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Dr. Wolassa L. Kumo
April 13, 2009
1. Introduction: The Kushites, the Nubians and the Ethiopians
Modern studies of ancient Egypt and Sudan often fail to make any distinction between the Kushitic people and the Nubians. Knowingly or unknowingly, most of these studies use the term Kush and Nubia interchangeably when they refer to the peoples that lived in the Southern part of the modern day Egypt and the Northern part of the present day Sudan. This is a stark misrepresentation of the identity and the history of these two great peoples that were the back bone of the culture and the civilisation of the ancient Sudan and of course Egypt itself.
The Kushitic people are the original settlers of the land in North East Africa that stretched from the present day Southern Egypt to Mount Kilimanjaro in Kenya. The majority of the ancient Kushitic peoples lived in the Northern part of the present day Sudan with ancient civilisation that rivalled ancient Egypt. The first known ancient Kushitic state was the kingdom of Kerma that appeared around 2600 BC that ruled all of Nubia and parts of Egypt. The Kushitic civilisation represents the first Great original African civilisation that was not simply the consequence of the Egyptian influence. Incidentally, both Pharoanic Egypt and Kush excreted significant influences on one another to the extent that the 25th Pharoanic Egyptian dynasty was purely Kushitic. The Kushitic people were the great builders of most of the Pyramids that are found in the south of Egypt and in the north of the present day Sudan.
It was this great Kushitic people that lived primarily in the northern part of the present day Sudan, that the ancient Greeks and Romans called the "Aithiopians" or ´Ethiopians´. The Greek historians Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus and Roman historian Strabo provided vivid historical evidences regarding the peoples of ancient Ethiopia or Kush. Herodotus (490-425BC), the first Greek historian also called the Father of History, reported what the Egyptian priests communicated to him as the history of their country, when he visited Egypt about 460 to 450 BC . The following is what Herodotus had to write: "I went as far as Elephantine, (the present day Aswan), to see what I could with my own eyes, but for the country still further south I had to be content with what I was told in answer to my questions. South of Elephantine the country is inhabited by Ethiopians. . . Beyond the island is a great lake, and round its shores live nomadic tribes of Ethiopians. After crossing the lake one comes again to the stream of the Nile, which flows into it . . . After forty days journey on land along the river, one takes another boat and in twelve days reaches a big city named Meroë, said to be the capital city of the Ethiopians. The inhabitants worship Zeus and Dionysus alone of the Gods, holding them in great honour".
"The Ethiopians … are said to be the tallest and handsomest men in the whole world. In their customs they differ greatly from the rest of mankind, and particularly in the way they choose their kings; for they find out the man who is the tallest of all the citizens, and of strength equal to his height, and appoint him to rule over them . . . The spies were told that most of them lived to be a hundred and twenty years old, while some even went beyond that age --- they ate boiled flesh, and had for their drink nothing but milk. Among these Ethiopians copper is of all metals the most scarce and valuable..."
Similarly, Diodorus Siculus, another Greek historian who travelled in Egypt around 60 BC whose travel probably took him as far south as the first Cataract of Nile, devoted an entire chapter of his world history, the Bibliotheke Historica, or Library of History (Book 3), to the Kushites ["Aithiopians"] of Meroe. He wrote about the story of their great piety, their high favor with the gods, and adds the fascinating legend that they were the first of all men created by the gods and were the founders of Egyptian civilization, invented writing, and given the Egyptians their religion and culture ; evidence that ancient Egypt was Kushitic and hence purely African.
Diodorus stated: "The Aithiopians [Ethiopians] say that the Egyptians are settlers from among themselves and that Osiris was the leader of the settlement. The customs of the Egyptians, they say, are for the most part Aithiopian, the settlers having preserved their old traditions. For to consider the kings gods, to pay great attention to funeral rites, and many other things, are Aithiopian practices, and also the style of their statues and the form of their writing are Aithiopian. Also the way the priestly colleges are organized is said to be the same in both nations. For all who have to do with the cult of the gods, they maintain, are [ritually] pure: the priests are shaved in the same way, they have the same robes and the type of scepter shaped like a plough, which also the kings have, who use tall pointed felt hats ending in a knob, with the snakes that they call the asp (aspis) coiled round them." 
