Cheikh Anta Diop
Diop, Cheikh Anta 1923–1986
Cheikh Anta Diop 1923–1986
Natural scientist, historian, writer
“The return to Egypt in all domains is the necessary condition for reconciling African civilizations with history, in order to be able to construct a body of modern human sciences, in order to renovate African culture,” the late Senegalese historian Cheikh Anta Diop proposed in his last work, Civilisation ou barbarie: anthropologie sans complaisance (translated as Civilization or Barbarism: An Authentic Anthropology ). One of twentieth-century Africa’s most influential scholars, Diop sought to prove not only that ancient Egyptians were descendants of black Africans—that Egypt was a black society—but that the cultural achievements of that society predated and directly influenced the cultures of Greece and Rome, and consequently, modern Western civilization. Penetrating and controversial, Diop’s theories also challenge the nineteenth-century notion that ancient African cultures were more depraved and uncivilized than their counterparts. His point, however, was not to suggest the overall supremacy of ancient Egypt, only its primacy in the world’s cultural history and its rightful connection to Africa’s cultural history.
The impetus behind Diop’s lifelong goal of unmasking an indigenous, united black African culture can be traced to the cultural legacy of his birthplace. He was born on December 23,1923, in Diourbel, Senegal, a community with a fertile intellectual tradition that had produced many Muslim scholars and griots— oral tribal historians. After receiving his baccalaureate in Senegal, Diop, already conceptualizing his African cultural unity theories, pursued doctoral studies at the Université de Paris. At the university, however, Diop met resistance; his dissertation, presented in 1954, was rejected. Undeterred, Diop published his thesis the following year as Nations nègres et culture (“Black Nations and Culture”). It was not until 1960, however, that Diop—backed with a team of sociologists, anthropologists, and historians who supported his findings—was able to obtain his doctorate.
In Nations nègres et culture Diop displaced contemporary theories on the founding of ancient Egypt by postulating that Egypt was culturally and historically related to other African nations, distinct from Europe and Asia. He continued to advocate this theory throughout his career, expanding and refining it in his subsequent major works, including 1967’s Antériorité des civilisations nègres (portions of which were translated in The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality ) and 1981’s Civilisation ou barbarie
Name pronounced “Shek An-ta Dee-op ” born December 23, 1923, in Diourbel, Senegal; died February 7, 1986, in Dakar, Senegal. Education: Université de Paris, Litt.D., 1960.
Professor of Egyptology, University of Dakar, Senegal, 1961-86; founder and director, Radiocarbon Laboratory (first carbon-14 dating laboratory in Africa), Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noire, University of Dakar; member of International Scientific Committee for the Drafting of a General History of Africa, United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 1971-86; writer. Founder of two political parties in Senegal, Bloc des Masses Sénégalaises, 1961, and Front National Sénégalais, 1964; both parties subsequently outlawed by the ruling government.
Selected awards: Honored, with W. E. B. Du Bois, as a scholar “who had exerted the greatest influence on African people in the twentieth century,” First World Black Festival of Arts and Culture, Dakar, Senegal, 1966.
(revised and translated in 1991 as Civilization or Barbarism ). Diop argued for a black, African-based Egypt on three major points: the physical anthropology of ancient Egyptians, the nature of Egyptian race according to reports by classical writers, and the linguistic affinity of the language of ancient Egypt with Wolof, a Senegalese dialect.
Diop recognized that anthropological research in the physiology of ancient Egyptians did not provide definitive proof that they were black, but the evidence unearthed in the process did allow sound extrapolation. “Although the conclusions of these anthropological studies stop short of the full truth, they still speak unanimously of the existence of a Negro race from the most distant ages of prehistory down to the dynastic period [approximately 3000 B.C.],” Diop wrote in a chapter he contributed to volume two of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) eight-volume General History of Africa. He emphasized studies that, in examining the skulls from the pre-dynastic epoch, showed a greater percentage of black characteristics than any other type. From this information, Diop reasoned that a black race existed in Egypt at that time and did not migrate at a later stage as some previous theories have suggested.
