Who and What is an “African”?

By Kufara Gwenzi

Why would there be so much confusion of who and what is an African? Read on…

The word ‘Africa‘ (not the people) is said to have Greek and Roman origins. The people who are called “Africans” do not originate at the time when Greeks or Romans first called them “Africans.” They existed before they were called as such and they did not need Greek or Roman validation.

The word is most likely to have come from the Greek word ‘Aphrike‘ (a land without cold or a warm land) or Latin word ‘Aprica‘ (sunny). In this instance, both the Greek and Latin words have similar meanings.

Moorish traveler and historian Leo Africanus (1488–1554) or Hassan Al Wazan, suggested the Greek word ‘phrike’ (meaning ‘cold and horror’), combined with the privative prefix ‘a-‘, thus indicating a land free of cold and horror. It is then believed that Arab immigrants later ‘Arabised’ the name to ‘Ifrigiya’ and later evolved to become ‘Afrika‘. – Leo Africanus, “The History and Description of Africa and the Notable Things Therein Contained” (1896).


English Egyptologist Gerald Massey (1828-1907) derived an Egyptian etymology for the Roman word ‘Africa’ from the Egyptian ‘af-rui-ka’ which literally means ‘to turn toward the opening of the Ka.’ The “Ka” is the invisible cosmic aspect or vital energy of every person and ‘opening of the Ka’ refers to a womb or birthplace. Therefore, ‘AfriKa’ means ‘connected to the source of Life’ (‘A Book of the Beginnings,’ Vol I, 1881,www.masseiana.org/bbbk0.htm Retrieved August 23, 2009).

Ancient Egyptians (from around 4,500 BCE to around 333 BCE) called themselves ‘Kemetiu’ (black or dark-brown skinned people), and their land, KMT.

“Kemet” (“keh-MET”) means “Black Land,” in reference to the fertile banks and fields surrounding the Nile (black from the soil) and the colour of the people. This also meant the “land of the neteru (divinities).”  – Wörterbuch der Aegyptischen Sprache(Dictionary of the Egyptian Language). Please for more read,http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Km_(hieroglyph)

Therefore, an “African” is one whose dark brown skin pigmentation, facial features and hair texture is based on the high level of melanin content.


Greeks also referred to Africa and Africans as Ethiopia and Ethiopians, respectively. The name “Ethiopia” is taken from a Greek expression meaning “burnt faces”. The Greeks applied this term to the Kushite kingdom and Africans in general. Therefore, the name “Ethiopian” comes from Greeks, the land of the ‘burnt-faced men’ (Aithiopgs). When they encountered the Afri-Kans, they called them “burnt faces.” In Greek, the word for burnt was “ethios,” and the word for face was “opa.”

In the fourth century CE, the kings of Aksum began to use the Greek term (Aithiopia) for their own country when they wrote in Greek. A trilingual inscription of Ezana, the king who converted to Christianity about 340 CE employs both names. This is the first known use of the word ‘Ethiopia’ by one of its own rulers to describe part of the modern country. The land was usually called ‘Aksum,’ after its capital.

Ethiopia was also known as ‘Abyssinia’ derived from Arabian and Aksumite sources (written in the ancient Ethiopian language known as Ge’ez). This arises from Habash people who inhabited the Ethiopian empire.

Stephanus of Byzantium, who is said to represent the opinions of the most ancient Greeks, said: “Ethiopia was the first established country on the earth, and the Ethiopians were the first who introduced the worship of the (divine) and who established laws.” – quoted by John D. Baldwin, ‘Pre-Historic Nations; or, Inquiries Concerning Some of the Great Peoples and Civilizations of Antiquity’ (New York, Harper, 1869, p. 62).

The Greek Homer, who came before Herodotus (the known father of European history) described Ethiopians as “The most just of men; the favourites of the deities. Jupiter today, followed by all the deities, receives the sacrifices of the Ethiopians.” – Iliad, 1, 422.

