The Pharaonization of Egyptians
Ankh em maat, meaning “living in maat” A PRIEST OF AKHENATEN The king was the personification of Maat, a word that we translate as “truth” or “justice,” but has an extended meaning of the proper cosmic order at the time of its establishment by the Creator. . . . There is in Akhenaten’s teaching a constant emphasis upon Maat . . . as is not found before or afterwards. CYRIL ALDRED, AKHENATEN: KING OF EGYPT In Ancient Egypt, a name did more than express one’s identity; it incorporated it, forming a profound element of it. STEPHEN QUIRKE, BRITISH EGYPTOLOGIST, WHO WERE THE PHARAOHS?
Unlike modern society, the ancient Egyptians recognized the true impor- tance of the name (Egyptian ren). Giving a name to a newborn was there- fore a sacred act for any Egyptian parent. Speaking or writing his/her ren gave “existence” to a person, both in life but also for eternity—so long as that name was perpetuated in eternal stone—to be read and uttered by de- vout descendants or a mere passerby. To chisel out or erase a name was to kill a person in the afterlife. To forget a name was to make it “non-existent” . . . to the Egyptian mind, the ren was as important as the soul because, through the continuing memory of that name, the being—or on a grander scale the civilization bearing that name—continued to exist beyond time. Today, the world refers to the long and narrow fertile strip running from the border of Sudan in the south to the shores of the Mediterranean in the north as Egypt. This name is universally accepted as being true and correct for this country. As for the people who inhabit it today, they are called not only Egyptians but also Arabs. It thus often comes as a surprise when one is told that these names are not original or even native to this country. The name Egypt was coined by Greek colonists in the fourth century CE, and it is a corruption of the name Koptos, itself a corruption of Gebtu, the name of an ancient area in the south of the country, probably existing as long ago as 3000 BCE. The name that was most commonly used by the ancient Egyptians themselves was Kemet. According to Egyptologists, this name means “the Black Land” and derives from the black alluvial soil that was deposited by the annual flooding of the Nile River. But others contest this explanation and propose that the name Kemet stems from the inhabitants themselves or, to be more precise, the color of their skin. It is highly likely that the original inhabitants of Egypt were dark- or black-skinned Africans, a fact that can be ascertained even today by the dark- skinned Nubian people who live in the southern part of the country. That Kemet may indeed mean “the Black Land,” or the land of the blacks, is also supported by recent discoveries of rock art found in caves in the remote moun- tain regions of Gilf Kebir and Jebel Uwainat in the Egyptian Sahara made by a prehistoric black-skinned populace.
The three phonetic hieroglyphic signs to write the name Kemet (K, M, T) were . These phonetic signs were then followed by the ideogram or de- terminative sign to denote a town, a city, or, in this case, the country itself: . Egyptologists tell us that the sign means “black” and represents the dark or black skin of a crocodile. But if so, then this sign should denote a black skin.” The name, therefore, would then read “Land of the Black- Skinned” or simply “Black Country.” These names tally with the notion that the earliest settlers of the Nile Valley were Negroid Africans who came from the Sa- hara around 5000 BCE. We are not suggesting, of course, that Egypt should now be called Kemet (although there are some who advocate that it should). What we do think, however, is that it is important to highlight this original name to remind modern Egyptians of their true ancestral origins and, more importantly, how perhaps the Egyptian soul came to be. Returning to the term Arab, this word has vague origins. Though, strictly speaking, the term should only denote the people who inhabit the Arabian Peninsula, today it is used to encompass most of the Middle East and the Levant. The Arab League, the Middle East’s equivalent of the United Nations, officially defines an Arab as “a person whose language is Arabic, who lives in an Arabic-speaking country, and who is in sympathy with the aspirations of the Arabic-speaking peoples.” Modern Egypt has an Arabic-speaking population of eighty-six million people, making it, by far, the most legitimate candidate if one goes by the Arab League’s definition—for being the quintessential Arab state. This perception is reflected in the official name modern Egypt has given itself: the Arab Republic of Egypt. Strictly speaking, however, defining Egyptians as “Arabs” and Egypt as an “Arab state” can only be historically correct after 642 CE, as we shall see in chapter 3. At this stage, let us just note that it is after 642 CE that the name of the country was changed to Misr. The terms Misr and Misrayin come from the Hebraic name Mizraim, found in the Bible and used for Egypt by people of the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula.
Foreign early civilizations and nations in the Middle East referred to the land of the pharaohs as Musri, Musur, or Misri. Even the biblical text per- sonifies this name by associating the Egyptian civilization with a legendary eponymous founder named Mizraim, the son of Ham and grandson of Noah (the Hebrew -im being a plural ending, meaning “tribe of” or “de- scendants of”). So the Semitic-speaking peoples and even some of the Indo-European nations farther north (such as the Hittites) knew Egypt as Musri, Misri, or Mizra. And from this came the classical Arabic (west Semitic) name Misr (referring to Egypt) and the more colloquial Arabic Masri (meaning “an Egyptian”). The names Misr or Masr are used both for the country itself and, confusingly, also for the modern city of Cairo, even though its official modern Arabic name is Al Kahira. Thus an Egyptian living in Cairo may claim to live at Misr, meaning the city of Cairo and not the country itself.
Let us clean the slate first before we begin the search for her soul.
“Imagine a world,” wrote anthropologist D. J. Cohen, “in which humans have lived for the overwhelming majority of our existence, a world without cities, settled villages, or even permanent residences, a world without farmed fields or crops.” Imagine now Egypt untouched by human hands. Imagine a lush and fertile green valley with a broad river gently flowing through it. Imagine it teeming with life, insanely beautiful and wild. Now imagine a tribe of black- skinned people entering this place, bringing with them domesticated cattle and goats. Exhausted, worn out from the long trek through the hot and arid desert, they gazed at this land first with incredulity, then with untold elation. Here, in this earthly paradise, armed with the knowledge they acquired from their forefa- thers during the thousands of years in the open savanna, they would settle. Here would begin the “Egyptian” civilization. We are, of course, navigating in the realm of our imagination. But this imaginative re-creation is based on prevalent research showing that the first settlers in Egypt were most likely black Africans coming from the Sahara, the latter once a fertile savanna with plenty of game to hunt and grazing land for cattle until a drastic climate change around 5000 BCE began to alter the Sahara into a desert, finally reducing it into a superarid, uninhabitable desolation. The same climatic change, however, had the opposite effect on the Nile Valley, changing the wild torrent of the river into a gentle flow and its fetid marshes and swamps into fertile land ideal for cattle grazing and growing crops. Anthro- pologists have called these early settlers from the Sahara the cattle people or the Megalithic people, because they are considered to be the first humans to domesticate wild bovines and also because of the megalithic structures they raised in the desert. We, however, will call them the Star People, a name befitting the ceremonial sites they left in the Sahara—stone circles, tombs, and megalithic structures having astronomical alignments to the sun and stars— which attest to their fascination and great reverence for the cosmos and the hope of an afterlife in it. It is they, the Star People, who almost certainly brought to “Egypt” its soul. Thanks to the precious cargo of knowledge these Saharan settlers brought into the Nile Valley with them astronomy, time keeping, husbandry, and perhaps even stone building within a few centuries of their arrival in the Nile Valley, the place began to develop and flourish and eventually became a country with the most enlightened and creative civilization the world has ever known: the country we now call Egypt. (Ref:THE SOUL OF ANCIENT EGYPT)