To provide additional proof for his theory about the nature of the Egyptian population, Diop cited recognized paleoanthropological theories on the origin and subsequent racial differentiation of humans. He noted that eminent British paleontologist Dr. Louis Leakey hypothesized that humankind originated near East Africa’s Great Lakes region; to this belief, Diop applied Gloger’s Law, which states that warm-blooded animals in a hot and humid climate are pigmented. The result, he stated in the General History of Africa, was that the earliest humans, appearing around 150,000 B.C., “were ethnically homogeneous and Negroid.” Subsequent movement of this race, he maintained, was through the Sahara and the Nile Valley, where the basin in what is now Egypt was peopled.
In approximately 40,000 B.C., black homo sapiens — Grimaldi Man—migrated to the European continent, differentiating over a 20,000-year span into Cro-Magnon Man, the first “white” race of humans. The Nile Valley “was necessarily populated solely by Blacks from the origin of humanity up to the appearances of the other races (20,000 to 15,000 years ago),” Diop wrote in Civilization or Barbarism. “Prior to some infiltrations at the end of the fourth millennium, Whites were absent from Egypt, and it practically remained that way until 1300 B.C.”
For further evidence, Diop focused on both how the ancient Egyptians represented themselves in their art and how they were represented in the literature of other cultures, namely classical Greek and Latin. “The images of men of the proto-historic [prehistoric] and of the dynastic period in no way square with the idea of the Egyptian race popular with Western anthropologists,” Diop stated in the General History of Africa. “Wherever the autochthonous [native] racial type is represented with any degree of clearness, it is evidently Negroid.” As an example Diop cited the generic table of the races represented in the tomb of Egyptian King Ramses III from the twelfth century B.C., which he felt showed Egyptians as black. “In fact,” Diop postulated in Civilization or Barbarism, “The Egyptian artist does not hesitate to represent the generic type of the Egyptian as a typical Black.” Diop concludes that the Egyptians held themselves as directly related to other black Africans—there was no ethnic difference.
Diop believed representatives from contemporary cultures viewed the ancient Egyptians in the same manner. He cited in particular the fifth century B.C. Greek historian Herodotus, who toured Egypt during his travels. In the General History of Africa, Diop quoted Herodotus on the appearance of Egyptians and their cultural ties to other Africans: “They have black skins and kinky hair and... alone among mankind the Egyptians and the Ethiopians have practiced circumcision since time immemorial.”
Diop tried to illustrate the strength of the cultural ties between ancient Egypt and its African neighbors—briefly alluded to by Herodotus and other classical authors of antiquity—by comparing the Egyptian language of the pharaonic epoch with Wolof, a Senegalese language spoken in western Africa near the Atlantic Ocean. “The kinship between ancient Egyptian and the languages of Africa,” Diop wrote in the General History of Africa, “is not a hypothetical but a demonstrable fact which it is impossible for modern scholarship to thrust aside.” He believed the kinship to be genealogical, and he provided examples: In ancient Egyptian “kef” means “to grasp, to take a strip (of something)”; in Wolof it means “to seize a prey.” “Feh” means “go away” in ancient Egyptian; in Wolof it means “to rush off.” To further show the correspondence between the two languages, Diop also examined verb forms, demonstratives, and phonemes. The results, he believed, showed little difference between the two.
Much of anthropology is theoretical in nature, and its community of scholars are often not in complete agreement, even on the meaning of what appears to be tangible evidence. Gamal Mokhtar, an Egyptian specialist in archaeology and editor of volume two of the General History of Africa, differed with Diop’s claim of the homogeneity of the ancient Egyptian populace. He wrote in the volume’s introduction, “The traditional criteria applied by physical anthropologists—facial index, length of limbs, etc.—are no longer accepted by everyone today. Nevertheless, it is highly doubtful whether the inhabitants who introduced civilization into the Nile Valley ever belonged to one single, pure race. The very history of the peopling of the valley refutes such a possibility.”
