KHARTOUM (Sanaa al-Tahir – Sudanow) - Some three decades ago Swiss Archeologist Charles Bonnet sounded
it loud and clear that the Sudanese ancient civilization was not an offshoot of its Egyptian counterpart and that this civilization was independent in many respects.
But Prof. Bonnet’s outcry went unheeded and even scorned by some archeologists who stood up to their fixation that Sudan’s ancient civilization should always be viewed as part of that of Egypt, no more.
Even Sudanese archeologists and historians were not enthusiastic for Bonnet’s hypothesis and continued to teach their students what the early Egyptologists had preached.
But the undeterred Prof. Bonnet continued research on his project, often convincing other researchers that what he believed was right and should be given a try.
As time dragged on more excavations continued to reveal the Prof. Bonnet was right. More archeologists from around the World were encouraged by the thrilling findings to dig deep into the Sudanese archeological sites of the Kerma and Napata Kingdoms, some of which date back thousands of years before Jesus Christ.
Prof. Bonnet in a recent speech in Khartoum has revealed a striking difference between the temples of Old Sudan and those of Old Egypt. Using graphics, he showed that temples of old Sudan (discovered in Kerma and elsewhere) were round, while the Egyptian temples were square.
In a recent symposium here, some Sudanese archeologists made a further account of how Sudan’s ancient civilization was distinct from that of Egypt and other nations. The archeologists have also drawn perspectives for how to explain that distinction to the World:
“For a longtime it nestled into the minds of historians, me no exception, that the Sudanese ancient civilization was the daughter of the Egyptian occupation of Northern Sudan. That was a grave mistake. May be we Sudanese archeologists were at fault in this... we had failed for a long time to say that what Mr. Bonnet was saying was right,” began Professor of Archeology at the Faculty of Arts, University of Khartoum Ali Osman Mohammad Salih, at a recent Faculty symposium entitled: The Sudanese Antiquities, the Civilizational Dimension and the Media.
“Recent archeological discoveries have proved that the Sudanese civilization had started around 3500 BC in Kerma. At that time Nubia and other parts of Northern Sudan had known no Egyptian occupation. It is now common knowledge that the Egyptian expeditions mere meant to fight that very Kingdom of Kerma that lived for a thousand years,” added Prof. Salih.
“Scientists believe that civilization usually comes into existence when two different economic groups meet, one of them sedentary and the other nomadic or pastoralist. It was proved that in the Old World when two groups with these characteristics meet, a powerful central government is born and can forcefully extend its power. This can lead to the emergence of a central rule and the exchange of expertise between the two groups that engenders a civilization and this is exactly what happened in the case of Kerma.” Prof. Salih has said.
When Kerma came into existence, it immediately flourished culturally and artistically. It is tremendously flourished both with respect to material and spiritual arts. Kerma’s civilization was so strong that its roots can be seen up to now. Today’s Sudan is the result of the convergence of these two economic groups: The sedentary and the nomadic. The nomadic groups are usually very strong and quick in movement and the sedentary groups (especially if they live on river banks) are inclined towards the arts, producing material and spiritual arts. These arts demonstrate the progress of man at a certain place. This tremendous civilization process was repeated twice in Sudan: In the first time it produced the Kerma civilization and in the second time it materialized the Meroe Civilization. In the case of Meroe the remnants of Kerma went to North Kordofan and then descended to the Nile Valley where they converged with nomads of the Butana, producing the civilization of Meroe.
From here we can argue that the Egyptian occupation of Northern Sudan did not occur until after the fall of Kerma. So, the Egyptian occupation of Northern Sudan was not the cause of the Sudanese civilization. For when the Egyptian occupation occurred, the Kerma civilization was there and thriving. Now we discover from the artifacts that the Egyptian colonization, which was a linguistic, religious and military colonization, was met with a resistance that did not give it a chance to continue. Now a lot of books have been written to prove this. If we visit the major archeological sites in the Jabal al-Barkal, we can see that the local society was rebellious and very cultured and had its own independent character. Accordingly, the Egyptian influence was confined to what we can call ‘ the temple economy’, a matter that belies the prevailing written fallacy that it was the Egyptian occupation that brought civilization to Sudan.
Prof. Salih further states: The matter that helped the emergence of this Kerma confederation was the cross-border trade. Kerma was, and still is, a crossroads between the African depth and the Mediterranean. Trade had started from the African depth. Many names were found in the inscriptions of traders who organized those caravans to the heart of Africa. Many names, including the name ‘Yam’ were mentioned. Trade was flourishing and in the year 3000 BC the local community between the First and Second cataracts was ruled by a royal clique that obliged traders heading North and South to pay huge sums of money in the form of taxes. The diversity that exists in the spiritual and material civilization of Kerma and later on in the Omdurman Souq (Market) and the country’s other markets reflects the grandiose and strength of the Sudanese creativity in every aspect of life .. We can see this in the ceramics and pottery we continue to discover in different locations in Meroe, in Kerma and in the Dangail. It is really fascinating, surprisingly marvelous.