"There are also numerous other Aithiopian tribes [i.e. besides those centered at Meroe]; some live along both sides of the river Nile and on the islands in the river, others dwell in the regions that border on Arabia [i.e. to the east], others again have settled in the interior of Libya [i.e. to the west]. The majority of these tribes, in particular those who live along the river, have black skin, snub-nosed faces, and curly hair" .
The majority of the modern day Ethiopians (Kushitic peoples) have left Sudan since the decline of the Meroitic Kush civilisation in the 4th century AD and began to live along with already existing smaller Kushitic groups through out North East Africa. The North East African Kushitic peoples live currently in Sudan (Beja, although some argue that the Bejas are Blemmyes), Eritrea (Saho and Afar), the present day Ethiopia (Sidama, Oromo, Afar, Agaw, Ogadeni Somalis, etc,), Somalia (most Somalis), and Kenya (Rendille and Sakuye).
Our Nubian brothers are equally ancient and glorious people but they are different from the Kushitic people. The Nubians were named after the ancient Egyptian word Nub, for ´gold´. The most common interpretation has it that the Nubians were living at the edge of the desert, and in areas where gold mines, like those of Wadi Allaki, attracted the interest of the early Pharaonic administration as a result of which the Egyptians called them the Nubians. And plenty of textual, epigraphic, pictorial and sculptural evidences to this people exist that support this and within Egyptian hieroglyphic texts several ancient Nubian words have been preserved .
According to  "Nubians were living among ancient Egyptians, but they were ostensible mostly in Upper Egypt. They also lived in the area of Kush, ´Ethiopia´, i.e. the present day northern Sudan. Modern scholars, having collected Nubian linguistic material even among the not yet deciphered Meroitic scriptures, are classifying ancient Nubian as Nilo-Saharan language, which means totally different from either the Semitic or the Khammitic languages, unrelated to both, the Ancient Egyptian and the Kushitic - Meroitic."
The modern day Nubians are believed to be strongly linked to the ancient Nubians. The modern day Nubians who speak either the dialect of the Nubian language or who trace their descent from these people live presently in Egypt and Sudan. The Egyptian Nubians are called Kanuz, while the Northern Sudanese Nubians who live from the second Nile Cataract to the Third are called Mahas and those in the South in the vicinity of Dongola, Sudan, are called Danagla. Although the Noba and the Kushites were separate language and culture groups they had probably coexisted in the region for centuries and after the decline of Kushitic Kingdom ate Meroe the Nubians had probably got the upper hand .
2. Sudan and Ethiopia
We have established that the ancient Ethiopia (Kush) was located in the present day Northern Sudan where we find today numerous pyramids built by these great people. The term Sudan, however, is confusing because it is not specific to the area that it depicts today. Historical evidences suggest that the term Sudan was derived from Arabic words ´Bilad-al-Sudan´, others use the term "Arad-Assudan" which were used by the ancient Arab travellers and writers to refer to the "Land of Blacks". Therefore, for the ancient Arabs in the Arabian Peninsula, all areas to the South of Egypt were known as the Land of Blacks or Sudan.
Accordingly, ancient African history refers to the areas lying from Horn of Africa (the present day Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia) in the eastern Coast of Africa stretching to Ghana, Guinea and Mali on the Western Coast of Africa. On such basis, ancient history divides the region into three divisions: Eastern Sudan, Central Sudan and Western Sudan .
Eastern Sudan referred to the present day Ethiopia and the present day Sudan while the area encompassing the broad expanse of savannah stretching between the Sahara Desert and the North and the tropical rain forest of the Guinea coast to the south and north of Ghana and Mali is said to be known as Western Sudan .
Yes. Africans are all Sudanese! The current artificial boundaries in Africa were determined by the Turkish and European colonizers. For instance, even during the European colonisation of the region, the name Sudan was used to demarcate countries ranging from the present day Sudan to Mali and Niger in the west. The present day Sudan was known as the British Sudan while Mali, Chad, Senegal and Niger were known as the French Sudan. However, as the present day Sudan got independence from the British earlier than the other countries, it was able to retain the name that once represented most of Africa.
