Dr. Yosef ben-Jochannan Taught: The African Woman And The Origin of Life

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Dr. Yosef ben-Jochannan

[In Memoriam]

Dr. Ben was an extraordinary man of many talents, but principally a man who held the African woman in the highest esteem. 

He taught us in the beginning was the African woma. Creation came out of the African woman.  As the obelisk is a small pyramid on a tall base, this is the pedestal upon which Dr. ben-Jochannan placed the African woman.

He honored the Black Woman who is the source of the Black Family. He taught us the Black Woman is a Goddess. He also led the light to the Nile Valley.  He “took Egypt to challenge and destroy white supremacy.” 

As Marcus Garvey said, “the cubs are running free out there,” and thanks to Dr. Ben, intellectual cubs are challenging the distortions, omissions and putting Africa in its proper place in world civilization history given its accomplishments in Nubia and Egypt, Nile Valley cultures, that gave so much to the world.

The Twentieth Century has been blessed with great African and African-American writers and historians. These include Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Dr. Ivan Van Sertima, J.A. Rogers, Cheikh Anta Diop and Dr. Leonard James, Emeritus Professor of New York City Technical College of the City University of New York, among others. 

This enormous collection of brainpower equally extends into the Twenty-First Century.  However, none of these giants singularly surpass the literary production, commitment, tirelessness, and sincere dedication of Dr. Yosef Alfredo Antonio ben-Jochannan.  Outspoken visionary, iconic symbol and above his time; controversial and not afraid to take an iconoclastic and individual if a somewhat idiosyncratic point of view; Dr. Ben was always prepared to defend his position, irrespective.  His friends and students, affectionately call this father, teacher, historian, friend and Egyptologist, “Doc Ben.”  In fact, back there in the early 1970s when even “Black folks” did not readily accept “Dr. Ben,” ever wonder how he got his name?  It was a young man named “Barney” and myself, fred Monderson, who first started calling him not “Dr. Ben” but “Ben Jo” and the name stuck and finally when a fellow student Curtis Dunmoodie picked it up and said we must be more respectful, we began calling him “Dr. Ben” in defiance of those “feather bedders” who said “Dr. Ben has no PhD”

Ever cried for Dr. Ben?  This odious statement once made me cry at New York City (Community) Technical College.  I hurriedly took the train to 125th Street to their second floor office on Lennox Avenue across from the Choc-Full-O-Nuts Coffee Shop in Harlem, before Prof. George Simmonds calmed me down, showing me Dr. Ben’s Doctorate in Anthropology on the wall.  That is what some of the “false prophets” still do today in academia to him and others!  And so, you ask them to match their literary production with their in-clandestine vituperativeness and they cannot. Period.

Here was a serious scholar, Dr. ben-Jochannan, who spent a lifetime researching, writing, and defending the integrity and intellectual capabilities of African people worldwide.  Dr. Ben pioneered in indigenous ancient African terminology.  Imagine a European-American scholar discovered the bones of a fossilized African woman in Ethiopia and named her “Lucy” after an Englishman’s song “Lucy with Diamonds,” then playing on the radio.   Dr. Ben said “No. Her name is Denk Nesh not Lucy.”

In 1989, Doc Ben celebrated fifty years of visiting ancient Kemet, Ta-Merry (Egypt) and the Nile Valley cultures.  This prolonged involvement has under-girded the basis of his researches, speeches, writings and educational tours.  Equally, he began and for some time maintained archaeological digs on the Island of Elephantine and elsewhere.  Alas, these have been discontinued.

This writer was happy to be a part of that epoch making tour that marked Doc Ben’s Fiftieth Anniversary visiting the ancient African “holy-land” and the next year for the First Nubian Festival.  More importantly, I met “Doc Ben” in early 1972.  This was right after the publication of his seminal “Trilogy” works, African Origins of the Major Western Religions (1970), Africa: Mother of Western Civilization (1971), and Black Man of the Nile (1972), later Black Man of the Nile and his Family.  The style of his writings, copious nature of referents employed to defend things African, and his Afrocentric pioneering approach has made “Doc. Ben,” a very well-respected elder, and in his later years a sought after speaking attraction, a man who “tells it like it is.”