One area of Diop’s theories that has drawn more intense skepticism and criticism is his belief that ancient Egypt not only influenced other cultures but was also responsible for achievements wrongly ascribed to those cultures it directly influenced. “Most of the ideas we call foreign are oftentimes nothing but mixed up, reversed, modified, elaborated images of the creations of our African ancestors, such as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, dialectics, the theory of being, the exact sciences, arithmetic, geometry, mechanical engineering, astronomy, medicine, literature (novel, poetry, drama), architecture, the arts, etc.,” Diop put forth in Civilization or Barbarism. He argued specifically that Aristotelian metaphysics, the Pythagorean theorem, the concept of pi, Platonic cosmogony, and other commonly believed Greek creations actually were developed in ancient Egypt. “Consequently, no thought, no ideology is, in essence, foreign to Africa, which was their birthplace,” he wrote.
“Few anthropological problems have given rise to so much impassioned discussion,” Mokhtar noted. Indeed, the debate continues, and the work and theories of Diop, whether universally accepted, bring the question of Egypt’s cultural legacy—and with it, Africa’s—to the fore. More than any other twentieth-century scholar, Diop tried to give people of African origin a cultural identity, something he believed could act as a force of cohesion, empowering and enriching not only certain groups but an entire continent and, consequently, the world.
During his lifetime, Diop gained recognition as the leading black Egyptologist, linguist, anthropologist, scientist, and historian of the modern era. Despite the controversy surrounding his theories, Diop’s desire to promote unity among Africans has provided inspiration for others to study and elaborate on his work. “The rediscovery of the true past of the African peoples,” he declared in the General History of Africa, “should not be a divisive factor, but should contribute to uniting them, each and all, binding them together from the north to the south of the continent so as to enable them to carry out together a new historical mission for the greater good of mankind.”
Nations nègres et culture, Présence Africaine, 1954, partial translation by Mercer Cook published in The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality, Lawrence Hill, 1974.
L’unité culturelle de l’Afrique noire: domaines du patriarcat et du matriarcat dans l’antiqué classique, Présence Africaine, 1959, translation published as The Cultural Unity of Negro Africa: The Domains of Patriarchy and of Matriarchy in Classical Antiquity, Présence Africaine, 1962, translation by John Henrik Clarke published as The Cultural Unity of Black Africa: The Domains of Patriarchy and of Matriarchy in Classical Antiquity, Third World Press, 1978.
Les fondements culturels, techniques et industriels d’un futur état fédéral d’Afrique noire, Présence Africaine, 1960, revised edition published as Les Fondements economiques et culturels d’un etat federal d’Afrique noire, Présence Africaine, 1974, translation by Harold Salemson published as Black Africa: The Economic and Cultural Basis for a Federated State, Lawrence Hill, 1978, revised with an interview by Carlos Moore, 1987.
L’Afrique Noire précoloniale: Etude comparée des systèmes politiques et sociaux de l’Europe et de l’Afrique noire, de l’antiquité a la formation des états modernes, Présence Africaine, 1960, translation published as Precolonial Black Africa: A Comparative Study of the Political and Social Systems of Europe and Black Africa, From Antiquity to the Formation of Modern States, Lawrence Hill, 1986.
Antériorité des civilisations nègres, Présence Africaine, 1967, partial translation by Cook published in The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality, Lawrence Hill, 1974.
L’antiquité africaine par l’image, Nouvelles Editions Africaines, 1976.
Civilisation ou barbarie: anthropologie sans complaisance, Présence Africaine, 1981, translation by Yaa-Lengi Meema Ngemi published as Civilization or Barbarism: An Authentic Anthropology, edited by Harold J. Salemson and Marjolijn de Jager, Lawrence Hill, 1991.