"Three days ago we were back from the extreme North of the Mahas district, from a Meroite town where we were stunned by the marvelous and diverse pottery. There was the pottery from Northern Meroe, from central Meroe (the Bajrawiyya) and from Southern Meroe (Jabal Moya.)
This diversity in material culture is nonexistent in many of the civilizations we hear of, either in Africa, Asia or Europe. That diversity is still a Sudanese trade mark, whether ethnically, linguistically or in other ways of life."
Prof. Salih has then recounted other clues for the complete independence of the Sudanese ancient civilization from those of Egypt and other nations:
1)The System of Government:
Some scholars maintain that Africa was known for what came to be known as ‘the divine right of the king’ and ‘ the divine right of the clergy in government’. In our civilization the divine right belongs to the king and the king uses that right with his people without any authority for the clergy in the Sudanese civilization, not at all.
In Egypt the divine right belongs to the clergy and the clergy control the king, in what is called” the priests’ divine rule.”
There is neither relationship nor any similarity between the philosophy of government in Sudan and Egypt. The philosophy of government in Sudan was a purely African philosophy and up to now there is no barrier between the people and the government. We deal directly with the authority. And I don’t want to say what the case is in other countries, both Arab and African.
2) The Coronation of Monarchs:
Our monarchs had never been coronated in temples, save the monarchs of Napata who were influenced by that Egyptian tradition for a short period. When our monarchs occupied Egypt, they stated it clearly that that tradition does not suit Napata’s monarchs. And that could be one of the reasons that prompted the 25th family to pull out of Egypt, since those Napata monarchs had never suffered a major political or military defeat.
Our kings were coronated on mountain summits. And because Kerma had no mountain, they built a huge one that still exists to date. The mountain (13 meters high) was built of mud for the king’s coronation. That coronation ceremony continued to be held at Jabal al-Barkal Mountain. In Soba the kings were coronated at Luki. This coronation of kings continued to be held on mountain tops until the days of the last of the Mahas tribe kings who was coronated at Mount Seseh.
In Egypt coronation of monarchs was made in temples, from the beginning down to the ‘dynasties’ rule. And when coronation was made in temples in Sudan (just twice), it was met with great public objection.
3) God Who Recognizes the People:
A Third sign of the distinctness of the Sudanese civilization was that it recognized the people. In Sudan we had a complete god .. He is the god of the people, the god of agriculture and the god of rainfall. That god speaks about what the people need from him and that he (the king) obeys that need and prepares the rain for farming.
Those were basic characteristics that never existed in Egypt. This civilization of Sudan was grown here in this good land and very much of it exists up to now.
We also speak about two Sudanese civilizations: The Nubian civilization and the Funj civilization. We know that when the Ottoman Turks controlled the North of Sudan in the 19th Century, the Funj State was in full control of central and southern Sudan. We also know what happened between the Turks and the Funj who stopped the Turks at today’s Meroe (the Bajrawiyya).
The Sudanese civilization is original. It extended widely. We were never ruled by aliens except for very short periods. And even the Egyptian modern state that ruled Sudan for 600 years had never left behind any effect. It is true that its beautiful temples exist in Sai, Soaleeb and Seseeh down to al-Barkal and Meroe. But our gods were not theirs and our writing was not theirs. The Sudanese civilization was written in its own language. It was the only African civilization that wrote its own language, the Meroite language. If we could not so far decipher this language, this should not mean that it never existed. It was written and had left behind a lot of literature. One day people will be able to read this language.
As a result of this mounting awareness about the distinctness of this civilization and the need to inform about it, many circles concerned with archeological excavation are very active in the propagation of this legacy.
In this respect Professor Entisar Sighairoun has told the gathering that the Sudanese archeology community is currently working on 9 projects. These projects extend over many locations. They exist on the Nile at the Mahas district, and in Meroe (the Bajrawiyya). And now they have stretched their work over a wide space. There is a project in North Kordofan, Eastern Sudan and West of Dongola.
“When we go to work on those projects, we do not live in isolation from the locals in any way. We live in the village and in the town. We build social relationships and at the same time we present lectures to raise public awareness about antiquities. As a result, the public view about antiquities has changed. In the past people had used to call us ’the ruins people’, now they call us ’the antiquities people’. We are now planning a progressive conference that brings together all circles concerned with antiquities, both locally and from abroad.”
Entisar adds: Some of the things that worried us very much were that we did not present our self well in the media. Perhaps this is part of the Sudanese personality. We always worked in the shadow, without any propaganda. In this conference we will seek to tell about what we are doing, what is our relationship with the people looks like and what are the things we seek to communicate to the public. We want to determine how to coordinate our work and how to communicate the correct information to the public.”
She adds: Antiquities and love for the country do not depend on the media alone. It is something associated with education. We should think about what our archeology curriculum looks like and the books, whether they are attractive or not. We have to appear in good shape in the schools, in our offices and the different ministries and universities i.e we should educate the public on how deeply rooted our civilization is.