The Negro, by W.E.B. Du Bois, , at sacred-texts.com
The movements of prehistoric man can be seen as yet but dimly in the uncertain mists of time. This is the story that to-day seems most probable: from some center in southern Asia primitive human beings began to differentiate in two directions. Toward the south appeared the primitive Negro, long-headed and with flattened hair follicle. He spread along southern Asia and passed over into Africa, where be survives to-day as the reddish dwarfs of the center and the Bushmen of South Africa.
Northward and eastward primitive man became broader headed and straight-haired and spread over eastern Asia, forming the Mongolian type. Either through the intermingling of these two types or, as some prefer to think, by the direct prolongation of the original primitive man, a third intermediate type of human being appeared with hair and cranial measurement intermediate between the primitive Negro and Mongolian. All these three types of men intermingled their blood freely and developed variations according to climate and environment.
Other and older theories and legends of the origin and spread of mankind are of interest now only because so many human beings have believed them in the past. The biblical story of Shem, Ham, and Japheth retains the interest of a primitive myth with its measure of allegorical truth, 1 but has, of course, no historic basis.
The older "Aryan" theory assumed the migration into Europe of one dominant Asiatic race of civilized conquerors, to whose blood and influence all modern culture was due. To this "white" race Semitic Asia, a large part of black Africa, and all Europe was supposed to belong. This "Aryan" theory has been practically abandoned in the light of recent research, and it seems probable now that from the primitive Negroid stock evolved in Asia the Semites either by local variation or intermingling with other stocks; later there developed the Mediterranean race, with Negroid characteristics, and the modern Negroes. The blue-eyed, light-haired Germanic people may have arisen as a modern variation of the mixed peoples produced by the mingling of Asiatic and African elements. The last word on this development has not yet been said, and there is still much to learn and explain; but it is certainly proved to-day beyond doubt that the so-called Hamites of Africa, the brown and black curly and frizzly-haired inhabitants of North and East Africa, are not "white" men if we draw the line between white and black in any logical way.
The primitive Negroid race of men developed in Asia wandered eastward as well as westward. They entered on the one hand Burmah and the South Sea Islands, and on the other hand they came through Mesopotamia and gave curly hair and a Negroid type to Jew, Syrian, and Assyrian. Ancient statues of Indian divinities show the Negro type with black face and close-curled hair, and early Babylonian culture was Negroid. In Arabia the Negroes may have divided, and one stream perhaps wandered into Europe by way of Syria. Traces of these Negroes are manifest not only in skeletons, but in the brunette type of all South Europe. The other branch proceeded to Egypt and tropical Africa. Another, but perhaps less probable, theory is that ancient Negroes may have entered Africa from Europe, since the most ancient skulls of Algeria are Negroid.
The primitive African was not an extreme type. One may judge from modern pygmy and Bushmen that his color was reddish or yellow, and his skull was sometimes round like the Mongolian. He entered Africa not less than fifty thousand years ago and settled eventually in the broad region between Lake Chad and the Great Lakes and remained there long stretches of years.
After a lapse of perhaps thirty thousand years there entered Africa a further migration of Asiatic people, Negroid in many characteristics, but lighter and straighter haired than the primitive Negroes. From this Mediterranean race was developed the modern inhabitants
of the shores of the Mediterranean in Europe, Asia, and Africa and, by mingling with the primitive Negroes, the ancient Egyptians and modern Negroid races of Africa.
As we near historic times the migrations of men became more frequent from Asia and from Europe, and in Africa came movements and minglings which give to the whole of Africa a distinct mulatto character. The primitive Negro stock was "mulatto" in the sense of being not widely differentiated from the dark, original Australoid stock. As the earlier yellow Negro developed in the African tropics to the bigger, blacker type, be was continually mingling his blood with similar types developed in temperate climes to sallower color and straighter hair.
We find therefore, in Africa to-day, every degree of development in Negroid stocks and every degree of intermingling of these developments, both among African peoples and between Africans, Europeans, and Asiatics. The mistake is continually made of considering these types as transitions between absolute Caucasians and absolute Negroes. No such absolute type ever existed on either side. Both were slowly differentiated from a common ancestry and continually remingled their blood while the differentiating was progressing. From prehistoric times down to to-day Africa is, in this sense, primarily the land of the mulatto. So, too, was earlier Europe and Asia; only in these countries the mulatto was early bleached by the climate, while in Africa he was darkened.
It is not easy to summarize the history of these dark African peoples, because so little is known and so much is still in dispute. Yet, by avoiding the real controversies and being unafraid of mere questions of definition, we may trace a great human movement with considerable definiteness.
Three main Negro types early made their appearance: the lighter and smaller primitive stock; the larger forest Negro in the center and on the west coast, and the tall, black Nilotic Negro in the eastern Sudan. In the earliest times we find the Negroes in the valley of the Nile, pressing downward from the interior, Here they mingled with Semitic types, and after a lapse of millenniums there arose from this mingling the culture of Ethiopia and Egypt, probably the first of higher human cultures.
To the west of the Nile the Negroes expanded straight across the continent to the Atlantic. Centers of higher culture appeared very early along the Gulf of Guinea and curling backward met Egyptian,
[paragraph continues] Ethiopian, and even European and Asiatic influences about Lake Chad. To the southeast, nearer the primitive seats of the earliest African immigrants and open to Egyptian and East Indian influences, the Negro culture which culminated at Zymbabwe arose, and one may trace throughout South Africa its wide ramifications.