Homer also wrote: “Upon the great Atlantic, near the isle of Erithrea, for its pastures famed, the sacred race of Ethiopians dwell.” He also tells how the Greek deities used to go on their feast days to Ethiopia to commune with their ancestors. – J Bryant, ‘Analv. of Ancient Mythology’.

Aristotle – “Why are the Ethiopians and Egyptians bandy legged? Is it because of that the body of itself creates, because of disturbance by heat, like loss of wood when they become dry? The condition of their hair supports this theory; for it is curlier than that of other nations…” (Problemata 909, 7.)


The English word ‘Egypt‘ is derived from the Greek word ‘Aigyptos‘ (or ‘Aiguptos‘) and the Romans changed it into ‘Aegyptus’ (Ae-gyp-t-os).

The Greek word was very close to the origins as Africans of ancient Egypt referred to themselves as ‘Gypti,’ or ‘Geb-ti,’ which means ‘Children (or coming out) of Geb‘. ‘Geb’was the Divine, the Cosmic Energy or Life Force personifying the earth, which was dark colour of the soil of their land. The Greek travellers, unaware of the meaning of the term ‘Geb-ti,’ used it to call the country ‘Ae-gyp-t-os.’

The Greek word ‘Aiguptos‘ is also linked to the reference of the area occupied by Africa, which was called the ‘Land of ‘Ka’ of ‘Ptah‘. ‘Ka’ is the spiritual image and Ptah was said to be the chief ancestor and considered to have created the universe through intelligence or the heart, ‘Sia,’ in ancient Egypt’ and creative utterance, ‘Logos’ (Reason) or “Hu/Huh” (the divine creative utterance) in ancient Egypt. Ptah was considered to hold the symbols of life, stability and good fortune. He was regarded as the patron of craftsmen and was adopted by the Greeks as Hephaestus.

The earliest accounts which we have of Egypt and Chaldea reveal the fact that at a very remote period they were old and powerful civilizations, that they had a settled government, a pure and philosophical religion, and a profound knowledge of science and art; yet, notwithstanding the great antiquity of these civilizations, that of the people which created them must have been infinitely more remote.” – Eliza Burt Gamble, ‘The God-Idea of the Ancients’ (1897, www.gutenberg.org/files/639/639-h/639-h.htm Retrieved June, 2005).

A Greek historian, Diodorus Siculus (90-60 BCE) “…Egyptians have not only been accepted by the present inhabitants but have aroused no little admiration among the Greeks; and for that reason those men who have won the greatest repute in intellectual things have been eager to visit Egypt in order to acquaint themselves with its laws and institutions, which they considered to be worthy of note. For despite the fact that for reasons mentioned above strangers found it difficult in early times to enter the country, it was nevertheless eagerly visited by Orpheus and the poet Homer in the earliest times and in later times by many others, such as Pythagoras of Samos and Solon the lawgiver.” (Diodorus Siculus, Book I. 68), www.theoi.com/Text/DiodorusSiculus4A.html.

In general, they say, the Greeks appropriate to themselves the most renowned of both Egyptian heroes and (divinities), and also the colonies sent out by them.” (Diodorus Siculus, Book I. 23).

When a Greek called Solon made an enquiry about wisdom to an ancient Egyptian priest, he received a response thus, “O Solon, Solon, you Greeks are always children, nor is there an old man among you! Having no ancient traditions nor any acquaintance with chronology, you are as yet in a state of intellectual infancy. The true origin of such mutilated fables as you possess is this. There have been and shall again be in the course of many revolving ages, numerous destructions of the human race; the greatest of them by fire and water, but others in an almost endless succession of shorter intervals.” – quoted by Plato, quoted by Eliza Burt Gamble, ‘The God-Idea of the Ancients’ (1897,http://www.authorama.com/god-idea-of-the-ancients-6.html Retrieved February, 2005).

