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Thursday, October 20, 2011
Comparing Egyptian and other African religious concepts..part 1.
The Ancient Egyptians were known to be a deeply pious and religious people. To them the gods were a vital aspect of everyday life. To better understand Egypt's religion and mythology I will try to break down her most important concepts and attributes. I will begin by posting an article that examines very basic attributes of Egyptian religion to other traditions shared by African people as noticed by the late E.A Wallis Budge..
Sir E.A. Wallis Budge's book Osiris; The Egyptian Religion of Resurrection gives one of the most detailed comparisons of African and Egyptian religion to be found anywhere.
Budge had always contended that the ancient Egyptians were African peoples to the core and this bothered many of his contemporary scholars who were advocating an Asiatic origin for ancient Egyptian civilization.
The bracketed bullet points below are some of the more striking links uncovered by Budge.
(*) The widespread belief in a single creator, immortality, transmigration of the soul and transubstantiation (partial residence of God in amulets).
(*) The Moon, rather than the sun, is associated with the Supreme God among the ancient Egyptians and among todays people living along the Nile, Congo and Niger. Budge notes that new moon festivals is found all over Africa and is commonly associated, as it was in ancient Egypt, with the remembrance, by kings and commoners, of their sins, and by prayers for protection from evil spirits. He cited examples such as the Mendi, Tshi (also known as the Oji tribe are a group of people living in Ghana), and Ilogo (Central Africa Republic) and various peoples in the Sudan and Tanganyika.
(*) The importance of the cow as the most sacred of animals is found in ancient Egypt and in many parts of Africa especially among the tribes living along the Nile and in the Great Lakes region. Of particular importance was the sacrifice of bulls at the funerals of the deceased. The sacrifice of two bulls at funerals is detailed in "The Opening of the Mouth."
The Egyptian rite involved offering the heart of one bull to the mouth of the deceased or to the statue of the deceased. The hide of the other bull was used to wrap the corpse. Both rituals were believed to impart the powers of the bull (which represented Osiris) to dead ancestors. Among many Nile peoples the hide is placed at the bottom of the grave.
(*) In Egypt, offerings were made to ancestors in the form of meals placed on a stone slabs in the ancestor's tomb. Budge's notes that stone slabs were used for the same purpose among the Buvuma islanders (Ruvuma and Soga tribes of the coast of Uganda). The offering of meals to ancestors in spiritual temples or houses is widely found through much of Africa and Budge cites examples among the Bakongo people (aka. the Kongo) who dwell along the Atlantic coast of Africa from Pointe-Noire, Congo (Brazzaville) to Luanda, Angola, the Sukuma people (aka. Basukuma, Wasukuma, Zukuma) live in small villages in the northern part of Tanzania, Makarakas (Southern Sudanese tribe), and in East and West African peoples.
(*) Deification of ancestor heros is common practice in much of Africa. Budge noted that Osiris in the form of Khenti-Amenti stands as an ancestor God of Egypt while Isis is the ancestor Goddess. He noted the uncanny resemblance between the widespread African practice of giving birth in the "bush" to a bas relief found at Philae. Among Africans, birth in the bush is done in solitude with the father and the shaman waiting in the comfortable distance until after the delivery. The bas relief at Philae shows Isis in a stylized papyrus swamp suckling Horus. The papyrus would thus stand for the "bush." Standing on either side of Isis is Amen-Ra, representing the African father, and Thoth representing the African shaman. Budge thought the symbol found under Isis could represent the placenta and blood associated with child birth. Interestingly, Budge cited a passage in which Isis speaks of her loneliness during labour, which mirrors the African tradition of giving child birth in solitude. Examples were given about tribes in Sudan (Nuba, Nuer, Dinka, Shilluk) and Uganda.
(*) Amulets were seen as partial residences for ancestral spirits in ancient Egypt and throughout Africa. Budge noted the "fetish" quality of amulets, often stressed by Western observers, is secondary to the importance of communion with the ancestors.
(*) The beetle and the frog are amulets of new life in both ancient Egypt and modern Africa.
(*) In pre-Dynasty Egypt, Budge gave evidence of the practice of consuming the bodies of slain enenmies. This also appears to have persisted, to some extent, even into the Dynasty period. Passages are cited relating how King Unas of Sakkara obtained supernatural powers through eating human flesh. The same story is repeated in the pyramid texts of Teta in the 6th Dynasty. The practice of consuming one's slain enemies and the consequent powers gained survived among some African peoples in Budge's time. However, Budge goes overboard in giving citations of cannibalism in medieval and modern Egypt and Africa. In most cases, such cannibalistic events were due to extreme hunger during famine or war.
(*) In ancient Egypt, slaves and others were put to death at the funerals of Kings and important people. Budge cited the same practice at the funerals of chiefs in Sudan, the Gold Coast, Benin, along the Niger and Congo. The resting of coffins on human heads in Sudan is linked to to a similar practice illustrated on the tomb of Seti I.
