For students of African history, a trip to ancient Kemet is consider a holy pilgrimage back to the land of their mothers and fathers. This past August I had just that opportunity, and it was as if I had traveled back in time. While your scholarship may have educated you tremendously about ancient Kemet and its great accomplishments, personally witnessing what is left behind is the ultimate capstone to one’s studies. After journeying through the land, visiting all the monuments and interacting with the local people, I feel that I have garnered an invaluable multi-dimensional education that expands and reshapes my consciousness. With much conviction, I can assert that all people of the diaspora should one day make a pilgrimage to Kemet, the home of their ancestors.
For me, this trip was the culmination of a year’s worth of planning. I delved deep into my study of African history and learned a great deal about the significance of ancient Kemet. I then decided that I had to see all that I read for myself because my world view and core values were being reshaped and I needed to confirm all that I was learning. I initially planned to make the journey alone, but my younger sister, Cheryll, was interested in going to Kemet as well, so she assumed the tedious task of planning the trip. LOL. The plan was to spend two weeks in the country and see as many monuments as possible.
We left New York on Friday, August 13th and arrived the following afternoon. After resting for the first day, the next morning our adventure began with a visit to the Egyptian museum. Touring this site first was a great way to begin the trip because the information our guide provided served as a brief overview of Kemetic history. While it was great to see so many beautiful pieces, we were disappointed that visitors weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the museum. Our next stop on the tour was visiting the pyramid tomb of King Teti, the founder of the 6th dynasty from the Old Kingdom. We subsequently saw the tomb of his wife Queen Ipwet. While her tomb was better preserved, his pyramid looked more like a mountain of sand and rubble because it has deteriorated after its limestone casing was removed. We then closed out our first day with trips to a papyrus shop and an essential oil shop to see how these products were made. Sales pitch accompanied the lessons which we rejected since we realized that these stops were tourist traps.
On day two of the trip, we went to visit the Giza Plateau to see the Mrkhuty (pyramids). While I had done substantial reading about these structures, nothing prepared me for the imposing monuments masterminded by these ancient architects. The exposed inner blocks of the structures served as a testament to the ingenuity and the advance engineering of the ancient Kemites. This statement is also applicable to the Sphinx (Hor-Em-Ahket) which is a living example of negative architecture. After spending the majority of our day in Giza, we made our way to Saqqara to visit the Imhotep Museum and King Djoser’s step pyramid. It was surreal to witness the world’s first stone skyscraper and the template which led to the great pyramids we saw earlier that day.
Day three was the last of our stay in Lower Kemet, so we spent the day visiting Coptic Cairo where we visited The Hanging Church dedicated to the Virgin Mary and the Monastery and Church of St. George. These buildings had exotic sculptures of saints and Christian paintings. We wanted to visit some of the early Islamic mosques in the area, but due to Ramadan they were all closed to tourists as well as the Coptic Museum. One interesting thing we learned from visiting this area is that Christians and Moslems coexist peacefully. This shattered my assumption that followers of Islam were intolerant of Christianity.
At the close of our last day in Cairo, we traveled south to Aswan but made a brief stop in Luxor to meet Kemetologist, Anthony T. Browder, for a private tour of newly discovered tombs from the 25th and 26th dynasties. Earlier in the year, I donated to the Asa Restoration Project which is why I was granted a private tour of the site. It was fascinating to learn about the discovery of the tombs yet upsetting to see the destruction perpetrated by the tomb robbers. Seeing the type of painstaking and tedious labor it takes to restore the site really put in perspective how much this effort needs to be supported. Anthony did a great job of explaining the significance of the find and how important it is to African people that the excavation be financed. We met several African American members of the team and heard their testimonials as to what brought them Kemet. In sharing my testimonial, Atlantis Browder asked me what I was doing with all the knowledge I was accumulating on African history. I explained my involvement with the Center for the Restoration of Ma’at along with my support of other African centered organizations. However, after meditating on that conversation later on, I realized that the most important thing anyone regardless of background can do with this knowledge is change one’s self.
After leaving the excavation site in Luxor, we arrived in Aswan late that night and started early the next day at 3:00 a.m. to visit Abu Simbel three and a half hours away. On that ride, we witnessed a beautiful sun rise which the Kemites would have classified as Khepera on the rise. Like The Sphinx and the pyramids, the two temples at Abu Simbel were monumental and imposing structures. However, they were much more lavishly designed and decorated with beautiful inscriptions. It was easy to see the progression of Egyptian art from the Old Kingdom to that of the New Kingdom during the time of the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties.
We left Abu Simbel and later on that day visited the Aswan market to shop for souvenirs. Although the vendors were very friendly and hospitable, we quickly learned that you must vigorously negotiate every transaction to avoid being ripped off. Majority of the vendors offered us hibiscus tea once we walked into their shops. They asked us where we were from, and joked with us about any and everything. It was interesting to learn that Aswan was populated predominantly by Nubians. They were much darker, looked more like us, and they therefore assumed that we were natives. Their temperament was much more laid back and easy going compared to that of the modern day Egyptians we interacted with in the north.
