Hamite theory

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The first representation of historical ethnology separated from the world in the biblical table of nations : Semites , Hamitentheorie und Japhetentheorie , 1771, Gatterer 's introduction to the synchronistic universal history

The Hamite Theory is a theory that emerged in several areas of African studies that postulated the superiority of a "Hamitic race " located in North Africa over the so-called " Negroid " population of Africa . This theory was founded in the 19th century by the English Africa explorer John Hanning Speke . Karl Richard Lepsius and Carl Meinhof expanded the theory to include the term Hamitic languages, which is no longer used today ( Egyptian , Berber , Chadian , Cushitic , Omotic ).

The term "Hamitisch" or "Hamiten" goes back to the biblical figure Ham and refers to peoples who, with reference to the biblical table of people in Genesis, were believed to be descended from Ham. Until the Enlightenment , it was used to designate all "black African" ethnic groups. Only with the Hamit theory was this limited to the non- Arab-Semitic peoples of North Africa, whose supposedly higher cultural achievements were thus attributed to a "Caucasian" origin.

The theories of the superiority of a Hamitic race are nowadays mostly referred to as the Hamitic myth , as they were completely discredited in Germany after the time of National Socialism . In the English-speaking countries, including the USA , they were still relatively widespread until the African American civil rights movement .

In some African countries, especially in Rwanda , Burundi and the surrounding countries, the Hamite theory was understood in the 20th century as a confirmation of the orally transmitted history of rule. The myth played a legitimizing role in the violent conflicts that began in 1959.

In Russia in the 1920s an ideological counterpart to the linguistic Hamite theory emerged: the Japhetite theory developed by Nikolai Marr , which interpreted the European peoples as descendants of Noach's son Japheth and which also served to create a civilizing hierarchy of the peoples of Russia.

Development of the history of ideas

Early use of the term "Hamitisch"

Early interpretations of the Bible led many European scholars to believe that all of humanity goes back to Noah . The Bible verses that speak of the sons of Noah ( Gen 9: 18-27  EU ) do not give any information about "racial" differences between the sons. Noah curses Canaan , Ham's son, and says that he and his descendants will be “slave of slaves”. Hebrew scholars used this passage to justify the Israelite submission of Canaan. These scholars, who worked in the 6th century AD, introduced the idea that the sons of Ham had black skin. In the Middle Ages, Christian scholars took up the idea that the sons of Ham were "blackened" by their sins, thus calling their main enemy, Islam , the religion of a "false prophet". According to today's view, the "Arabs" were the wrong people, because the descendants of Shem , the second eldest of Noah's three sons, are said to have been residents of the northern part of the country. The Semitic classification derived from Sem , which includes the Islamic Arabs, was later divorced from Hamitic.

Egyptians as descendants of the Hamites

After the Napoleonic invasion of Egypt , the interest of Europeans in this country increased considerably. With the deciphering of the hieroglyphs and the rapid growth of knowledge about ancient Egypt , European researchers became increasingly interested in the origins of the Egyptians and their connections to other peoples in the immediate and distant vicinity. The traditional biblical genealogy linked the Egyptians with the other descendants of Ham, particularly the darker-skinned ( Cushitic-speaking ) peoples of Ethiopia .

Theologians re-studied the Book of Genesis and found that Ham's children were not all cursed, only Canaan. So the other children of Ham, including Kush and Mizraim, are not condemned, but are capable of great achievements. These scholars identified the Egyptians as descendants of Mizraim.

Modern Hamite Theories

The European and also the Arab tradition emphasize the "dark" of the cursed sons of Ham. Both have the same Abrahamic root. In the designation of Africa as "the dark continent" the adjective becomes (dark) hunch and prejudice, in "Mohren" the word for dark becomes the projection of the foreign. The term Mohr originally only referred to residents of the north of the continent, which is not part of Sub-Saharan Africa . The fact that the Mohr was also a Muslim as a Moor is a secondary characteristic for the cultural definition. The Hamit theory is the confirmation of a disparaging opposition of one's own to the construct of dark and foreign, black and distant. Arab slave traders and Europeans who brought slaves to America from 1500 onwards were able to use the myth of Ham to determine a "deplorable state" of African society and to derive the moral acceptance of the deportation from this.

