Scientific African History: Cheikh Anta Diop Shattered Age-Old Eurocentric Narratives

If books were for free, everyone should read Cheikh Anta Diop’s books. Both in Africa and in the Islamic scientific world, few managed to show us what “race” relations are and why Africa has been robbed from its soul and its history. Born in a Muslim Wolof family, Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop (1923-1986) grew up to become one of the key figures in scientific African literature and history.

A Rich Heritage

Growing up in Diourbel, Senegal,  Diop was surrounded and enriched in a fertile intellectual tradition, which had produced Muslim scholars and Griots (Oral tribal historians/human libraries). It was in this environment where Diop had access to both  Islamic knowledge and traditional African history. After his bachelors in Senegal, Dop went to Paris to further his studies. In Paris, degrees in Maths, Philosophy, and two chemistry degrees followed. The combination of linguistics, history, anthropology, chemistry, and physics led him to publish his thesis and book  ‘Nations Negres et Culture (1955)’. This groundbreaking work led to disturb a lot of established historians, because he challenged them with his findings and ideas about the history and origins of Africa. In his works, he seemed to have made it his goal in life to tell Africa’s history from an African perspective, while doing this scientifically. Dr. Diop smashed a lot of Eurocentric ideas about the origins of Africa and its people.

Black Egypt?

Dr. Diop’s aim was to prove not only that ancient Egyptians were descendants of black Africans—that Egypt was a black society—but also to show that Egypt’s cultural achievements of society were before and directly influenced by the cultures of Greece and Rome, and consequently, modern Western civilization. This claim was backed up by anthropological evidence and has since then been met with a lot of controversy from Eurocentric scholars such as Robert S. Collins (University of California, Santa Barbara) whom view Diop’s work as “revisionist”.

Nevertheless there are countless European and American scholars such as Sir E.A. Wallis Budge whom confirmed Diop’s work. He has been able to show that, for the last five hundred years, European and American Historians wrote or rewrote history glorifying the people of European extraction and distorted the history of the rest of the world. That’s what makes Diop’s work a challenge to read. Everything you used to know about history is being questioned, but in the end, Diop’s work offers valuable, and very much needed, information.

I don’t like to use the notion of race… We must not attach an obsessional importance to it. It is a hazard of the evolution.

Political Adventures

Since his Paris days, Diop was involved in African politics. In the space of 25 years he founded three parties. While in Paris, he founded ‘Rassemblement Démocratique Africain’ (RDA), a party in which he and fellow students from African decent try to unify Africans abroad while fighting colonial powers was started. In 1960, when he returned to Senegal, he established ‘Le Bloc des Masses Sénégalaises’ (BMS) and the ‘Front National Sénégalais’ (FNS). For his political views, that he wrote in his book: “Black Africa: the economic and cultural basis for a federated state”, Diop was often jailed and nearly died in the process. He never really was able to implement his plans, due to the way Léopold Senghor treated political opponents. But it has to be said that the steps some Africa leaders took the past years seem to reinforce his ideas about a united state of Africa.

Recognition and Legacy

Honored, with W. E. B. Du Bois, as a scholar “who had exerted the greatest influence on African people in the twentieth century,” First World Black Festival of Arts and Culture, Dakar, Senegal, 1966.

He has the university of Dakar named after him: Cheikh Anta Diop University Dakar.

Noteworthy works:

Precolonial Black Africa (trans. 1987); The African Origins of Civilization: Myth or Reality (1974); The Cultural Unity of Black Africa (trans. 1990); and his MUSt READ: Civilization or Barbarism (trans. 1991)

“I don’t like to use the notion of race (which does not exist)… We must not attach an obsessional importance to it. It is a hazard of the evolution.” Diop at the UNESCO gathering Athens 1981.

Written by Mohamed Bearrach

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Mohamed Bearrach, social work student with a great passion for sports, music, and history