On our second day in Aswan, we visited Philae Island to see the Temple of Aset (Isis). Its location out on the Nile (Hapi) added a serene effect to its beautiful design. Sadly, it was upsetting to see how the site was vandalized by early Christians. We later learned this was the norm during the rise of early Christianity as it began sweeping through ancient Kemet. Later we capped off our day with a Faluka boat ride and visited several islands on the Nile. Our Faluka boat captains actually knew Dr. Yosef Ben Jochannan and Ashra Kwesi. We had an enlightening talk about how they met each of them and all the times they visited Kemet with study tours. The final stop of our ride was a tour of a Nubian village. It was a phenomenal experience walking through the area and seeing how the people lived. While the prevalence of poverty was very apparent, the people appeared very happy and at peace. We met a Nubian brother who had a beautiful spirit, and he allowed us to interview him on camera to learn more about Nubian culture. Although these Nubians live a simple life, it is quite remarkable how happy they are compared to us Westerners who have so much but are far more miserable. This encounter served as a great reminder that we should not take the comfort and luxuries we have for granted.
The following day we left Aswan early in the morning to return to Luxor. We arrived early and made the best of our time by visiting both Luxor and Karnak Temples. Since so many different rulers built expansions to each of these temples, our tour was like a walk through several different eras of Kemetic history. We were able to see monuments at each site from the nation’s imperial age to the Greco-Roman and Christian era to the Moslem period. Subsequently, it was easy to see the marks left by each foreigner whether it was constructive of destructive. One of the most surprising things I learned was that early Christians at one point lived in the temples and later turned them into churches. They also began covering up the Medu Neter with plaster and painted their own images on the walls and even began building their churches in the same fashion as Kemetic temples. Both temple complexes had numerous examples of vandalism perpetuated by early Christians and early Moslems. This information was relayed to us in great details by tour guides at each site.
On our second day in Luxor, we visited the Valley of the Kings. There we entered the tombs of two of the Ramesides and Tuthmosis III. The grandeur with which these tombs were decorated evidenced the spirituality of the ancient Khamites and the high regard they had for the afterlife. Vibrant, colorful images covered almost every inch of the tombs, leaving you in a state of awe. We then visited Queen Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple which was built with the same flamboyance. It was so finely constructed that it looks as if it was built just yesterday, and this is after it was vandalized and robbed. Throughout its chambers, it was clear to see the vandalism that might have taken place under Tuthmosis III. This was a sad reminder that for all their greatness even the ancient Kemites had problems and internal strife. Hatshepsut’s temple turned out to be the final site we would see during our trip.
I wanted to visit the temples of Eduf, Abydos and Denderah, but my sister was burned out and asked “how many temples can I look at?” LOL. We decided to go to the city of Hurghada on the Red Sea to finish our vacation in a more relaxing fashion. To get to Hurghada, we took a bus ride through the desert which made for a very interesting and thought provoking experience. The vastness of the desert made it seem like an ocean of sand, yet there were times our bus drove through very intimidating and eerie mountainous areas. However, the view was so divine and magnificent that my sister said she could feel the presence of God. Seeing the vastness of the desert and the mountainous regions put me in a state of deep contemplation. I thought, “ancient Kemet was so great that despite these obstacles many nations from Western Asia still invaded them for what they had.”
In Hurghada we stayed at a hotel directly on the beach front of the Red Sea. It was shocking to find that the entire beach front was owned by Russians and that we were the only black people staying in the hotel. Surprisingly, that was to our benefit because the Egyptian staff treated us exceptionally well because of our skin color. How ironic that my first week back in the states, I was pulled over by police officers in my own neighborhood in front of my own house for doing absolutely nothing wrong. Nevertheless, even though the atmosphere made us feel like we were no longer in Africa but rather somewhere in Europe, we had an enjoyable stay. It was interesting swimming in the Red Sea after reading about it in the Bible as a child growing up. My sister then asked, “Isn’t this the sea that God parted?” I was awed by its vastness which made me ask, “How could thousands of people have crossed this on foot and outrun an entire army.” Upon my return to the states the latest book I read answered that question.
Now, it is often said that visiting Africa and Egypt in particular changes you forever. I can testify that this is an accurate assertion. While reading about the nation can educate one’s mind a great deal, seeing the monuments built by the Kemites in person is the only way to fully understand their greatness. To paraphrase Dr. Ivan Van Sertima, you learn that these are a people who did not settle for mediocrity. As a result, since we are their descendants, neither should we. For me, this realization reinforces the understanding that Africans still have much work to do to resurrect themselves and regain their place of prominence on the world stage. Subsequently, you also learn that people such as the modern day Egyptians are just as miseducated about their true history as Africans of the diaspora. From speaking with many of the guides and the locals, you understand that they believe their ancestors are responsible for the splendors of ancient Kemet. You then recognize that the other daunting task to accomplish globally is getting the colonizers to admit that the ancient Kemites were “black African people” and our black brothers and sisters to accept this fact with pride rather than shame.
This reshaping and reawakening of consciousness is an important step for the preservation and improvement of especially black people across the globe. By living within the context of truth and historical reality, humanity can work towards being the divine vessels of the creator. Since returning home I have been in a state of slight depression due to the realization that we should not be living life the way we currently are. I also feel that I have graduated to a higher state of consciousness. I am now able to interpret certain scenes and imagery from Kemetic art on a level that I was not able to do before. It is as if a third eye has opened within me. This is what my trip to Kemet has done for me. It has provided knowledge, insight, and lessons that none of my readings could accomplish. An ancient Kemetic proverb states it best, “True learning is not an accumulation of knowledge; it is an awaking of consciousness which goes through successive stages.” Thank you for reading.