All these movements gradually aroused the central tribes to unrest. They beat against the barriers north, northeast, and west, but gradually settled into a great southeastward migration. Calling themselves proudly La Bantu (The People), they grew by agglomeration into a warlike nation, speaking one language. They eventually conquered all Africa south of the Gulf of Guinea and spread their influence to the northward.
While these great movements were slowly transforming Africa, she was also receiving influences from beyond her shores and sending influences out. With mulatto Egypt black Africa was always in closest touch, so much so that to some all evidence of Negro uplift seem Egyptian in origin. The truth is, rather, that Egypt was herself always palpably Negroid, and from her vantage ground as almost the only African gateway received and transmitted Negro ideals.
Phœnician, Greek, and Roman came into touch more or less with black Africa. Carthage, that North African city of a million men, had a large caravan trade with Negroland in ivory, metals, cloth, precious stones, and slaves. Black men served in the Carthaginian armies and marched with Hannibal on Rome. In some of the North African kingdoms the infiltration of Negro blood was very large and kings like Massinissa and Jugurtha were Negroid. By way of the Atlantic the Carthaginians reached the African west coast. Greek and Roman influences came through the desert, and the Byzantine Empire and Persia came into communication with Negroland by way of the valley of the Nile. The influence of these trade routes, added to those of Egypt, Ethiopia, Benin, and Yoruba, stimulated centers of culture in the central and western Sudan, and European and African trade early reached large volume.
Negro soldiers were used largely in the armies that enabled the Mohammedans to conquer North Africa and Spain. Beginning in the tenth century and slowly creeping across the desert into Negroland, the new religion found an already existent culture and came, not a conqueror, but as an adapter and inspirer. Civilization received new impetus and a wave of Mohammedanism swept eastward, erecting the great kingdoms of Melle, the Songhay, Bornu, and the
[paragraph continues] Hausa states. The older Negro culture was not overthrown, but, like a great wedge, pushed upward and inward from Yoruba, and gave stubborn battle to the newer culture for seven or eight centuries.
Then it was, in the fifteenth century, that the heart disease of Africa developed in its most virulent form. There is a modern theory that black men are and always have been naturally slaves. Nothing is further from the truth. In the ancient world Africa was no more a slave hunting ground than Europe or Asia, and both Greece and Rome had much larger numbers of white slaves than of black. It was natural that a stream of black slaves should have poured into Egypt, because the chief line of Egyptian conquest and defense lay toward the heart of Africa. Moreover, the Egyptians, themselves of Negro descent, had not only Negro slaves but Negroes among their highest nobility and even among their Pharaohs. Mohammedan conquerors enslaved peoples of all colors in Europe, Asia, and Africa, but eventually their empire centered in Asia and Africa and their slaves came principally from these countries. Asia submitted to Islam except in the Far East, which was self-protecting. Negro Africa submitted only partially, and the remaining heathen were in small states which could not effectively protect themselves against the Mohammedan slave trade. In this wise the slave trade gradually began to center in Africa, for religious and political rather than for racial reasons.
The typical African culture was the culture of family, town, and small tribe. Hence domestic slavery easily developed a slave trade through war and commerce. Only the integrating force of state building could have stopped this slave trade. Was this failure to develop the great state a racial characteristic? This does not seem a fair conclusion. In four great centers state building began in Africa. In Ethiopia several large states were built up, but they tottered before the onslaughts of Egypt, Persia, Rome, and Byzantium, on the one hand, and finally fell before the turbulent Bantu warriors from the interior. The second attempt at empire building began in the southeast, but the same Bantu hordes, pressing now slowly, now fiercely, from the congested center of the continent, gradually overthrew this state and erected on its ruins a series of smaller and more transient kingdoms.
The third attempt at state building arose on the Guinea coast in Benin and Yoruba. It never got much beyond a federation of large industrial cities. Its expansion toward the Congo valley was probably
a prime cause of the original Bantu movements to the southeast. Toward the north and northeast, on the other hand, these city-states met the Sudanese armed with the new imperial Mohammedan idea. Just as Latin Rome gave the imperial idea to the Nordic races, so Islam brought this idea to the Sudan.
In the consequent attempts at imperialism in the western Sudan there arose the largest of the African empires. Two circumstances, however, militated against this empire building: first, the fierce resistance of the heathen south made war continuous and slaves one of the articles of systematic commerce. Secondly, the highways of legitimate African commerce had for millenniums lain to the north. These were suddenly closed by the Moors in the sixteenth century, and the Negro empires were thrown into the turmoil of internal war.
It was then that the European slave traders came from the southwest. They found partially disrupted Negro states on the west coast and falling empires in the Sudan, together with the old unrest of over-population and migration in the valley of the Congo. They not only offered a demand for the usual slave trade, but they increased it to an enormous degree, until their demand, added to the demand of the Mohammedan in Africa and Asia, made human beings the highest priced article of commerce in Africa. Under such circumstances there could be but one end: the virtual uprooting of ancient African culture, leaving only misty reminders of the ruin in the customs and work of the people. To complete this disaster came the partition of the continent among European nations and the modern attempt to exploit the country and the natives for the economic benefit of the white world, together with the transplanting of black nations to the new western world and their rise and self-assertion there.
11:1 Ham is probably the Egyptian word "Khem" (black), the native name of Egypt. In the original myth Canaan and not Ham was Noah's third son.
The biblical story of the "curse of Canaan" (Genesis IX, 24-25) has been the basis of an astonishing literature which has to-day only a psychological interest. It is sufficient to remember that for several centuries leaders of the Christian Church gravely defended Negro slavery and oppression as the rightful curse of God upon the descendants of a son who had been disrespectful to his drunken father! Cf. Bishop Hopkins: Bible Views of Slavery, p. 7.