A contemporary of Socrates and another Greek historian, Herodotus (484-425 BCE), said, “The Egyptians were also the first to introduce solemn assemblies, processions, and litanies to the gods; of all which the Greeks were taught the use by them. It seems to me a sufficient proof of this that in Egypt these practices have been established from remote antiquity, while in Greece they are only recently known.” – Herodotus,http://classics.mit.edu/Herodotus/history.html.

Greek novelist and rhetorician, Lucian of Samosata (c. 125 CE – after 180 CE), describing an Egyptian, “this (Egyptian) boy is not merely black; he has thick lips and his legs are too thin.”

A fourth-century Roman soldier and historian, Ammiuanus Marcellinus “…the men of Egypt are mostly brown or black with a skinny desiccated look.”www.gutenberg.org/files/28587/28587-h/28587-h.htm

A British historian and politician, Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) judged Ammiuanus “an accurate and faithful guide, who composed the history of his own times without indulging the prejudices and passions which usually affect the mind of a contemporary.” – Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter 26.5,www.ccel.org/ccel/gibbon/decline/files/decline.html.

Egyptologist Abbe Emile Amelineau (1850-1916): “From various Egyptian legends, I have been able to conclude that the populations settled in the Nile Valley were Negroes, since the (feminine cosmic power) Isis was said to have been a reddish-black woman.”

Mainstream European historiography has either taken ancient Egypt (Kemet or KMT) out of Africa by designating it as a part of the ancient ‘Near East’, ancient India or considered it intellectually to be in Africa (since geographically it is already in Africa) but seek to take the dark-skinned people out of it by de-Africanizing it.

Sir Richard Francis Burton, a 19th century English explorer, writer and linguist in 1883 wrote to Gerald Massey, “You are quite right about the “AFRICAN” origin of the Egyptians. I have 100 human skulls to prove it.”

A scientist, James C. Prichard, states in his book ‘The Natural History of Man’, “In their complex and many of the complexions and in physical peculiarities the Egyptians were an “AFRICAN” race (p 124-125).

Europe’s first or earliest Greek historian, Herodotus (425 BCE? – 484 BCE?) who visited ancient Egypt in 450 BCE said, “the Egyptians and Ethiopians have thick lips, broad nose, woolly hair and they are of burnt skin. The Egyptians and the Ethiopians have circumcised from the start”.

Anthropologist, Count Constatin de Volney (1727-1820), spoke about the race of Africans of Egypt that produced the Pharaohs. He later paid tribute to Herodotus’ discovery when he said: “The ancient Egyptians were true Negroes of the same type as all native born Africans. That being so, we can see how their blood mixed for several centuries with that of the Romans and Greeks, must have lost the intensity of it’s original color, while retaining none the less the imprint of it’s original mold. We can even state as a general principle that the face (referring to The Sphinx) is a kind of monument able, in many cases, to attest to or shed light on historical evidence on the origins of the people.”

The fact that the Africans of ancient Egypt were blacks or dark-skinned prompted Volney to make the following statement: “What a subject for meditation, just think that the race of black men today our slaves and the object of our scorn, is the very race to which we owe our arts, science and even the use of our speech.”

This proves that well before the 17/18th century Western racist theories, Greeks viewed the dark-skinned people of Africa as full humans! Modern educational curriculum in African countries lacks this knowledge.

Herodotus also said and it is generally known that ancient Egyptians had due regard for the principles of geometry and

  1. were the founders of architecture as they were the first who erected altars, shrines and temples;
  2. were the first to provide explanation of the immortality of the cosmic breath;
  3. first made “the most celebrated astronomical observations and inventions” related to the cyclic times (day, week, month and year) around the behaviour of the Nile river; divided the year into twelve months influenced by the four cyclic seasonal (periodical) changes; and gave significance and names to the planetary and zodiacal structure.

Article first published in http://kufaragwenzi.blogspot.com/

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