Dr. ben-Jochannan has compiled an impressive thirty odd publications.  He helped set the stage for a whole new approach in interpreting Africa’s contributions to civilization and its legacy.  He lit the fire of intellectual and cultural consciousness in Africans worldwide.  The Diasporan style of dress with an Afrocentric flavor is also credited to him.  Establishing connections between Africans in America, Africa, Asia and Europe are all attributed to Dr. ben-Jochannan, a man of vision, seer, and intellectual giant.

Many of his books challenged the distortions of Europeans in writing, publishing and disseminating knowledge about the arts, sciences, religion, etc., of the ancient people today called Egyptians.  Dr. Ben has rightly included omissions and corrected distortions systematically implanted and perpetrated by racist Western, European and American historiography that has falsified the historical past with a prejudiced interpretation against African people.  Many of his books challenged the distortions of Europeans in writing, publishing and disseminating knowledge about the arts, sciences, religion, regarding ancient Africa as representation and modern interpretation.  Dr. Ben dared to expose the hypocrisy of western scholarship.  He attacked the foundational pillars upon which a false legacy rests.  Naturally, he paid a price!

Very early he also expressed the view some scholars are confused because they were taught from a wrong premise.  In his own right, and as a result of his teachings, he had no choice but to produce, publish and distribute his works without the aid of major publishing firms.  He was thus a pioneer in self-publishing, launching Alkebu-Lan Publishing Company and appealing and winning the support of many upcoming nationalists as “they purchased his books in first edition form.”

Initiating a new approach to history, the end result was an exposition and critical analysis of dynamic forces of Europe and Africa in struggle to claim heritage of the ancient and modern historical record.  Dr. Ben addressed professionals, laymen, clergy, students and educators.  He stressed vitality, resilience and creative expressions that shaped the modern African personality and worldview.  Such an approach found ready ears among a people yearning for enlightening factual information about their illustrious African past in effort to free their minds.

These young and old minds were enthused by the positive nature and potency of their cultural African heritage as “Ben” outlined it.  He also took great pains to explain that there were lusterless pages in Africa’s past.  Nevertheless, his concern fueled their emerging aspirations.  This outlook brought Dr. Ben the adulation and respect of a grateful people, he for long deserved.  They understood and welcomed his contributions among the litany of great African-American literary artists.

Dr. Ben’s writings, lectures and educational tours over the years have stressed two essential themes.  The first is that the “emergence of civilization, viz., science, religion, government, architecture, agriculture, philosophy, and the arts, began in Africa.”  The mouth of these utterances became the conduit of today’s Egypt and the Nile Valley.  In his approach, Dr. Ben has shown how the structural foundations of western civilization developed from discoveries and scientific applications in this ancient African land.  Lastly, he took great pains to show the writing and teaching of modern history has been distorted to elevate Europe and degrade Africa, which is clearly wrong and must be rectified.  This fundamental view helped establish the need for African historical reconstruction and interpretation particularly as we navigate this new century and millennium.

The second of Dr. Ben’s themes has been that “Africans worldwide should be proud of their ancestors’ accomplishments.  The arts and sciences that today govern the world are Africa’s legacy.  African-Americans should show great pride and dignity in their history and heritage.”  They must respect themselves and carry themselves with dignity and pride.  Those who know can and should teach the young how to identify with Africa.  In so doing, they must form study groups and visit Africa.  Yet, they must also be aware of the machinations of cultural imperialism and cultural genocide constantly at work.

Further the young must immerse themselves in an African-centric perspective and research, write and teach others in turn.  They must study languages, French, German, Swahili, Greek, Latin, Coptic, Arabic and Medu Netcher or Hieroglyphics.  They must struggle to correct the recent distorted history of Africa’s past.  In this way, future leaders would help to better the lot of humanity and save the world from its impending moral, spiritual and scientific destruction.  To accomplish these objectives the good doctor has supplied a reservoir of information from his life’s researches in the arsenal of published works he has created.  Of course, these works must be read, ingested and digested and returned to time and again. This is important for as Dr. John Henrik Clarke once said, “People buy but never read Dr. Ben’s books.” Herein then is the dilemma.