Cheikh Anta Diop, an African Scientist: An Axiomatic Overview of His Teachings and Thoughts, ECA Associates, 1984.
Nouvelles recherches sur l’égyptien ancien et les langues négro-africaines modernes: compléments à Parenté génétique de l’égyptien pharaonique et des langues négro-africaines, Présence Africaine, 1988.
Contributor to General History of Africa, eight volumes, UNESCO.
Bernal, Martin, Black Athena, Volumes 1 and 2, Rutgers University Press, 1987-91.
Diop, Cheikh Anta, Civilization or Barbarism: An Authentic Anthropology, translated from the French by Yaa-Lengi Meema Ngemi, edited by Harold J. Salemson and Marjolijn de Jager, Lawrence Hill, 1991.
Mokhtar, Gamal, editor, General History of Africa, Volume 2: Ancient Civilizations of Africa, University of California Press, 1990.
Van Sertima, Ivan, and Williams, Larry, editors, Great African Thinkers, Volume 1: Cheikh Anta Diop, Transaction Pubs., 1986.
Black Books Bulletin, Spring 1975.
Freedomways, Volume 14, Number 4, 1974.
Newsweek, September 23, 1991.
New York Times Book Review, August 11, 1991.
UNESCO Courier, August/September 1982.
Diop, Cheikh Anta
Diop, Cheikh Anta 1923-1986
Cheikh Anta Diop was the most daring African cultural-nationalist historian, scientist, and nonapologetic Egyptologist of the twentieth century. His scholarship on the reclaiming of black civilization produced an immense body of knowledge on ancient Egyptian civilization. His argument that ancient Egypt was essentially Negroid and that the origins of Hellenic civilization were to be found in black Africa challenged the prevailing Eurocentric view of the world.
The implications of Diop’s thought should be contextualized within the European imperialist dictum and black resistance movements of the time. He grew up in Senegal when France was consolidating its colonial rule in Africa, and he lived through the consequences of increasing neocolonialism, economic reforms, and militarization in Africa. Born in a Muslim family on December 29, 1923, in Caytu, a small village near the town of Diourbel, Senegal, Diop attended the local Koranic school before enrolling in a French colonial school. In 1945 his interest in science and philosophy was consolidated when he earned his baccalaureate in mathematics and philosophy in Dakar, Senegal. Diop left Senegal for France in 1946. He pursued graduate studies in France, and elected courses in science while studying philosophy under Gaston Bachelard (1884–1962) at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he earned a degree in philosophy in 1948. In 1950 Diop was awarded a certificate in general chemistry and another in applied chemistry. He studied nuclear physics at the nuclear chemistry laboratory of the Collège de France under the supervision of Frédéric Joliot-Curie (1900–1958) and at the Institut Pierre and Marie Curie. On January 9, 1960, Diop successfully defended his doctoral dissertation: “L’Afrique noire précoloniale et l’unité culturelle de l’Afrique noire” (Precolonial Black Africa and the Cultural Unity of Black Africa).
Back in Senegal, Diop continued his studies on culture, history, and linguistics. He also became involved in politics and established an opposition party, the Rassemblement National Démocratique (National Democratic Rally), having earlier served as secretary-general of the students’ unit of the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain. Appointed assistant with teaching duties at the Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noire of the University of Dakar, he became director of the university’s radiocarbon laboratory. In 1981 Abdou Diouf, president of Senegal from 1981 to 2000, appointed Diop professor in the department of history. Diop passed away in Dakar on February 7, 1986. The university and the street in front of it were later named after him.
Diop received a number of awards, including the prestigious African World Festival of Arts and Culture Prize for scholars who had “exerted the greatest influence on African peoples in the 20th century,” which he won jointly with W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963) in 1966 (a posthumous award for Du Bois). Diop was also awarded the Gold Medal for African scientific research and the African Grand Prize of Merit from the National University of Zaire in 1980.