(*) The tall hats and horned crowns worn by African chiefs resemble the white crown and horned crowns worn by Osiris. Examples given among the Congo tribes of Bayanzi, Imbangela, Lomari, Lulongo-Maringo, Bangala, Ngombe (a.k.a. Poto), Alunda. Two ostrich feathers decorate the crown of Osiris. Also, these feathers were worn by various peoples of Africa.
(*) The plaited beard which was common in ancient Egyptian art were common among the Markakas, Mpungu (of Namibia), Fang, Alunda (of Congo) and Luba (of Central Africa), as well as other parts of Africa.
(*) The scalework on the body of Osiris is thought to be related to the body painting or tattooing found various African peoples particularly those in Sudan.
(*) Budge noted that both the modern Africans and ancient Egyptians practiced preservation of the dead body: "The Egyptians removed the intestines and brain, and embalmed it the body with great skill, and then swathed it in linen, and laid it in a coffin or sarcophagus. The modern African removes the more perishable part of the body by ways described in detail by the book, and dries or smokes the corpse very effectively. He also anoints with unguents, and wraps it up in much cloth, and then places it in a coffin or a bier." (p. 90)
(*) The mention of the jawbones of the deceased Unas, Re-stau amd enemies of Horus in Egyptian texts are explained by the African practice of removing and preserving the jawbones of kings, or using the jawbones of enemies as trophies. Specifically mentioned are the Sudani, Dahomey, Baganda, Ashante, and various peoples of Uganda.
(*) The Egyptian concept of the ka, meaning "double" has its counterpart throughout wide regions of Africa. Among the Tshi it is known as the kra or kla meaning "soul" and as doshi among the Bantu (in South Africa) which means literally "double" (as in the Egyptian). In both Egypt and the rest of Africa, the ka differs from the Western idea of "soul." The ancient Egyptians and the modern African had the idea of at least three types of "souls" inhabiting each person. The ka is an immaterial double of the physical body that persists after death. The ka though is distinct from the person, is a type of guardian spirit. The ka in both Africa and ancient Egypt must be cared for after a person dies or the ka itself will perish. Egyptians and Africans made images in which the ka dwelt and to these were offered meals and worship.
(*) The sahu or "spirit-body" arose in the "Other World" after one's death. Among the Tshi, the "shadowy person" that comes to live in the "Other World" after death is known as the Srahman. Similar ideas were cited among the West African tribes of Yoruba, Uvengwa and Baluba. Like the ba, the sahu could perish in certain circumstances.
(*) The Egyptians considered the shadow or khaibet as a type of "soul." Similar beliefs among the Nsism, Wanyamwesi, Nandi and busuko and in various parts of the Lower Niger, Congo, Southern Guinea and Mashonalandwere mentioned by Budge.
(*) The khu was the imperishable spirit and had its counterpart in the "dual soul" concept of West Africa. The belief in transmigration of the dual soul and shadow was common in Africa. Reincarnation was widely found among the people of the Niger Delta who made a practice of identifying which people in a community were the souls of persons deceased in earlier times. Among the Pygmies, Banza and West Mubangi the spirit was reincarnated in animal form and this type of belief was held by some segments of the ancient Egyptian population.
(*) Both modern Africans and ancient Egyptians took care to protect the buried body from contact with the earth, was seen as contaminating. The African burial usually consists of a deep pit which a niche is carved so that the body does not come into contact with the earth. The Egyptian tomb was also built in a pit with a sarcophagus taking the role of the niche. In some African burials the niche was sealed off with stones as with the Egyptian sarcophagus.
(*) The Egyptians, like modern Africans, saw the journey to the "Other World" after death as difficult. In both cases, rituals were performed to "open the way" for the deceased.
(*) The Egyptian concept of Duat found its counterpart in the African "God's Town" or "Njambi's Town."
(*) The concept of divine kingship linked ancient and modern cultures.
(*) Ancient Egypt and modern Africans both had priests/shamans adept in both "white" and "black" magic. Unlike the Hebrews or Mesopotamian priests, who usually eschewed magical practices, the Egyptian priest's schooling involved learning innumerable magical incantations and potions.
(*) The use of "black magic" by Egyptian priests often resembled practices common in voodoo. These included the making of dolls in the image of specific persons. These wax dolls could be cut and slashed to inflict pain on those persons or burnt to inflict death. In one passage, a wax crocodile was fashioned that turned into the real thing in order to attack the intended victim.
(*) Budge noted that spitting had a religious meaning among ancient Egyptians. He found similar beliefs among the Kordofan, Dyur, Barotze (Zambezi), Nandi, Suk, Kytch and Masa.
(*) Budge mentions that the Egyptians commonly made figures of steatopygous women. He mentions mentions specifically the dolls and representations at the 4th Egyptian room in the British museum. He compares these with the figures of the steatopygous queen and the princess of Punt.
(*) Budge noted that African cultures, including Egypt, often worship the snake and crocodile. The symbolism of serpent uraeus is specially noted.
(*) The use of multiple "mighty names" among ancient Egyptians was similar to the use of "strong names" among African peoples.