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The Negro by W. E. B. Du Bois

The Epic of the Sudan Tarikh es Soudan


Christianity

early entered Africa; indeed, as Mommsen says, "It was through Africa that Christianity became the religion of the world. Tertullian and Cyprian were from Carthage, Arnobius from Sicca Veneria, Lactantius, and probably in like manner Minucius Felix, in spite of their Latin names, were natives of Africa, and not less so Augustine. In Africa the Church found its most zealous confessors of the faith and its most gifted defenders."[59]

The Africa referred to here, however, was not Negroland, but Africa above the desert, where Negro blood was represented in the ancient Mediterranean race and by intercourse across the desert. On the other hand Christianity was early represented in the valley of the Nile under "the most holy pope and patriarch of the great city of Alexandria and of all of the land of Egypt, of Jerusalem, the holy city, of Nubia, Abyssinia, and Pentapolis, and all the preaching of St. Mark." This patriarchate had a hundred bishoprics in the fourth century and included thousands of black Christians. Through it the Cross preceded the Crescent in some of the remotest parts of black Africa.

All these beginnings were gradually overthrown by Islam except among the Copts in Egypt, and in Abyssinia. The Portuguese in the sixteenth century began to replant the Christian religion and for a while had great success, both on the east and west coasts. Roman Catholic enterprise halted in the eighteenth century and

the Protestants began. To-day the west coast is studded with English and German missions, South Africa is largely Christian through French and English influence, and the region about the Great Lakes is becoming christianized. The Roman Catholics have lately increased their activities, and above all the Negroes of America have entered with their own churches and with the curiously significant "Ethiopian" movement.

Coming now to other spiritual aspects of African culture, we can speak at present only in a fragmentary way. Roughly speaking, Africa can be divided into two language zones: north of the fifth degree of north latitude is the zone of diversity, with at least a hundred groups of widely divergent languages; south of the line there is one minor language (Bushman-Hottentot), spoken by less than fifty thousand people, and elsewhere the predominant Bantu tongue with its various dialects, spoken by at least fifty million. The Bantu tongue, which thus rules all Central, West, and South Africa, is an agglutinative tongue which makes especial use of prefixes. The hundreds of Negro tongues or dialects in the north represent most probably the result of war and migration and the breaking up of ancient centers of culture. In Abyssinia and the great horn of East Africa the influence of Semitic tongues is noted. Despite much effort on the part of students, it has been impossible to show any Asiatic origin for the Egyptian language. As Sergi maintains, "everything favors an African origin."[60] The most brilliant suggestion of modern days links together the Egyptian of North Africa and the Hottentot and Bushmen tongues of South Africa.

Language was reduced to writing among the Egyptians and Ethiopians and to some extent elsewhere in Africa. Over 100 manuscripts of Ethiopian and Ethiopic-Arabian literature are extant, including a version of the Bible and historical chronicles. The Arabic was used as the written tongue of the Sudan, and Negroland has given us in this tongue many chronicles and other works of black authors. The greatest of these, the Epic of the Sudan (Tarikh-es-Soudan), deserves to be placed among the classics of all literature. In other parts of Africa there was no written language, but there was, on the other hand, an unusual perfection of oral tradition through bards, and extraordinary efficiency in telegraphy by drum and horn.


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