka Text had begun with a mythical division of the country into two lands only to be reunited under tie aegis of legitimate rule. Thus, the assumption of unity was unquestioned during the Old Kingdom. The restatement in Meryukare begins with a discussion of partisanism and rebellion which must be efficiently and awesomely destroyed. Such an act of force seems to contradict the wisdom that governance is education. But as we have seen, this concern with the suppression of partisanism is like the mythical division of the country between Hor and Setekh (Horus and Set) which is rescinded prior to the primordial unity. This is the substitution of factual division for mythical division.

The Hor-Setekh conflict is treated in a different context in Chapter 2 of Part I. For clarity, let us repeat the Hor, the eldest of Worsir (Osiris), and Aset (Isis), his sister-wife and designated heir to the throne, is challenged by his uncle (Worsirs brother), Setekh, who bases his challenge on the matriarchal principle and the argument of superior competence, The very African context by the two claimants is finally decided in favor of Hor who represents legitimacy of Right and against Setekh who represents effectiveness or Might. The subsequent union of Hor and Setekh indicates that kingship contains both principles but that right always has precedence over might.

But once actual disunity occurs, wisdom itself is disunited. The wisdom that governance is education is challenged by the wisdom that governance requires might of force. But as expressed the in the Shabaka Text, the problem is to be brought before the council or as in the myth, before the Nine Netchers or the representatives of the people. Even when force must be used, it is used in the context of litigation and openness, thus giving to the act of force, legitimacy. This teaches the seditionist that he should have brought his complaint before the court as did Setekh, The lesson anticipates the conclusion of the Hor-Setekh conflict which is to subordinate might over right. The negative situation produced by the treat of partisanism is brought to a just conclusion by putting forth a theory of condign punishment and admonishing the ruler to maintain good nature even in the face of adversity. Once the conflict in wisdom has been resolved and the unity of wisdom restored, the Instruction follows the pattern established in Ptahhotep and begins again with a statement on the virtue of speech because words are more powerful than fighting and speech is the prime instrument of governance.

The Instruction goes on to confirm that wisdom which is received through speech is a gift of the ancestors just as governmental authority is the heritage from the ancestors of Hor. The text also teaches that government must be benevolent, ruling more by reward and promotion then punishment. This restatement is rounded out by a command to Do Right which is the cornerstone of governance. Maat is commanded by God. Meryukare then applies the wisdom to the actual contemporary civil war between two de facto regimes, each ruling over a division of the country. The laws of civil war are different from the rules governing foreign wars because of historical, national relations and because of the bonds of kinship and the common sacred sites throughout the country. The Instruction concludes with a very lengthy but poetical restatement of the divine creation of the cosmic and social order which reconfirms and renews the traditional statement found on the Shabaka Stone.

What is the relevance of this research for African people today? This essay has produced a partial restoration of the African worldview as it applies to the vital function of governance. This worldview should be the wisdom that leads African people, as we attempt to rebuild our societies based of the restoration of Maat, to replace the disorder that pervades our lands and peoples as our leaders still seek the political kingdom in vain!

From the Afterword


The question which confronts us now is whether African thought has any future and if so in what sense. It is now clear that African thought has contributed indispensable, major ideas, and concepts to the three major thought systems of the Western World, i.e., Greco-European philosophy, Modern Western science, and Judeo-Christian Islamic Theology. This influence was acknowledge by such Indo-European intellectual heroes as Herodotus; Plato; Aristotle; Francis Bacon; Isaac Newton; Abraham son of Terah; Joseph, son of Jacob; and Moses of the House of Levi, the Hebrew prophet par excellence.

African thought also produced the great civilizations and cultures of Africa. This includes Kemet, Kush, Axum, Ghana, Mali, Songhai, Zimbabwe, and several other extensive civilizations. It also includes remarkable cultures that represent an advance stage of society which requires no formal governmental structure and yet in which millions of human beings live together in relative peace, with profound theological wisdom (see the discussion of the Dinkas in Chapter 3, Part I). These cultures guided and protected millions of Africans for hundreds of years and assimilated most foreign intruders as well as cultural intrusions. It was only in the modern era that these cultures were virtually arrested due to the most aggressive campaign of oppression in history.

Still it was the good old African thought that provided the foundation for the new nationalism that has impelled African peoples toward liberation. The preservation of that spirit inspired the unceasing resistance movements on the Continent and sustained the Free and independent communities of the diaspora. In other cases, where there was severe excommunication of Africans through Western education of other forms of cultural genocide, the quest for the African cultural connection by thinkers and leaders of vision laid the foundation for our project of restoration. The project has provided the essential framework for our liberation movements. (Unfortunately many shallow leaders used the appeal to the wisdom and heritage of Africa to get themselves posotions of authority and command in the new indirect system of European dimination and then turned against the heritage.) Thus, African thought has enabled us to regain our self-confidence and self-respect. We have retaken our fame.

African thought has performed one other great deed. It has esposed the true bases of European thought. This includes not only what it borrowed but also what it did not get from Africans. The exposé clarifies the crises of modern thought from European theology, philosophy and science, as we address the question raised earlier.

Diops Perspectives for a New Philosophy
In the conclusion to the last chapter of his ultimate work, Diop addresses the Western Malaise (Diop 1991, 361). In this regard he distinguishes two components. The first, individualistic pessimism and solitude, he believes can be transformed through African thought with its warmth. The other, evidentially a more complex problem for Diop, is of a metaphysical nature and is a consequence of scientific progress (Diop 199, 362). This metaphysical malaise that characterizes the whole of Modern Western Thought has been brought about by the discovery of spatio-temporal infinity during the Renaissance and the decline of religious faith (Diop 1991, 362). Within this historic process, the destruction of classical physical theory, due to the challenges of quantum mechanics, molecular biology, microphysics, astrophysics, nuclear physics, and parapsychology, finally revealed the depth of the problem.

