Andrew Jaggs – Kemet & Yorubaland : the missing piece

andrew jaggs phd -egyptologist

Andrew Jaggs has done important work in his PhD. I only have had access to an abstract (note 1) and a video interview. (Note 2).

His thesis is about the relationship between ancient Egypt (Kemet) and Yoruba religion. Previously African scholars have focussed on archaeology and linguistics. But the heart of the matter is culture. It is culture that binds Africans together not skin tones. A second issue in the past has been a visible reluctance of some African scholars to go head to head with major Western scholars on technical issues. Andrew Jaggs lacks any hesitation.

However, there is an area where Jaggs is missing the point and is led astray by lack of philosophical assistance. Basically, this is problem for Western Egyptology generally. Translations are so atrocious that no western philosopher will spend 5 minutes on the texts. This contrasts with the treatment of fragments of Greek pre-Socratic texts. I once came across a 19th century German study of Heraclitus which spent 180 pages examining five fragmentary lines.

Jaggs came into a collision with the diffusion and autonomous development. This is an issue that arose greatly in 1920’s with the rise of Aryanism and genocidal racism in Western Europe. This idea of cultural diffusion was tightly coupled with the idea of superior races. It also was coupled with the evolutionary racists idea that the superior races had some one thing they shared in common that made them superior.

It was Wittgenstein who set upon this hidden assumption with a gusto and unravelled it. He explained that the idea that concepts required a unified reference was an error, that it was a mistake to think that in order to have a concept of the German there needed to be one thing all items labelled ‘German’ had in common. Wittgenstein argued that we are dealing with ‘family resemblance’. As with any family there can be strong family resemblances without implying all members have one parent in common! Cultures can have a lot in common without having a singular parental source. This singular parental source translated into the conquering invaders in Aryan mythology. Instead we have a different model: where  A and B are unrelated and marry  and their children C and D have family resemblance to A’s cousins(F) children (H  and I) where F married G who is also unrelated to either A or F. If one were to look at A-I we would see family resemblances. C& D will have a resemblance to their parent B but also a resemblance to their cousins H and I.  Such a relationship does not require a ‘founding patriarch’ and so this view of cultures does not require dynastic invaders.

If we apply lessons from Wittgenstein we can see that evidence of family relationships does not require a decision between founding dynasty or independent discovery. This more fluid view allows for a mutual interaction  and mutual influence among members of the same family. If we add to this  an understanding of cultural drift we can now allow for great creativity  without loss of unity. African music is extremely varied but African children recognize the family immediately. Even to the point that many have experienced African children recognising Beethoven as African. I witnessed this to my own amazement. I put on a Beethoven symphony and several children began dancing to the tune. I had never ‘heard’ Beethoven as dance music but they were dancing in time and with the correct emphasis. After that I took stories of African ancestry in Beethoven seriously. Similarly the Zimbabwe guerillas listened to Bob Marley on headphones when they went on operations. Jazz, blues and Reggae are all very different but are all part of the family of African music. Hugh Masekela was given his first trumpet by Louis Armstrong. His music is very different but part of the African family. There is no ‘conquering invader’ unifying African music.

There is an important discussion to be had about the spread of  knowledge and praxis in African history but without an understanding of Wittgenstein Jaggs will not be able to play any useful part in such a discussion.