The author’s major thesis of his African Origins of the Major “Western Religions” is that African religious practices were denigrated and called “fetishism” and “paganism.”  In fact, these early thought processes he showed are the fundamental bases of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  He argued that these ideas were first developed and nurtured in Central Africa among indigenous peoples and then migrated and extended throughout the Nile Valley.  They found greatest fruition in Kemet (Egypt) and were preserved by its civilization advances and the nature of its geography. 

The early knowledge was first written down in such selections as the “Book of Gates,” “Book of Knowing Ra,” etc. These were part of the earlier “Pyramid Texts” (Old Kingdom); then “Coffin Texts” (Middle Kingdom); and the later Book of the Dead or Book of Going Forth By Day (New Kingdom); and the “Mysteries of Sais” (Egypt).  The fortunes of geography enabled Africa’s second cultural daughter, Kemet, to rise to greater prominence than did the eldest, Ethiopia, Dr. Ben explained!  He stressed and still maintain to this day, despite all the “new evidence,” that civilization began to the south of Egypt!   However, despite modern falsification of history and the insistent propagation of such falsity, his thesis is as credible as ever.

Another of Dr. Ben’s seminal works is Africa: Mother of Western Civilization.  Its major thesis holds that the “fundamental laws, principles, philosophies, ideas, arts and crafts that educated the west, are indigenous to Africa through the Nile Valley cultural experience.”  For critical teachers who face this dilemma he has some advice.  As such, he wrote: “The only credentials necessary in the experience of African history, otherwise mis-nomered ‘the Black Experience’ and ‘Black Studies’ are the documented proofs and the sources from whence they are taken.”

For this reason, Africa: Mother of Western Civilization is an enormous compendium of facts, sources, illustrations, and analyses that challenge laymen and scholars alike.  It suggests all educators and lay persons alike become involved in reclaiming the stolen heritage of Africa. This magnum opus opens new vistas for historical investigation and provides a wide array of references relating to the significance of Africa in world civilization.

Black Man of the Nile and his Family marks the third of the “trilogy of Dr. Ben’s seminal works.”  This particular source represents the maturity of his thoughts and presentations for it focuses on the role Black men and women have played in bequeathing science, religion, arts, metaphysics, agricultural method, boat building and Nile River navigation to the world through Africa’s conduit in Egypt and Nubia.  It also contains a number of objectives the author seeks to accomplish.

The first of these objectives is: “an attempt to create in young African, African-American (Black person), and all other African people, a sense of belonging in the great African heritage.”  It is, writes Dr. Ben “specifically directed to those who have criminally demasculinized, denuded, and otherwise denigrated the Africans of their CULTURAL, ECONOMIC, POLITICAL, SCIENTIFIC, SPIRITUAL, and all other forms of their heritage and human decency.”  To this we should add the intellectual heritage as represented in Egypt; that is, through “acquisition methods,” and teaching, writing and representation of the artifactual evidence.

It also presents: “AFRICAN ORIGINS OF EUROPEAN CIVILIZATION” in a manner whereby, “scholars can find interesting use for it in their research; as much as the layman can for processing information.”

Dr. Ben views his role as gadfly presenting, “pertinent information needed in the African peoples’ RE-IDENTIFICATION with their great ancestral heritage.”  Lastly, he continued, the “major desired accomplishment this volume seeks to achieve, is to provide anthropological evidence in the ancient heritage of the Africans” and their contributions all over the world.

Abu Simbel to Ghizeh: A Guide Book and Manual is in itself a useful piece of writing.  But, there are other books.

In the acquisition of knowledge, Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) told us: “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”  This much can be said of the trilogy of Dr. ben-Jochannan’s works, Black Man of the Nile and his Family, Africa: Mother of Western Civilization and The African Origins of the Major Western Religions.  The others are equally interesting. Everyone must buy and read these books and pass them on to others particularly your sons and daughters.

