Saturday, September 22, 2018

The curse of the Hamites

“Races of Africa” by C G Seligman was originally published in 1930. A third, revised, edition was published in 1957. Long out of print, Seligman's book is still considered a classic of anthropology. Seligman himself was the teacher of Malinowski and Evans-Pritchard, who became more prominent anthropologists than himself. Today, “Races of Africa” is also considered extremely controversial, even racist, due to the author's strong belief in the so-called Hamitic theory. According to this scenario, all civilization in Africa was introduced by successive waves of invading “Hamites” from the Middle East. The Hamites are seen as closely related to the Semites and hence Caucasoid. Seligman even calls them “European” or “White”, although within scare quotes. Translation: high culture was introduced to Africa from the outside, by honorary White folk!

Despite this, Seligman doesn't belong to the *really* hard line racists, who essentially deny that the Black Africans created any civilization at all. In Seligman's scenario, Blacks can at least mimic the superior culture of others. His book contains descriptions of medieval kingdoms in West Africa and the Congo, including a detailed survey of the Ashanti in the Gold Coast (today Ghana). Since both Egyptians, Nubians and Ethiopians are “Hamites”, Seligman sees no problems connecting them, whereas modern opponents of Afro-centrism tend in the opposite direction, apparently feeling that Nubians and Ethiopians are too Black for comfort…

The author distinguishes nine “races” found in pre-colonial Africa: the Bushmen, the Hottentot, the Negrillos (Pygmies), “the true Negro” (West Africans), Hamites, Nilo-Hamites, Nilotes, the Bantu and the Semites. He mentions the mysterious blond and blue-eyed Berbers and, in passing, the Guanches of the Canary Islands. His book doesn't deal with Madagascar, where the population is a mixture of Malay and Bantu. Despite the colonialist slant, “Races of Africa” is interesting, containing descriptions of the religion, customs, and political organization of select peoples. A modern reader would do well to google a map of colonial Africa, since all geographical references of course refer to the European-established colonies. “The Sudan” didn't mean exactly the same thing in 1930 as it does today!

In the end, I actually give this work four stars, but with the consumer warning that it doesn't always reflect current thinking on the matter. I mean, for all we know, even the Caucasoids may have evolved…in Africa.

We are all honorary Africans.


  1. Instead of saying Africa(n) which a label created by the whites/colonizers, it was Cush, Canaan, Ethiopia, and/or the oldest, Asiatic

  2. Also speaking of nationality, the most true recent is Moors (Muur/Mureno/Moorish/etc).