Hamit theory by Speke

The appropriation of this biblical explanation of the world as a population theory for Africa began with John Hanning Speke . In his travelogue from 1863, The Discovery of the Nile Sources , the theoretical problem of the beginning colonial era becomes clear when describing African society. Instead of encountering homogeneous ethnic groups, as expected , Speke found societies with a strong hierarchical structure in the African inter-lake region while searching for the source of the Nile. An evolutionist declaration would have meant admitting that Africans were able to develop state structures based on their own history. Instead, their emergence was explained diffusionistically , the social classes must have emerged from the superimposition of different waves of immigration. At the same time, social groups were designated as “ races ”.

The classification of ethnic groups according to languages ​​was combined with the classification according to physiognomic characteristics, cultural characteristics were derived from biological properties. Rwanda is the best known example to which this explanatory model has been applied. The fact that the model failed here, since the two defined ethnic groups Hutu and Tutsi belonged to the same language and culture, was not noticed during the colonial period ( details on the population structure in Rwanda ). Speke himself cannot be blamed for this; the geographical knowledge of East Africa in his time was as incomplete as that of African societies.

According to Spekes theory, the Tutsi and the ruling classes ( Hima ) of the other kingdoms between Burundi and today's Uganda are cattle herders from the Galla people who immigrated from the north . (This term for Oromo living in Ethiopia is considered pejorative today.) They found arable Bantu peoples over whom they became rulers. With the rulers of Buganda ( Mutesa I. ) and Rumanika, the ruler of Karagwe, part of the Buhaya empire, he practiced his theory in order to prepare a missionary mission. He explained to them that they were - through Christian Ethiopians - descendants of King Solomon .

What is correct about the Hamite theory is that there has been immigration of pastoral peoples from the north into East Africa. It is not clear why nomads in particular should have founded a state organization. Social differentiation resulted from economic factors over a longer period and not from violent surprise. A new elite emerged from the leaders of shepherds and peasants, who emphasized diversity in order to legitimize them.

Speke was able to fall back on already existing traditions of origin, which regularly explained the origin of hierarchies with immigration. The original legend very often declared kings, especially the founders of dynasties, to be strangers or equipped them with physical defects, since great power often has something dangerously cruel to it. However, this should be seen as a myth.

Linguistic Hamite Theory

From the 1880s it sought to prove the allegedly culture-bearing role of Hamiten in contrast to the "primitive Negroid population" by the receipt of a Hamitic language family whose languages compared to the "Negro language" by a "culturally superior" presence of grammatical gender excel should. The Hamitic language theory was developed and spread by Karl Richard Lepsius and above all by Carl Meinhof . After the acceptance of a Hamitic language family by the Africanists Diedrich Westermann and August Klingenoben was questioned in the thirties of the 20th century, the "superiority of the Hamites" was derived mainly from purely somatic features (lighter skin color, morphology ). Nonetheless, interest in the structure and distribution of nominal class systems has continued to be a major focus of interest in African linguistic studies, and has continued to this day. The only thing that has been given up is the idea of ​​a genetically related family of languages and instead the idea of ​​a civilization-building force acting independently of a common biological origin. In order to also conceptually separate from linguistics after the Hamitic language family had been weakened, the population groups concerned were now also classified under the designation "Ethiopid contact race", Ethiopid or negroid-orientalid, which is a mixture of the Europid (mainly oriental and Mediterranean) ) and the great Negro race .

Hamite theory as an instrument of colonialism

The Hamite theory soon became an important ideological instrument in the colonial policy of the German Empire in Africa. Like the British Commonwealth, they advocated a policy of indirect rule , whereby a chosen people or an already established feudal class in the colony should exercise proxy power controlled by colonial policy. The German colonial policy added the element of a specially constructed race theory that was supposed to scientifically "prove" the right to hegemony of the "Hamites" over the "non-Hamitic" peoples.

Within the framework of this policy, linguistic as well as racial and economic criteria were used and combined to determine the “Hamite status”, with discrepancies and corresponding explanatory “tricks” occurring here and there.

In German East Africa z. For example, the Maasai are identified as genuine Hamite people based on their physique and linguistic characteristics. However, they were politically and economically unable to establish a system of indirect rule, so that the explanation was found that the Hamite people had wrongly fallen back into a "lower level of development" for reasons of adverse fate. Instead, the Swahili were regarded as the next highest culture as masters . In the northern part, the Tutsi identified as Hamitic had once had a social hegemony position, but had already lost it to the Hutu . Here the colonial power decided to restore the Tutsi to their original master status. This process began with the missionary by the Catholic White Fathers and was initially continued by the new Belgian colonial administration, after the Germans Rwanda after the First World War in Belgium had surrendered. It was not until the mid-1950s that preference was given to the Hutu majority.