Finally, as a student of his, and based on observations and analytic critique, this writer would like to add a 15-point summation of how we can view Dr. Yosef Alfredo Antonio ben-Jochannan’s contribution as an unselfish and fearless elucidation of the historical record systematically distorted to elevate Europe and denigrate Africa while wrecking psycho-social debasement of the African spirit and persona. Without question, whether through omission, distortion and even false presentation, the urban youth across America have most seriously been victimized in the systematic alienated educational process they have been subjected to. As such, the potent cultural lifeline Dr. Yosef Alfredo Antonio ben-Jochannan has provided is today critical in rescuing these young people adrift in the academic and intellectual cosmos of these modern times going forward. The prescription therefore is as follows:

1. We must praise and show thankfulness for the man who, for more than half a century challenged the behemoth of western intellectual oppression of Africa and her offspring while enlightening many to the wonders of a creative African cultural heritage.

2. We must commend Dr. ben-Jochannan for the humanitarian work he did among the Nubians in Egypt and Sudan, viz., Aswan, Daboud, Wadi Halfa, Dongola Province and Fashoda.

3. We must recognize his call to action in the cultural genocide in the African American studies curriculum predating the Afrocentric insistence on multi-culturalism.

4. We should continue to emulate his style of critical analysis of contemporary developments, whether it was historical omissions in Alex Haley’s Roots; misrepresentation in King Tut’s exhibition that has taken place several times in America; taking to task T. Eric Peet’s “The Problem with Akhenaton;” Criticism of Father Temple’s Bantu Philosophy; challenge to another writer’s description that Rameses II had “badly abscessed teeth,” and so forth.

5. We can appreciate his identifying “They all look Alike, All,” thus linking African peoples across the globe who were victims of racial hatred and cultural aggression.

6. His early clarification of the differences between the Black Nationalist and the Black Marxist was very timely and inspiring and still is.

7. First to outline the History of the Bible, he challenged the Black Clergy Without a Black Theology and offered A Black Bible for Black Spiritual and Religious Consciousness.

8. We must acknowledge as a human he may have made some mistakes, miniscule, as they were outweighed by the foundational reservoir of ethical and cultural Ma’at he implanted in the consciousness of African people worldwide.

9. His insistence that all African Americans visit the Nile Valley to imbibe in the cultural heritage and grow from the intellectual exposure, but more particularly their dress code and mannerism among the people must not be construed as the “arrogance of Ugly Americans” was and is still timely and insightful.

10. His outspoken nature, love for Marcus Garvey and his Philosophy and Opinions, praise of Black Goddesses, critique of Academics who are “fifth columns” made him anathema to people with ill-intentions toward African people.

11. Dr. ben-Jochannan had little respect for people in high positions who never promoted the aspirations of their Black subordinates.

12. A staunch Pan-Africanist, he aspired to see accomplished sustained and measurable economic, political and educational empowerment for people of African heritage worldwide.

13. He said, “I took Egypt to show our people the proper way” and to challenge its misrepresentation, racism and religious bigotry.

14. He insisted we not just read books and do research on Ancient Egypt in Africa, but also form study groups that debate and discuss these important issues raised by him as well as personally critique status quo’s positions.

15. He asked us to standardize our learning and take responsibility for our own history. He stated: “Until African (Black) people are willing, and do write their own experience, past, and present, we will continue being slaves, mentally, physically, and spiritually to Caucasian and Semitic racism and religious bigotry.”  This latter we must never allow to happen, for as Dr. John Henrik Clarke has admonitioned, “African people must write their own history.”

Therefore, we must recognize that Dr. Yosef Alfredo Antonio ben-Jochannan has made a major contribution to African intellectual growth and consciousness.  He created a cosmological vision over time that allowed us to see the light.  His work has been seminal. In fact, he was our light. He taught us how to persevere to persevere.

He asked that we establish and maintain a standard for our behavior, and not to fear defeat; and, not to fear death.

 

 

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