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The Hamitic Hypothesis

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 titanic1    244

THE Hamitic hypothesis is well-known to students of Africa. It states that everything of value ever found in Africa was brought there by the Hamites, allegedly a branch of the Caucasian race. Seligman formulates it as follows:
Apart from relatively late Semitic influence... the civilizations of Africa are the civilizations of the Hamites, its history the record of these peoples and of their interaction with the two other African stocks, the Negro and the Bushman, whether this influence was exerted by highly civilized Egyptians or by such wider pastoralists as are represented at the present day by the Beja and Somali
...The incoming Hamites were pastoral 'Europeans'-arriving wave after wave-better armed as well as quicker witted than the dark agricultural Negroes.2 On closer examination of the history of the idea, there emerges a previous elaborate Hamitic theory, in which the Hamites are believed to be
Negroes. It becomes clear then that the hypothesis is symptomatic of the nature of race relations, that it has changed its content if not its nomenclature through time, and that it has become a problem of epistemology.


In the beginning there was the Bible. The word 'Ham' appears there for the first time in Genesis, chapter five. Noah cursed Ham, his youngest son, and said:
Cursed be Canaan;
A servant of servants shall he be
unto his brethren.
And he said,
Blessed be Jehovah, the God of Shem;
And let Canaan be his servant.
God enlarge Japhet,
And let him dwell in the tent of Shem;
And let Canaan be his servant.
Then follows an enumeration of the sons of Noah: Shem, Ham, Japhet, and their sons who were born to them after the flood. The Bible makes no mention of racial differences among the ancestors of mankind. It is much later that an idea of race appears with reference to the sons of Noah;
it concerns the descendants of Ham. The Babylonian Talmud, a collection of oral traditions of the Jews, appeared in the sixth century A.D.; it states  that the descendants of Ham are cursed by being black, and depicts Ham as a sinful man and his progeny as degenerates.3 Thus, early tradition
identified the Hamites with Negroes and endowed them with both certain physiognomical attributes and an undesirable character. This notion persisted in the Middle Ages, when fanciful rabbinical expansions of the Genesis stories were still being made. Ham, some of them said, was supposed to have emasculated Noah, who cursed him thus:
'Now I cannot beget the fourth son whose children I would have ordered to serve
you and your brothers! Therefore it must be Canaan, your firstborn, whom they
enslave. And since you have disabled me... doing ugly things in blackness of
night, Canaan's children shall be borne ugly and black! Moreover, because you
twisted your head around to see my nakedness, your grandchildren's hair shall
be twisted into kinks, and their eyes red; again because your lips jested at my
misfortune, theirs shall swell; and because you neglected my nakedness, they
shall go naked, and their male members shall be shamefully elongated! Men of
this race are called Negroes, their forefather Canaan commanded them to love
theft and fornication, to be banded together in hatred of their masters and never
to tell the truth.'4


Scholars who study the Hebrew myths of the Genesis claim that these oral traditions grew out of a need of the Israelites to rationalize their subjugation of Canaan, a historical fact validated by the myth of Noah's curse. Talmudic or Midrashic explanations of the myth of Ham were well
known to Jewish writers in the Middle Ages, as seen in this description by Benjamin of Tudela, a twelfth-century merchant and traveller south of Aswan:
There is a people... who, like animals, eat of the herbs that grow on the banks
of the Nile and in their fields. They go about naked and have not the intelligence
of ordinary men. They cohabit with their sisters and anyone they can find...
they are taken as slaves and sold in Egypt and neighbouring countries. These
sons of Ham are black slaves.

Download the pdf here: https://courses.washington.edu/relvip/Religion_%26_Violence/Study_Guides/Entries/2014/6/26_Religion_and_Politics_in_Christianity_files/Hamitic Hypothesis.pdf

The concept of the "Hamitic hypothesis" appears to have been coined by the historian St Clair Drake, in 1959.3 In the historiography of Africa, it has conventionally been employed as a label for the view that important elements in the cultures of sub-Saharan Africa, and more especially elaborated [End Page 293] state structures, were the creation of people called "Hamites," who were presumed to be immigrants/invaders from outside, often specifically from Egypt or the upper Nile valley, and racially Caucasian (or "white"), who conquered the indigenous black African populations. One of the most influential proponents of this interpretation was C.G. Seligman, in a book originally published in 1930, which was reprinted down to the 1960s, and still formed part of the background reading of the earliest generation of academic historians of Africa (including myself). Seligman declared baldly that "the civilisations of Africa are the civilisations of Hamites," and that these Hamites were "European" (i.e., racially "white") pastoralists, who were able to conquer the indigenous agriculturalists because they were not only "better armed" (with iron weapons, which they are suggested to have introduced into sub-Saharan Africa), but also supposedly "quicker witted."4 The idea thus incorporated an explicit assumption of "white" racial superiority, and denied historical creativity to black Africans by attributing their cultural achievements to the impact of outsiders.
Although the overt racism of the "Hamitic hypothesis" was repudiated by the academic historiography of Africa which developed from the 1950s, the model of state formation through invasion and/or cultural influences from outside continued to exercise a powerful influence. The early works of the pioneer historians John Fage and Roland Oliver in the 1960s and 1970s, for example, continued to posit diffusion of the institution of "divine kingship" from Egypt to the rest of Africa, and the formation of the earliest states in the West African Sahel through the conquest of the indigenous (black) agricultural peoples by Saharan (white) pastoralists—the military superiority of the latter being now attributed to their possession of horses, rather than (or as well as) iron technology.5 A more recent reflection of such views is the interpretation of Dierk Lange, who posits the pervasive influence of "Canaanite-Israelite" models of cosmology and political organization in several areas of western Africa, including Yorubaland.6

Read more... https://muse.jhu.edu/article/399722

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