Similar problems arose in the colony of German South West Africa : the Khoikhoi (called "Hottentots"), identified as Hamites due to their skin color and grammar , played practically no special role in terms of numbers and experience of hegemony, so that the Ovambo as the "master people" were avoided .

Fewer problems arose in Cameroon and Togoland , where with the Duala and the Ewe “master races” that could be identified as such were relatively easily available.

As hierarchical racial theories became more complex and involved, the term "Hamitic" was used differently by different authors and applied to many different groups in different parts of Africa: Ethiopians , Berbers , Nubians , Maasai , Somali , Fulbe and many others .

Hamite theory today

Today theories that speak of a cultural influence on the peoples living in the south of Africa by groups from the north of Africa are gaining in importance again, but avoiding the disqualified name Hamites . The most important elements of this cultural influence are probably cattle breeding with its cultural consequences and iron processing .

In African linguistics , too , research into the history of nominal classes and pleasure systems is still regarded as a main area of ​​work. Questions from gender research have been added . A reference to the historical tradition of this research subject in the Hamit theory is largely avoided. A concept of race no longer appears in this research, but there is compatibility with the concept of ethnicity in neo-racist ethnopluralism .

The English anthropologist and cytologist John Randal Baker (1900-1984) resorted to the Hamite theory in his book "Race" (Oxford University Press, 1974), in which human races are classified in the same way as subspecies of animals. He traces the founding of the ancient Egyptian civilization back to Europid Ethiopids (today's Fellachians ) and describes most of the African rulers as Ethiopid (today's example: Julius Nyerere ).

See also


  • John Hanning Speke : Journal of the Discovery Of The Source Of The Nile. London 1863; New edition of the Journal of the Discovery of the Source of the Nile. Illustrate by James Grant . Dover Books on Travel, Adventure. ISBN 0486293041 , German as "The discovery of the Nile sources." Leipzig 1864.
  • Peter Rohrbacher: The History of the Hamite Myth. ( Publications of the Institutes for African Studies and Egyptology at the University of Vienna, 96. Contributions to African Studies , Vol. 71). Afro-Pub, Vienna 2002, ISBN 3-85043-096-0
  • Peter Rohrbacher: "Hamitic Migrations": The Prehistory of Africa between Fiction and Reality. In: Felix Wiedemann, Hans-Joachim Gehrke, Kerstin P. Hofmann (eds.): "From the wandering of the peoples". To link space and identity in migration narratives. ( Berlin Studies of the Ancient World 41). Edition Topoi, Berlin 2017, pp. 243–276.
  • Edith Sanders: The Hamitic Hypothesis: Its Origin in Time. In: Robert O. Collins (Ed.): Problems in African History: The Precolonial Centuries . Markus Wiener Publishing, New York 1996, ISBN 1-55876-059-8

Individual evidence

  1. Introduction to synchronist universal history , Gatterer, 1771, and: (1) A note on the history of 'Semitic' , 2003, by Martin Baasten; and (2) Taal-, land- en volkenkunde in de Achttiende eeuw , 1994, by Han Vermeulen (in Dutch).
  2. Peter Rohrbacher: The history of the Hamiten myth. Contributions to African Studies, Volume 71, AFRO-PUB, Vienna 2002, ISBN 3-85043-096-0 . pdf version , pp. 6-7.
  3. The term “Détruire le mythe chamitique” was first used by the Afro-American anthropologist Saint-Clair Drake in 1959 at the Second Congress of the “Écrivains et Artistes Noirs” in Paris. See Peter Rohrbacher, The Hamiten Myth. Vienna, 2002: 223.
  4. Edith Sanders: The Hamitic Hypothesis: Its Origin in Time. In: Robert O. Collins (Ed.): Problems in African History: The Precolonial Centuries . Markus Wiener Publishing, New York 1996, p. 521.
  5. Edith Sanders: The Hamitic Hypothesis: Its Origin in Time. In: Robert O. Collins (Ed.): Problems in African History: The Precolonial Centuries . Markus Wiener Publishing, New York 1996, p. 524 ff.
  6. ^ David Robinson: Muslim Societies in African History. Cambridge University Press 2004, p. 69
  7. John Hanning Speke: The discovery of the Nile sources. 1864. Hamitentheorie reprinted 1908, pp. 201–206. Ch.9 History of the Wahuma.
  8. Or in: Helmut Strizek: Rwanda and Burundi from independence to state collapse . Cologne 1996
  9. ^ Albert Kraler: State-building processes, migration and identity in the great lake region of Africa. ( Memento of the original from December 2, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.ihs.ac.at