3. The Napata-Meroitic Kush Civilization
After the Kerma Kingdom, Kush attained its greatest power and cultural energy between 1700 and 1500 BC during the Third Intermediate period in Egypt. During this period Egypt was occupied and dominated by the Asians called Hyksos. However, when the kings of the New Kingdom in Egypt, threw the Hyksos out of their country, they conquered northern Kush and brought it under the Egyptian rule.
However, when the New Egyptian Kingdom collapsed in 1000 BC, Kush again arose as a major power by conquering all of Nubia. The conquest of upper Nubia, which had been in the hands of the Egyptians since the fourth millennium, gave to Kush wealthy gold mines. Following the reassertion of Kushite independence in 1000 BC, the Kushites moved their capital city farther up the Nile to Napata. The Kushites by and large considered themselves to be Egyptians and the proper inheritors of the Pharoanic titles and tradition. They organized their society along Egyptian lines, assumed all the Egyptian royal titles, and their architecture and art was based on Egyptian architectural and artistic models. However, their pyramids were smaller and steeper than those of Egyptians .
The Kushites in turn invaded and conquered Egypt and formed the twenty-fifth Pharaonic dynasty in the eighth century BC. Kushitic Kings Kashata and Piye (or Piankhi) were the first two Kushitic Pharaohs at the helm of the 25th Egyptian dynasty. The third Kushitic pharaoh was King Taharqa. The 25th Egyptian Kushitic dynasty lasted for about one century and there were five Kushitic Pharaohs at its helm.
The Kushitic dynasty in Egypt came to an end with the Assyrian invasion of Egypt in 671 BC. The Assyrians, and later the Persians, forced the Kushites to retreat farther south. This retreat south eventually closed off much of the contact that the Kushites had with Egypt, the Middle East, and Europe. When Napata was conquered in 591, the Kushites moved their capital to Meroe right in the heart of the Kushite kingdom. Because of their relative isolation from the Egyptian world, the Meroitic Empire turned its attention to the sub-Saharan world. For most of its prosperous life, the Meroitic Empire served as the middle term in the trade of African goods to northern Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. While it still continued the cultural traditions of pharoanic Egypt, the Meroites developed newer forms of culture and art because of their isolation from the northern kingdoms .
The Kush kingdom in Meroe was the largest African empire before the Romans. Kush made coherent use of Egyptian images and writing and intermixed its own Meroitic scripts. Egyptian symbols were used creatively, as in the designs of pyramids, one of which received a row of stars painted around the base. It can be that a fundamental pre-existing structure of belief shared both in Kush and Egypt must have led to such swift and capable adoption, the more so because it occurred at several dates, in Napatan/Meroitic times and earlier .
The Kushite religion closely resembled Egyptian religion. It was polytheistic and contained all the major Egyptian gods. Amon was the principal god, but as in Egyptian religion, Meroitic religion involved regional gods which were served as principal gods in their region. There are some non-Egyptian gods, such as a lion warrior god, which the Meroites probably derived from southern African cultures, but these gods were few .
Apart from Egyptian hieroglyphics, the Meroitic writing system was the oldest in Africa. It was also in many ways superior to the Egyptian system. The people of Meroe reduced the multitude of hieroglyphic signs to 23 basic signs - an alphabet. Again, unlike the Egyptian system, this alphabet also included vowel sounds, a great improvement over the hieroglyphic system, as well as including a sign marking the division of words, an uncommon feature in ancient writing.
There are two kinds of Meroitic script: hieroglyphs, apparently adapted from Egypt's system, and the so-called "cursive" or demotic writing, which seems to be a distinctive Meroitic invention, though it may have been influenced by the Egyptian demotic.
The Kushitic Meroitic Empire thrived throughout the last half of the first millennium BC. The kingdom of Meroë began to fade as a power by the first or second century AD, sapped by the war with the Roman province of Egypt and the decline of its traditional industries. The Roman emperor Octavian conquered Egypt 30-28 BC leading to suicides of Cleopatra and Marc Antony ending the Egyptian sovereignty once and for all.
After three centuries of decline, the Kushitic Kingdom of Meroe was finally defeated by the Nuba people. Its commercial importance was replaced by Aksum to the east . Aksum was the capital of ancient Abyssinia which attained the height of its power at about mid 4th century AD, under the rule of king Ezana.
Part II will continue.
nn ms.i sA.w -- No one is born wise.