While Professor Diops discussion of the significant moments of this scientific debate reveals another facet of his genius, the more naive understanding allows us to fit the problem into the fundamental worldview of alienation. Is not this crisis expected? Did not machiavellianism overthrow theology? In other words, revolutions, including scientific ones, are the direct outcome of estrangement. This is the argument I attempted to put forth more than twenty years ago in Science and Oppression.

I agree with Professor Diop that we should not plead for a petrified African psychological nature. But we must be aware that the African mode of thought would not have, on its own course, encountered the problems of the Western malaise. Nor would Africa on its own have produced the magical technology with which the WESTERNERS have dazzled and delighted the world over the last four hundred years, one might retort. But who can say the world is absolutely better off with this scientific progress than it would have been with out it? Anyway, twentieth century technology is here and Africans like everyone else want to benefit from it without its negative side-effects. The question then is whether modern Western technological science can be reconciled with the tradition of African Deep Thought? If not, which should prevail?

The second question is the easier to answer. Western scientific thought as it confronts us today, even with the scars from its internal warfare, is so much a part of the fabric of historical Western philosophy in general that it is by definition the death-knell of African culture. Therefore, if its technological by-product cannot be transferred to another tradition of Deep Thought, then its triumph means the cultural genocide of African peoples who will then accelerate the process of biological extinction which some race have succumbed to the modern era. Therefore, let us not even entertain the suicidal thought offered by Claude McKay and E. Franklin Frazier: If We Should Die&. (I do not mean to detract from the heroic context of the great Jamaican author Claude McKay's poem, If We Must Die, which was a rallying call for Africans in the diaspora to fight back against the lynching mania in the United States during the violent white supremacist attacks of the 1920s. Frazier at the end of the essay discussed in Chapter 1 put the idea in a more intellectual context. My argument is, let us fight back and prophesy not our deaths but rather our living victory.)

The first question concerning the reconciliation of Western technology with African Deep Thought is more complex and deserves a full scale dialogue among African peoples in all walks of life and especially conscious African thinkers. In the first place, African thought which emerges from Good Speech in quest of Divine Speech is ensconced in Maat which requires balance, propriety, and limit, especially including a limit to the quest for human knowledge. Thus in the African imagination Faust could never win. The story of Setne Kham was, Setne and Naneferkaptah, brings the point home (Lichtheim 1980), In the story the protagonist, through sheer and wanton disregard for the Divine command and the advice of the wise, obtains the forbidden book of Djehewty. The book contained two formulas. The first when recited enables the reciter to read the sky, the earth, the world of tomorrow, the mountains and the waters&[and] reptiles are saying&[and] see the fish at the bottom of the sea. The second formula when recited enables one to see the Divinity Re &appearing in the sky with his Nine Divine Ones, and the Moon in its form of rising (Lichtheim 1980,129). What does one do with such knowledge? The story illustrates the folly of human quest for omniscience. In the end, the protagonist took the book back to its hiding place where it was to always remain.

When Maulana Karenga in his latest work, The Book of Coming Forth by Day, echoes Diops point about the importance of the ecological issue, i.e., saving the environment, he speaks to the most obvious fault of the Western scientific ambitionthe by-product of a technology with limit and conscience. This result is an outgrowth of the science of oppression.

Here we must be very careful and not accuse the techniques themselves of the crime. Conceivably a technique may be used by different individuals with totally different objectives. Skillfully cutting down a tree with a sharp ax is a technique that can be used by a man who first prays over the destructive aspect of his project and then chops down the tree to provide fuel for his homestead. The same technique may be used by another man who wants to demonstrate to a admirer how powerful he is. Unquestionably, some techniques conceivably are so dangerous that no result could excuse their use; the use of nuclear weapons border on this. The ends do not necessarily justify the means. Some techniques need to be buried.

It is therefore imperative that we heed the one point of consensus between Diop and his critics, the authentic African philosophers. Thus both insist that African deep thinkers must develop a science; such a science must first of all address the question of the limit of human knowledge, i.e., the epistemological question. By returning to the Divine Conversation which commands Good Speech, African thinkers can begin to provide some timely leadership for the 21st century. Good speech is always conditioned by the factual world, i.e., the world of experience. That is the meaning of the Kemetic command: speak truth and do truth; they are synonymous. In this is the essence of course and effect.

Francis Bacon articulates the beginning of the modern scientific project as the replacement of the concept of science as a body of knowledge with the idea that it is a method of inquiry whereby verifiable truth can be achieved. The idea that knowing is a process had been discovered by the ancient Africans at the dawn of what we now call history. The process was Good Speech whose practice will always lead to the highest level of truth that humanity is capable of achieving. But as Ptahhotep put it:

The limits of art are never achieved.
The skills of the artist are never perfected.

Jacob H. Carruthers received his Ph.D. from the University of Colorado and is currently on the faculty of Northeastern Illinois University’s Center for Inner City Studies in Chicago. He is a founding member of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations (ASCAC) and Director of the Kemetic Institute. He is the author The Irritated Genie: An Essay on the Haitian Revolution.
Works Cited
1. Diop, Cheikh Anta. 1991. Civilization of Barbarism: An Authentic Anthropology. New York: Lawrence Hill Books.
2. Lichtheim, Miriam. 1980. Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol. III: The Late Period. Berkeley: University of California Press.
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