The journal and publishing house Présence Africaine, founded by Alioune Diop (1910–1980) in 1947 in Paris, published most of Cheikh Anta Diop’s classic works. These two were not related, but they were both from the Lebu ethnic group that speaks the Wolof language. Diop’s important publications include: Nations nègres et culture (Negro Nations and Culture, 1955); L’unité culturelle de l’Afrique noire (The Cultural Unity of Black Africa, 1959); Antériorité des civilisations nègres: Mythe ou realité (The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality, 1967); Physique nucléaire et chronologie absolue (Nuclear Physics and Absolute Chronology, 1974); and Les fondements économiques et culturels d’un état fédéral d’Afrique noire (The Economic and Cultural Foundations of a Federated State of Black Africa, 1974). In 1981, he published Civilisation ou barbarie: Anthropologie sans complaisance (Civilization or Barbarism: Anthropology without Complacency), a masterpiece on ancient Kemet (Egypt) and its influence on the Greek and Roman worlds. In 1991 this title was translated and published as Civilization or Barbarism: An Authentic Anthropology.
Diop took Africa seriously, and set it against the artificiality of colonialism. He was never a Marxist or a Pan-Africanist like Ghanaian statesman Kwame Nkrumah (1909–1972), but a nationalist who emphasized the value of historical consciousness as an ideological foundation for building black federalism. His views on development included Africa’s acquisition of nuclear capabilities, industrialization, self-determination, and self-reliance.
Married to a white French woman (Marie-Louise) who was an important supporter of his scholarship, Diop abhorred racism. He was also critical of sexism, which he considered a product of foreign influences in Africa. He was, however, accused of being reductionist or essentialist because he insisted on a corrective scholarship. He never argued that black Africans were monolithic and genetically superior to other races. But based on his research on the Nile Valley region and West Africa, he concluded that the ancient Egyptians were bioculturally black. Diop was convinced that the history of Africa would remain in suspension and could not be written correctly until African historians connected it to the history of ancient Egypt. However, despite cultural similarities and historical connections between various layers of African civilizations from the ancient period to the present, Diop did not prove how the study of Kemet semantics could be effectively used to examine the importance of the orality of African traditions. It is unclear how the particularities of other African civilizations fit into Diop’s grand paradigm.
Diop’s views have been revisited in various forms through the rise of Pan-African discourse in institutions of research and higher learning in Africa and among the African diaspora, especially in Brazil, the United States, and France. Furthermore, the promotion of scholarship on the African renaissance, both as a political concept articulated by well-known African political figures and the African Union and as an analytical and intellectual tool used by scholars to understand Africa, has also contributed to the revisitation of Diop. Because of the serious and degrading socioeconomic and political conditions that paralyzed most African institutions and societies and demotivated researchers during and after the cold war, there has been an intellectual movement to investigate Diop’s sources, hypotheses, and arguments as part of a broader search for African solutions to global malaise. For instance, the promotion of indigenous knowledge systems as a new area of study in some African universities and research centers was inspired by Diop’s claims concerning the role of culture, history, linguistics, and science in socioeconomic and political progress. In some parts of the African diaspora, this movement has led, contrary to Diop’s intellectual convictions, to the development of a cult of personality. Some have also begun to view as religious or mystical Diop’s teachings on the role of science in finding truth and the utilization of these truths as the basis for social progress. Diop himself, however, attempted in his works to separate sentiment and emotion from scientific logic, principles, and objectivity.
