NYU Black Renaissance Noire Spring 2015 - Page 117

It was the companionship of astronomers trained at these ancient African schools that developed concepts for the measurement of time based on observations of regularities and variations in the daily appearance and setting of the sun, the monthly appearance and disappearance of the moon, and the repeated alternation of seasons, using such instruments as water clocks and nilometers. The schools taught the careful study of the configuration of animal and human bodies, so that doctors trained there could look at malfunctions in one part of the body, say a limb, and infer that there was something wrong with the heart, to which they needed to apply a remedy. Mathematicians trained in ancient Egyptian schools, using not magic but reason, calculated the correct angle at which blocks of stone and masonry must be placed to ensure architectural stability. Specialists in flood control developed instruments there for the measurement of annual variations in the level of the river Nile, so that they could warn society at large to prepare for such deviations from the normal ebb and flow as might have caused human distress if unprepared for. This, no doubt about it, was the application of reason elevated to an organizational principle in social life. The people whose way of life was thus organized around the concept of human rationality lived a couple of thousand years before Greeks first began practicing systematic philosophy. But every schoolchild taught in colonial and neocolonial schools learned by rote that the Greeks were the first to discover the concept of reason. And anthropologists reinforced the message by presenting relentless snapshots of African humanity as irrational, tribal, atavistic, mystery-bound, in any case alien to the quintessentially human concept of reason. BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE The ancient African concept of rationality was carried by several words, the most unambiguous of which was rekh, meaning to know, with the usual variants: knowledge, intelligence, etc. Human beings could be referred to as remetch, but scribes wishing to draw attention to the conception of human beings as rational would use the word rekhiu. Science, the accumulation of verifiable knowledge, was known under the collective name of rekhit. Depending on the determinative sign, the word could also designate the spirit of science personified. Calculation, indispensable in the quantitative aspect of science, was called mn, hesbet (a word in which Kiswahili speakers will recognize their h