In his final book, Civilisation ou barbarie, which is considered his magnum opus, Diop expanded on, clarified, and synthesized his arguments from L’Afrique noire pré-coloniale (Precolonial Black Africa, 1960) and Antériorité des civilisations nègres: Mythe ou realité (The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality, 1967). He emphasized the primacy of African culture by proving that ancient Egypt was a black society both in its historicity and in its cultural achievements, later claimed by Indo-Aryan cultures. He strongly denounced the falsification of modern history as a major part of an agenda that has slowed world progress. Furthermore, he argued (more like an ethicist than a scientist) that humanity must break definitively from racism, genocide, and slavery and that such efforts should form the ultimate mission of the world in order to build a global civilization and avoid falling into barbarism. Diop believed in the need for a new ethics that could take into account scientific knowledge, which uniquely differentiates “modern” humans from “primitive” people. For Diop, science is a liberating, moralizing, and progress-oriented force; scientific studies on the centrality of the historicity of Africa and its contributions could humanize the world.
There are disagreements among scholars about how specifically Diop’s thought has inspired generations of African Americans, both academics and community leaders, and their institutions. Certainly his intellectual impact on them cannot be denied. For Diop, learning the true history of Africa, and of the world for that matter, is essentially a scientific endeavor. In most of his works, he insisted that such a science requires first the utilization of objective methods through which empirical facts can be tested. This position may not distinguish him from other scientists, but the establishment of Africa as the birthplace of the human family is a unique knowledge that has been used differently by various cultures and peoples. For instance, one of the epistemological bases of his disagreement with Senegalese president Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906–2001), a cofounder of the Négritude movement and a member of the French Academy, was Diop’s view that Senghor was making historical claims about black cultures on the basis of speculation, imagination, and sentiment and not on scientific grounds. Diop tried to make clear distinctions between science and belief systems or ideology. For Diop, ideology played an important role only in instrumentalizing science. He believed that the use of truth could make the world better. Diop’s science can be used to actualize a worldview, an ideological position of humanizing the world. His perspectives tended to privilege social applications of science.
Diop’s thought inspired two main groups of American Afrocentrists: those who used Afrocentricity as an interdisciplinary research method with a focus on African history and culture in the academia, and those who used Diop’s racial centrality as an ideology of social reconstruction in the struggle for change in society at large. In the academia, Diop’s work was consolidated with the expansion of black, Afro American, or Africana studies in the United States, where African Americans had been searching for an African cultural identity. However, with the rise of neo-integrationism in the United States and its tendency, with the support of opportunistic black scholars, to weaken “ethnicity” or “race,” Diop’s quest for Negroism has been marginalized and even trivialized in some institutions. In major American research universities, for instance, as they attempt to meet the rising demand for multiculturalism and diversity, his scholarship is perceived as advancing particularism and separatism. Clearly, these new perspectives are ideological, rather than scientific, constructs. Thus they are strongly supported and promoted by neoconservative university and college administrators with the collaboration of some African American and African academics. Diop’s scholarship embodies a defensive epistemology, rejects a myopic determinism, and emphasizes the black cultural renaissance.
Based on Diop’s impressive multidisciplinary training, his research, and his philosophical claims on pluralistic methodologies, he is known as an anthropologist, Egyptologist, historian, linguist, mathematician, and physicist. However, his all-embracing disciplinary approach produced, at best, eclectic and binary analytical and intellectual perspectives (black-based paradigms versus white-based paradigms). These perspectives are difficult to assess clearly in terms of their effective collective quality and their impact on the study of specific African cultures and histories, especially those that developed independently of or parallel to the ancient Egyptian civilization. Diop has been much criticized for being a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. His generalizations about African languages and their connection to ancient Egyptian languages through Wolof, a Senegalese language, were essentially deductive, imaginative, and ahistorical. However, despite controversial hypotheses and conclusions associated with his interdisciplinary methodologies, Diop produced an important and unified referential body of knowledge on Egypto-centrism. His thought is philosophically complex and intellectually challenging, and it embodies an interactive methodological inquiry. Diop’s work cannot be fully translated into a single mode of thinking and doing, as reflected in certain affirmative dimensions of much-simplified American Afrocentricity.
Alexander, E. Curtis, ed. 1984. Cheikh Anta Diop: An African Scientist, an Axiomatic Overview of his Teachings and Thoughts. Pan African Internationalist Handbook: Book 1. New York: ECA.
Diagne, Pathé. 1997. Cheikh Anta Diop et l’Afrique dans l’histoire du monde. Dakar, Senegal: Sankoré; Paris: Harmattan.
Hommage à Cheikh Anta Diop. 1989. 1–2. Paris: Présence Africaine.
Cheikh Anta Diop
Cheikh Anta Diop
Cheikh Anta Diop (1923-1986) was an African historian who, in a series of studies, dramatically and controversially maintained that the scope of Africa's contribution to world civilization was considerably larger than heretofore acknowledged.
Cheikh Anta Diop was born at the end of 1923 in Diourbel, Senegal, a city reknowned for spawning great Islamic philosophers and historians. He received his higher education at the University of Paris (France), where he earned a doctorate of letters and was active in African student politics. Upon returning to Senegal, he joined what is today the Institut Fondamentale d'Afrique Noire, where he founded and ran the only carbon-14-dating laboratory in Africa. Diop experienced the great explosion of independence which began in early 1958 in Ghana. The hope that this movement created soon turned sour, as former European colonial powers, unseen, remained in control. Diop led and founded two political parties in Senegal: the Bloc des Masses Senegalaises in 1961 and a few years later the Front Nationale Senegalaise, both of which were outlawed by the government on the grounds that they threatened destruction of the existing order.
Diop, however, left his mark in the realm of the reassessment of the role of black people in world history and culture. Combining an unusual breadth of knowledge— including linguistics, history, anthropology, chemistry, and physics—he uncovered fresh evidence about the ancient origins and common principles of classical African civilization. He believed that people who feel they possess no past of their own tend to be absorbed and assimilated into the governing system, and are made to feel inferior because of this apparent deficiency. In fact, Diop argued, African culture and history was older than any other, and influenced the course of other cultures more than usually given credit.
Diop's argumentative thesis stressed the great contributions of Egypt, in particular, to the origins of culture and science, and asserted that Egyptian civilization was of black origin, a theory that has since been corroborated with anthropological evidence. Diop also challenged the prevailing view that the flow of cultural influence was from the north, the European or "Hamitic" areas, southward to the more primitive areas. He instead believed that the beginnings of civilization arose below the Sahara.
The center of a storm of controversy, Diop nevertheless opened up new paths of exploration, gave a new generation redemptive faith in its roots, and presented, if nothing else, a poetic image of greatness. In its daring, this dream of a lofty cradle of civilization may come closer to truth than the prosaic rebuttal of its critics, and as discoveries continue to be made, it proves itself more real than any dream.
Among Diop's books is Anteriorité des civilisations nègres: Mythe ou vérité historique (1967; Roots of Black Civilizations: Myth or Historical Truth). In 1966 at Dakar the World Festival of Negro Arts honored Diop as "the black intellectual who has exercised the most fruitful influence in the twentieth century." In 1981, Diop's Civilisation Ou Barbarie ("Civilization or Barbarism") appeared. Some consider it his greatest work. Diop intended it as the intellectual summation of his previous research. Shortly before his death, he spoke of devoting the rest of his life to a master plan that would preserve Africa for Africans. He passed away on February 7, 1986.
The best way to understand Diop's life is through his writings. These include Precolonial Black Africa (trans. 1987); The African Origins of Civilization: Myth or Reality (1974); The Cultural Unity of Black Africa (trans. 1990); and his opus, Civilization or Barbarism (trans. 1991). Summaries of Diop's work can be found in Claude Wauthier, The Literature and Thought of Modern Africa (1964; trans. 1966). An important selection from Diop's Nations, nègres, et cultures, in which he accounts for the myths of Negro inferiority, can be found in Irving Leonard Markovitz, ed., African Politics and Society (1970). □